I have been disturbed recently by some reactions from the gay community to three specific public announcements regarding coming out and gay rights. One concerns a famous actress, the other two straight politicians.
I do not know if the statements and articles I read reflect the majority of the gay world, but I sincerely hope not. In each instance the person sticking their neck out announcing their sexual orientation or their support for same-sex marriage has been vilified by certain bloggers as having come out too late.
After this happened the third time, I said enough: Three strikes and you are out. I have to speak up about this.
When Jodie Foster gave her somewhat ambiguous coming-out speech at the Golden Globes in January, she was criticized first for not using the word "gay" or "lesbian" and then excoriated for coming out too late. I wrote a blog post about it stating that my experience has taught me not to judge another's coming-out process. It should be up to the individual how and when or even if they come out. Jodie Foster has always been a private person, and she grew up in the entertainment world at a time when being LGBT was frowned upon. It could have been very detrimental to her career to share her private sexual life with the public.
Recently, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a conservative politician, came out for gay marriage but was immediately put down by a blogger calling it the "Politics of Narcissism." The writer, Matthew Yglesias, stated that Sen. Portman only changed his position because he has a gay son. Then he complained that it took Portman two years to come to this decision. Even Rachel Maddow of MSNBC joined the bandwagon by asking on Real Time With Bill Maher, "Wouldn't it be nice if his son were poor, so he would come out in favor of poor people?" Then she added that the senator knew of his son's homosexuality during the 2012 election, when he was considered a possible candidate for the GOP vice presidential slot. She felt that it was for political reasons that he waited until now to step forward for same-sex marriage.
I love Rachel, but I have to disagree with her here. Firstly, we are talking about gay marriage, not the issue of poor people. And although so many are saying that Sen. Portman only came out for marriage equality because of his son, I say that I know plenty of parents who would kick their son or daughter out of the house if they found out they are gay. My dad took over 10 years to fully understand and accept who I am, but I am eternally grateful that he was open-minded enough to follow that path and take that leap of faith. The simple truth is that people's hearts and minds are changed about homosexuality when they know and love gay family members and friends. That is all part of the process.
As far as the timing, it could be political, but I feel that it is still a liability for Republicans to support gay rights. In many cases those who support us are bucking their hardcore constituents and evangelical Christians in their own party. It takes courage, and I applaud Sen. Portman for it. By not acknowledging his pronouncement as a good thing, we gays risk looking petty and impossible to please. I said the same thing when former Vice President Dick Cheney came out for gay marriage because his daughter is a lesbian.
Lastly, I read a blog post blasting Hillary Clinton for her announcement of being in favor of marriage equality a few days ago. Once again the writer accused her of being late and jumping on the bandwagon. This is sour grapes at worse, and shooting ourselves in the foot at best. I campaigned for former Secretary of State Clinton in 2008, and I can say that she was very gay-friendly then. She has been a fierce advocate for gay rights for a long time. I am sure that it was her recommendation to President Obama that he start a new foreign policy whereby the U.S. would not give aid to any nations that abuse the human rights of their gay residents.
This is a major policy shift, and many in our country may not realize the magnitude of it. Just because we have come a long way in recognizing LGBT people as equal human beings doesn't mean that all parts of the world have. In reality, many nations have not and are still in the dark ages regarding gay rights.
I believe there is a certain ignorant, judgmental short-sightedness that is going on here in certain quarters of the gay community today. Maybe it is a generational thing. The attitude among some seems to be too ungracious and unappreciative of how far we have come in a short time. My stance is that we need to welcome straight allies no matter where they come from and no matter how long it took for them to get there.
Straight family and friends are important in our quest for equality. Their journeys toward acceptance are no less valuable than our own journeys toward accepting ourselves and coming out. Where would we be today without the founder of PFLAG, Jeanne Manford, who just passed away in January? I remember how touched and proud I was when I read a Facebook post from my niece (who at one time worked for Focus on the Family) that read, "I have decided that it is OK to be gay." Although I never talked to her too much about my sexuality, she knew I was a lesbian, and I hope that my journey and that of another cousin were somewhat influential in her decision.
When I grew up in the 1950s, everyone was in the closet. Homosexuality was considered a mental disease. When you saw any gay people in movies or on TV, they were depicted in a negative light. There were few, if any, books written on the subject. My Baptist church taught that homosexuality was a sin against God. (I guess many churches still preach that.)
Ironically, the AIDS epidemic changed all that, because it mobilized and united the gay community when it became a matter of life or death. We can thank pioneers like Harvey Milk in San Francisco (the first openly gay person ever elected to public office in California), who paved the way for today's Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the first openly gay person ever elected to the U.S. Senate.
Those of my generation may have a different perspective than young people who grew up with Ellen, Will & Grace, Glee and Modern Family. I for one am amazed and extremely grateful for how things have changed for gays.
Not too long ago, in 2004, President George W. Bush used opposition of gay marriage to help get himself reelected. The tide has definitely shifted since then, and now a majority of Americans supports same-sex marriage.
I was very moved by President Obama's second inauguration speech, in which he specifically mentioned gay rights and referred to the Stonewall riots as a historic event. I wonder whether much of the younger LGBT population even knows what Stonewall was, let alone the fact that it was the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement. If not, we need to educate them.
We cannot make progress unless we acknowledge how far we have come, stay united and take action, and embrace all who have come to accept us as equals. I see the day of marriage equality rising on the horizon, and we need to celebrate and appreciate it for the great accomplishment that it is and thank all who have made it possible, including our straight allies from all walks of life.