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Joan Garry

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The Choir Doesn't Even Have the Sheet Music

Posted: 07/11/07 10:16 PM ET

On May 12, my partner and I had a civil union ceremony in our New Jersey home. It was small but felt very big. It was just the two of us, our three kids and two dear friends. After 24 years together, we finally have a legitimate anniversary.

But like many things in life, there has been a ripple effect. The comments and reactions of our friends, gay and straight -- those who consider themselves progressive -- were a wake up call to us.

"Now, you're married -- just like us," our straight married friends say with a big smile. We correct them. Over and over and over again. We talk about the difference between state and federal protections. We talk about not sharing social security protections and inheritance. And then we wait for the "aha." They do not disappoint. Their jaws drop and then you see a hint of embarrassment that they didn't know. Outrage follows.

What the hell is going on? How can we ever hope to change hearts and minds when our own choir doesn't have the sheet music?

My partner was part of the management team that launched LOGO, Viacom's lgbt channel. She loves that LOGO is a basic cable network and that reaches both gay and straight. But she often found herself educating even her gay colleagues in the offices and cubicles around her. For young staff members, it was often a lack of understanding of our movement's history along with a certain complacency. For straight staff members it was often the reality of second-class citizenship. She'd come home wide-eyed and upset. Eileen was handing out sheet music to folks who should have known the song by heart.

I saw another example of this last week -- this time on the editorial page of The Washington Post. "The Sky Isn't Falling," the Post proclaims. The Post points to a change in public opinion and the fact that the opposition in Massachusetts could not rally its troops to get sufficient votes to put a referendum on the 2008 ballot to amend the state constitution to pre-empt marriage rights for same sex couples. It's a great piece with an alarming twist. The editor neglected to check the paper's own Style Guide that clearly states that the words 'gay and lesbian' are to be used instead of the clinical and dehumanizing "homosexual." Good intention that ultimately reinforces what the opposition loves -- to refer to us with one of their favorite words. The one they believe implies disorder.

During my decade of service as the executive director of GLAAD, I spoke a lot about reaching the swing middle -- the most influential Americans who are on the fence about us. We call them "moveable." But we will only move them if we educate them. And ourselves.

Maybe we have misled people into thinking we have things we don't really have. Maybe we haven't been smart enough with the media. Maybe it's not easy to tell a progressive they don't know everything. There are a lot of 'maybes' but one thing I know for sure. The lgbt community has got to work harder. We have got to get the facts straight. We've got to educate ourselves so that we can arm our friends and allies with the facts they need to go to bat for us. We can take absolutely nothing for granted.

Eileen and I found ourselves arming our own kids with the facts as we planned for our ceremony. We had to tell them that this is not really what everyone else has. They were stunned but they got it. Kit spoke at our service:

"This isn't really considered marriage but this is what we've got."

GLAAD will no doubt reach out to The Washington Post for its violation of its own style guide. But who among us will take responsibility for the well-intentioned and the ill-informed? For those who stand with us in their hearts and in theory but can't make the case on our behalf? And what about members of our own community?

The straightest thing about us better be our facts.

 

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