How Friendly Is 'Gay-Friendly'?

As an openly gay man I have encountered very little face-to-face resistance to my sexual orientation. Though I have friends who have had to literally defend their physical space against people who wished them harm, I have been lucky. I've grown up in New York, immune to many of the harsh barbs that my fellow gay men and women have had to endure all their lives. Mistakenly, I thought this was a sign that I was being heard, that my life was being validated as equal to those around me.

Over the holiday break I spent time with loved ones: friends, family and those who have supported and loved me without reservation over the years. However, what I came to recognize is that their acceptance and support do not always translate into understanding. Three separate encounters led me to question what I had come to know about support as opposed to true understanding.

The first incident was at a friend's family's Christmas celebration. I've spent many years celebrating with his family, and I know them to be loving and open, and we've spent many nights debating politics with respectful yet often differing viewpoints. This year some of his family spoke of the presidential election with disappointment (having voted for Mitt Romney), lamenting the current state of financial difficulty affecting the country. Not one to shy away from voicing my opinion, I asked how they reconciled their vote for Mitt Romney, a man who would have supported a constitutional amendment banning gays and lesbians from marrying whom they choose, with their love for my friend. I asked how they could support a candidate who almost gleefully and condescendingly laughed at the right of gays and lesbians to adopt children. ("Some [same-sex couples] are actually having children born to them," he said with a smirk. "It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact."). Their response was that when it came to elections, they (and I) couldn't just be "one-issue voters," that the issues demand more than that.

Two days later I found myself on seemingly safer ground, at the home of a happily married lesbian couple who, when I recounted this experience, greeted me with the exclamation, "Well, we're Republicans, too!" When I asked how this could be, beginning my usual diatribe about the inherent hypocrisy of being a proud gay person and a proud Republican, they, too, told me that I shouldn't be looking at just that one issue, given that society was moving in the right direction and that no one person would be able to take away our rights, because "we are on the right side of history, and we have the momentum." This couple was more concerned about their tax bracket and preventing the government from taking more of their money.

Lastly, the sister of yet another friend entered into muddy territory when she once again booked her family on a vacation to her favorite tropical paradise, Jamaica. What was especially egregious about this was the fact that her brother, a gay man, had informed his sister over a year earlier that he objected to her taking her family to Jamaica, given his knowledge of the country's discriminatory laws against LGBT people, their open persecution of LGBT people (many popular songs calls for gay people to be shot and killed), and recent incidents involving the turning away of cruise ships from Jamaican ports if the ships were known to carry gay passengers. (By the way, the same has happened in the Cayman Islands and, most recently, Morocco.) "How could you return after all that you know?" he had asked. Her response was that certainly the entire country didn't feel that way; that not every Jamaican was perpetrating atrocities; that, as someone working in the human rights field, she understood Jamaica to be no worse than most countries; that she personally knew gay people who visit the island, so it couldn't be that bad; and that it was cheap for a family of four, which meant that she could afford to go every year and use the money she saved to give to a "gay charity."

In all these instances we're talking about people who honor their relationships with their gay family and friends and would never think of intentionally causing pain. These scenarios don't scream injustice, but the underlying voices don't really call for tolerance or ask for change through actions or votes. As a matter of fact, I believe it's this kind of complacency and quiet acquiescence that has slowed the progress of gay rights throughout the years.

To put things more clearly into perspective, if you are part of a heterosexual, married couple with children, I'd like you to imagine the following:

After you met your spouse, you probably dated for a while, your feelings for each other grew, and you fell in love with one another. After some time passed, you decided that you wanted to marry, and that you wanted to have children, raise a family and share your lives together. So far, so good. Now imagine that you couldn't do any of this, that your government told you that you could not marry this person, that doing so was against the law of the land. Imagine that society said to you, "Those children you want to have? Well, that's ridiculous. You can't seriously think that you should be allowed to raise children. That's just wrong, and, oh, it's also against the law. Now that we think of it, it's probably not enough to say that you can't get married. Let's vote on a constitutional amendment to make sure you can't get married." If this happened to you, where do you think you'd find yourself today?

For those of you who think that my opposition to candidates who espouse these views is that of a "one-issue voter," let me ask you to imagine something else. Simply replace the word "gay" in these arguments with the word "Jew," or "African American," or "woman," or "person with a learning disability," or "Christian." Imagine that "no Christian can marry" is the mantra of our country, and Christians can't have kids, because that's also against the law. Now, what does this Christian do? Should he ignore a particular presidential candidate's actively hostile discrimination because, you know, he agrees with the candidate's stance against increasing taxes? Is that the "one issue" he should choose to focus on while the basic tenets of "all men are created equal" are being denied to him?

That cheap vacation you're taking? Let's say that one of your children grew up to be someone who was ostracized by a government like the one in Jamaica. All this talk about "making the world a better place for our children" means very little if their feelings, their relationships and their very equality are legally void in the eyes of the government. Furthermore, every single person who visits a place like Jamaica (and supports their economy) is providing that government with one less reason to change.

The truth is that I'm not worried about my taxes or a cheaper vacation. I can figure out how to live my life with fewer dollars. What I can't afford is to try to live my life without the proper measure of respect. When next choosing how to vote or spend your dollars, I implore you to think about these so-called "one-issue voters." What it comes down to is how a person chooses to spend his or her currency of support and acceptance in life: People can fund ignorance, luxury and even convenience, but it could be at the expense of the respect and dignity of those they purport to love. Or you could recognize that this is about so much more than just one issue. It's about every issue, and it affects every one of us. Let's try to make that our "one issue" to understand.