It's been nearly 20 years since I first saw the film Philadelphia. It was the winter of 1994 after returning to college from Christmas break. I saw it with my best friend. I remember it so clearly. It's indelibly burned into my mind and my heart. We two sat in our seats as the theater began to empty, unable to move, tears flowing in steady streams from our swollen eyes. One of our classmates had been a few rows behind us. She approached and asked if we were ok. Her gesture of kindness has always stayed with me as well as that moment of sitting in the harsh lighted ugliness of that litter strewn theater with my best friend digesting what we had just witnessed.
We were newly out gay men. I had come out in the summer of 1993 so it hadn't been quite a year since I'd been honest with myself and my friends about my sexual orientation. I was 22 and my college graduation was mere months away, my life loomed large in front of me. Anything was possible, and I wanted to take a bite out of it all. Being discriminated against wasn't a thought in my mind. And AIDS? Well, AIDS scared the shit out of me. It still does even though I am very aware of how the disease is spread, the advances in AIDS research, and the drugs that exist due to that research. It's no longer the death sentence it still was even in 1993 at the time of Philadelphia's release.
That film had such a profound, emotional effect on me--the blatant discrimination, the fear of AIDS--that I couldn't bear to watch it again. I've owned it on DVD for many years, a piece of cinematic history that was important and necessary. I needed to have it in my DVD library. As a gay man I had to have it in my library. But, I couldn't bring myself to watch it again. Until now. A random afternoon, that maybe wasn't so random, I removed that DVD from its place on the shelf. The faces of Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington stared back at me. I knew what I was getting myself into as I dusted off the top before opening the case.
Discrimination. It's an ugly word. It's defined by Random House Dictionary as the "treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit."
Here we are in 2013 hoping the people who vote bills into laws in this country will vote to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). (Oddly enough, ENDA was first introduced in Congress in 1994). It's been nearly 20 years since "Andrew Beckett," the character played by Tom Hanks in the aforementioned film, sued the law firm where he had been the "golden boy" for the discriminatory action of wrongful termination. He believed the partners learned he had AIDS then fabricated a story of his incompetence in order to fire him. Fear at its best.
It's a head scratcher that there is even a need for ENDA today. If I'm good at my job, how does my sexual orientation affect anyone? "Charles Wheeler," the head of the discriminating firm in the film Philadelphia is played to perfection by Jason Robards. He is the bulldog face of all the disgust and fear that is associated with homosexuality and, in this film, AIDS. I couldn't help but see similarities between this character and current Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boenher.
Boehner is a Republican Representative that most recently, for me, was the face of our government shut down. Now he's the man who would block ENDA. Why are you standing in the way, Mr. Boehner? Why is it so important for you to block a law that would protect people from discrimination? I mean it is illegal to discriminate against a person due to race, color, nationality, gender, and religious beliefs--to name a few protections. And as for religious beliefs, why is it that part of the stall of this bill has to do with exemptions being given to religious organizations? If an employer can cite religious beliefs as a reason for discriminating against LGBTQ employees then doesn't it make sense that those opposed to homosexuality will use religion to discriminate, whether they practice it or not? I'm just asking. I mean, isn't ENDA a civil rights issue, a human rights issue? Why are we giving in to the demands of religious organizations at the expense of anyone's rights?
The partners in the law firm that wrongfully terminated Andrew Beckett are, to me, stodgy old men with antiquated ideals. They perfectly embody the stodgy old men with antiquated ideals who want to stand in the way of progress in this county. They represent many of the Congressmen who have to vote this legislation into law. That scares me. What does sexual orientation matter if an employee is a good employee? No one should live in fear of losing his job simply because of who he is attracted to. Sexual orientation should have nothing to do with a person's employability. ENDA should be a moot point. However, it's seems to be a necessity. Sad, but true.
In the opening credits of Philadelphia there are many striking images, but none as poignant as the Liberty Bell. That iconic symbol of American history represents freedom. Liberty means "freedom from tyrannical government." Those who oppose ENDA are tyrants. They refuse to see the LGBTQ community as people deserving of protection. They seem willing to sacrifice those they see as weaker and less than. They're as prejudiced, bigoted, and fearful as the partners in the fictional law firm in Philadelphia who found any way they could to get rid of their golden boy.
I'm thankful to work in an industry that accepts me and my sexual orientation. I don't fear that I will be fired for being gay, but my heart aches and my blood pressure soars when I think of the gay men and women who do have to live in fear. Don't we all deserve the freedom to be ourselves? No employer should have the right to fire an employee just for being gay. It's un-American. And to all the Bible beaters against ENDA I say to you: Discrimination is not very Christian.