Why I Care About Gay Rights

I remember the first time I expressed my support for gay marriage to my parents. My mother’s response predictably oozed with ignorance: “David, do you have something to tell me?” Yes mom, because everyone that supports the rights of homosexuals must be a homosexual as well. Makes sense. I guess all those white people that wanted to end slavery were black too, right?

Sigh.

I used to share her ignorance, though only when I was younger and didn’t know better. One particular example was when I watched X-Men and found out that Ian McKellen (Magneto) was a gay man. I remember expressing disappointment to a cousin or two, saying that I had loved his acting but felt “betrayed”. I’m ashamed that I ever thought this way, but again… this was when I didn’t know better and had the scapegoat of youth-driven naivety thanks to being raised in a staunchly Catholic family. The type that voted for Bush… twice. The type that forbid my sister from joining an LGBT group in high school and threatened to stop funding my college education if I took a class in philosophy. Being a free-thinker was frowned upon.

I became far more reasonable at the tail end of high school and further enlightened throughout college, enough so that one of the closest people in my life, my younger cousin Peter, chose to reveal his homosexuality in 2005 to only one person in our massive extended family… me. I was honored. It was in that moment that I realized that how successful I’d managed to stray from my generally bigoted and close-minded relatives.

Peter eventually came out to his immediate family. He chose to tell his father with his therapist present to act as a moderator. While his dad acknowledged that he would still love Peter, he said that he would have “no part in his life” if he ever acted on his romantic impulses. His mom took the news calmly, but then turned around and went online to seek out ways to “fix” him and carelessly left the browser open, which Peter naturally saw. His sister Bethany rejected him over his lifestyle, though they were never particularly close to begin with. His brother, still one of the wisest people I know, accepted the news without question. I remain unaware as to how his other sister took the news.

His homosexuality was kept quiet from the extended family, many of whom openly expressed their opposition to gay rights including even civil unions and the right to adopt. Peter heard these comments on occasion and, having resided in Texas, surely encountered other harsh judgements. This all culminated in a decision… his last decision. He leapt to his death from a 7-foot parking garage on October 13, 2009. He was only 19 years old.

How much of his decision was motivated by depression? How much of it was motivated by the discrimination he experienced as a homosexual? Only he knew. But it’s fair to say that they were intertwined and that without one of the other he would very likely still be here today. At the very least, for a few more precious years.

I already had developed enough empathy to be onboard with the cause, but Peter’s death is what really sparked my passion for supporting their fight for equal rights. Incredibly, much of my family remained un-phased. I asked my mom once if she would support Peter’s right to marry if he were still alive today. Her reply? “Absolutely not.” Several of my Aunts/Uncles wanted Rick Santorum to become President, one of the most openly anti-gay candidates I’ve ever heard speak. These kinds of attitudes are what led me to recognize just how deep the chasm really was between my family and I. They’d always been old-fashioned and generally ignorant, but I’d never thought them to be outright bigots.

And for what? Because their religion says it’s immoral for two men or two women to marry? I respect peoples beliefs, including those of my family. But what they fail to recognize is that this fight for equal rights has nothing to do with their religion. If gay marriage were legal then religious institutions would still retain the right to reject performing the sacrament. Separation of Church and State works both ways, whether we like it or not. What the gay community seeks is the LEGAL right to marry. “God” never said anything about that. Once this important distinction is understood, I fail to comprehend how anyone can be in opposition to the cause.

The response from Republicans over Obama’s position has reflected the same failure of understanding. Their National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus, recently stated the following: “People in this country, no matter straight or gay, deserve dignity and respect. However, this doesn’t mean it carries on to marriage.”

Does he really not see the contradiction in that statement?

He also went on to say, “I mean, marriage has to have a definition, and we just happen to believe it’s between a man and woman.”

The key word here is “believe”, yet another subtle failure to acknowledge the Separation of Church and State. Anti-gay sentiments are chiefly spawned from a religious perspective and therefore have no place in the debate over matters of legality. His argument isn’t an argument at all. But the media refuses to challenge or correct such ignorance in the interest of “unbiased reporting”. Correcting a falsehood isn’t bias, CNN.

But rather than write further about the subject, especially since I’m slipping into the subject of politics, I’d like to share with you the coming-out letter that Peter bravely submitted and had published in his college newspaper. If this doesn’t stir a sense of empathy in your heart then nothing else can. And if you’re already a supporter of the cause then I hope it further cements your rightful position and motivates you to take on a more active role in your community.

Peter Walkowicz
January 30, 2008 

Last year I was seated in school on an indolent afternoon, and overheard the prime news story of the day—Jerry Falwell passed away. The student next to me said, regarding the late minister, “My dad taught me to never insult the dead, but good riddance.” The comment’s profanity is edited out, though the passion still stands. As I returned home my parents were watching television, sad to see the same man die. There were sighs and near tears as the news station talking head attempted to eulogize Rev. Falwell. The disparity in their reactions was, I supposed, the difference in generation. To the generation of my mother, he was a rallying figure for Christian revival in the same vein as Billy Graham or Pat Robertson. To my adolescent, he was a bigot towards, though certainly not limited to, homosexuals.

So here stands an issue quite common in the political spectrum. I visited New York and happened upon a Gay Pride Parade several summers ago. In the newspaper Arnold Schwarzenegger was attending a banquet for Log Cabin Republicans not too many moons ago. And most recently, the presidential candidates were called by LOGO, a GLBT television channel, to hold a forum on gay-rights issues. No Republicans showed, and few Democrats made an appearance, with only one of them in favor of full equal rights for homosexuals. The same people who quote the Bible to defend their opposition to gay rights are the same group who oppose welfare programs, despite the smattering of condemnations of homosexuality in the older half of the tome versus the plentiful appearance of economic outreach in the newer half, the one supposedly more valued by Christianity. Also, the same people who purportedly endorse gay rights still stand to lose political clout should they share those ideals, leading to a candidate with 1% popularity in the polls being the only one to do so.

Herein lies signs of a major issue that modern society must face; an issue that affects a sizable minority and their families as well. Violence against homosexuals is not uncommon, nor is censuring them in the media—a media in which they are largely used for comic relief. It could be considered an outrage that the term “gay” is even used pejoratively. Our nation’s letter of the law has, and its Supreme Court has aided in, defending government from being overtaken by religious-fueled bigotry as well as defending equal rights. So I must ask, why the majority of this nation, even in the free press, stands in opposition to several million of its own citizens. The state of Texas largely disapproves, my community largely disapproves, even my family absolutely disapproves, yet here I stand.

Science has stripped us of our misconceptions about the bubonic plague, the nature of the Solar System, and our own sexual biology. In the face of fact, society still cannot stand with its arms outstretched to me or millions like me. Orphanages fill up, but I cannot adopt a child. Our soldiers overseas must be sent back repeatedly to Iraq due to low troop numbers, yet I cannot serve in the armed forces. Millions of people benefit from the financial and emotional bond of marriage in other countries (not to exclude certain states here), though I must remain in the shadow of shame, on a societal scale, alone. I must live in fear that co-workers or friends will disown me, I must worry that it will affect my ability to find housing or employment, and I certainly cannot find a place in our nation’s government. The shame experienced in the declaration of homosexuality is something that largely must be shed by modern gays and lesbians, and so I shed it. I am a homosexual, I am not an invalid, and I will be respected. My hope is that my generation shares the view of my former classmate, who knows, love is not to be made illegal.

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