I recently had an interesting exchange on Facebook with a guy named Patrick who is a friend of a friend. Following some statements I made related to ongoing efforts to deny and rescind rights for gay Americans, and the bias, bigotry and hate so often and commonly directed towards gays, Patrick asked:
“What rights are gays being denied? Tell me who has denied you any said rights. Let's get to the bottom of this and report him, her or them as needed. Seriously, I'd like to know what rights you've been denied and by whom. And where. . . and when!”
It surprised me a bit, as I had assumed most people are aware of the issues. So I responded:
“If you are not familiar with the bigotry, bias and hatred historically (and still currently) directed towards gays, the implications and negative consequences it has had on individuals and society, and past and ongoing efforts to deny and rescind rights and equality for gay Americans (including marriage equality; work place equality; immigration equality; military service, and many others) I suggest you Google it and learn. I'm not sure where you have been? Better yet, give me a call and I'd be more than happy to fill you in: 510-495-4445. Thanks.”
“I'm familiar with a lot of things including all the bigotry, bias and hatred committed against the Saxons by the Normans in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries. But that's all now passé. And I don't see any of it occurring against gays here in Los Angeles where I live. If it's occurring where you live or personally against you then tell us. It's a simple enough question. No need to deflect answering it by providing an unnecessary history lesson or hinting disparagement against the person who asked it. If injustice is being committed against you, let us know what it is. And let's see what we can do to correct it. Hmm?”
Again, I was surprised. Here is a person fully aware of bigotry, bias and hatred directed toward a group of people 800 to 1,000 years ago, but apparently unaware of the bigotry, bias and hate regularly directed against gays today. I was not attempting to disparage him, nor deflect his question, but was trying to answer the best I could. I felt that since he was -- by his own admission -- unaware of the issues and asking me about it, a hint of historical context might be helpful. But mostly I focused on the denial of rights that still exist today, in our modern supposedly more enlightened times.
The exchange made me realize that we all have different interests, and not everyone is aware of the bigotry, bias and hate directed towards gays, and efforts to deny and rescind rights, equality and freedom for gays in the United States. I appreciate and respect Patrick’s willingness and desire to learn and his generous offer to help and get involved. We can use all the support we can get.
For others of you who may not be aware, here is a summary:
All in all, more than 1,400 basic rights are denied to gay people in the United States on a federal level, and even more in various states, including not being allowed to marry (and denied all the other rights and privileges that go with marriage); not being allowed to adopt; not being allowed immigration or residency rights; not granted the same protections under the law for employment and employer rights; no protection against blatant, open discrimination by national organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America. The current policy platform of the Republican Party, as adopted last year at their convention, clearly and strongly opposes gay marriage and calls for the denial of other rights, freedom and equality to gay Americans. Just recently, members of the Republican Party in the Congress voted to spend $3 million of taxpayer’s money to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is an unconstitutional act that denies many Americans like me the same rights, freedom and equality that other Americans enjoy.
When I joined the Marine Corps and served eight years in a special ops unit called Force Recon, I had to lie, as legally I was not allowed to serve in the Marine Corps. I was a top-notch Marine, very highly decorated, and so it wasn’t my lack of skills or knowledge that kept me from being legally allowed to serve, but the fact I am gay. I was denied the same rights, freedoms and equality that other Americans and my fellow Marines were allowed. It was tough. Fortunately, things have since improved in the military (thanks to the leadership of our current President) -- but there is still a long way to go for gay Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen to receive the same rights, freedom and equality as other service members.
Bigotry, bias and hatred against gays remains prevalent throughout our nation, and is very common among conservative Republicans, particularly in the Tea Party. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, the Family Research Council, James Dobson, Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church, many Christians and Christian churches, and numerous other individuals and organizations constantly refer to gays as “abhorrent,” “unnatural,” “abominations,” “freaks,” and put a lot of time, money and effort to deny and rescind rights, freedom and equality for gay Americans like me.
Several years ago, I was stopped for speeding in rural Virginia. After the cop saw work-related gay rights literature on my front seat, he repeatedly called me a “faggot,” arrested me and put me in jail for a night, where other cops repeatedly called me a "faggot" and even hit me and roughed me up a bit. It was frustratingly difficult to bring attention and justice to the incident and during the ensuing case I brought against the cops several locals wrote letters to the editor praising the cops for their actions, happy to see them trying to "keep gays out" of their county. Of course, there’s no doubt many gays live there, but I imagine most of them must live fearful, closeted lives of lies and deceit (as I did for many years) because of the way they are treated and perceived.
The negative individual and societal consequences of people being fearful to accept, embrace and be themselves are serious and run deep. It results in self hatred, self judgment, shame and guilt. It results in bigotry, hatred, bullying and violence. It results in a lack of freedom and equality for all. Just missing out on the fundamental emotional and psychological growth that most people are openly able and even encouraged to experience – such as first crushes, first dates, first relationships, first sexual experiences, first love, first heartbreaks –can and does result in a form of arrested development (something that still effects me and my behavior even today).
We’ve come a long way but have a long way to go: According to the U.S. government, hate crimes rose 13% in 2010, and there is an annual average of 191,000 hate crimes each year with 18% of those committed against gays and lesbians. And since we gays and lesbians make up a small percentage of our population, crimes against us are six times higher than the overall rate. Young people are affected, perhaps more so. Nine out of 10 gay and lesbian teens report being bullied because of their sexual orientation. Gay teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other teens, five times more likely to miss school out of fear, and 28% do, indeed, drop out. Last year an 18-year old Texas man was slain by a classmate for being gay, and a 24-year old Florida lesbian was killed by her girlfriend’s father. Much of this, no doubt, derives from groups that continue to perpetuate lies, misinformation, distortions, bias, bigotry and hate against gays.
My exchange with Patrick made me realize that perhaps we need to do a better job of helping friends, family and others become more aware of the bias, bigotry and hate directed towards gay Americans, and the ongoing efforts to deny rights, freedom and equality for gay Americans. By doing so, we can help create more understanding and support in the fight for equality.
I certainly hope it doesn’t take 800-1,000 years for people to become familiar with issues I had wrongly assumed were common knowledge.
If, like Patrick, you’d like to learn more and get involved, please check out and consider supporting the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) or other gay rights organizations.