Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A step forward, a step back

I was an ardent supporter of President Obama's campaign, not because he was black, not even a little bit, but because I strongly believe that his ideas about how to run this country are exactly what we need right now. Yet that historic aspect of his victory cannot be ignored, and it is cause for celebration, an inspiring sign of how far we as a nation of come since Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech some 45 years ago. But as I watched the reactions to this monumental moment in our history on television with friends, many politicians and pundits echoed the same sentiment: Now, when a parent tells their child, "Someday, you can grow up to be president of this great nation, that is indeed the truth regardless of who they are." And that is not yet the case.

In his moving endorsement of Barack Obama, Colin Powell said the following:

I'm also troubled by. . .what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

Powell is absolutely right. The America I love is not the one represented by those who object to the notion of a Muslim president. But we are not yet at the point where a Muslim or a Hindu, an agnostic or an atheist, a gay man or a lesbian could be president of this nation. True equality is still a long, long way off.

Never have I felt joy so commingled with grief as I did last night, for even as my bus ride home took me through throngs of people cheering in the streets, celebrating this hopeful new day in America, Proposition 8 here in California, and similar measures in other states, painfully reminded me that we as a society still have so far to go.

In some states, bans on gay marriage passed in yesterday's election. Here in California, a particularly hateful proposition, propelled by a campaign that used shameful scare tactics, passed which will amend the constitution of our state to strip the right to marry away from gay couples who have already enjoyed it, making their unions invalid and unrecognized. The L.A. Times endorsement of a no vote explains just how misleading and downright false the campaign used to support this proposition was, and how unnecessary and backwards the amendment will be, far better than I ever could.

This is not a religious issue. This is a civil rights issue. No religious institution would be forced to perform or recognize gay marriages. Marriage is a social institution, not exclusively a religious one. Will we pass a law preventing atheist heterosexual couples from going to the courthouse and getting married?

Supporters of this proposition appealed to peoples' fears about their children growing up in a world where gay marriage is accepted. What's to be scared of, unless you hold on to this archaic, absurd notion that homosexuality is a "lifestyle choice"? Because, right, the social alienation that goes with being gay is so tempting that lots of people are making that choice, and many straight people--who, of course, chose at some point in their lives to be straight, because it is a choice after all--struggle with the urge to give in to being gay constantly, because being gay just looks like such a good option. No. Ridiculous. I am not gay but I am transgendered, and I can no more change that about myself than I can change the color of my eyes. And believe me, I spent many long, hard, painful years trying. For our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, this is part of who they are, and it should be celebrated as just another weave in the beautiful fabric of human diversity. Instead, we continue to discriminate against them, to put them on a lower platform in our society. This is every bit as hateful as denying someone a right because of the color of their skin, and those who supported Proposition 8 ought to be deeply ashamed of themselves. Your children are not going to be more likely to "turn gay" if they grow up in a world where gay marriage is accepted. Believe me, your children will be straight or gay because they are straight or gay. Giving them a world that is more accepting of this diversity would be a gift.

But even as I grieve for this setback, I know that it is temporary, and the efforts to impede progress will inevitably prove futile. With each passing generation, more and more of our young people grow up understanding that homosexuality is nothing to revile or fear. They grow up, not with the grating, reluctant tolerance expressed by Sarah Palin in her debate with Joe Biden, but a full-hearted acceptance of their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as their equals in every aspect, deserving of all the same rights. That we will get to the point where gay marriage is allowed, where future generations will look back on this decision with all the disbelief and disappointment in us that I felt as a child looking back on the idea that at one point certain citizens had been forced to sit in the back of the bus, I have no doubt whatsoever. This is the slow but sure path of progress that has characterized the history of this great nation.

I was so happy to be alive to see this great moment in America's history. God willing, I will live to see that one as well.


Brian said...

You know, I was going to post a similar entry as soon as I had time, but you said everything I was thinking much better than I ever could. Your optimism is very reassuring. To be honest, I was expecting the bans to pass in the other states but I was surprised that California voted in favor of Prop 8.

What surprised me even more was how many of my fellow students at a medical school, where future physicians are supposed to treat everyone equally and be COMPASSIONATE, were happy about Prop 8 passing.

Emiroo said...

Outstanding post!

And Chris Rock has already said everything there is to say about gay rights:

1. (Re: Homophobia) ...We need to cut this sh!t out. Everybody in here has at least a gay cousin!

2. (Re: Gays in the Military) ..If they want to fight, let them fight...'cause I ain't fighting!

3. (Re: Gay Marriage) ...They absolutely should have the right to be as miserable as the rest of us!