I am going to take a HUGE risk. I am going to discuss some of the most divisive issues of our time. I am going to share my thinking on the issues, historically and currently. I am going to share with you what I currently believe and why. This blog has an extremely varied readership, kind of like the global citizenry it represents, and there is bound to be significant disagreement amongst many of you relative to my comments and points of view. I invite your comments and criticism. I even welcome them. There is only one rule, but it is non-negotiable: Keep it civil. I monitor all comments, and will delete any comment that violates this rule. I will not delete for content, I will only delete for tone. There will be no personal attacks or rants against my readership or commenters. Make your argument, state your case, but be civil and respectful in tone. I know that I risk alienating and losing some of my readerhip, but I trust you my friends. I want to demonstrate that people with significantly differing points of view can still come together and dialogue successfully, an art our elected officials seem to have forgotten. To my friends in other countries: This is how the United States of America is supposed to work.
Today might very well prove to be a landmark day for Gay Rights in the United States of America. The Supreme Court, the high court of of the land, in a narrow 5/4 split overturned DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) as unconstitutional and dismissed the case on Proposition 8 as being without merit. This opens up the possibility of Gay (or same sex) marriage in California. Let the reverberations and recriminations begin. The talking heads will have a field day and reap the monetary rewards of fueling the ongoing divisiveness and debate among the citizens of the United States.
I have turned around 180-degrees on this issue over a lifetime. My dad, for all of his good traits, was homophobic. Why? Because he suffered from dwarfism, and his masculinity was continually being questioned. He wasn’t a man’s man in the classic sense, therefore he must be something other. If you weren’t a man, and you were obviously not a woman, what did that leave? This was the dark ages: he was born in 1920, and came into young adulthood in the 1940’s. That he became an Architect, a brilliant thinker, a pilot, a tennis player, bowler and golfer, and finally married a beautiful (so-called normal) woman, helped to dispel those notions later in life—but what of his childhood? I don’t know, he would never talk about it.
I was born in 1947, the eldest of three brothers, one of whom was also a dwarf. We led an insulated sequestered kind of life. To go out in public invited ridicule and humiliation. Obviously we did venture out, but usually at times and at places where crowds were minimal. For instance, if we went out to dinner, we would arrive right as the restaurant would open and before the peak dining hours commenced. I could tell you hundreds of stories about the leers, snickers, jokes and rude comments directed our way, but I won’t bore you with them now. Suffice it to say, I also grew up homophobic. But I didn’t really know anything about homosexuals at the time—I was very naive. I thought they were out to get all of us young heterosexual boys, and do something awful to us. I wasn’t quite sure what that was, but I knew it must be awful. They were a threat, and I didn’t want to be one. I joined my male friends in telling lewd and crude jokes; using slurs like queer, pansy and faggot behind other friends backs. Usually against friends I liked better than my lewd and crude friends. Looking back, in hindsight, I now know I had friends and acquaintances (male and female alike) who were gay (whether they had come to the realization yet I don’t know). They were usually quieter, more intelligent, more sensitive, more artistic and just plain nicer than my regular friends.
I can remember the first time I suspected the difference between me and those nicer friends of mine. It was in the Seventh grade, and I was dropping a math class. I approached the teacher with my transfer slip, and he—Mr. Rogers by name—went on a tirade against me. He said he was glad I was dropping his class, that he had no time for my kind, that we were an abomination against God, and that we would go to hell. He was very angry, and I was very confused. I was 13-years old. What he was referring to was my association with a young friend named John. We used to hangout in the quad and eat lunch together. We were both artists of some talent and we had many shared interests. He was a good friend. As I realized many years later John was Gay. But I’m not sure he even realized it at the time, because we used to talk about the girls all the time. Somehow this teacher had picked up a vibe I wasn’t to see for years to come. I wasn’t Gay, but because I was sensitive and introverted for different reasons, and John was my friend, I got tagged unknowingly with the same label. And the same anger. My dad didn’t like John either, but again it took me years to figure out why. He was a threat to his masculine son. Whatever became of John? I don’t know, because I’ve not been able to find a trace of him. I suspect he might have been a victim of the AIDS war of the 1980’s.
I joined the Marine Corps out of high school and headed to Vietnam. Yes, we had Gays in the military. But, again, I was pretty naive and uneducated. And still I used Gay slurs and told Gay jokes to be funny around my macho friends. And I discovered women, and I liked them. A lot. And when I entered the civilian workforce, and worked my way up the management ladder, I encountered more and more Gays. As a group they were usually some of my best employees and co-workers. My attitudes started to change, even as my behaviors remained (publicly at least) the same. Inappropriate jokes and slurs remained part of my repertoire. I am glad that I never openly Gay-bashed, but I am ashamed of my behind-the-scenes behavior for most of my life. But a person can change. I have many friends here in Yucatan who are Gay. Mexico is surprisingly tolerant relative to personal sexuality. Given its code of machismo and its Catholic history I thought quite the opposite would be true. I learned a great deal from these new friends, and they are not a threat to anyone (including me … they’ve made it abundantly clear that they do not find me the least bit attractive … who knew). Some of their personal stories are heartrending: being disowned by family, friends and churches when they finally ‘came out.’ Gays permeate our species throughout the world, some estimates speculate that 10 to 15% of our global population is Gay. They’ve always been part of who we are as a species, and they always will be. They are not a threat. Being Gay is just another data-dot on the spectrum of humanity. Every human being contains within them varying degrees of masculinity and femininity—there isn’t a fixed ratio for either. Gays have finally found their voice (and political clout), and it scares people because it disrupts the status quo. Women have fought this battle. Blacks and Hispanics have fought this battle. People around the world continue to fight this battle for basic Human Rights. Disrupting the status quo is scary because it involves change, and we as a species prefer routine to change. But often times change is change for the good.
My position: I support equal rights (all rights including same-sex marriage) for those that choose to call themselves Gay. Regardless of title or designation they are us: Human beings and United States Citizens. They differ from us in no way: They are fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. Instead of being disowned and ostracized and discriminated against, they should be apologized to and welcomed home. That is the American way.
The legal argument: I think the Supreme Court has made it pretty clear, by today’s rulings, that it will be a tough battle going forward to prohibit Gays from enjoying the full range of freedoms and rights we have all enjoyed in this country. The polls conducted throughout the United States also point to overwhelming support by the majority of our citizens.
The religious argument: Freedom of Religion. Possibly the most important building-block of our Constitution. The legal extension of universal human rights to all of our citizens does not infringe upon upon our freedom of religion or personal beliefs. It just guarantees that no ‘one particular religion’ or personal belief system trumps another one. We are a secular government for a reason. For a government to operate with a religious mandate it would have to pick a religion. In the United States of America what religion would that be? In our country we are allowed to worship as we please, without mandating that others worship as we do. Few countries can say the same. Is homosexuality a sin in your religion? Fine. The government won’t (cannot) prevent you from prohibiting Gays into your church. You do not have to recognize Gay relationships or marriage. You do not have to condone, in anyway, Gay behavior or beliefs. You can speak openly and honestly about your beliefs, and your views about Gays and their lifestyles. You can send your kids to religious faith-based schools to circumvent a secular education. You can DO all of these things, because there isn’t another religion running the country saying you can’t. This is freedom of religion in practice.
A personal note: I am not a formally religious person myself, but religion interests me a great deal. Like most of you, I have been on a spiritual quest for many years looking for answers. I was confirmed into the Lutheran Church while in High School (against my wishes), and later followed a Taoist and Buddhist path for over 20-years. That is still my spiritual touchstone, but I no longer study with a priest or attend formal practice at a temple. I don’t know of any spiritual teacher who taught or created a religion, and that includes: Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Mohamed or the hundreds of other enlightened ones. It’s the disciples who built the religions after the teacher’s death. And they often got it wrong. Enlightenment gives way to ritual; teaching become dogma, language slips into incoherent antiquity and leadership devolves into unbridled political power. The Buddha (always the pragmatist) said: Don’t believe me, prove it to yourself. He valued healthy skepticism.
I am not an intellectual; my formal education does not extend much beyond High School. I am not a theologian. But I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover 3 or 4 times, I’ve read the Koran and the Tao Te Ching and many, many other religious and spiritual writings from all over the world. The Great Teachers shared many commonalities: First amongst them was compassion. If you want a real surprise study the teachings of The Prophet Mohamed in the Koran. The real teachings, and not the rantings of the Islamophobes. Don’t confuse Islam with radical muslims. “Radical muslims are to Islam, what the KKK is to Christianity” – paraphrased from West Wing.
So that’s my spiritual quest to date, and why I feel the way I do about Gay Rights in the United States and around the world. We’ve lost our claim of moral superiority in the world (if it ever really existed). We used to lead by example. The world’s peoples still look to us for guidance and inspiration, but we are looking increasingly hypocritical, ridiculous and irrelevant. We need to be able to talk about import issues like Gay Rights in an intelligent and civilized manner, without hyperbole and rancor. And we must insist that our elected officials do the same. Do you know that approximately 80% of the country thinks of themselves as moderates, and agree on more things than they disagree on? Surprised? Why are we letting the 20% extremists on the left and right cause such chaos amongst us? Why do we tolerate the divisive politicians, reelecting them year after year? Why do we listen to the talk show rabble-rousers? Why do we allow Op-ed pieces to dominate hard news venues? Why do we believe everything we hear or read? Why do we argue with our family, friends and neighbors instead of discussing? Why are we no longer civil with one another? Because we are afraid. Things are changing beyond our control (but its always been like that). But with today’s technology these changes reach us in seconds, not in weeks like a century ago. The world is moving fast, and we aren’t taking the proper amount of time to take notice. Make a difference.
Discussion Point #2: Pro Life vs Pro Choice