The Fight for LGBTQ Rights is Over
My gay friend Gerald says so
Let me tell you about my gay friend, Gerald.
I worked with him until quite recently. He was my logistics manager, my truck wrangler. He handled all the details of herding a swarm of tractor-trailers in and out of the plant every day — from organizing the mountains of federal compliance paperwork to hustling his ass out to the docks to make sure loads and unloads ran smoothly.
He’d even get his fingernails dirty and grime his arms up if a forklift broke down unexpectedly.
Gotta keep those trucks moving!
Gerald is a gay man in his mid twenties. He’s also the quintessential boy next door. Smart, attractive, well spoken, charming. In the company of other gay men, he might put out a little advertising vibe, bend the wrist a tad, allow a lilt to creep into his voice.
I’ve described that sort of behavior before as a gay-male identification feedback loop. Subtle cues become louder and more noticeable as we reinforce them among ourselves.
Gerald is usually unremarkable, though. He’s a nice young guy most people like. Most people would never know he’s gay unless he told them. He prefers it that way. In fact, Gerald has told me several times that homophobia is over, that whatever discrimination we still face comes about as a result of our being too open or too loud.
Gerald grew up in a progressive part of the United States where discrimination against gay men is socially unacceptable.
Perhaps that’s overstating things.
Discrimination against prosperous, white gay men who know their place is frowned upon. So, Gerald does his best to be prosperous and to know his place. He was born white, so he’s got that base covered. He wants the American Dream — a good job, a nice husband he loves, a brick house, and a picket fence.
He’ll never know what it feels like to live as an effeminate gay man, a lesbian, a transgender woman, or a queer person of color. He’ll probably never know what it’s like to live in a part of the United States where even prosperous gay men are openly discriminated against.
So, Gerald closes his eyes, keeps quiet, and convinces himself that everything is OK because he’s OK — because his neighbors are cool with him, his coworkers don’t (usually) diss him behind his back, and because he is personally very comfortable.
I know a lot of Geralds. I know a lot of nice people who are so wrapped up in their privilege that they can’t feel the cold winds of homophobia rushing through the room where they’re all snuggled up.
So let’s leave Gerald to his picket fence, shall we?
Let’s move on to a different American experience with homophobia, one ripped right out of yesterday’s headlines.
According to an article in The Guardian, Texas elementary school teacher Stacy Bailey — twice named district Teacher of the Year — has been suspended from her job for most of this school year, disciplined, and involuntarily transferred to a position she does not want.
What did Stacy do?
Like many of the teachers in her school, she presented a “getting to know you” slideshow to her class at the beginning of the year.
She showed the kids pictures of her house. Her family. Her pets. She talked to them about her summer vacation. The problem came when she clicked the button on the projector, flashed an image on the screen, and said to the children, “This is my future wife.”
That’s it, that’s all. She clicked again and moved on.
What happened next? From The Guardian article:
Later in the week, according to a court filing, Bailey was told a parent had complained about the art teacher promoting a “homosexual agenda”.
According to the lawsuit, a school district official met Bailey and told her: “You can’t promote your lifestyle in the classroom.”
The suit says Bailey responded: “We plan to get married. When I have a wife, I should be able to say ‘this is my wife’ without fear of harassment. When I state that, it is a fact about my life, not a political statement.”
The official is quoted as replying: “Well right now it kind of is.”
Stacy doesn’t enjoy Gerald’s privilege.
She lives in Texas instead of a tony suburb north of Detroit where homophobes are in enough of a minority that they keep their heads down.
She doesn’t like keeping her mouth shut. She doesn’t know her place. She doesn’t do as she’s told.
All the other teachers were talking about their families, spouses, and fiancees, so she wanted to do the same thing. The school district asked for her resignation. She responded with a federal lawsuit.
She might not win.
Texas doesn’t have any state laws prohibiting workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people. They do have a so-called “No Promo Homo” law, though, prohibiting teachers from “discussing homosexuality” with students. I’ve written before about its chilling effect.
As a matter of fact, homophobia is rife in the United States.
It’s not just Texas. Especially in matters where children are concerned, many Americans feel perfectly entitled to demand and enforce systemic discrimination, as well as systemic silencing and erasure of queer people.
On May 3, in just one example, the states of Kansas and Oklahoma passed laws to empower state-funded child welfare agencies to exclude LGBTQ families from from fostering or adopting.
Other Americans demand the right to exclude LGBTQ people from ordinary pursuits like buying goods and services, claiming that “religious liberty” ought to give them license to lawfully discriminate. Donald Trump’s Department of Justice is filing amicus briefs seeking in favor of discrimination.
No, homophobia is not dead, despite Gerald’s comfortable life.
I lead a comfortable life, myself, though I recently moved to a rural part of Michigan, returning to my country roots after a lifetime of urban living. In the tiny village where I look after my dad during the last stage of his life, I have to keep my head down. Being gay is a very, very strange thing to be here.
A few weeks ago, Dad was visited by a physical therapist, a middle-aged woman who charmed him by breaking out her iPhone and treating him to pictures of her horses. During a private moment, I mentioned to her that I was new to this part of the state. She asked me how I liked it.
I swallowed hard and said,“Frankly, as a middle-aged gay man, I feel rather isolated.”
She surprised me by high-fiving me. “As a middle-aged lesbian, I feel the same! My wife and I bought property here because we’ve always dreamed of keeping our own horses instead of boarding them. But we’re so lonely sometimes.”
My dad’s physical therapist is lonely because homophobia isn’t dead. Her neighbors and fellow horse people are very religious; they disapprove of her. They don’t invite her and her wife into their homes because they don’t want their children exposed to a “homosexual lifestyle.”
Homophobia won’t be dead until we no longer have to be quiet and know our place like Gerald.
It won’t be over until there’s no such thing as too open or too loud.
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