Within a period of 24 hours, I received two videos; one from my Aunt Beth, the other from my father. Initially the videos are seemingly unrelated, but if there’s one thing my mind likes to do, it is to make connections.
It may seem out of order, but I am going to start with the second of the two videos. This video, sent to me by my Aunt Beth, is a portion of a Fort Worth, TX city council meeting. One of the councilmen used his allotted time to comment on the recent focus on teen suicide rates, especially among the LGBT youth, and to share his own story.
I too was teased and bullied throughout my childhood, though, in my case, the bullying came because of my weight. Middle School and High School were an especially difficult for me.
After moving to Waterbury, CT, at the age of 10, I spent the next few years building up a network of friends, many of whom lived in my neighborhood, in spite of the constant teasing I dealt with. When one of those friendships ended, so too followed most of that network of friends. Where my home and neighborhood had once been a refuge from the bullying in school, it became a worse source of the teasing because I could not escape it.
Upon entering high school, I once again built up a network of new friends that provided a refuge from the cruelty of the other students, only to watch, during my Senior year as history repeated itself.
Through all of this, I never seriously considered suicide. My family, while far from perfect, was a source of love and support.
The irony is that the love and support I received from my family is the reason I didn’t come out until I was 28. I feared losing the love and support, not just from my immediate family, but also from my extended family as well.
During my ongoing war with weight, we often discussed in our support group how people can often surprise you. The people you thought would be there for you disappear, or worse, become a burden, and the people you thought would be critical become your biggest supporters.
The same held true of my “Coming Out” story; a story better left for its own post. I think the person that surprised me the most when I came out had to be my brother.
My brother is 11 years younger than I am, and as such, we were not very close as we grew up. Often, because of the age difference, I felt what relationship we did have, was closer to a child/parent relationship than one of siblings. But this distance between us left room for me to make certain assumptions about him.
One of these assumptions was that, like my father, he saw everything in Black and White. However, when talking with my mother about a month after I came out, I was utterly stunned to find out that my brother had been a part of the Gay/Straight Alliance in high school (I believe because one of his friends was gay, no one in my circle had suspected I was gay). Not only that, but when my father was having some difficulty coping with my coming out, it was my brother who was able to provide him useful advice and knowledge.
I mention all this because the 800 pound gorilla still sitting between my father and I is the topic of Gay Marriage. While this is another topic that I intend to cover in detail in a future post, it is important to summarize: although I have been engaged to my fiancé for the better part of a year, until recently I was undecided where I stood on the Gay Marriage topic. Did the word “marriage” matter as long as our union was legally recognized? Would not using the word “marriage” help improve acceptance among those who opposed Gay Marriage from a religious or traditional point of view?
The other video I received came in the previous night from my father. It’s a clip of the comedian Red Skelton sharing a story of one of his teachers explaining the Pledge of Allegiance to his students.
I wonder: when my father watched this video and got towards the end where Red Skelton discusses “liberty and justice for all,” does he recognize how these words, for which he helped cultivate in me a high level respect, need to apply universally?
…with liberty; which is freedom… the right of power to live one’s own life without threats, fear or some sort of retaliation. And Justice; the principle or quality of dealing fairly with others. For all; which means, boys and girls, it’s as much your country as it is mine.
How many teachers in our modern public schools have taken the time to truly explain our Pledge of Allegiance and what it represents? That this Pledge is one that goes beyond politics or religion? The last five words support both conservatism (limiting the role of government) and liberalism (individual freedom regardless of race, gender, or sexuality).
Ultimately (and maybe unsurprisingly) I believe I now fall in the “pro” side of marriage equality. I’m sure every one of you recognize the name Ellen DeGeneres. If there were one “spokesman” I would like to have for the GLBT community, it would be Ellen. Like you, the name Portia di Rossi, likely means little. If you don’t know, she is Ellen’s wife, and last year she was interviewed on The View.
I came across this video because it was supposed to be about Elisabeth Hasslebeck’s stupidity (I think she asks a question a lot of straight people want to ask); but I think the more important thing to point out was the simplicity with which Portia presented the issue (around 5:50). As long as a “gay union” can be seen as something lesser than a heterosexual coupling, it will always be a source of justification for ‘bullies’ from the school child right on up to political leaders.
As long as that perception of inequality is allowed to exist, on the societal level, there will always be room for bullies to belittle gay and lesbians, or even just those they suspect might be gay.
Because there is the perception that “the principle or quality of dealing fairly with others” does not apply to gay or lesbian citizens, those of us in the LGBT community currently live with daily reminders that we can not live as though we have “the right of power to live one’s own life without threats, fear or some sort of retaliation.”
My fiancé and I are uncomfortable with the simple act of holding hands or putting an arm around the other while walking through a store because this perception of inequality exists. It’s gone so far as being told that this innocent behavior is discouraged in my parent’s house because it makes someone uncomfortable. A place that should be “home.”
It’s no accident that “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is the tagline on my blog. Until this moment, I never thought it would apply to my writings so literally. I hope, some day, that everyone, including members of my own family, recognize that the very reason their conservatism views the Pledge of Allegiance with such regard, is the same reason they need to recognize the universal nature of liberty and love.