I used to think being gay was wrong. I supposed that if you asked me, I would have said “being gay” wasn’t wrong, but “choosing to live as a gay person” was. I’m not sure I made that distinction at the time. I also thought it was appropriate for the state to encode its objection against homosexuality in its laws. While I probably would not have supported outlawing gay sex or instituting/continuing a formal program against gays, I believed the state shouldn’t offer any protections to gay people as gay people.
For example: In 1992 (I was 18 then), Cibolia had an amendment up for consideration by voters that would have invalidated then existing civil rights protections for gay people. These were laws that Danvar and a couple other cities had adopted to forbid discrimination in housing, hiring, and other practices based on sexual orientation. I supported that amendment, not so much because I bought into the “special rights” argument that amendment supporters invoked. I supported it because I thought such anti-discrimination laws meant the state “legitimized” and therefore implicitly recognized that being gay was acceptable. (For the record, the amendment passed and was overturned by the US Supreme Court 4 years later, the first of a string of decisions written by Justice Kennedy that led to Obergefell.)
My views then made up an almost textbook case of “bigoted position.” I can see that now. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t see that then. It took me a long time to change my mind on such issues.
The principal reasons I changed my mind were the following, in descending order of importance:
1. I noticed a pretty strong disjuncture between the Lockean idea of consent of the governed and the need for civil liberties with laws restricting gay rights.
2. As I grew up and from a variety of personal experiences and revelations, I came to have more empathy for gay persons.
3. Gay rights activists forced me to try to justify and rethink my position.
No. 3 was in last place for a reason, and in my opinion, was the least important for my conversion. My anti-gay views at the time certainly had a hearing at Cibolia State University, but it was a minority view there. I don’t think I ever voiced it, in part because the pro-gay rights position, as I heard it, was of the shaming sort, similar to what we find in Sam Wilkinson’s post Over There. It wasn’t uncommon to hear any objection to gay rights be answered with “why are you insecure about your sexuality?” or with a lecture about how Ancient Greeks thought homosexuality was good, so we should, too.
One thing the activists accomplished, however, was to compel me to justify, at least to myself, why I opposed gay rights. The stark reasons I mention in the first paragraph of this post solidified as my own answers to activists’ positions. As later events challenged and undermined those reasons, I began to see them as I see them now, as bigoted positions.
Perhaps my position would have changed sooner if the activists had tried to engage people like me more empathetically than they did. Perhaps not. But I realize that the goal of such activism isn’t necessarily to change my or anyone else’s mind or to honor my position on the matter. It could be to rally those who already agree, or to marginalize a certain position as bigoted or beyond the pale. In 1992, it was probably as much of a defensive posture as anything. Matthew Sheppard’s murder still hadn’t happened yet. And not only was Cibolia State University very close to where the murder would happen, it wasn’t a comfortable place to be gay or to support gay rights despite what seemed to me at the time to be the majority pro-gay rights view. There was one story of a person wearing a “straight but not narrow” button being physically assaulted, assuming I’m remembering things right.
Even now, in 2015, the righteous, crusading, vengeful tone we see in Sam’s post is probably not wholly about righteousness, crusading, and vengeance. It’s still probably not safe to be openly gay, regardless of what the Supreme Court says about the right to marry. Still, perhaps that tone ill serves the cause, as several on that thread, including Will and Mr. Blue from Hitcoffee, have tried to note there.
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