hearing both gay and straight people say that the long string of losses
we've faced at the polls around marriage equality are really our own fault;
our community pushed too hard and too fast, they argue. The prominent theme
being generated is that we have failed to "educate" the public about who
we really are and get beyond the stereotypes of leather people, butch dykes,
circuit boys and drag queens - and that it is now our obligation to reintroduce
ourselves to the American people. I also repeatedly hear that it's up to
us to reframe the terms of the debate away from "moral values" to simpler
concepts, such as fairness, which polls indicate resonate most with the
I disagree. This is nothing more than the blame-the-victim mentality
afflicting our nation generally and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
(LGBT) movement specifically.
Rather than reframing the debate away from moral values, we must embrace
them. Or more precisely, the utter immorality of the escalating attacks
against LGBT people. And, equally, the utter immorality in the failure
of so many people of good will to stand with us. It is time for us to
seize the moral high ground and state unambiguously that anti-gay discrimination
in any form is immoral.
Webster's defines discrimination as "unfair treatment of a person or
group on the basis of prejudice." By any measure, LGBT people are targets
of discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. FBI
statistics show that more people are being murdered because of their sexual
orientation than for any other bias reason. Our young people are still
routinely bullied in schools. The examples of injustices in the area of
partner and family recognition are too many to list.
No thinking or feeling person can deny these realities, which, as always,
fall hardest on LGBT people of color and those who are poor.
But, alarmingly, rather than seeing a groundswell of support for measures
to combat these injustices, the opposite is occurring. In Congress and
in statehouses nationwide, it's rhetorical and legislative open season
on LGBT people. For example, over the last nine months, anti-marriage
state constitutional amendments were put on the ballot in 14 states, 10
of which also prohibit the recognition of any form of relationship between
people of the same gender. It's likely another 12 states will have similar
measures on the ballot within 3 years.
Nothing like this has happened since the Constitution was ratified in
1791 - essentially a national referendum inviting the public to vote to
deprive a small minority of Americans of rights the majority takes for
granted and sees as fundamental.
And who's been there to fight these amendments? Basically us, the very
minority under attack. Mainstream media and churches are largely silent
to our opponents' lies. Most progressive organizations and political campaigns,
meanwhile, steer clear. There have been sterling exceptions, but they
have been few and far between.
Many people who see themselves as supporters of equal rights for all
tolerate this because they believe prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation
is profoundly different than that based on race or religion - that it
comes from an understandable disapproval of our behavior - not on some
"immutable characteristic." Homosexual behavior, they feel, is "unnatural"
(doesn't the Bible say so?). Pundits say there is an "ick" factor - that
the thought of gay sex revolts non-gay people, and that this seemingly
innate reaction is proof there is something wrong with homosexuality.
This rationale is hardly unique to gay people. Scholars point to comparable
"ick" sentiments about Irish immigrants in the 1880s, and describe how
in preceding generations sexual ideology was used to strengthen control
over slaves and to justify the taking of Native American lands, and that
for centuries Jews were associated with disease and urban degeneration.
Fact is, there is no justification for anti-gay prejudice; the "justifications"
for it are as unfounded as those used to support the second-class treatment
of other minorities in past generations.
So, what needs to be done?
First, everyone must realize that when straight people say gay people
should not have the freedom to marry, they are saying we are not as good
or deserving as they are. It's that simple, no matter how one attempts
to sugarcoat it.
This is unacceptable - and it is immoral.
Second, while we should talk to straight people honestly about our lives,
we must flatly reject the notion that we are somehow to blame for all
of this because we have not effectively communicated our "stories" to
others. Fundamentally, it is not our job to prove to others that we can
be good neighbors, good parents, and that gee whiz, we're actually people
Third, equality will remain elusive if we keep relying on intellectualized
arguments or by dryly cataloguing, for example, each of the 1,138 federal
rights and responsibilities we are forced to forgo due to marriage inequality.
The other side goes for the gut; it's now our turn.
In this vein, we must put others on the spot to stand up and fight for
us. As the cascade of lies pours forth from the Anti-Gay Industry, morality
demands that non-gay people speak out with the same vehemence as they
would if it was another minority under attack. Ministers and rabbis must
be challenged with the question, "Where is your voice?" Elected officials
who meet with and attend events of the Anti-Gay Industry, must be met
with the challenge, "How can you do that!? How is that public service?"
The orchestrated campaign to deny us jobs, family recognition, children,
and housing is immoral. Silently bearing witness to this discrimination
America is in the midst of another ugly chapter in its struggle with
the forces of bigotry. People of good will can either rise up to speak
for lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender Americans, or look back upon
themselves 20 years from now with deserved shame.
Foreman is the Executive Director of the National
Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Founded in 1973,
the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation (the Task Force) was
the first national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil
rights and advocacy organization and remains the movement's leading voice
for freedom, justice, and equality. We work to build the grassroots political
strength of our community by training state and local activists and leaders,
working to strengthen the infrastructure of state and local allies, and
organizing broad-based campaigns to build public support for complete
equality for LGBT people. Our Policy Institute, the community's premiere
think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle
for complete equality. As part of a broader social justice movement, we
work to create a world that respects and makes visible the diversity of
human expression and identity where all people may fully participate in
society. Headquartered in Washington, DC, we also have offices in New
York City, Los Angeles, Cambridge, and Miami. The Task Force is a 501(c)(3)
corporation incorporated in Washington, DC. Contributions to the Task
Force are tax-deductible to the full extent allowed by law.
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change (TM) is a trademark
of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. All other trademarks mentioned
herein belong to their respective owners. The Task Force Foundation is
a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Tax ID #52-1624852.
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