Monday, March 29, 2010


I watched the movie "Milk" for the second time last Sunday.

I moved to the San Fransisco Bay Area when I was 25, young and naieve, in January of 1978. Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as the first openly gay elected public official in the country that same month. This was headline news. In November of that same year, fellow supervisor Dan White shot and killed Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in what appeared to be premeditated murder. The murders and the subsequent trial were news in the San Francisco Chronicle for a long, long time. Dan White got off with a few years in prison and his defense became famous as the "Twinkie Defense".

As we were watching the movie on TV, my housemate remarked that things haven't changed all that much from 1978 regarding gay rights. She's right. Thirty years later, we as a country are still debating the gay issue. Gay people probably have more rights in general than they did in 1978, but in most states, they still cannot marry. The gay rights issue is constantly on the ballot. Each year we hear the arguments For and Against. Marriage should be between a man and a woman. All people, regardless of sexual orientation, should be allowed to marry and thereby be conferred with all of the rights and benefits of marriage. Vote for gay marriage; vote Yes on Prop X. Vote to repeal gay marriage; vote Yes on Prop Y.

Growing up Catholic in the 1950s, I was brought up with the notion that gay people could be "fixed" psychologically and that sex between same sex couples was wrong. Growing up, I didn't know any one who was gay and to this day, am not aware of anyone in my family who is openly gay.

I have played soccer with gay teammates. I have worked with gay colleagues. But I never had any gay friends. Intellectually, I believed that gays should have the same rights as anyone else, and not be discriminated in housing, jobs, or even marriage. I thought, as long as they aren't hurting anyone else, who are we to deny them their lifestyle? Who are we to judge?

Then, one day, things changed. My housemate of two years suddenly "announced" she was gay by bringing a gay lover into our household. Each of us was a single parent with a ten year old boy. This, I thought, was unfair, and confusing to my son. Without any warning, all of a sudden I had a gay housemate. A few months later, she left to move in with her new lover. I was angry at her, not for being gay, but for keeping it hidden from me and asking me to automatically accept this new facet of her personality.

And then, one day, several years later, things changed yet again. I met one of my teenage son's closest friends. I had heard a lot about Jen from my son, Sean, who loved technical theatre, designing and building sets. She was two years older than Sean and a mentor to him in all things technical. She was an artist, a very funny person with a warm personality. The first time I met her in the high school auditorium, she walked up the aisle to meet me with a wide grin on her face and said "Hello, Sean's Mom!" and threw her arm around my shoulders like I had known her all her life. I met this wonderful person, who also happened to be gay, and who was a large part of my son's life. I knew, right then and there, that I wanted the best for Jen.

I can't say that I have a lot of gay friends or even know very many people who are gay. But the younger generation is more open and accepting. My nineteen year old niece's best friend from high school is a gay guy. Another niece who is still in high school has openly gay friends. It is more acceptable now for young gay people to be out rather than closeted and less likely to be targeted for bullying (although bullying still happens). We have more openly gay elected officials, more role models for young people.

We still put gay rights laws on the books, and then repeal them a year or two later. It will take a generation or two of young people with open minds, who have met and become friends with other young people who just happen to be gay before our attitudes change enough to make the gay issue a non-issue. Maybe then we'll stop changing the laws every other year..

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