Gray 'n Gay
|by John Siegfried|
Last month was a triple header in gay and lesbian land!!!
Vermont became the first state to legalize the union of two individuals of the same sex, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the Boy Scouts of America can legally exclude homosexuals from membership, and the month ended with hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians, their friends and families, marching together in the Millennium March for Equality in our nation's capitol. The advertising adage of Virginia Slims, "You've come a long way, baby," doesn't begin to capture the distance or the pace of gay and lesbian acceptance and advance in recent decades.
When I was a kid "gay" still meant "joyous and lively." Homosexuals were not referred to at all in the press other than an occasional Sunday New York Times Book Review with a surreptitious reference to an author's "deviance." I'm sure that the reason I became an avid adolescent reader and continue to be a fan of the New York Times, is the fact that it was the only source in my teen and college years that even suggested there might be other individuals who were "deviant" like me. The journey from the library stacks to the Millennium March is like from Kitty Hawk to Mars. How did we come such a long way, baby?
The journey has been hard, discouraging, at times tragic, but we keep moving on with many unsung heros moving the wheel forward. But as gays and lesbians we didn't get where we are today on our own. There were a lot of straight parents and friends in the Millennium March and there have been a lot of straight allies, often little recognized, who have helped move the political process forward. Witness the front page photo in the April 29 edition of The Washington Post. It was a color photo under the heading of "From the Heartland" of kids from the Gay and Straight Alliance of a rural Wisconsin high school on a Greyhound bus headed to the Millennium March for Equality in Washington. The bus trip was paid for by teachers, family members and a gay bar. Furthermore, the trip was approved by the local school board. For me, who in high school really didn't know what I was sexually, regretted what I wasn't, and feared what I might be, that photo is like Glenn landing on the moonmind boggling.
The vote in the Vermont House of Representatives which finally approved the bill that created "civil unions," same sex marriages in almost everything but name, was 79 to 68 and only one Representative is acknowledged as gay. That means 78 members of the House, presumably straight, carried the day. And as the New York Times noted in their April 26 coverage, "...some lawmakers have said they expected their votes to cost them their seats." Vermont Governor Dean said he saw the bill "...as a logical extension of Vermont's tradition of treating people equally," a tradition that dates back to the eighteenth century when the state's constitution banned slavery. Governor Dean will be running for re-election next year and knows that his signing of this bill will cost him votes. I personally am grateful to the men and women of the Vermont House and Senate, and the Governor, for their willingness to vote their conscience, not necessarily their constituency.
One of our nationally revered pundits of the passing parade, Dear Abby, wrote a column that I've always cherished. It was in response to a forty-something woman whose well preserved figure and sexy appearance brought whistles and comments from men who passed her on the street. While her husband found the situation humorous, the woman herself was perplexed as to how she should appropriately respond to these embarrassing displays. Abby's response was, "Dear Perplexed: If in your forties the men still turn their head and whistle to express their appreciation of your good looks, there's only one thing you can possibly do. Turn around and say, "thank you.'"
I'm wondering whether, in the spirit of Millennium Marches and the spirit of CAMP Rehoboth, it isn't time for gays and lesbians to start saying, "thank you," to our straight friends and family members without whom the road to equality would be infinitely more tortuous, and the goal perhaps unattainable.
Rehoboth wasn't always a gay friendly community and there are many long time residents who have stood with our community even in its infancy and supported our growth. It might not be a bad CAMP project to put Thank Yous on our summer agenda. Really, what would happen if every gay man and lesbian woman in Rehoboth took the time to seek out a straight member of the community who has been supportive and say "Thank you for your support?" It might be another important step in creating community.
John Siegfried is a retired association executive who resides in Rehoboth Beach.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 10, No. 5, May 19, 2000.