Some Thoughts Following the Passage of Amendment One

For you non-North Carolinians, North Carolina has just passed an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships, etc. The amendment has far-reaching consequences for many families, not only GLBT families. A friend wrote in a hopeful post this morning that the fight over this amendment will bring about full equality much more quickly than having never had the fight at all. Because, through the lead-up to the vote, people have had to have conversations with their friends and neighbors and confront questions that they thought didn’t apply to them. This statement prompted me think about my own process surrounding GLBT issues – how I came confront them as a young person, how I integrated my support for GLBT individuals with my faith, the importance of all of it for my work, and perhaps, most importantly, how I confront these questions as a parent.
Growing up where and when I did, there was little need and no encouragement to think about GLBT issues at all. Other than occasional playground taunts directed at others, I remember very little discussion about people being gay or lesbian until late high school and then, there is only one conversation that I recall. Of course, that is very much in keeping with the time. HIV was just coming into the public conversation as I started college. And in our part of the world, it was HIV that forced straight people to actively confront their views of GLBT individuals. I remember being in my dorm room and hearing that Rock Hudson was HIV positive and recognizing that his disclosure was a turning point. A year or so later, a scandal rocked a church in my college town in which a married male pastor was found to have been having an affair with a young man in the church. That was the church you were supposed to go to when you were really serious about your faith. The pastor tearfully departed for “counseling” in Colorado with the goal of expunging his “demons” leaving many young people deeply disappointed and confused. I went to a different church and remember bringing up the situation in Sunday school. The teacher asked me the crucial question, “When did you decide that you were heterosexual?” I never went back to the Sunday school class. But I remembered the question, remembered I couldn’t answer it, and that paved the way for future learning.
Fast forward to my second year MSW field placement, at the NIH on the allergies and infectious diseases unit. On my first day my field instructor asked me, “How do you feel about working with people with AIDS?” Me: “I’m scared. We don’t know how it’s transmitted.” Field Instructor: “Mimi, we really do know. You can’t be scared if you’re going to do this work. ” Me: “Okay. I won’t be.” (You’re right. It was a little more involved than that but that’s the abridged version.)
Fast forward again, I’m working in inner city Baltimore in an adolescent health clinic where a girl explains her desire to continue a pregnancy that literally threatens her life by describing the taunts she receives about being lesbian and her belief that the pregnancy will prove she’s not. I did not know how to respond. Or, the young man in our clinic who was HIV positive. We assumed he was an IV drug user and that he was lying to us about his substance abuse. We never asked about his sexual orientation. So many people were in so much denial. But that same clinic had great people working in it, people that saw there were issues we were missing and brought in someone to talk with us about GLBT youth. This was a watershed moment for me. I finally got it and got that I could not sit by on the sidelines and “be neutral.” There is no neutral on people’s humanity. If I’m not affirming it, I’m diminishing it.
Next, I learned a high school friend was dying of AIDS. Like all of our high school gang, I had assumed he was gay from early in our college days forward. But I’d never talked to him to say, “You don’t have to pretend with me. Whoever you are is okay.” I watched as he brought young women to parties at my home when we both lived in Washington, D.C., while thinking, “I wish he knew he doesn’t have to do that.” But I didn’t say it – not until he was weeks away from death. Thankfully, I was given the opportunity to make that right.
So over time, I’ve become what some call a “straight ally.” When students ask me if they have to do readings about GLBT youth if they never plan to work with “them,” I smile and say yes while wondering, “Where exactly do you plan to work?” I’ve put my teaching evaluations at risk by allowing class discussions that become heated and supported doctoral students wanting to investigate questions related to the GLBT population. But perhaps most important is what this journey has done for my children. My sons, unlike so many in our society, do not have to grow up wondering whether their parents will accept them for whomever they turn out to be. And over time, I hope that they will spread this acceptance to their friends and if one of those friends is questioning he or she will know a family that will be supportive of them even if their own family is not.
There is a journey to take and it starts in different places for different people. It may start with me – telling my own story, supporting others in telling theirs, being compassionate as people struggle between their up-bringing and new information, yet standing strong in defense of the oppression of fellow citizens.

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5 Comments

  1. Thank you for your intellectual, mature, and thoroughly loving response, Mimi. It’s people that matter most, period. Take away labels and you end up with people. Thanks for your post.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this timely reflection. My disappointment that North Carolinians have voted to condone discrimination – in our state constitution of all places – has been brightened by your thoughtful and empathic post. Each of us has our own path toward affirming differences and honoring our common humanity, and by extension our civil rights. For some the journey is more difficult. But a willingness to talk about our diversity – to tell people we are LBGT or allies or to ask questions or explain our perspective – is a crucial step. No one is exempt from considering these fundamental questions of inclusion and welcome, because denying someone’s rights threatens everyone’s – and because human diversity is inescapable. I feel certain we’ll continue the conversation in North Carolina, and one day soon I suspect Amendment One will be repealed.

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  3. I Am Going To have to return again whenever my course load lets up – however I am getting your Feed so i can go through your internet site offline. Thanks.

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