Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Straight Factor

It must have been over 15 years ago when I met a gay man who simply refused to have anything to do with straight people and "their" world. He worked at a gay owned and operated company, kept gay friends, lived in a gay neighborhood, ate at gay restaurants, patronized gay retailers and worshiped with a gay congregation. Although I was aware of his painful personal history of homophobia and rejection, I was nonetheless taken aback and tried to argue that he was denying himself of another world and some really wonderful straight folks. But he was having none of it. I wonder whether he stills thinks and feels the same way. I hope not.

Fact is, it would be next to impossible for a gay person to totally isolate himself from straight people because homosexuality has entered the mainstream and there are few places in which to hide. In New York where I had lived and DC where I now live, there no longer are gay ghettos. The gays have moved uptown and out of town directly into the suburbs. Moreover, there is no reason to inoculate one’s self from heterosexuals as more and more of them are accepting of us. Many people have gone beyond mere tolerance to sincere welcome. Yes, undeniably there remain way too many others who'd rather we not existed, but this is not the early 1990s much less 1969.

And as the LGBT community continues to labor for their rightful place in society, it makes all the sense for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals to live openly and proudly and to reach out to their straight neighbors and coworkers. As writer Jonathan Rauch points out in a discussion on the future of gay marriage, an important change in the equation is the mobilization of straight advocacy of same-sex marriage.
For those of us who tilled these vineyards for years, it was frustrating that the only people who felt strongly were people who were only 8 percent or 5 percent of the population or whatever, and the religious right -- you know what those numbers look like ... In the wake of Prop. 8 in California, we saw something in a way that I had never seen before, which was a whole lot of straight people getting involved and getting energized and feeling strongly about this issue.
Polling expert Anna Greenberg believes that there is unrealized potential among fair-minded, thinking and compassionate heterosexuals.
... I would argue that there's some real work to be done in the so-called straight base of support for marriage. There's a lot more potential. I do think that we've seen some of the movement that Jon has talked about ... it's not just the increasing public prominence of people who are gay or coming out, it's not even having you know someone in your family or a co-worker, it's that people have people they are close to and care about who are coming out, who are gay and want to have recognition of their relationships.

In the research I've done, what's interesting, it actually isn't knowing someone that is a predictor of supporting a gay marriage. Liking and feeling close to someone who is gay is a predictor. You could have the uncle of the family who is gay, but you might not like him or you can disapprove of his choices that he's made. So it's not just having a family member or co-worker that's sufficient. But what I think we're seeing is an increasing number of people whose consciousnesses have been raised by discovering that they've got people who they care about and are close to who are gay and want to have their relationships recognized.

Indeed, a Southern beauty queen I know who might have at an earlier point in her life muttered the same inanities as Ms. California, now expresses support for LGBT rights because she knows me and my partner rather well. Because I explained to her how we are treated like second class citizens and how we are denied many benefits heterosexual married couples take for granted. Because I asked her to think about me and John when she votes or talks to her conservative friends. Because we are cousins as well as friends.

Image from the Sacramento Bee.

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