Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Paying the price for equality

Have we won? Some commentators argue that it's all over bar the shouting, that the breathtaking steps towards marriage equality in the last 6 months prove that equality is now guaranteedas this article suggests:
But full legal equality is inevitable, as polls show overwhelming majorities of young people do not hold the same prejudices against homosexuals as their parents' and grandparents' generations. ….
Still the author admits
That gays won the culture war may seem paradoxical in light of the fact that, in most states, they still cannot get married or obtain civil unions (something which the Supreme Court is unlikely to change in its pending decision). The victory might also come as cold comfort to gays living in the 29 states where they can be fired due to their sexual orientation. 
Paradoxical?  You bet. The constitutional amendments against marriage equality will be difficult and in some places nearly impossible to overturn. And, we have hardly won if we can be fired for mentioning we have a same-sex partner. We have made progress, but not nearly as much as the media thinks.

 For one thing, there's the backlash, with a steep increase in anti-gay violence culminating a few days ago in a murder in NYC, of a young man, simply for being gay.

From the HuffPo:
Carson's murder highlights the shortcomings of a rights-based, marriage-based approach to LGBT equality, and cries out for deeper, and more difficult, forms of engagement.

With states falling like dominos into the marriage-equality camp, many have expressed shock that homophobic hatred and violence is "still" possible. But why is this shocking? The advent of civil rights for African Americans did not end racial violence, still widespread nearly 50 years after the Civil Rights Act. Feminism has not ended violence against women. Indeed, from Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, to echo President Obama's historic turn of phrase, legal inequality is only the tip of the iceberg. Submerged beneath it are deep-seated patterns of injustice, privilege, prejudice and fear.…

In social struggles, legal equality is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. Yes, the state's imprimatur upon animus is now being, gradually, removed. But the animus itself remains. Carson's murder; the other acts of violence against LGBT people in New York… are not vestiges of bygone days we thought we'd left behind. Rather, they are a reminder that most of the work still lies ahead.
That's for sure. It's all too easy to fall into the lull that it's all okay.   But anti-gay attitudes are not vestigial.  They are mainstream.  In Virginia, the GOP has just nominated for Lieutenant Governor a man who defines hate speech against gay people with his lies and insults.

So, as the backlash escalates and the rhetoric becomes more poisonous, we must be more careful. Every gay person knows how to guard their contact with each other, to be wary all the time, as described here:
It's a practice well-learned, the art of coming together and slipping apart -- every corner starts not with a footstep but with a glance forward, every kiss begins and ends with darting eyes above a smile. Sometimes people smile -- women with strollers whose babies reach out and gurgle, old couples who nod slowly in silent recognition and acceptance.

Sometimes it's the long, long stare that goes right through my body…..
Oh, the stare.  Yes, we've all felt the stare:  the disdain, sometimes disgust, as they rake you with their eyes. They don't look away.  They want you to be uncomfortable, to pierce you through.   The writer goes on to describe an encounter in a restaurant, where a woman yanks her daughter to another table lest she (the daughter) be contaminated by the proximity of lesbians. You've got to be taught, you see, to hate the gays. The author goes on to lament,
When I hold my wife's hand I only want to feel her skin in my palm and our rings clink together. I only want to feel safe. 
But we are not safe.  All of us know that feeling--the constant awareness of where we are.  Is it safe to touch our fingertips?  To hold hands?  To exchange a glance?  If we get the stare--will violence follow?

And it's not just the threats of physical violence. There is a mental effect too, of having this constantly in the news, of enduring the lies, the bile, and the hatred of those opposed to equality. I've been worn down by this, by the degrading feeling of being talked about with such language. And a recent study suggests that I'm not alone in feeling this:
As the country awaits two important Supreme Court decisions involving state laws on same-sex marriage, a small but consistent body of research suggests that laws that ban gay marriage — or approve it — can affect the mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans. When several states passed laws to prohibit same-sex marriage, for example, the mental health of gay residents seemed to suffer, while stress-related disorders dropped in at least one state after gay marriage was legalized….

"They reported multiple stressors during that period," Hatzenbuehler [, the lead investigator,] says. "They reported seeing negative media portrayals, anti-gay graffiti. They talked about experiencing a loss of safety and really feeling like these amendments and these policies were really treating them as second-class citizens." ...

Hatzenbuehler says his larger point is really that policymakers, judicial leaders and ordinary citizens need to remember that social policies are also health policies.
What the equality opponents constantly ignore is that they are not talking about anonymous "they". They are talking about me, my family, my loved ones. They are talking about someone's brother, father, friend, or co-worker. As they tell lies about the gays and our relationships, as they beat (and shoot) our brothers, they are attacking all of us.

And here we sit, waiting for the Supreme Court to dissect us again with their pointed legal niceties, for them to decide if we are we, the people, full American citizens with equal rights--or whether once again we will be pushed aside as something other than fully human.

And it is taking a toll.

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