Monday, September 13, 2010

Coming out (or not) at a gay rights protest

I recently went to my first gay rights demonstration (which I talked about here); this post focuses on people coming out at the demonstration.

Since I'm not a big fan of the bar scene, I was somewhat hoping I might be able to meet some cool women at the rally. However, it seemed that most of the people I ended up talking to were straight -- and managed to work this fact into the conversation within a minute or two. If only I could learn from them!

I attended the rally with some people from a reading group my friend Emily had recently dragged me to (and which I guess I've now joined). Emily's a friend from church, but I did actually attempt to come out to her last Thanksgiving -- though I think she dismissed it as a joke.

Anyway, you'd think it'd be easy to come out to new, gay friends while attending a gay rights demonstration, right? Not if you're me! See, I have a very good friend who recently went to DC to get married. He lives in a Southern state that doesn't provide employment anti-discrimination protection for sexual orientation, and he's a teacher.

My friend had to use a personal day to get married, and he was warned by the principal to not even mention to his students that he'd gotten married. Now, my friend's not an idiot; he works in a rural county in the South, and he's never openly admitted his orientation to his students. He'd never go around saying "Hey guys, I married a man!" and the principal knows that. The warning was along the lines of "don't even mention you got married at all."

Maybe the principal was just trying to help my friend avoid any potential controversy, since the climate in his state has grown more hostile towards LGBT people over the past couple of years. Even if that's the case, though, to tell someone on what's supposed to be the happiest day of their life to not share their joy with their students infuriates and saddens me. My friend and his husband have been together for seven years; in that same state, they'd be married through common law were they not the same sex. If my friend were straight, would he have been given that same warning? I think not.

So I was still riled for my friend's sake at the protest (which was a counter-protest against a NOM rally against gay marriage), and mentioned it over the course of conversation with one of the members of the reading group. Then I noticed a couple of the other members eying me curiously as they overheard. I could almost see the wheels spinning: "Is she? Is she just an ally? Hmm..."

But none of them asked me, and I didn't know how to bring it up naturally. After all, I spent over a decade trying to play straight. A bit later, I did comment to the same girl, "It's kind of funny how all the straight people seem to make sure you know they're straight within a minute or two," to which she got kind of uncomfortable and said, "Well, I guess I do because I feel like this doesn't affect me directly, so I don't want to give people the wrong impression, since I was able to marry my husband." Oops.

I blushed and said, "Never mind. You just proved me wrong, since you haven't been saying it." And then I asked if her husband ever came to the reading group. So the conversation didn't quite go in the direction I wanted it to, though I did choose my words carefully: "straight" = "they." I'm not sure if she picked up on it, given her reaction.

So once again, I was a complete wuss and managed to not come out to people. If I can't come out to fellow gay people and allies at a gay rights demonstration, will I ever be able to come out to anyone at all? My only comfort is that I have come out to a few people: people in my hiking group who just assumed I was (which made it really easy), Emily (sort of), and even my old college roommate (which is a good story I might share later), just to name a few.

Really, though, I just want to be out; I don't want to have to come out.

Irrational NOMbers (reflections on my first gay rights demonstration)

I recently went to my first gay rights demonstration. It was a positive, mostly silent counter-protest to a NOM "rally" (can it really be called a rally when your audience consists of maybe a dozen people?).

I've been to demonstrations for other causes, mostly in high school and college, and I'd forgotten the feeling of solidarity you get from them, the hope that stems from knowing that others care enough to stand out in the sweaty heat for hours.

I live in the South, in a state with no laws protecting against discrimination in housing or employment, no hate-crimes legislation, and a constitutional amendment banning recognition of any sort of same-sex relationship. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that we counter-protesters outnumbered the NOMbers by a significant margin (at least 20:1).

I might have chalked this up to the fact that the NOMbers already have everything they want, and people often don't go out and demonstrate to protect the status quo, except that the vast majority of people whom we passed on the street or who passed us in their cars indicated their support for us, not NOM. Also, many of the people I talked to at the counter-protest told me they were straight. This gives me hope that things really are rapidly changing in this country.

Since this was a counter-protest, we first had a rally a few blocks away, where couples, their parents, and their children talked about the impact of being allowed to marry -- and of not being allowed. It was beautiful and amazing; I'm so inspired by these couples that have been together for decades with very little support and people on all sides trying to tear them apart. True love is truly powerful, and I can only hope to find it one day.

We then assembled across from the NOM "rally." We lined the sidewalk, 6 deep, and the police were there to make sure we weren't infringing the right of way, but one female officer went out of her way to say, "I agree with you and applaud you for what you're doing, but we just have to make sure we keep the sidewalk clear." Yeah, she's one of us. So the police were cool.

Our point in the counter-protest was to show that we just want equal rights, so we were urged to respect NOM's right to demonstrate by not trying to shout them down, just to show them we disagree through our signs and our numbers. Keeping my mouth shut proved difficult once the NOMbers showed how irrational they were, so I resorted to talking quietly to the people around me.

The NOMbers started off by claiming that pro-gay marriage groups were shouting them down and giving them death threats at other stops on their national tour, and so obviously we didn't respect their "civil rights." I don't know if that's true or not; I just know we were certainly respecting their right to spew whatever nonsense they wanted, and I didn't hear a single threat.

"Civil rights" was the theme of the day -- their civil rights, which would be infringed upon if gay marriage passed. Because they have the right to define marriage, and our "redefining" of marriage would take that right away from them. And they have the right to keep their kids from learning that homosexuality exists; apparently their kid being told that their classmate has two mothers or two fathers is infringing on their civil liberties to pretend a biological fact just isn't so.

Yada yada yada, Bible, yada, Christian nation, yada yada, we love you but we want you to be miserable, yada yada, we'll be remembered in history as the preservers of civil rights, yada yada yada, better act now or it will be too late, yada yada, humans are at risk of extinction if the gays have their way, yada yada, erroneous, alarming statistics about crime committed by "children without a mom and a dad," yada blahblah, give us money, yada yada yawn. They were so hypocritical that I almost laughed in a couple of places, except that sadly, they're blind to their hypocrisy, and they do still have the majority in too many places in this country.

Towards the end, a Gospel singer sang a song called "Unity," which really was perfect... for gay marriage supporters. Not quite sure how it fit with their "us vs. them" mentality, but we started cheering and rocking to it, especially when she sang, "A house divided can never stand; come on and take my hand. We've got to build one another up, not tear one another down... We've got to show love to one another." The singer was getting agitated by the end, seeing us so energized by her song and her crowdlet just standing there.

All in all, it was a great day. I left feeling energized and hopeful about the prospects for gay marriage in this country. I was hoping to get to know some new friends a little better, which I did, though I somehow didn't manage to come out to them (which I explain in a later post). And I didn't really meet any single ladies around my age (though that wasn't the primary reason I went, of course). At any rate, I'd definitely attend another demonstration.

Monday, September 6, 2010

No, really, how do I get out of here?

I just recently moved, and I didn't find the new place until a few days before I had to move. I knew what I was looking for, and once I found it, I didn't want to risk not being accepted by one of the roommates. So I didn't bring up sexuality during the will-you-let-me-move-in discussion.

Of course, now I don't know how to bring it up. Yes, I've made it clear that I'm supportive of gay rights. That's very easy, since I often talk about my family, and when I mention my brother's husband, things flow from there. But when it comes to me, that's tougher. I'm not dating anyone right now, and I really don't know how to just casually slip it into the conversation.

One of my friends from the women-only hiking group helped me move, and we chatted for a bit afterward. It felt so great to be able to just talk without worrying about letting something slip and having to explain. I didn't even realize I'd been making such efforts with other people until I didn't have to!

I realize it's easier to come out sooner rather than later with new people. But how? I want it to happen naturally. Anyone have any suggestions?