Today, May 17th, is ‘International Day against Homophobia’. It is an important day, as raising awareness and stigmatizing the stigma have proven to be valuable tools for advancing gay-rights issues, as well as a number of other social issues.
‘Homophobia’… What does that word actually mean? We take it to mean ‘afraid of homosexuals’ or ‘afraid of homosexual activities’, but it can be given a literal translation of ‘afraid to be gay’. When I do stand-up, I remark that I believe that I am, in fact, literally homophobic. I then explain that I studied theater at University and thus was terrified that I was gay, but didn’t know it! Most men around me were and seemed perfectly happy! I felt like the black… I mean gay… erm, I mean straight sheep, separate from the flock. I got over my foolish fear and am happy to come out and say, I did theater, and I am straight.
Jokes aside, the difficulties faced by the LGBT community are very challenging. I, for one, can’t imagine what it must be like to feel compelled to hide who you are, day in day out. I am proud of all my gay friends, my gay boss, and people of all sexual orientations who have the strength to face this adversity. If the US continues in the direction it is headed in accepting homosexual individuals and couples both culturally and legally, within our lifetimes we will hopefully see members of the LGBT community treated as complete equals, the stigma of their sexual preference gone.
For this post, I’d like to explore a selection of 5 recent moments that have affected, or will affect, the gay rights’ movement in the US.
1) Obama’s ‘evolving views’– This was something that Obama’s liberal base had been begging for for some time. Hurried a little by the un-coachable, but honest and delightful Joe Biden, Barack Obama finally came out and announced his support for gay marriage, including it in his first State of the Union address of his second term (a first for any US president).
2) Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ – One of Obama’s first acts since announcing his ‘evolving views’ was to repeal Bill Clinton’s military law ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’. With its repeal, gay and lesbian service members cannot be disciplined (or discharged) for their sexual preference. Though it will take some time for all gay and lesbian military members to feel completely comfortable being open with their sexual orientation, this is a start.
3) Supreme Court considering DOMA and Prop 8 – The Supreme Court is reviewing two of the most hotly contested laws being considered in the gay-rights arena: ‘DOMA’ or the ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ that defines marriage as between a man and a woman; and ‘Proposition 8’ that outlaws gay marriage. Public opinion is pushing for a change on this divisive issue with more than half the country, including a disproportionate number of people under-30, supportive of gay marriage. In site of a number of very vocal hate groups, most notably the Westboro Baptist Church, polls show that the majority of people support the repeal of both DOMA and Prop 8. A decision should be announced this summer.
4) Jason Collins coming out – The first active male athlete of a major American sport announcing ‘I am an NBA center. I am black. I am also gay’ is being heralded as a turning point for gay athletes everywhere. Members of the NBA and the community at large have been very supportive of Jason’s announcement, and hope that the admission from an athlete in one of the most demanding and ‘masculine’ sports will help decrease discrimination suffered by homosexuals everywhere. The significance of his second sentence ‘I am black’, indicates perhaps that there are certain social groups, such as African Americans, where prejudice will be harder to overcome. Hopefully Jason’s courage will inspire others to be more accepting of people of all sexual orientations. It should be noted, however, that Jason is by no means the first athlete to come out of the closet. Most recently, the number one pick in the WNBA draft, Brittney Griner, casually announced that she was a lesbian. Though Jason’s announcement is significant, the courage of other athletes like Brittney should be remembered.
5) Gay marriage becoming more prominent – this is a general observation rather than a definitive point. More and more gay couples are getting married. Though we live in a fairly liberal hub, New York City, it is no longer unusual to see couples of all sexual orientations getting married. This was clearest to me when my rugby coach recently got married to his longtime partner, and not a single person on the rugby team batted an eye. We were all as happy (or as sad :P) for him as we would be for any other newly weds.
Happy International Day against Homophobia. I hope that an article like this one will soon seem antiquated and irrelevant.