When President Obama came out of the closet with his support of same sex marriage (first stated as an Illinois State Senator in 1996), it was a bright spot in a difficult week for LGBT people. The cynical nature of his “evolution” on the issue got an eye roll out of me, but it also got a tear and a cheer.
Coming one day after the passage of North Carolina Amendment 1, Mr. Obama’s statement in support of same sex marriage, perhaps the most politically touchy subject affecting same sex couples, was a calculated political risk taken at a critical time in the career of our nation’s first black president. It was historic.
And, speaking as a gay man, it was also about damn time.
I’m 50 years old. As a child in the 1960s, I could never have imagined this moment. Homophobia was so commonplace in those days that it was not just normal, it was considered righteous. Adults and children alike bullied boys they perceived as gay.
I was no exception. I grew up isolated, picked on, occasionally assaulted, and without hope for the future. I knew I was “different,” and I was sure that adulthood would hold nothing good for me. And as childhood was no walk in the park, I frequently contemplated suicide in the manner of small children, picturing the regret that my tormentors would experience at my funeral.
By my teens, contemplation turned to action. I figured out how to butch up enough to deflect the bullying of my elementary school years onto other victims, but I lived with a secret, terrified at being found out. I turned to drugs and alcohol, taking the slow road to self-destruction. Eventually, I flunked out of school.
As a working-class boy of color, my family and community meant everything to me. Without the support of these social networks, how was I supposed to get work, make a family, and have a rewarding life? Yet, I knew I would be rejected if I came out. When finally it was made clear to me that my immediate family was aware of my sexual orientation and that I was to “never bring it into the house,” I knew it was time to cut out on my own.
But where was I to go? The organized part of the gay community looked awfully white to me. I grew up in a community in Hawaii that was almost entirely, very nearly militantly brown. Turning to a white community for comfort would be perceived as a betrayal of my family. It felt like a form of betrayal to me.
All of that might just be TMI, but I share it because my story is not unusual. It is, in fact, pretty typical of the experiences of LGBT people of color of my generation.
Over the years, I made a life for myself as a political activist and community servant. I created a community among those who believe as I do in the importance of human rights, racial and gender justice, and sexual freedom. Life did indeed get better.
However, like I said, I’m 50. I’ve waited a long time to hear my president acknowledge that I am fully human and therefore as deserving of rights as anyone else. For 50 years, I’ve waited to hear my president say that regardless of his private religious beliefs, I should be able to share in the same rights of citizenship as straight people.
I lived through the AIDS crisis of the 80s. I helplessly watched friends die as our federal government stood idly by because the disease first appeared in the U.S. among gay men. As an out gay activist my 20s and 30s, death threats, hate mail, and the occasional stalking were part of my “normal.” For most of my life, I’ve had no protection from discrimination in housing and employment based on my sexual orientation. As a former Oregonian, I lived through five statewide ballot measure races in which the morality of my very existence was questioned, and my most basic rights put up for a vote.
I know I should be grateful, but, as far as I’m concerned, every day we continue to debate the relative humanity of other human beings is a day spent reinforcing a way of thinking that is an affront to the humanity of all of us. So, I’m not saying thank you. I’m saying what I believe to be on the minds of most LGBT people of my generation. It’s about damn time.