I've been watching a documentary called After Stonewall that I DVRd off of PBS earlier this week. It is a film that has really surprised me because it brings to light dynamics within the gay rights movement that I hadn't really thought about much before … It made me think about the times that I've been on the "wrong side" of the fight for gay rights. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I think gays don't deserve equal rights, but it was amazing for me to think about how much I owe to those who got out and marched and acted up and got out there and refused to accept the lot that was theirs at the time.
About ten years ago, the state of Hawaii was voting on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being only between one man and one woman. I remember sitting in a faculty meeting at the elementary school where I taught at the time and listening on as close friends who were good people said things like, "I'm not against gays, but I don't want Hawaii to be like San Francisco …" or "It'll cost too much to offer medical coverage to all of the gay spouses …" As a closeted single gay man teaching in an elementary school, I didn't feel like I could stand the consequences of standing up and saying what really needed to be said, "You are voting on MY LIFE! You are commenting on ME! You are voting against allowing me to be a full citizen in my own country!" The constitutional amendment passed with 70% of the vote. I realized then, that staying closeted didn't make people "like me" more, they were predisposed to like me or not. Staying closeted, though, allowed people to hold on to their irrational bigotry in the hypothetical. I often wonder what the vote might have been had the many thousands of closeted gay people in Hawaii (and gay culture in Hawaii is still very "small town" closeted) had come out and put faces on the ballot initiative. Sure, I'm certain that some of them would still have voted for the amendment, but still, I would have liked to have them have to see the victim(s) of their votes. I wanted them to know that their votes affected ME.
It was shortly after the vote that I came out to my family and friends and life has never been better. By no stretch of the imagination could I be considered an "activist" if what you're looking for is someone to march in a parade or dance on a float, but my experence with the gay marriage vote in Hawaii has made me a committed dissenter when a crowd is sitting around a table and developing a group consensus that I don't agree with. I have vowed to never again allow people to leave a faculty meeting or lunch table conversation thinking … "Well, nobody dissented so I guess it's ok …"
It came a little late, but I guess late is better than never …