Responding to a family emergency, I recently visited my family in the Mid-South.
Spending 7 days in Northeast Texas/Southwest Arkansas, I experienced the following: I heard three medical professionals asked by complete strangers about their nationalities (all three were asked what their nationality was and one was even asked if her country of origin was "as horrible as we hear on TV"). I heard some nurses referred to as "male" nurses (while presumably they did not provide care exclusively to male patients). And I had my sexual orientation openly, freely, and unapologetically discussed.
The well-meaning people who brought up my same-gender love and attraction tried to “advocate” for my marginalized status by minimizing my feelings, experience, and way of being in the world. No one compared my love for and commitment to my spouse to the love and commitment they share with theirs, but they did compare my sexual orientation to one choosing to get a tattoo (“I don’t like it but I don’t love my son who did it any less”), and to preferring beef to other foods (“I love steak, I like chicken, and I don’t care for shrimp at all...it’s just a matter of taste really”), and to being so insignificant it should never be given any thought (“what difference does it make? Why should anyone even have to know about it?”).
One person reportedly said to my mother recently, “How is your oldest son? You know, we have ‘one’ in our family too.” Really??? I instructed my mother to inform such people in the future, “Oh no, your fag is not the same as my fag; mine is a professional homo-activist. He’s openly and proudly gay for a living.” Sadly, my mom didn’t think she was capable of such snark.
Of course, in a perfect world, my committed relationship would not be controversial. But as long as my mutual, caring, long-term relationship is used to keep me from marrying the person I love, adopting children in need of a safe and loving home, serving in the military, getting ordained in many denominations, and even teaching students in many public school districts, then of course it is an issue.
As long as people insist on dehumanizing the “Other” (even when attempting to speak well of them!), then it is a very big issue, and much more work must be done to confront and diminish prejudice and heal the damage it has done.
When people, from their privilege, insist that race, gender, sexual orientation, class, or ethnicity are no longer issues needing to be addressed, they show how woefully misinformed they are.
I’m very proud that we have such openly same-gender loving people in political leadership as Rep. Barney Frank. I’m glad that we have now had three women to hold the highest position in the U.S. Cabinet. I’m proud that race did not prevent President Barack Obama from getting elected in 2008.
I’m happy that progress has been made in many ways. I am also aware that there is much more progress to be made. “Liberty and justice for all” remains an ideal to which we pledge ourselves in the US, and it also remains an ideal that has not yet been fully reached. More education, more discussion, more progress is needed. If one ever doubts that to be the case, then I suggest a little trip to the middle of the country. My recent trip has certainly reminded me that we have not yet transformed our society into the Promised Land. As long as we’ll admit that, however, then it may just be possible to keep moving forward. But we can't get there, until we realize that we aren't yet there.