There’s a reason why, no matter what, I will always love Obama….(drum roll please)….. he’s black….oh, and liberal. How dare I, right? But, here’s the things. If you’re black, you have faced outward discrimination at some point in your life. You know what it feels like to be oppressed. You can see things about the world that white people can’t. Yes, I know he also swims in privilege, but being black in America holds a lot of power in terms of perspective. This is the type of person I need in my fight against oppression.
So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when, on the day after the Amendment 1 fiasco, Obama came out in support of gay marriage. As many of us were sorting out our negative feelings about the Amendment, Obama was our beacon of hope. He talked briefly about what people are calling his “evolution” with gay marriage. Who knows where he started in this evolution; at some point he thought civil unions were sufficient. (Politically that was probably to try to please both sides.) Then, you know what happened? He had genuine engaging conversations with gay people!! And now he believes that same sex couples should be able to be married.
Those genuine engaging conversations are what I think will be the only thing that wins this battle. What I have learned from conversations with some people who do not support homosexuality is that they don’t have any relationships with people who are gay. They certainly know gay people, but some don’t know they know gay people and others just don’t think it’s polite to have conversations with them about being gay. Here are things I hear over and over again from people who have never talked to a gay person about being gay: being gay is a choice; homosexuality is a sin and just like your temptations to murder someone, you must resist your homosexual temptations; I don’t have a problem with gay people, I just think homosexuality is wrong. Additionally, there are always overtones that being gay is just about having sex with someone of the same sex. I don’t ever recall a conversation that focused on the love between two people in a committed relationship.
In case you haven’t met me, I’m not afraid to have conversations. When I meet gay people, I am always really interested in their experiences. I become friends with them and while building our friendship we share our experiences, we ask each other questions about our experiences, and we learn. Sounds similar to Obama’s story. Here are some things that I think both Obama and I have learned through our relationships: being gay is undeniably not a choice; I get a lot of rights with my marriage that are essential to protecting my family; all relationships are about love and love is not a sin; everyone just wants to be happy; people who are gay are so normal it would blow your mind.
If more people were exposed to the conversations and relationships both Obama and I have had the privilege of having, we would not be fighting for LGBT rights. When I looked at the map of North Carolina that indicated the percentage of people who do not have a bachelor’s degree, a huge majority of the state did not. The problem with this isn’t necessarily the lack of education, but the lack of exposure to “the other.” How do we expose people to people different than them when they have limited experiences outside of their own hometowns? Obama may be the only person some people “know” that supports gay marriage. Obama gave a face to an advocate. Maybe some people have never seen an advocate before.
But that’s not going to be enough. We’re all going to have to go back to our hometowns and show them what an advocate looks like. Tell them we’ve met real live gay people and they are terrifyingly normal and they didn’t turn us gay (or whatever other outlandish ideas are out there). Tell them about the struggles our friends are facing due to oppression and how we can help. Tell them about our friends who don’t have equal rights to their child’s custody because of state laws. Tell them about our friends who cannot even adopt children because of state laws. Tell them about our friends who don’t get to visit their partners in the hospital because they’re not “immediate family.” Tell them about our friends who don’t get to make end of life decisions for their partners. Tell them about our friends who were denied a marriage license. Tell them about our friends who have been in committed relationships for over 20 years and will likely not live to see the day when they can legally marry their partners. Tell them about our friends who raise happy, healthy children who grow up to be successful. Tell them about our friends who cried with joy at the announcement of their first grand baby. Tell them about our friends who look forward to 6pm to have dinner with the person they love the most. Tell the about our friends who enjoy going to the movies with their partner on Friday night. Tell them. Tell them it’s okay. Tell them these are just people who want and are entitled to live and love the same way you and I do.
Thank you Barak for telling them.