Talking it Over - The Significance of It All
I’m a long-view person. When I first started writing this column 16 years ago this month, I barely knew you. I was only six years into accepting My son Steve as gay, learning about his world, and getting comfortable with mine in relation to him. Yet I had the audacity to embark on column writing, knowing, somehow, that I could be of service—not as the Ann Landers I first imagined myself to be but more as an observer, a recorder and commentator of events important to the community and, yes, a person who wholeheartedly supports the LGBT community.
I was there in Hawaii when the idea of gay marriage emerged, and I went to the first organizational meeting. I knew then that someday this dream would come true, though, having soured on marriage, myself, I couldn’t imagine why LGBTs would want such a thing. It was pure ignorance, of course. I had to learn with the rest of you how gay and lesbian people are impacted financially, socially, and emotionally by exclusion from marriage. Eventually I realized how widespread and hurtful this proscription is, inflicting discrimination and pain also on children with gay parents and on extended families.
Courageous people have advocated, organized, lobbied, marched, and participated in special events, without much hope at first. Their efforts may have felt insignificant; their fight on getting marital rights decades long, but that didn’t stop them. On and on they went and now we have domestic partnerships in several states with all the rights and responsibilities the state gives married heterosexuals. There are civil unions in Vermont and marriage in Massachusetts and maybe soon in Washington state. The movement is a national one; though states are banning gay marriage in their constitutions, the federal government has been unable to get Senate agreement on an amendment. It’s dead in the water for this year; it was just a blatant political ploy to get right-wingers stirred up to vote for their candidates in November. I delight in the cartoons telling the truth about this issue, not only in our gay press but in the mainstream press as well.
A mother in a 1973 gay Pride parade held a sign asking parents to support their gay sons and daughters, and before long PFLAG was born. Small groups at first have grown into a large national organization of supportive parents and gay and lesbian people who work together to bring parental power to all GLBT issues.
In 1998 I was part of Sonoma County Project 10. We planned for weeks our first petition to a school, Santa Rosa High. We were to present ourselves as a panel to give information to the faculty and staff about who gays and lesbians are and the effect of discrimination on them and their families. It took some courage for the group to do this. We ended up with a panel of 15, probably for protection as much as anything else. Maybe it was overkill, but our audience listened with rapt attention and asked questions.
Later, we learned that a teenage boy, a straight student at the school, had also listened. I’m sorry I don’t know his name, because he decided that the school should have a club where gays and straights could meet during lunch and talk about anything, just to get to know one another.
I’m not sure exactly where and when the clubs were formed but, according to the website of the GSA Network, 40 clubs were formed at the beginning in northern California. Today there are over 400 Gay Straight Alliance clubs in California, in a third of the state’s high schools. On May 28 this year, the Los Angeles Times reported that now more than 3,000 GSA clubs meet across the country. In a web search, I found evidence of GSA clubs in Canada as well. The same LA Times article reported that nearly half a million students participate in the annual day of silence in schools across the country. Half a million!
I haven’t even mentioned major organizations that fight discrimination in the schools, in the workplace, in society. These organizations started small but have grown to be a mighty force in moving us forward to a long-desired and deserved total acceptance, with equality, liberty, and justice for LGBTs equal to that provided to every other citizen of this country, and eventually the world.
The significance of it all! Can you see the future? Soon, very soon, our youngsters who have grown up with GSA clubs in their schools will think it unusual and unfair for gay and lesbian people to be discriminated against at all. Already, there are significant increases in favorable attitudes toward gays: 90 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should have equal job opportunities, versus 54% 30 years ago. Today, 54 percent believe homosexuality an acceptable lifestyle, versus 34% in 1982 (San Francisco Chronicle, June 6, 2006).
Is that progress? Has our work been significant? You bet.
Me? I know a bit more than I knew, and I help much more than I did, but I’m a small cog in a big wheel. You are the wheel we celebrate. Keep turning. Ah, the sweet significance of it all!
©2006 Kay Mehl Miller.
Kay is the author of Talking It Over: Understanding Sexual Diversity. Email her at email@example.com. Check out her blog at http://www.amazon.com/gp/blog/103-8226783-7105424.