... Society’s Message to Gays
By FRANK BRUNI
If you wade into my column today about Craig Claiborne’s life, you’ll find reference to a 1963 story in The Times with this archaic headline: “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern.”
It’s a story that has been noted before by writers and others mulling the history and progress of gay people in America, and it’s a sad, chilling glimpse into the climate of suspicion and disapproval that existed even in an urban center as cosmopolitan as New York back then. I bring it up because the forthcoming Claiborne biography that sparked my column, “The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat,” by Thomas McNamee, notes that it appeared several years into Claiborne’s stint at The Times, as his star rose and he mingled with colleagues who knew or at least suspected that he was gay.
The first sentence of the story refers to “the problem of homosexuality,” which is, according to a later sentence, “the subject of growing concern of psychiatrists, religious leaders and the police.” There’s mention of “the homosexual trade.”
How must it have made Claiborne feel? And how much did it and other cultural signals of condemnation or revulsion complicate his quest—and the quests of so many gay and lesbian people of his era—for happiness?
We’ve come a very, very long way since then, and should never be blasé or dismissive or ungrateful about that. But we haven’t come far enough. And one of the questions I’d ask opponents of same-sex marriage, which is the hot-button gay issue of the moment, isn’t so different from the question I just raised about that 1963 Times article: what’s the signal being sent to gay people? To gay teens and young adults, for example, who may wonder if they’re somehow lesser, somehow warped? What sort of special challenge are you creating for them? What sort of burden?
Even without that burden, the slog to fulfillment and contentment can be a tough one: just look at all the people around you who still haven’t quite arrived there. Just look inside yourself.
Why make that slog harder for someone than it has to be?
North Carolina will be voting early next month on whether to forbid legal recognition of same-sex unions, including marriages. Other same-sex marriage votes will likely be taken this year by the citizens of Washington State, Maryland, Maine and Minnesota.
“It’s a critical moment for the movement,” said Brian Ellner, who led the Human Rights Campaign’s successful efforts to win legislative approval of marriage equality in New York last year.
“Right now is when folks need to step up and support these battles,” he added, noting that the movement has yet to win an actual ballot initiative on marriage equality in any state.
To his words I’d add these: the passage or defeat of marriage equality isn’t just about weddings. It’s about worth. It’s about the message a society delivers to men who love and pledge commitment to and maybe start families with other men, and to women who love and pledge commitment to and maybe start families with other women.
Voters in states with marriage equality on the ballot can tell us that we matter as much as anyone else. Or they can tell us that we don’t.
Many of us—most of us, I hope—figured out long ago how not to root our self-esteem in the soil of popular opinion. But not everyone succeeds in doing that. Some people respond to the climate around them. They flourish when it’s hospitable. And when it’s hostile, they fail to, often falling prey to self-destructive behavior, and on occasion even ending their lives early.
What sort of “values,” family or otherwise, abet or turn a blind eye to that?
“Overt homosexuality” is a phrase with little currency today. But censure and condemnation of homosexuals still have traction. And a price.
Bruni's Blog NY Times April 10, 2012
Bruni's Blog NY Times April 10, 2012