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A look back at my work with the LGBTQ community. I first became active in the gay rights movement in 1980 when I launched my LGBTQ jo...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's Never Too Late to Speak Out for our Rights

Former First Lady Laura Bush's recent revelation about her support for same-sex marriage on Larry King caused a bit of a stir. It wasn't a full-throated endorsement of marriage equality wrapped in a rainbow flag, but she was supportive, and she thinks same-sex marriage is inevitable. On the CNN broadcast she said:

"I think that we ought to definitely look at it and debate it. I think there are a lot of people who have trouble coming to terms with that because they see marriage as traditionally between a man and a woman, but I also know that when couples are committed to each other and love each other that they ought to have the same sort of rights that everyone has."

The blogosphere kicked into gear. Was this a change of heart for her? Or, did she always believed in marriage equality but was told to zip it for 8 years? Where was she when we needed her during the 2004 campaign when gays were trashed by her husband and his puppet master, Karl Rove?

These are all legitimate questions, to be sure. But when you are in a civil rights struggle, one cannot dictate timing. I agree with the response from Michael Cole, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign: "When the right wing was using same-sex couples as election year pawns and the president calling for a cynical constitutional amendment to deny people rights, we would have welcomed support from the first lady. Nevertheless, her speaking out for marriage equality shows that more and more Americans realize all families need the same rights and protections."

And that's the point: the battle for LGBT rights is an evolution. When people eventually come around to a more progressive mindset and understand the meaning of equality, we should embrace their supportive positions and welcome them aboard the equality train. Because the reserved and likeable Mrs. Bush had a far more positive appeal around the country than her husband, her statements, even if late, will go a long way towards achieving our goal. It could influence other people to examine their own views on the subject. And if it pisses off right wing groups like Focus on the Family, even better.

Laura Bush's comments were the latest of a series of slow-moving but positive pronouncements by high profile individuals. When former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell did an about face on allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, the shift in his views was seismic.

Attitudes and circumstances have changed," said Powell. "Society is reflected in the military. It’s where we get our soldiers from.” Other generals and admirals, active and retired, now had the cover to "come out" in support. This momentum, plus President Obama's pledge to end "don't ask, don't tell" will finally lead to its repeal.

Yes, General Powell could have been more useful to our cause had he expressed the same sentiments in 1993 that could have prevented the needless discharges of 13,000 qualified members of our armed forces. But his voice is still potent and influential, and his reversal is most welcome, no matter how late.

This also applies to the world of sports—a hot bed of homophobia. Several gay professional athletes have come out after their playing days were over. Esera Tuaolo, a burly lineman for five NFL teams, revealed his sexual orientation and explained how fearful he was should his being gay had been known to his teammates.

Basketball player John Amaechi, who played in the NBA for four teams, also came out after his retirement and expressed similar thoughts. While Tuaolo's revelation in 2002 didn't generate much public reaction from his former teammates and opponents, Amaechi's disclosure in 2007 did. It brought to the surface such homophobes as former Orlando Magic player Tim Hardaway. In an anti-gay rant, Hardaway said, "You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States."

But Amaechi's admission brought to light key supporters, such as Grant Hill. "The fact that John has done this, maybe it will give others the comfort or confidence to come out as well, whether they are playing or retiring," Hill said.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban added, "When you do something that the whole world thinks is difficult and you stand up and just be who you are and take on that difficulty factor, you're an American hero no matter what," Cuban said. "That's what the American spirit's all about, going against the grain and standing up for who you are, even if it's not a popular position."

These words can affect, perhaps alter, the thinking of the public. A simple spark can often ignite a fire. Who knew, for example, that Grant Hill or Mark Cuban would be supportive of a gay former pro athlete? Who knows what impact Laura Bush's comments will have on society?

That is why it is critical in an evolving movement where education on the issues and increasing comfort levels are paramount for success. And that if high profile individuals make their pro-lgbt stances known, that is a big step forward—even if it's later than sooner.


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