I grew up in a theatre, so I didn’t really understand what all the fuss about gay was when growing up. I just understood that some people liked boys and some people liked girls and some people liked both. It wasn’t ever really a surprise. On my 21st birthday, my parents took me to the best dance club in the city, which happens to be both predominantly gay and the best drag show around. I loved it, except for the fact that the men all danced better and were far prettier.
Really, I was raised by what amounted to a village of both straight and gay actors, musicians and artists. I probably know more gay people than straight. My mother raised me with a sensitive heart and my father raised me with a strong sense of justice. Now that I’m older, I know better that the world is rarely a fair place, but deep-rooted injustice always makes me passionately upset.
The debate over gay marriage continues, to my disbelief, despite the passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act in June of this year. At one time in history, we told black people they could marry white, or “Birds of a feather flock together; it’s better that way.” At one time in history, we told women they could vote. If history teaches us anything, it’s that we can be and often are wrong.
I was raised Catholic too. I understand the idea of marriage as a sacrament. But I also think that there cannot be anything more beautiful than two people who love and trust each other, who want to make a formal commitment in the eyes of God.
Not too long ago, I was at work; I am a manager at a luxury clothing store. A family was shopping together: mother, father and college-aged son. The son liked a pink shirt. The father made some comment like, “Naw, you don’t want to be gay.” I hear this sort of thing all the time and just kind of brushed past it.
The son was half-embarrassed and said, “You shouldn’t act like that here, they’ll throw you out.” I kept talking about the clothes, a few more minutes passed and the son picked up the pink shirt again. “Don’t be a faggot,” the father said. I was silenced and didn’t even know what to do. After a moment, I took their purchases, rang them up, smiled a big fake smile and thanked them.
I know that there was nothing I could say that would have changed that man’s mind, no matter how eloquently I spoke. I could tell him how gay men and women are just like straight men and women –there are tall and short ones, well-dressed and frumpy ones, dancing queens and librarians, selfish and selfless, talented and tone-deaf. And yes, there are ones who wear pink, but also those who prefer blue.
And it comes down to this: their sexuality had absolutely nothing to do with what kind of a person they were. Being gay didn’t make them my friends…it was who they were that made them my friends. They hugged me and helped me and loved me and asked for nothing more than for me to love them back for who they were.
I didn’t speak up. I allowed that man to slam an entire group of people whom he knew nothing about. I did my job, but I spent the rest of the day in a half-sick daze. My knotted stomach felt too large for my skin. I felt like a coward, like an imposter, like someone who masqueraded as a fair and just person.
I was silent and no doubt countless other people have been silent to this man. Hatred against gay people is one of the last few socially accepted types of hatred. That man would not have dared use the n-word in my presence, but he had no compunction about using the six-letter f-word. My silence made me complicit and continued this man’s mistaken idea that such talk is acceptable.
I am now performing in a production of The Laramie Project, a play that is just as vitally topical now as when it was first written. It is an incredibly moving work and the actors in the show make it painfully, poignantly touching. Matthew Shepard’s death was one of the first events that forced us to look in the mirror as a nation and, as the play says, “see the difference between tolerance and acceptance.”
The play and the marriage debate are not merely about gay rights; they are about human rights. They are about the right to exist without fear, no matter what gender you prefer. Surely we can take that final step to understanding, to like or dislike a person based on their own merits and not our own insecurities and fears. Surely we can take the final step to allow someone to marry whom they love.
I have to deal with a lot of unpalatable talk with my job; any job in customer service does. I hear mildly racist, sexist, bigoted references on a regular basis. But hatred should not be endured, because then it continues. Whether you are a pink or blue kind of person, you should be free to choose the color of your shirt and the gender of your mate.
I have been quiet in my support of gay marriage. But now is the moment to stand up and say, “Love, not hate.” I will not be quiet any longer.