Because I once (as a favor to a friend) attended a fundraiser for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), I now regularly receive their e-mails. (If NGLTF is like HRC, they would consider me a member.) Yesterday, NGLTF sent out a Statement from its Executive Director, Matt Foreman (which appears in their Winter/Spring 2005 newsletter which you can download here).
What struck me about Foreman’s statement was not merely his angry tone, but also his claim that “it is not our job or burden to show straight people that we can be good neighbors, good parents, that gee whiz, we’re people too.” (The text in the newsletter differs slightly from that in the e-mail; I’m quoting from the newsletter.) He does want us to talk to straight people, but he seems to think that the burden of changing minds should fall onto sympathetic straights.
I disagree. It is very much our job to show straight people what kind of people we are. For one of the few times in history, gay and lesbian people are moving from the margins of society into the mainstream of society. And many well-meaning straight people don’t know yet what to make of us.
As we move into the mainstream, we must confront stereotypes which are usually wrong and often ugly. When I was involved in the Arlington (Virginia) GOP, I frequently encountered Republicans who claimed never to have talked to a gay person before. Many were surprised to learn that I sought the same things in life that they did, including a long-term monogamous relationship with one person.
Perhaps, it is too burdensome to Mr. Foreman, but the only way we can change the negative anti-gay attitudes is to make it our burden to show straight people that, by most measures, our lives are pretty much the same as theirs. If Mr. Foreman is loath to work to change societal attitudes towards gay people, what is he doing heading a gay advocacy organization?
We can’t pass this burden of changing societal attitudes off onto sympathetic straight institutions as Mr. Foreman suggests.
Mr. Foreman and I do agree on one point, that, instead of “reframing the debate away from moral values, we must embrace them.” In his unfortunate that, in his statement at least, he limits his understanding of morality to include only anti-gay discrimination.
I share his belief that anti-gay bigotry is immoral. But, moral values include far more than narrow prejudices and hateful rhetoric. We need to do more than merely point out the immoral attitudes of those who hate us, we must also consider moral ways of treating each other. That is, we need talk about how moral values can improve our personal lives.
We need to show to the straight world that, in our private lives, we are just as capable (and just as willing) of making moral decisions as they are.
I believe (as I’ve said before) that we should refocus the way we discuss gay marriage. If, instead of talking about marriage as a civil right to which we’re entitled, we describe it as a noble institution whose responsibilities we acknowledge, we are more likely to get results like those we got last month in Connecticut.
Mr. Foreman is not the only gay leader who refuses to publicly embrace moral values other than opposition to discrimination. Indeed, most gay leaders seem skittish of discussing morals. But, I believe we need not only to challenge social conservatives, but also to engage each other in a wide-ranging discussion of morality.
I think too many of us are afraid of sounding like the religious right by talking in moral terms. It’s unfortunate that social conservatives seem to have “hijacked” the values debate. Because such values benefit all of us, including gay people.
Some may consider such values “conservative.” But, just this week, a liberal lesbian friend of mine faulted me for so describing the values I hold. The moral values to which I aspire are not merely those of political conservatives. My liberal friend, like so many gay men and lesbians on the political left (as well as many on the right), respects relationships, favors monogamy and thinks sex should be about more than just physical pleasure.
Many of the moral values that social conservatives advocate could benefit gay people in our personal lives. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Foreman, like so many other gay leaders, are unwilling to talk about those benefits. He is right that we need to embrace moral values. He just needs to expand his definition of what such values include.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com