Recently, a friend of mine was interviewed by the Indianapolis Star’s religion reporter. She is president of a local humanist organization, and the paper was doing a feature story on the group. Most humanists are agnostics or atheists, and she was understandably nervous about how the famously conservative newspaper would report the interview. When it appeared, it was very straightforward and factual, and I emailed her to congratulate her on the coverage.
In her reply, she forwarded another message she had received about the article. It came from a small town resident who was on the humanist email list, but had never attended one of their meetings. And it was heartbreaking.
The writer began by congratulating her on the article, saying “As you know, most articles about atheists, freethinkers, secular humanists, etc. treat us like aliens from another planet.” He then wrote
“It would be nice to be as open about my convictions as you all are. However, I still work for a living in a position which is highly visible in a community which is extremely fundamental. I am a top level leader in my profession, recognized state-wide by my peers as a quality professional, even honored by some for my service and skill. That would all change overnight if I were to ‘come out of the closet’ about my convictions. Regardless how much good I have done, how much skill I have acquired, I would be disowned I’m sure. In fact, a member of the governing board of the organization which employs me came into my office before the last presidential election asking if I were a closet Democrat because I had a bumper sticker on my car, a W with a slash through the center of it…I answered ‘I am not a Republican, not a Democrat, but an American who thinks for himself. I cannot support the current president and I am obviously not in the closet about that. “He was shocked at my response. In the community in which I work, Republican and Christian mean the same thing. So, in his mind, I was displaying disdain for Christ’s little lieutenant, and that translates to lack of support for the Christian Right—a dangerously bold move.’….
I am near retirement, and will eventually have nothing to fear from coming out. I look forward to the day when I can comfortably do so. In fact, I plan to come out shortly before retirement. Each retiree is honored for service. By making my convictions public prior to retirement I will force folks to pay homage to a known infidel. I will enjoy the irony of it.”
Is there a single gay American who cannot relate to this man’s experience? I doubt it. We face a fundamental issue (no pun intended) today: namely, what sort of an America are we becoming? Are we creating a society where people whose opinions, beliefs, sexual orientations and behaviors are different from those approved by the majority must spend their lives in the closet? It will have to be a very, very big closet.
For that matter, do the theocrats really represent the majority? Or does their current dominance in the discourse of our times reflect the fact that reasonable, tolerant people are less likely to be militant? Unlike the shrill thought police, we are less sure that our opinions are universally valid, more likely to subscribe to a “live and let live” philosophy, less likely to “make waves” or “rock the boat.”
The first gays who came out were unbelievably courageous. They also changed the terms of the debate in ways that made the lives of their successors immeasurably better. How many other people are still in the closet for fear that their deviations from the prescribed orthodoxy will generate reprisals?
Maybe, if all of the people with unapproved ideas, unorthodox beliefs, different sexual orientations and/or minority political views came out of the closet together, we could reclaim America.