Tag Archives: gay

Even in Indiana?

Things are getting really interesting in Indiana.

A recent (Republican) poll confirms that Mike Pence continues to lose support, largely because of RFRA (although his vendetta against public schools generally and Glenda Ritz specifically have certainly played a part). The poll also found that a majority of Hoosiers support amending the state’s civil rights law to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation–an amendment our fundamentalist Governor adamantly opposes.

Then, to make things even more interesting, a couple of days ago South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigeig announced that he is gay.

Buttigeig is a businessman, Afghanistan veteran, runner, musician and at 33, America’s youngest mayor of a city with over 100,000 residents. He’s also a Rhodes scholar who studied at Oxford University, a valedictorian who was class president at his South Bend high school, a Harvard University graduate, and a lieutenant in U.S. Navy Reserve.

To top it off, Buttigeig is a nice guy who has by all accounts also done an excellent job as Mayor. (I think he’s what they call an overachiever.)

It will be interesting to see the reaction to Buttigeig’s eloquent announcement. Indiana is (accurately) seen as socially conservative but, as the recent polling attests, homophobia in the state is waning, and for some time now, Hoosiers in more urban areas of the state have proved to be far more accepting of diversity than our reputation would suggest. (Indianapolis’ Pride Festival drew over 100,000 attendees last week.) Even in much smaller South Bend– home to Catholic Notre Dame– the reaction to the Mayor’s revelation has thus far been largely positive.

Buttigieg has been widely viewed as a political “comer,” a star with a bright electoral future.  I predict that he will win re-election in November by a comfortable margin, despite this announcement. The more intriguing question is: will coming out affect his prospects for higher office down the road?

I know the timing is all wrong, but replacing Mike Pence with a gay Democrat would repair the damage to Indiana’s reputation in one fell swoop…


Born That Way

There is a relatively recent internet site called “Upworthy,” that culls videos from around the web that the site’s managers deem worthy of a wider audience (they’r “UpWorthy”) and promotes them. This morning, I saw one of them–a clip from comedian Wanda Sykes in which she explains why it is more difficult to be gay than to be black (she’s both). After all, she didn’t have to “come out” as black. I encourage you to click through and watch this 2 minute performance; Sykes is a gifted comic, and it is pretty funny.

The bit reminded me of an epiphany of sorts. When I was Director of the Indiana ACLU, I hosted a small fundraising dinner at my home for our Project for Equal Rights. We used that euphemism for Gay Rights, because it was the mid-1990s, and this is Indiana. At any rate, the guest of honor was the then-head of the ACLU’s national gay rights project, Bill Rubenstein. Something he said during that dinner  has remained with me ever since.

Gay kids have no role models.

Virtually every minority group teaches its children how to “be” what they are; Jewish parents model “Jewishness,” Hispanic parents are a bridge to the cultures from which they came, etc. But gay children are born to heterosexual parents–and most often, to parents who have no experience with gays or gay life. Each child who grows to realize that he or she is “different” has to figure out how to understand that difference, and how to live a rewarding and authentic life–without the help of a parental role model, and often despite parental rejection of that difference.

That’s a heavy burden. The least we can do as a society is not add to it.

The Times They Are A-Changin’

I’m beginning to wonder whether GLBT folks are today’s canaries in the coal mine.

For those of you unfamiliar with the canaries’ function, the phrase refers to the fact that well into the 20th century, coal miners would bring canaries into the mines to serve as early-warning signals for toxic gases, primarily carbon monoxide. The birds were more sensitive to the presence of the gas, and would become sick before the miners had been exposed to dangerous levels.

I began to consider this (admittedly odd) analogy yesterday, when members of the Indiana General Assembly—as retrograde a group as one could find outside, perhaps, Mississippi or Alabama—announced that they would not hold a vote during this year’s session on a measure to amend the Indiana Constitution by inserting a ban on same-sex marriage.

Only those of us who have lived in Indiana the past few years can appreciate the magnitude of this announcement. Legislative homophobia has been a given, and the prospects for this particular piece of bigotry had been considered bright.  Those of us who oppose the measure had pretty much settled for strategies meant to “kick the can down the road.” (Indiana is one of those states where amending the constitution is difficult; a proposed amendment must be passed in identical form by two separately elected legislatures, after which it goes to the public in the form of a referendum. Opponents focused on getting changes in some of the more ambiguous and mean-spirited language of the proposed amendment; changing the language would at least delay what seemed inevitable.) The working assumption has been that the ban was a slam-dunk to emerge from the General Assembly, and that an eventual public vote would likely lodge discrimination solidly in the state’s charter.

The legislature can still vote on the ban during next year’s session, of course. But the postponement is significant.

Consider the context: The 2012 election ushered in Republican super-majorities in the Indiana House and Senate. Worse, we’ve elected a dyed-in-the-wool culture warrior as Governor. In the wake of the election, prospects for defeating or even delaying the ban looked even more hopeless than before.

But that’s where it gets interesting. A couple of statewide polls show a solid majority of Hoosiers—whatever their position on same-sex marriage—oppose amending the constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has accepted two significant cases, one involving a challenge to DOMA, and one an appeal of California’s Proposition Eight. The President was re-elected handily, even after his very public endorsement of marriage equality.

What seems to be a sea change on gay rights issues increasingly seems to be only part of the story, a leading indicator of a broader social/political shift that is just becoming visible.

Here’s my current analysis (and it’s worth every penny you are paying for it—in other words, nothing): The upheavals we now refer to as “the sixties” created an enormous backlash. All of a sudden, there were uppity black folks, bra-burning feminists, anti-war activists and other troublemakers undermining the natural order of things. Those various movements—womens’ movement, civil rights movement, antiwar movement—permanently changed American society, but they also engendered huge resentment and push-back. That backlash ushered in the so-called “Reagan revolution,” and energized the culture warriors and “family values” organizations.

Just as the 60s movements became excessive, and spawned reaction, the GOPs rightward march has now gone much too far. Women, minorities, young people and reasonable, moderate Republicans are abandoning the party in droves. Except for a remaining fringe of old white Southern heterosexual men, Americans have become comfortable with diversity and the other results of the disorienting sixties—at the same time they are getting increasingly uncomfortable with the extremism and “us versus them” worldview of today’s conservatives.

Gays are among the first to benefit from what I think is beginning: a swing back from the precipice, and a long-overdue reconsideration of what America should look like.

The canaries are breathing. It’s a good sign.








Scalia’s Morality

As has been widely reported, Justice Antonin Scalia made a controversial–albeit illuminating–remark on Monday, during a speech at Princeton. In response to a student who asked him about previous anti-gay writings in which he had compared laws criminalizing homosexuality to those banning bestiality and murder, Scalia defended the comparison, saying that–while he wasn’t equating homosexuality with murder–it illustrated his belief that legislative bodies should be able to enact laws against “immoral” behaviors.

I am deathly tired of legislators and judges who define “morality” exclusively by what happens below the waist, and who confuse “tradition” with a moral compass.

Throughout his career, Scalia has devoted his undeniable brilliance not to an exploration of the human condition, the nature of morality or even the role of law in society, but rather to the creation of an elaborate intellectual defense of his prejudices.

Anyone who would equate sexual orientation–an identity–with murder–a behavior–fails Classification 101. It can never be immoral simply to be something: gay, female, black, whatever. Morality by definition is right behavior. And most moral philosophers begin that examination by asking a fairly simple question: does this behavior harm another?

Now, I know there are endless (legitimate) arguments about the nature of “harm,” but–Micah Clark and Eric Miller to the contrary–the mere fact that gay people exist and may be granted equal civil rights cannot be rationally considered harmful.

How moral we are depends upon how we treat each other. Sexual molestation is wrong whether the molester is gay or straight. Theft is wrong irrespective of the color, religion or sexual orientation of the thief.

And as many others have noted, tradition is hardly a reliable guide to moral behavior. Quite the opposite, really. War has been a human tradition. Slavery was traditional for generations. The submission of women lasted eons. The loss of these “traditions” is hardly a victory for immorality–although for old white guys like Scalia, I’m sure the loss of privileged status is cause for regret.

The job of legislatures is to pass measures needed by governing bodies–rules for civic order, taxation, service delivery, and the myriad other matters that may properly be decided communally. Allowing legislators to decide whose lives are moral is not only improper, not only an abuse of power, it is itself immoral.


Coming Out

Coming Out Day is today, October 11th.

These days—four states are preparing to vote on same-sex marriage, with victory likely in at least one, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell headed for the dustbin of history, and progress being made on a wide variety of civil rights issues affecting lesbians and gay men—the incredible importance of coming out to the struggle for gay civil rights sometimes escapes notice.

I thought about this last weekend, when I spoke at a conference sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Center for Inquiry. The Center for Inquiry is a national secularist organization, promoting (gasp!) science and reason over supernaturalism. There were four speakers at the all-day conference, and we all took different topics. Not surprisingly, my own presentation focused upon the lack of understanding of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, and the ways in which Americans’ abysmal lack of civic literacy fostered misconceptions, and enabled revisionists determined to rewrite the country’s history.

The last speaker of the day was a lawyer from Los Angeles named Edward Tabash, and it was his talk that made me sit up and take notice.

Tabash’s talk was titled “Taking Atheism to the General Public,” and his message was simple: “We need to emulate the gay community. We need to Come Out.” As he noted, atheists and gays are two communities targeted primarily by religion. Not all religions, certainly—to suggest otherwise would be to engage in the same sort of stereotyping that we decry—but a fundamentalist, literalist “brand” of belief. Tabash urged secularists to emulate the political activism tactics of GLBT folks; as he pointed out, those tactics have resulted in impressive gains, and those gains all began with the deceptively simple act of coming out.

Last Tuesday, I had the honor of emceeing (is that a word?) IUPUI’s third annual Harvey Milk dinner. The dinner draws the campus GLBT faculty and staff and allies, and it has grown steadily since the first dinner. Two hundred and twenty people attended this year’s event; they filled a sizeable space in the Campus Center. An event like that—with that sort of attendance in that sort of venue—would have been inconceivable even ten years ago. It was possible because people took deep breaths, risked families and friendships and livlihoods, and demanded social recognition. They came out.

They took those risks in order to honor their deepest natures, in order to live honestly.

It took guts.

The local CFI has lots of members, but a significant number of them are “lurkers,” on the organization’s website, but unwilling to be identified. Many of them live in small Indiana communities, and rightly fear the reaction of their employers and neighbors. Still, as Tabash noted, the prejudice against secularists won’t change until more of us come out.