In the fall of 2008, I joined a movement that society portrays as recent, but is actually a part of something as old as humanity itself. Younger and with a range of emotions as wide as they were unfocused, I took on gay rights out of confusion more than anything else.
It was clear to me that it was the right thing to do. That was not what bewildered me. What did was how many others did, and still do not, grasp the importance of the freedom to marry: Marriage equality. Gay marriage.
However you want to put it, as there are debates over which phrase is most constructive.
There wasn’t some magic moment or legacy that made me accept gay and transgender people. I had no friends or family with gay rights track records, so it wasn’t in my blood. Don’t get me wrong, they are fine with the community for the most part, but “fine” isn’t a very persuasive demeanor either way.
Acceptance was just a fact of life for me, like the consistent warmth our sun brings each morning.
If that was all, I would have finished the political season four years ago disappointed about the passage of Proposition 8, but willing to go on with my life. A wrong would have been committed in my eyes, but not one of my deepest concerns.
Instead, it was something more. There was a bundle of empathy deep in myself just waiting to rise to prominence. This was something extraordinary within the ordinary, where it usually resides for most of us.
Why should I care? I am a straight man who didn’t have to hide his crushes growing up. I am protected from discrimination at work and school. No politicians or bully pulpits trash my very existence. There was no fight for survival.
On the surface, I was not battle born.
Long ago, I answered the question of my motivations. A deep and painful soul search came up fruitful and made my resolve even stronger. It came into my blood because in a way it was already there. Unevolved but powerful.
I know what it’s like to hide the best sides of yourself. It’s also clear to me the tragedies we could have avoided if freedom was a fact instead of a fight that began long before we were born and will live on long after we die.
We have all been to those places in ourselves and the world around us.
I will spend this semester examining not just the watershed era of gay rights that is unfolding around us, but how it is relevant to you and to me. I won’t be covering transgender issues, as talented fellow columnist Julie Nitori did in the past, as those are their own areas of expertise and should not have to share a spotlight.
There seems to be this illusion that civil rights is some movement that precludes the privileged and mainstream. Clearly, it must be a niche interest.
Yet it’s fact that civil rights is everything: The clean food we eat and the clear water we drink used to be a hit-or-miss affair. Our right to vote was not always inalienable. Fellow minority classmates would have been unfairly segregated mere decades ago.
Gay rights—just like any other movement—has its own personality, so I am not conflating any struggle with another, but there is something powerful that all of them share. What that is will be another focus of mine during this series.
Another myth is the perception that all civil rights activism is something like a loud shout and sign wave near the highway. That’s an admirable way to spend a day, in my eyes, since awareness is half the battle. Yet, on the other hand, it is understandably intimidating to newcomers because it is ostentatious.
I promise you that civil rights aren’t just about a black minister telling millions of people about his dream or a visionary gay politico shouting “I want to recruit you!” from a pedestal.
Civil rights is also about the quiet moments in life, like a shopkeeper from Kentucky that reaches for a smile instead of a shotgun as two men hold hands in his store. Civil rights is a mother embracing his son during a moment of truth. Civil rights is a counselor promising a rape victim that it is never, ever her fault.
Civil rights, which includes gay rights, is you.