The holidays are upon us and that means were all prepped to spend some quality time with the fam. In my case, this requires that I hop on a southbound flight and head to the milder climes of the Carolinas. As with all things holiday-ish, it can be a little complicated: who has to sleep on the couch in the family room (me); who gets to wrap all the last-minute presents (me); and who gets to avoid talking about his homosexual lifestyle in front of his younger siblings? Yep, you guessed it
me! Its not like Im in the closet; my parents have known just how gay I am for almost a decade. Its just that Mom and Dad prefer that I keep my 18-year-old brother and 11-year-old sister in the dark when it comes to my sexuality (as if in the age of Bravo TV they cant spot a gay boy a mile away). The fact that I am not allowed to tell them definitely speaks to the discomfort my sexuality still causes my parents.
That I acquiesce to their unreasonable demand suggests that I may not be entirely comfortable with it either. I mean, here I am, someone who has organized and trained volunteers to fight for gay and lesbian rights in four different states; yet in my own childhood home, I tolerate losing the right to be honest.
And its not just with my siblings either. There are huge swaths of my family spread out across the country who probably dont know that I am gay. Usually, I dont spend too much time worrying about this. I mean, its not as if my life would be terribly improved if I came out to all the various aunts and cousins I have living in California. Wait
did I just say California? Thats right. The same state where voters just approved Proposition 8, overturning that states Supreme Court ruling granting marriage equality to same-sex couples. The margin of victory for Prop 8 was roughly 4 percent, a little fact that has me wondering more and more about all those family members of mine who may not know how important it is to me that I have the right to marry the person of my choosing.
Political Organizing 101 teaches that the opinions of close friends and family members have perhaps the greatest amount of influence when it comes to our decisions on Election Day. It also teaches you to know on a scale of 1 to 5 which voters are with you (1s and 2s), which are against (4s and 5s), and which are persuadable (3s). And to be perfectly honest, I have no idea when it comes to marriage equality for gays and lesbians if my aunt in Long Beach is a 1, 3 or 5. And I never once picked up the phone and called Aunt Barry to ask her how she planned to vote.
Looks like I have some work to do.
First, I spoke with Evan Wolfson, the founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry. A civil rights attorney, activist, author and arguably the countrys leading voice when it comes to fighting for marriage equality,Wolfson asserted during our talk that the recipe for social change is simple: information over time. He explained that framing the opposition to Prop 8 as a matter of equality and civil rights is only half of the discussion that needs to take place. He emphasized that we, as members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community need to keep having multiple conversations with our friends, family, co-workers and others in our circles about how the right to marry impacts us as individuals. We need to exercise patience and persistence, understanding that someone might need to hear from us four or five or 15 times before they can find common ground with your cause.
Has Evan been secretly attending my familys Christmas dinners all this time without me knowing it? Ive only broached the subject of telling my siblings that Im gay once; and that convo ended with me storming out the house. Since then, Ive honestly been afraid of touching off yet another tiff with my folks. Like many, I find it pretty difficult to talk to people who I assume wont agree with me. So my next step was to talk to Patrick Sammon, president of the Log Cabin Republicans.
As the head of the nations largest gay Republican organization, I imagined Patrick was quite accustomed to delivering messages to unreceptive audiences. In our conversation, Patrick noted that while 82 percent of Republicans voted for Prop 8, nothing could do more right now for marriage equality than getting the GOP on board with the cause.
Thats the challenge, he said. We need to move beyond the anger
and approach our opponents not as bigots but as potential allies, noting that even though John McCain opposes marriage equality, he did vote against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have banned same-sex marriage throughout the land. I guess that would make Johnny what
a 3? Over six million Californians voted for Prop 8 and, according to CNN exit polls, the people that most supported it are groups with whom the GLBT community doesnt always do the best job at engaging: 84 percent of weekly churchgoers, 82 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of African Americans, 61 percent of people age 65 and older, and 60 percent of married (i.e. heterosexual) people.
Now Im not sure exactly what concrete steps we as a community should take, but I cant help wondering if it doesnt have something to do with having those uncomfortable conversations with our family members across the nationletting them know just how important it is for us to achieve full marriage equality. In the two years since I had that fiery little discussion with my parents about my younger brother and sister, I have no clue as to whether or not my parents views have softened. Are they still 5s on the Jamaal Justice Scale, or are they any closer to being a 3, maybe even a 1? I honestly dont know; but I guess now is as good a time as any to find out. So get ready, Mom and Dad. This Christmas were gonna be spending some quality time talking about marriage equality.