Don’t forget the big picture.

Working in higher education comes with ebbs and flows through times of utter chaos and moments where you can finally begin to take momentary breathers. The last month of the semester is usually utter chaos, so please forgive me for my inconsistent and lack of posts up in this blog-o-sphere!

While it has been quite some time since I have posted, this week brought on a series of events that stirred up some mixed emotions; a blog post was inevitable. The events I am about to describe made me realize there was a slight possibility I hadn’t fully processed some eye opening incidents that occurred during my tenure in grad school, which happened to be located in a less than liberal state (that’s putting it lightly through the use of alliteration). This week, a roller coaster of events have been unfolding on Capitol Hill regarding the great heated debate of…wait for it…MARRIAGE OF THE GAYS!

Alright, so Obama took the typical political waffling on this controversial issue spouting something about evolutionary gay feelings rather than walking down the path Biden & other members of his administration had laid before him. Needless to say, folks weren’t very happy about it. Yet, there was something Machiavellian about the way Obama neither denied nor confirmed support of marriage equality. One could assume this was due to the social stigma created by right wing socialization, and his full backing behind Biden would inevitably lead to a loss in votes. It is after-all, an election year. Whether it was the realization that there was more at play here than skirting the question or a loss of patience for waiting to hear a confirmation of what was echoed in his campaign speeches of hope and change; a crack began to form.

Then along came the state of North Carolina with this little amendment called one. Supporters and allies united and cried out with tweets, status updates, and memes expressing their disgust and disappointment that progress seems to remain stagnant among pockets throughout the nation. In its quake history was made. For the first time, the in-office President of the United States of America publicly supports same-sex marriage. Huzzah! The news made me want to celebrate…I just wanted to DANCE! Except, there was a part of me that felt uneasy about the whole thing. As I had alluded to before, it all seemed so calculated; the timing seemed to be perfect like the type of a sexy move that ends with a swirl…

Chris Weigant of The Huffington Post pinpointed what I was feeling perfectly:

What we just witnessed, for roughly the past four days, was not a “breaking story” or even an “evolution” of any sort. What we just witnessed, capped this morning by President Barack Obama’s statement of support for gay marriage, was nothing more than the introduction of a new (political) product. It was a “new and improved” product rollout — nothing more, nothing less.Admittedly, I’ve been conflicted. Of course, I recognize it is a historical milestone to have the President and his administration openly support marriage equality, which is truly a positive mark for progress. However, the fact it is being used as a political strategy does seem troublesome.

Admittedly, I am conflicted. Don’t get me wrong, the historical milestone to have the President and his administration openly support marriage equality is truly a positive mark for progress. However, I do find the seemingly commodification of the gay community as a strategic tool for re-election troublesome. But was it bothering me enough to contemplate my support and decision to re-elect? Who knew sifting through Facebook status-updates/discussions/debates/snarky-rebuttals/cat-fights of those who would all agree that marriage should be a freedom shared by all American citizens would spurn on a metaphorical spirit walk. While I certainly felt uneasy and found myself questioning Obama’s motives, there are some that are in full-blown hulk smash mode.

Comments that followed and seen throughout the world of Facebook and Twitter illustrate the crack formed from Biden’s support vs. Obama’s initial silence in regards to marriage equality seemed to increase to a sort of a schism. Below is a list of  highlights taken from responses to the status update above, but note that not all comments are in their entirety yet still represent the general tone of the discussion. (authors of comments have been kept anonymous for privacy reasons; if you recognize your words and would like to be listed as the author email me, and I will be happy to do so):

  • I’m glad you’re not fooled
  • Thank You! I was saying many of the same things…
  • Love you and you deserve equality.
  • There’s no difference between a president who supports same sex marriage and one who doesn’t if the one who does support it is commodifying same sex couples just to get reelected.
  • It’s not like this is an election year and he put his re-election in jeopardy with this statement. Was it a political ploy, probably, but Obama is a politician and this is how Presidents who support gay rights get re-elected.
  • Did he really put his re-election in jeopardy, though? i mean, anyone who is so against gay marriage that they’re angered by this wasn’t voting for the guy anyway. plus, this will help in reenergizing the young liberal base he’ll need to win.
  • In an ideal world full of non-hateful un-morons, yes, I would want him to have made this move earlier. But given reality, I’m just glad we have a guy in the White House who has the right position. Please remember that the other side is the one that wants to make a task force to investigate the “infringement of religious rights” that gay marriage represents and vows to enforce DOMA.
  • If you don’t think that Obama has felt this way all along, you’re naive. But I’m tired of our side (liberals) getting indignant about playing politics while the other side whips our ass.
  • I don’t care how Obama has felt all along, but resenting being used as a political pawn for someone else’s gain doesn’t come from naivety. It comes from encountering people who will call me a faggot on the street only to turn around say that they support my rights to an audience because they love the sound of two things: 1.) Applause, and; 2.) Their own voice.
  • You don’t know how much it breaks my heart to know the prejudice you’ve faced. I hate it and I swear to you if you told me what to do to help you with any of that, I would be there to do whatever it was. I mean that. I don’t feel that he is using you or this position as a political game. I think this is part of a larger, totally defensible agenda that you probably support in spirit.
Reading about the prejudices Amitheonlyone had to face broke my heart as well. I hated that this individual had to go through what he was describing, but this one comment also brought back some strong emotions and experiences I had encountered while I was attending grad school and residing in the same city where Amitheonlyone is currently residing in. To illustrate, I am going to enlist the help of one of my besties.
Ladies and Gentlemen; welcome my dear friend, whom we shall call Boo, as she tells you about one of said encounters that stuck with me. Seriously though, if you’re ever in Portland, check out the comedy scene; you may run into her and hilarity will most certainly ensue.

On the particular night Boo is describing, I was genuinely scared. I had dealt with ignorance and ugliness like that from a distance living in Wyoming. I came out of the closet in 1998 only to slam the door shut on my way back in after reading the headline of Shepard’s death; As Shepard was fighting for his life in a Colorado hospital, a Colorado State University homecoming float carried a scarecrow decorated with signs hung on a scarecrow that read “I’m Gay” and “Up My Ass.” Needless to say, I stayed pretty low on the gaydar until I left Wyoming. The night described above was the first time I was in direct contact with this kind of hatred. I was convinced I was going to be the victim of a hate-crime, but not for being gay like I had always feared, but simply for voting in favor of Obama.

Kansas was also the first time and place I was the direct victim of discrimination. Again, I had always heard about it happening and saw it happen indirectly living in Wyoming, but never really experienced it. My second year in grad school, I had been living in my apartment on my own for about a year while my partner finished his undergrad degree in Minnesota. I found myself being told by my landlord my partner of 4 years could not move in with me after he moved to Kansas to be with me after he graduated. The justification was that the apartments were only one bedroom. I explained he was my partner, and my landlord responded they don’t allow couples to move in either. The only problem with that reasoning was there was a couple living above me and right beside me. His response to this—they were married. My landlord refused to put his justification in writing, cited housing laws stating he could choose to or deny rent to whomever he wants, and also refused to let me out of my lease. The existing human rights ordinance did not include sexual orientation as a protected class. I had no choice but to stay even after his disapproval of me was made very clear and his presence at my building through “random” check-ins increased from seldom to several times a week. I vividly remember convulsively sobbing to my friend Boo on the phone (she had moved to Oregon a few months prior) as I explained there was nothing I could do about it and the landlord knew it!

So, I can understand the anger in Amitheonlyone’s status update and his vehement disdain at Obama’s support of gay marriage, only to follow that statement up with his stance that states should be the entity to make the decision whether to legalize or ban. During my last year in Kansas, I  spoke at City Council meetings, public forums, and demonstrations to bring awareness that discrimination does happen and the inclusion of sexual orientation into the city’s discrimination clause was not only the right thing to, but necessary. Sexual Orientation was added to the existing human rights city ordinance, but was overturned months later after new City Council members were elected. Recently, the state passed a law stating that discrimination against the LGBT community was permissible if it was due to moral or religious reasons. So, yes, I understand the anger and disappointment Amitheonlyone is feeling.

Many status updates and tweets reflect this same anger and frustration at the hesitation of Obama to solidify his stance, and then using his announcement as a poltical maneuver in order to garner votes. One comment reads, “He’s doing it to get votes, Do not think he is really o.k. with it.”

Obama’s timely support of same-sex marriage is more than likely a political strategy, however, it is not indicative of whether or not he is okay with it. The truth of the matter is, there is a high probability he has been in support with marriage equality all along, but in our world of politics, one has to be strategic about how they express their viewpoints. Moreover, many opposing comments throughout Facebook reflect that politics inherently consist of game-playing and stratagems whether we like it or not, and Obama seems to have gotten the hang of the game.

My last year in Kansas, there was a small handfull, three to four, members of the community that would come to the City Council meetings in support of me speaking on my housing experiences. It was one of the scariest yet most fulfilling things I had done during my time there, although it didn’t seem to have an affect at the time. I was certainly deflated as those who sought to maintain the status quo tossed out accusations that my situation was fabricated in order to fuel the discussion on amending the ordinance. Months later after I had moved out of the state, I saw a post regarding a decision to declare June pride month in Manhattan and the possibility of taking a vote in order to address amending the ordinance. I watched the meeting from a live Internet feed. During the public comments section of the meeting, I was overwhelmed with tears one after the other was expressing their gratitude and urging that the issue was going to continue to be pursued. The movement had gained momentum. One year after I had left, I returned to the city to speak at a Pride Parade and demonstration. I was once again amazed at the number of people that publicly showed their support for equality including the now secure and out Amitheonlyone, straight allies and gay folk alike,  all united under one common need for equal human rights where just a year before the movement seeemed to consist of only a handful of active members.

Perhaps the most disturbing after-effect of the frustration and disdain over Obama’s “strategic move,” is the divide it has created among equality advocates. One response to Amitheonlyone’s status update I found truly insightful read:

What kills me is that we’re on the same side. You know that, right? I understand that I’m a white, middle-class, heterosexual male. I never forget the privilege I was born into and have spent most of today trying to ask others what I can legitimately do to help. So what depresses me, what causes me great concern, is that you and I are bickering over a man who today endorsed what both you and I believe…The gay rights movement is fairly new in the social consciousness. And right or wrong, we have to contend with how best to deal with the raging, hateful idiots who use our shared, totally morally correct position to fundraise and mobilize for politicians who will crush what we believe.

I strongly believe one of the obstacles in the LGBT rights movement are the fractured and divisive ideologies that exist within the community itself, which then lead to mixed messages for the movement at large. Those opposed to the “gay lifestyle” seize these divisions and exploit the mixed messages to further stifle our cause.

I will admit that there was a big part of me that was concerned Obama will use his stance as a bargaining chip when it comes to deliberating with congress. But then I looked at the bigger picture and realize change and progress take time and often the big picture cannot be achieved without the baby steps. It is important to realize policy doesn’t just happen overnight, and more importantly not to forget the change that has been enacted and the progress that has been made. I am hopeful that if granted a second term, there will be some follow-through, and Obama will fight to make this country that much closer to a state of true equality despite any resistance from congress he may face. We live in a time of many firsts for the gay community, and I am confident the President will work to make more happen and make room to allow for more to happen after his second term. Faith.

So, while I can definitely relate and understand the frustrations that arise when it seems like we are so close to being equal, yet still remain ever so separate; I leave you with these final thoughts. Remember what it feels like when the group comes together and a simple act of sharing your collective stories and experiences produce profound affects that you didn’t realize was possible. Remember the accomplishments that seemed so insurmountable become less daunting when everyone works together. Remember how infuriating it feels when others refuse to look outside their own narrow lens to consider other perspectives beside their own and ask yourself if you are guilty of the same.

One of the great problems of our age is that people care more about their feelings than about their thoughts and ideas. Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny. What we think is what we become.

~Margaret Thatcher, The Iron Lady