I’m taking things personally. It’s been a historic couple of weeks. Friday was a historic day. It started for me with the President’s eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinkney and ended with the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage. Yesterday, got me thinking. Actually, it got me feeling.
It’s a feeling I haven’t had in a long time. The last time I had this feeling was in 1989. I was in Orlando, Florida getting ready to graduate from Naval Nuclear Propulsion School. I was watching the Berlin wall fall. It marked, for me, the end of the Cold War. I felt optimistic. Having spent many summers in Germany visiting my relatives on my mother’s side, it was also strangely personal. It was that unique feeling of history happening to me versus history happening around me.
History doesn’t always feel personal. The tragedy of September 11th didn’t feel personal. I remember being angry and disappointed, but I didn’t feel it personally. Friday’s events, however, felt very personal.
As I mentioned earlier, it started with the president’s eulogy. Although I’m an atheist, I was moved by the president’s comments about grace. He spoke about the violent act and how it sits in a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches. He spoke about how the killer imagined he would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion. What the killer didn’t understand was the grace surrounding that Bible study group.
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. From my understanding, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. The president specifically mentioned that this terrible tragedy allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He mentioned that despite our rancor and complacency, our shortsightedness and fear of each other, we still received grace. Grace in the form of awareness that the Confederate flag is much more than just ancestral pride, but is actually a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. It’s clear that this flag will finally fall. Much like the Berlin wall fell. I felt hopeful.
Amazingly, the hope train would continue to chug along on this particular Friday. The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold gay marriage across the land was a very special kind of hopeful vindication. It was an exoneration. People were set free, free to lay claim to a historic and ancient institution: marriage.
Yeah, this is personal. From “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” to the Christian Right’s efforts to paint gays and lesbians as pedophiles, not fit to parent and certainly not deserving of the right to marry to the bullying, insults and abuses aimed at gays and lesbians, it’s been a long road. That road has had many highs and lows.
For me, the highs have always been about the people. While in the Navy, I spent a decade in Virginia. During that time, while serving in the U.S. Navy, I was surrounded by an amazingly open, welcoming and loving gay community. It was there that I learned to become a gay man: to wear that identity with pride, to learn the history that I was never taught in school and then to discover an amazing culture and legacy. Thankfully, the lows for me were few and far between. They were there. It was always in small moments.
For those of you who know me well, it’s safe to say that I’m direct and confident. Having spent a decade being a consultant, I often need to establish credibility with executives who I really don’t know in a matter of one or two minutes. In my most recent job, that approach created a very unique situation. I’d been on the job for only a few months when I had discovered a coworker had come up with a very interesting theory. The coworker described my behavior as a “byproduct of me being gay in the military.” She had observed similar confidence in her uncle who was gay. Therefore, she concluded that all gay men who served in the military had to be overly confident and direct to make up for their insecurities about being gay.
And there it was, one of those frustrating, little moments, where another person’s ignorance, like nails on a chalkboard to my rational mind, reminded me of the perceptions that we still need to overcome. I remember coming home that night and telling the story to Jordan, who at the time was just my “domestic partner." We were not allowed to marry back in 2012. We both laughed about it. Yet, it happened. One of those small moments of awareness. Awareness that ignorance and prejudice still existed.
In 2013, the great state of California allowed Jordan and I to become married. Of course, I knew that our marriage wouldn’t be recognized everywhere. Somehow, it wasn’t important. It really wasn’t important until yesterday. Yesterday, I realize the depth of the problem with hate, bigotry and ignorance. You see, I had accepted that my marriage was only valid in California. Almost the same way many whites “accept” the Confederate flag is a symbol of ancestral pride. I had become complacent. Hard to confess that, strangely. It’s almost that I had allowed a truth to disappear.
[side note: Don't let anyone tell you that the truth can't disappear. If I believe in anything, rather than God, it is that I am part of something that goes all the way back to Antigone, and that whatever speaks the truth of our hearts can only make us stronger. Can only give us the power to counter the hate and bigotry and heal this addled world. Just remember: You are not alone.---R.I.P. Paul Monette]
Of course, the good fight is far from over. There is so much more work to do. Hate, ignorance and misinformation still exist everywhere. Hate is still taught from one generation to another. Friday’s events are actually a call to action. We all need to take these things very seriously. Each of us has the power to make a difference. By being a little more vigilant, a little more outspoken, by being, dare I say, direct and confident by standing up to those who speak out of ignorance or hate, we can make a difference. As one flag falls, I’m optimistic that another is rising in its place, but this time a flag that celebrates diversity and inclusiveness.
I for one am taking it all personally-too personally, in fact. You see, I don't really have the choice to ignore it, because it's happening on my watch.