Ten years ago, I was working for a large entertainment company in Los Angeles and attended a mandatory manager’s seminar covering tolerance in the workplace. I remember thinking that their examples of discrimination against homosexuals were outdated and exaggerated, and that frankly the entire session was unnecessary. I raised my hand and proudly suggested that “at a company where the head of programming, marketing and several other high-level positions were openly gay, and their support of up-and-coming employees who also happen to be gay (a practice which others noted as the actions of “The Gay Mafia”) was widely accepted as truth, where homosexuality often seemed to be celebrated rather than treated with discrimination, surely this seminar was unnecessary.” To end with a laugh, I may have even added that there should be a seminar for tolerance of heterosexuals in our division. I smiled, smoothed my Express dress slacks down my thighs with my perfectly polished fingers, and waited for the wave of support that followed. Instead I was met with downcast faces, angry glances, and a 10-minute lesson on why in 2004, my opinions were the exact reason that this session was necessary.
My complacency was ignorant, dangerous, and a disservice to both a group of people I claimed to support and to personal friends whom I loved like the closest members of my family. Friends who had stood with me and held my hand through life’s struggles when others couldn’t or wouldn’t. Friends for whom I said I would do anything, and I was lucky because they were not asking.
I allowed myself to slip back into a comfortable bubble of blissful ignorance.
At the time, I understood that my blissful ignorance was not acceptable, and yet I did nothing. I had nothing to prove. There was no Prop 8 on the ballot, there was no Westboro Baptist Church in the news weekly, and many of my gay friends were buying beautiful homes together in the Hollywood Hills, adopting puppies, planting gardens, and asking me to house-sit while they went on glamorous vacations to other parts of the world where, like Los Angeles, their relationship was tolerated and/or accepted.
I was able to continue my support without having to actually do anything. I didn’t even have to change my profile picture to an equal sign. Facebook didn’t exist. I just had to continue to enjoy an amazing, simple life filled with beautiful people and beautiful weather, but my bubble of blissful ignorance was soon to be burst, leaving me to prove if I was strong enough to stand up for what I believe in.
Here are the 5 excuses I made and why they no longer fly …
1. But I finally made some friends.
Soon after moving to Texas, I found myself in the loving embrace of a weekly playgroup. Ah, the joy of having a group of lady friends with children the same age as yours. Oh, the coffee we drank!
One week, the conversation drifted through the cycle of topics and landed on TV, apparently on a Sunday night show, there had been a kiss between a gay couple after much romantic buildup. One mom stated that she was “fine” with gay people living their lives but that to put “that” on TV without a warning was unacceptable. That she shouldn’t have had to see that unexpectedly, and that she would never watch that show again. My ears were ringing. I was shocked and angry, but I was afraid to stand up to her. I was afraid to explain why I felt that having examples of all kinds of love on TV was important. I did the only thing I could muster up the courage to do: I made up an excuse and slithered out the door.
But I returned the following week and never said a word about it to any of those ladies. I’ve since learned (through social media, of course) that at least two of those fine ladies are supporters of gay rights. Maybe more of them are. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been met with stunned silence had I chosen to speak. Perhaps I would have realized that I had more in common with some of these ladies than toddlers and coffee, and at the same time, made the other woman rethink her feeling about witnessing a kiss between two people in love.
2. But their chicken sandwich is delicious.
As you may have guessed, I’m not much of an activist. I definitely don’t search out causes. I’ve never boycotted a business because of the religious beliefs of their management or owners. Also, I’m lazy, and I don’t like to inconvenience myself. I’ve justified my continued support of businesses that openly discriminate against gay people (and women, for that matter) by convincing myself that my money was not very powerful and that innocent employees were also benefitting from my business.
No, taking away my small amount of business is not going to close their doors, but acting in a manner that reflects my beliefs is a small step toward living a life true to my core values.
3. I was never in debate club.
Even though I feel that I am on the side of love and truth, and science and justice, there are many people who can formulate a strong defense for their position and win an argument simply for their excellent debate skills. Losing an argument doesn’t mean you are wrong, but it does mean that you have courage and that your debate skills can only improve with practice.
4. Let’s NOT talk about sex baby.
I marvel at how my small children view skin color. How the difference between “red” and “blond” hair is the same as the difference between “black” and “white” skin. I know that I was raised to be blind to skin color, but at some point, the influences of the world around you change how you observe skin color. With sexuality, it requires some explanation, and, like anything related to sex, that can be an awkward conversation. Last summer, we spent a day in Cape Cod with a college friend of mine and his husband. My friend is very important to me, and I was excited that my children would spend time bonding with him. I knew they would love him like I do. It was also the first time the kids had spent time with a gay couple, and I was worried that this part of who they are would become the focus of the day. I wanted the kids to just get to know my friends. We had an amazing day, but in the afternoon, my daughter referred to my friend’s husband as his brother. I took a breath and explained that sometimes a boy marries a boy and a girl marries a girl. She laughed and thought we were joking because that would be silly. We reassured her that we were not kidding. Then we went back to making sandcastles. Then my son pooped on the dock, and we all rolled on the ground laughing. Two men being married was the same as “black” and “white.” We all learned something new and moved on.
5. It’s not life or death.
A month ago that same friend came to visit us in Texas. Clare dressed him up in fancy clothes and made him go on a date with her. Then she made him kiss her at the end of their date. Then she told him that they were going to get married someday. Apparently she had conveniently forgotten all about our conversation in Cape Cod. I broke the news that he was already married and reminded her that she had met his husband. I reminded her that sometimes men get married to each other. She asked, “Men can get married?” I explained that in some states, like Massachusetts, men can get married but that in some states, like Texas where we live, it’s illegal. She started to cry. She didn’t want him to go to jail while he was visiting us in Texas. 10 years ago, I would have thought that was funny. With the situation in Russia, and (almost) in Kansas, I no longer think that’s cute or funny — it’s frightening.
As a mother, as a friend, as a human, I can no longer remain comfortably quiet knowing that I am living a life that celebrates the freedom and equality of all lifestyles because that freedom is in jeopardy and equality is still a dream. History has proven over and over that the people who don’t use their voice are also guilty of crimes against others. I will not be quiet while humans are not treated with equality. I will lose friends, but I will also gain friends. History has proven that those are the people worthy of my love, my courage, and my voice.
Photo credits: Jacinda