August 11, 2007

GLBT People Are Not Issues, They Are Human Beings

That's the point eloquently stated by Joan Garry, the former long-time director of GLAAD, in this column on the Huffington Post.

It's unusual when a line from a play or film sticks with you but I think we all carry a handful of them around with us. I've been thinking about one in particular recently -- from the Bernard Pomerance play, The Elephant Man. In a painful wail, John Merrick begs for those around him to see, understand and accept his humanity. "I am not an animal -- I am a human being."

Throughout this presidential nominations process, I have come to see that I too have something to wail. "I am not an issue -- I am a human being.

The leading Democratic candidates know the drill too. They've got an entire inventory of 'real moments' and use them often to emphasize their policy point. There are names, there are faces. But gay and lesbian Americans do not have names or faces in stump speeches, debates or interviews. We are referenced only in the abstract.

Have you ever heard Hillary, Barack or John mention a name of anyone they know or have met who is gay or lesbian? Has John Edwards ever used his "Two Americas" paradigm to assess gay vs. straight America? Has Barack ever told a story about meeting with a lesbian couple (using real names) who want the right to marry and then make a direct correlation with his own parents' struggle as an interracial couple? Has Hillary ever talked about how she would feel if Chelsea's significant other was not Mark but Martha?

OK, I know. For these candidates, I am seen as a hot potato. I am a political football. I am a vote the Democrats can take for granted. I am a wedge. I am a potential liability. And I am not naïve. I understand the nature of politics and the realities of the political landscape. I recognize that I am all of the things listed above.

But I am not abstract -- I am real. For decades, the gay rights movement has worked to be visible, to be out, to be real -- recognizing that the opposition's strategy is all about abstraction. It's troubling to see our own candidates feeding right into that.

GLBT advocacy is the most effective when the issues are represented by a human face. Until our political leaders take that approach, GLBT equality in the laws of our nation will continue to be an uphill struggle won in small increments.

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