[8 November 2012]
“I’m a supporter of gay rights. And not a closet supporter, either. From the time I was a kid, I have never been able to understand attacks upon the gay community. There are so many qualities that make up a human being… by the time I get through with all the things that I really admire about people, what they do with their private parts is probably so low on the list that it is irrelevant.”
― Paul Newman
Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell aren’t getting married, at least not yet, despite having been engaged for over two years. The Hollywood couple has stated that they don’t feel good about getting married while their gay friends can’t. Only after gay marriage in California is legal and their friends can experience the ritual of being bridezilla and eating dry and tasteless banquet food while an ‘80s cover band plays their first dance as a married couple, will Dax and Kristen walk down the aisle.
The superhot duo aren’t the only ones who have made such an announcement about their marriage plans. Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend were among the first heterosexual couples to declare that they wouldn’t get married until there was marriage equality, which, in their case, turned out to be a wise decision, considering that they broke up two years ago. Reportedly, Bradgelina had decided to not marry while marriage inequity existed, until they changed their minds and were headed down the aisle for the kids’ sake. That was months ago, though, so who knows what their marriage plans really are.
With polling numbers showing an ever increasing support for gay marriage in the United States, more straight people are speaking out on gay rights issues. We have followed a natural progression for a social movement: initially in a position where the vast majority viewed us with distain and we were excluded from the cultural hierarchy to a position where we were accepted with hesitance to a point where many of those who are part of the demographic that sought to suppress us now work diligently for our rights. So, we tip our hats to those who have joined the sequined and flannelled front lines, with a look at just a few of them.
Take Lisa Lampanelli, the Queen of Mean. If you are unfamiliar with Lampanelli, she is one of the most foul-mouthed, offensive comedians to ever grace a stage. All dolled up like June Cleaver on amphetamines, she hurls racist, homophobic, and ethnic jokes at rapid-fire pace. Yet, when she learned that one of her shows was to be protested by a true group of haters, the members of the Westboro Baptist Church, founders of the website GodHatesFags.com, Lampanelli decided to take a head count, then gave the Gay Men’s Health Crisis $1,000 for every protester, to the final sum of $50,000.
Far less controversial, Avan Jogia of Nickelodeon’s Victorious teamed with Heather Wilk & Andre Pochon of Cause Creative Marketing to found Straight But Not Narrow, which seeks “to insure that basic civil and human RIGHTS are not up for vote, that EVERYONE has a right to be true to THEMSELVES without fear, to find unity and NOT division. We believe respect is NEEDED, even if acceptance and adaptation is lacking.” (caps theirs) The Hunger Game‘s Josh Hutcherson has since joined the team, and was among the first celebrities to film a public service announcement for the group, urging straights to show tolerance for the LGBT community. Since then, an array of celebrities have filmed such announcements, including Gethin Anthony of Game of Thrones, the first international spot to be filmed:
Another pair of celebrities, comedian/actors Skyler Stone and Mike Smith, took on Chic-fil-a after the restaurant chain’s CEO made remarks viewed by many as homophobic. The duo joined gay and lesbian protesters outside of the local Chic-fil-a in Hollywood to join in the demonstration with a same-sex kiss while at the ordering window.
OK, so clearly the guys don’t have a future in gay for pay porn, but their devotion to the cause is admirable.
Of course, not every straight person who supports the LGBT community is a celebrity. Consider Geekgirl, a straight married mom and molecular biologist, who writes the “LGBT Lessons for Straight People” column for the JaySays website. Geekgirl, whose real name is Jude, has no problem calling out her fellow heterosexuals for their homophobia, as she does here, taking on presidential candidate Mike Huckabee:
“I have to say, my respect for Mike Huckabee went up. For years he hid behind religion to argue why he is against gay rights. He finally came out and said that he finds gay sex icky. Kudos Mike, for having the courage to be honest. Now get over it. No one is asking you to engage in gay sex, which by the way is legal. They are asking for equal rights. 1138 rights given to married couples under Federal Law. Equality, as guaranteed under the 14th amendment.”
Still, Jude’s heart isn’t completely free of hatred, as she notes in her column bio. She hates pickles.
Zach Wahls is one person who has gone from every day person advocating for LGTB rights to celebrity, thanks to his impassioned speech before the Ohio legislature, describing what it was like to grow up as the son of two lesbian moms, Terry (“tall mom”) and Jackie (“short mom”):
Unfortunately, Wahls didn’t change the mind of the chairman he addressed, who said in a speech the next day that we need to protect heterosexual marriage because “heterosexual couples can procreate accidentally.” Like that’s a good thing.
Despite being handsome and engaging (and tall, 6’5”, one of the few traits his mother considered in choosing a donor, since she figured a tall kid would be less likely to be picked on in school), Wahls had no idea that his speech would find its way onto the internet, or go viral, or make him an overnight star. Since his speech, which was hastily written the night before, he has appeared on The Daily Show, Ellen, and The Late Show with David Letterman, written his autobiography My Two Moms with Bruce Littlefield, spoken at the Democratic National Convention, and traveled the country on a speaking tour.
It was during an appearance in New Albany, Indiana, at Indiana University Southeast that I was able to speak to him briefly. What became evident quickly during our discussion and from listening to his presentation is that Wahls never sought the mantle of gay advocate, but it’s not one from which he shies away, either. After 21 months of celebrity-status, what he really wants is to go back to being a regular college student, pursuing his first passion, environmental protection. Still, he’s savvy enough to know that what he’s doing now is changing minds, opening eyes, and making a difference for couples like his two moms.
His presentation is divided into several segments: the speech that made him famous, commentary on the current political environment as it relates to the LGBT community, commonly asked questions about having two lesbian mothers (“are they hot?” being one of the more frequent; he describes his moms as “handsome” and “adorable”), and a question and answer period. A key point in his discussion is that there is no such thing as “gay marriage”. There is just marriage, he notes. Terry and Jackie wed after Ohio legalized same-sex marriage, but “there is no rainbow flag watermark on the back of their marriage license.”
There are “some hateful people” still opposed to the idea of same-sex marriages, but he feels that most people are not hateful—misinformed, perhaps. Marriage laws in this country are inconsistent, he argues, pointing out that first cousins can get married in South Carolina; even though other states bar first cousins from marrying, they still are constitutionally bound to recognize the legitimacy of the marriages of cousins performed in South Carolina. DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) added an asterisk to the idea of marriage, that marriage was a right for all except *those people.
One of the valuable things about Wahls’ presentation is its ability to clear up misconceptions. For example, one of the questions he is repeatedly asked by classmates who learn he has two lesbian mothers is “Which one is the man?” He compares the question to walking into a Chinese restaurant, picking up two chopsticks and asking “Which one is the fork?”
As appreciated as Wahls’ work is, it may indeed be time for his return to school. Much of what he said was repetitious from his television appearances (particularly a joke about learning to put the seat down); this is understandable, though. How many kids who’ve been ripped away from their college careers to go on a book tour can come up with fresh material for each appearance? When I raised the fact that he was an Eagle Scout, I was immediately greeted with an “Oh, geez, the gay rights vs Scouts homophobia question again” roll-of-the-eyes, and he seemed a little surprised that the question didn’t go in that direction. (I asked if his mother who served as his scoutmaster experienced any resistance; she didn’t).
What Wahls has in common with many of the others mentioned above, and indeed a vast majority of straight allies, is repeated exposure to members of the LGBT community. Among Wahls’ accomplishments is starting the “Out to Dinner” program, which sends members of the LGBT community out to eat with straights who are hesitant on gay rights issues. As countless studies have validated, such exposure is eye-opening. It’s hard to demonize those who you know personally (unless they are in-laws or employers). My own neighborhood is a perfect example, as it’s a balance of beer-swilling rednecks and lesbians and gays. We don’t socialize, although everyone is friendly, but I have no doubt if someone from outside our block were to try and gay-bash me, they’d be facing a beat-down from a battalion of country cousins.
As we in the United States approach the holiday of thanks, among the things that members of the LGBT community should be most grateful for are those straights who have joined in the fight to ensure our equality and recognition under the law. Whether that involves giving speeches, writing blogs, making videos, or just getting the back of the queer up the street, their contributions have allowed us to crawl out of the closet for good.
Cheers, Queers to Dr. Phil Snyder, pastor of the Brentwood Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri, for his eye-opening speech before the city council on the issue of a fairness ordinance in that city:
Here’s Mud in your Eye to all those tired politicians still playing the anti-gay rights card in their campaigns. As if listening to all the negative campaign ads directed against opponents isn’t tiring enough, do we really need to have an extra dose of bile and hatred thrown into the mix?
Shopping Tip for the Month: No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics. Read an interview with editor Justin Hall here.