Are we really equal in America?

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by Michael Lasser

Our American forefathers penned the words “all men are created equal,” but what does that really mean? What was Jefferson’s motive for writing those words into our Declaration of Independence? Did he, like most of his peers, believe that only white male landowners were entitled to the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that his brand new country offered to her new inhabitants? Or was he a revolutionist in his thinking?

Did he realize that his country would be quite different from the one in which we occupy today? Did he have the foresight to realize that blacks would no longer be considered the white masters’ property one day? Or that it would take a bloody civil war to end slavery?

Could he have known that the other sex would gain the right to vote through tireless sit-ins and feminist movements and demand equality and receive it?

Or can you imagine him sitting in his living room pondering the day that his great, great, great, great, great grandson would announce to his parents that he was gay and moving to Massachusetts to marry his boyfriend Steve?

Who knows?

But this is not about Thomas Jefferson. This is about equality in America. And a junior political science major at Tennessee Tech University who is on a quest to answer this question – can equality become a reality in our society?

I once read somewhere that you should write about what you know. So that’s what I am going to do. I am going to focus on the gay rights movement in this article, because as a political science student who is gay. I am interested in how politics and culture define law and how that culture affects my daily living.

I am an openly gay man. By openly, I mean that I am proud to be a gay man and that I have left the shame sometimes associated with being gay in the closet. I have been honest about who I am since I was a junior in high school, back in the early nineties. I have been both ostracized and embraced depending on the political climate of our country.

Since I am a minority based on my sexual orientation, I feel as though I have an unique experience to share with my peers, "a spirit of injustice" that many of my fellow classmates will hopefully never have to discover about how unequal, hateful and politically divided our country can be to someone who does not fit society’s expectations of gender.

In my quest to answer these questions, I am going to use my own life experiences as a starting point. Because I am gay, most Republicans and every other Democrat votes against me when it comes to issues pertaining to my personal livelihood. I am not allowed to get married in the state in which I reside and pay taxes. I am not allowed to protect and serve the country that I love because my sexuality and perceived behavior would cause a distraction and loss of morale to the other enlistees.

My boyfriend and I are unable to show affection for each other in public spaces due to internal fears of retribution. When walking across campus I am sometimes welcomed with the outdated "Hey, faggot" being thrown my way by a friendly schoolmate. I can be fired from a job in this state for being gay. I can be refused housing because of a landlord’s discomfort with me. My partner and I cannot adopt a child because of our sexuality.

On a positive note, my boyfriend and I can now travel to Texas and make love without fear of serving jail time or paying a fine since Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Ironically a man and woman who meet and marry within ten minutes have more rights and liberties in this country than my boyfriend and I who have been together for a number of years.

But all hope is not lost! Our country’s mantra has always been liberty and equality for all. And though our country has fallen short sometimes in its fulfillment of these basic human rights, we Americans have always rallied in large numbers around important civil rights issues since the abolitionist and suffrage movements of the nineteenth century to the racial equality and women’s movements of the twentieth century.

Now, it seems as though with all the talk of gay weddings and Massachusetts becoming the first state to end sex discrimination in marriage, its clear that one of the first important civil rights campaigns of the twenty-first century is well under way: the movement for gay people’s freedom to marry.

Would gay Americans finally be equal if allowed to marry? Would I finally be accepted and appreciated by my peers for my unique perspective and great fashion sense instead of being known as the gay guy? Would my classmates get to know me by my first name? I wonder.

In my utopian world, everyone would be equally smart, attractive and financially able. Everyone above the age of consent would fall in love with whomever they choose and marry or not, according to their wishes. But life is not utopia, and socialism is not an American trait.

So how can the quest for equality ensue? I think education is instrumental. Teach us to love our neighbors as we would want to be loved early in life. Educate our young on the importance and value of "diversity" and the enrichment that being different brings to any life.

I want to be valued for my differences, and yet be allowed to be the same. I am tired of being judged for simply being gay. And yet my critics would say that I chose this course. I am choosing to be gay. Though researchers have yet to pinpoint a "gay gene" enough evidence is out there to determine that one does not choose this lifestyle. I do not flip a coin in the morning and say heads women, tails men.

But enough bantering.

Again I ask, is equality possible? Throughout this article, I’ve been thinking about what I mean by equality. Equality to me is the same as it is to a feminist – equal treatment under the laws. But it’s also more than that. It’s about freedom from retribution. I want to be able to discuss my family as I hear my classmates discuss theirs without feeling like I am making them uncomfortable. I want to feel free to bring my boyfriend to social outings without the redneck at the next table making a crack to his wife at our expense. Just once I want to walk out of my apartment and begin my day without feeling like I am the ambassador for "gay will." And that my every move and mannerism is not being monitored by a "Focus on the Family" watchdog.

Is true equality possible in our country? Probably not. Unfortunately we are much too competitive. We as a society demand the smartest, the skinniest, the most attractive, and the youthful.

Success is a must! We train our boys to be tough and unemotional and our girls to worship Barbie and starve themselves to have that Ally McBeal figure. We teach our young that heterosexuality is the norm and anything other than that is unacceptable. Anything other than that is to be feared and loathed.

We preach that on the country’s pulpits, and in the country’s governmental houses. We recently elected a President (for the first time) who used the "loathed" gay population as a political decoy for sensationalized, uneducated Americans who saw a vote for John Kerry as a vote for Satan and homosexual marriages.

And let’s not forget our recruitment of the young. You out there, you know who you are. And if you don’t, Jerry Falwell and the religious right see what you do. Can you believe that people actually buy into all of that? People fear what they don’t know.

And then we have the "closeted" population amongst us. I don’t want to get started on that. I’d be writing all night.

Coretta Scott King once stated, "My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., understood that all forms of discrimination and persecution were unjust and unacceptable for a great democracy. He believed that none of us could be free until all of us were free, that a person of conscience had no alternatives but to defend the human rights of all people. . . .The civil rights movement that I believe in thrives on unity and inclusion, not division and exclusion. All of us who oppose discrimination and support equal rights should stand together to resist every attempt to restrict civil rights in this country."

Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X were both disappointed with the moderate/politically centrist climate during their time. In "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that the great stumbling block in the civil rights struggle of the 1960’s was the white moderate who is more devoted to order than justice. In describing his frustration he wrote of the moderate "who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice, who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action."

The direct action mentioned was a peaceful, nonviolent march on Birmingham. I mention the moderate because collectively, as a nation, most Americans are politically centrist. And two central core American values are freedom and equality. Is it possible that what held up the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s is the same thing that is holding up the gay man’s equality demands of the twenty first century? A need on the part of moderates to control orderand let justice slip away.

Most people that I have encountered always say to me that they believe that one day we’ll have gay marriage, and we will all wonder what the big deal was about not allowing it in the first place. But I am starting to understand what King and Malcolm X meant by their frustration towards the white moderate. We will not have equality as gay Americans until we get the moderates support. And I don’t want to be accused of being one-issue oriented.

Marriage is not the only pressing concern that we have as gays, but it is the ultimate in recognizing that we are a valued and respected segment of the American population. America’s gay population exceeds the Jewish population in number, yet the Jews have religious liberties and legal benefits that we do not. I am not anti- Semitic. Moreover, I feel that we can learn from the Jews and other minority groups that have come before us (blacks, women, Latinos, etc.).

Let’s make our place at America’s table permanent. I want to respect my neighbor and know that I have his respect in return.

Is equality possible? In the true sense of the word, no. There’s too much division between political parties and religious sects, etc., but as a nation we can do a lot better. And as a movement, gay rights activists can do better to organize and educate.

Earlier I mentioned "closeted" gays. The biggest problem I have with them is that they remain inside the closet due to internal fear of what coming out will do to their livelihood. But brothers, there is truly power in numbers. And that’s how we will get things politically accomplished. If you lose your job, find another. If your family disowns you, don’t worry they will come around, or you can surround yourself with people that care about the real you.

By remaining in the closet and only coming out when it’s convenient for you to do so is not only an injustice to yourself but an injustice to every gay male who has come before you. You are remaining safe by minimizing your gay experience and playing into the hands of our adversaries who maintain that being gay is unhealthy and unnatural.

What’s more natural than to love, and yearn to be loved?

So you are attracted to the same sex. Great. Deal with it. Accept who you are and get involved. I believe we are considered second-class citizens by some because of the closeted gay man who refuses to get involved and join in the struggle for equal rights.

It’s scary to come out but you are not alone. We are lawyers, and doctors, Senators, business leaders, teachers, and more. And because we are fearful of society’s response to our sexuality, we continue living a double life. Not only are we are being irresponsible, but we lack the courage needed to be strong productive citizens whom our fellow Americans and our young can learn to appreciate and value for our perspective. We are marrying women and having children because we are too self-centered and often try to fit into society. Not only does this lead to destruction for our women and children who were lied to and used, but we destroy ourselves in the process.

Honesty isn’t always easy, but it far outweighs a lie any day. We have left the fight for equality to the drag queens, hairdressers, and floral designers. Thank God for these brothers, who chose early on not to lie about who they were or did not conform to society’s standards of what our gender "should" be according to our adversaries. They have brought us far in our struggle, but it takes all of us to stand up for who we are and be counted. And it’s time to be counted.

We Americans need to put aside our differences and learn to get along. Whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, black or white, male or female, gay or straight, foreign-born or native citizen, we all have one thing in common. We’re American. We have a history of rooting for the underdog.

Here, in America, I believe anything is possible. We can overcome.