Friday, June 29, 2007

Gay Life in the US (CNN) and my thoughts

Something I read last Saturday (June 23):

By Jonathan Mandell

(CNN) -- To understand how much gay life in the United States has
changed -- and how challenging it remains -- consider the story of the
Dillards, Sharon and Tanya, who describe themselves as "a typical
family with soccer, brand new puppies, church, choir and not enough
time in the day."

When Sharon was born in 1962, homosexuality was treated in the country
as a sin, a crime and a mental illness.

It was only in 1974 -- the year after Tanya was born -- that the
American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its manual
of mental disorders.

In 2003, the year Sharon and Tanya became a couple, the U.S. Supreme
Court overturned the laws in states that singled out same-sex
relations for criminal prosecution.

Is homosexuality still viewed as a sin? A recent Gallup Poll found
Americans nearly evenly split between those who saw homosexual
relations as "morally acceptable" (47 percent) and those who saw them
as "morally wrong" (49 percent).

Some religious denominations now welcome gay parishioners and accept
openly gay members of the clergy. The Episcopal Church in America has
even consecrated an openly gay bishop. But some of those same
denominations, including the Episcopalians, are now threatened with
schism as a result. (Read more about why the schism is possible)

Sharon, who grew up in Stillwater, Oklahoma, has a saying about the
reaction of the religious in her home state: "In Oklahoma, I have more
people praying for me than with me."

In one instance, the couple applied for membership in a Lutheran
church in Oklahoma. Though they were eventually accepted, it was only
after much debate and an unprecedented vote by the elders of the

A couple of years after they met in Ponca City, Oklahoma, Sharon and
Tanya decided to make a big move to Massachusetts, which since 2004
has been the only one of 50 states to permit same-sex couples to get
married legally. More than 8,500 couples have done so, including at
least one couple from Oklahoma.

They did so for at least three reasons. First, both wanted to adopt
the son and daughter that Sharon had adopted as a single parent.

Second, Tanya was a police officer and says she started having
problems on the job because of her sexual orientation.

Third, the couple say they wanted to "validate" their relationship.

The were legally married on January 21, 2005, in a small ceremony at
the courthouse in Plymouth, Massachusetts, at which time Sharon took
Tanya's last name of Dillard.

Now, the Dillards have decided to move back to Oklahoma -- one of 27
states that have passed an amendment to their constitutions outlawing
same-sex couples from getting married and denying recognition of such
a marriage "performed in another state."

In doing so, they will be forced to navigate a shifting patchwork of
state and federal laws giving them different rights in different

But they say they want their children to be near their grandparents,
and Sharon has "a wonderful job offer in Oklahoma," where she'll be
working as director of oncology services at a university medical
center. "We are hopeful that views are beginning to change there."

Who is gay?

Anthony Wilfert is hoping change will come too -- to the military. For
him, though, it will come too late.

Now 22 and originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Wilfert reached the rank
of sergeant while serving for three years in the Army, including a
recently completed 12-month tour of Iraq. Then he was discharged for
being gay.

"There are many, many gay and lesbian and bisexual members of the
military who are hiding," he said.

But how many? How does one count people who are hiding? As visible as
homosexuality has become, especially in politics and popular culture,
there are still some basic questions about what supporters now call
the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community that are
only beginning to be answered.

"Sexual orientation is not a routinely asked question on surveys,"
explains Gary Gates, a demographer with the Williams Institute at the
UCLA School of Law. Gates has nevertheless pieced together a picture
based on what little data exists, with the aid of what he calls
"statistical wizardry."

Gates offers as a "reasonable estimate" some 8.8 million Americans who
identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. "We know very little
about transgender," he says.

He extrapolates from U.S. census data that there are at least 770,000
same-sex couples who live together, and that such couples live in 99
percent of all counties in the United States.

"About 27 percent of same-sex couples have children in the home,"
Gates says. Most are natural-born offspring and the remainder are
adopted, stepchildren, or relatives such as nieces and nephews.

Using the same statistical methods, Gates estimates there are some
65,000 gay and lesbian Americans on active military duty or in the

What are the issues?

For all the furor over gays in the military and same-sex marriage
there are a number of other significant issues separating the LGBT
community from the rest of society.

Issues like job discrimination, anti-gay hate crimes, health issues,
hospital visitation rights and the right to determine medical
treatment for a partner are very important, not only to the LGBT
community, but also to a society at large that needs to deal with the
legal, social, economic and moral implications of these issues. Still,
gay marriage and gays in the military feature prominently in public
discourse and are already big issues in the 2008 presidential

There are strong emotions on both sides. It was his emotions, Wilfert
said, that finally provoked him to take a stand.

"I was sick of hiding who I was; it's exhausting coming up with some
lie about having a girlfriend back home, it really is," he says. "And
I no longer wanted to work for an organization that was discriminating
against me."

He waited until he was home from Iraq -- "I wanted to serve my
country" -- and then he wrote a note to his commander, revealing his
sexual orientation. He was discharged shortly afterward.

"It's a touchy subject, but America will have to come around to
accepting a change in the policy," said Wilfert, now living in
Nashville, Tennessee. "Each new generation has accepted more
diversity. Eventually, with the new generation, it's going to change."

And a bit of a response of my own. I wrote this to respond to their article, like they ask you to on their website, but their website wasn't working correctly and I could never send it to them. (Maybe they just want you to think about what you've read; and not really care what it is you think!) Anyway, the site wouldn't accept it. Having gone through all the work of writing it, I decided to start a blog instead! So here's my reply:

American society is much more accepting of homosexuality today than it
was, say, 20 years ago. This is especially true in east and
west-coast states, where there are more diverse populations. The
proliferation of print, television and internet media outlets during
these past 2 decades has brought the issue of homosexuality (as well
as others) into everyday discourse and consciousness where before they
remained unheard of and unspoken.

What has not changed much is America's real understanding of or
ability to recognize how the legal and social issues faced by
homosexuals and homosexual couples impact the lives of these people
and make them unnecessarily complicated. All too often egotistical,
money-and power-hungry people wearing the cloak of "Christianity" use
religion as a way to convince otherwise good, well-intentioned people
to act out hate and intolerance through the denial of simple, basic
rights such as hate crimes protections, hospital visitations,
inheritance, etc. While all good people agree nobody should be made a
legal target for crime, that is what some "Christian" leaders, as well
as the President, are proposing. Apparently, in the United States
there must be some group to discriminate against, and homosexuals are
it. That doesn't sound like anything Christ would propose.

They are also using the same arguments to prevent or tear-apart gay
families. The U.S. has a very high divorce rate, resulting in a lot
of single-parent homes. Being a single parent is a tough job, as all
single parents will attest. Having 2 parents raising a child is a
more ideal situation. So what if they're gay? Here's a proposal:
Take all children out of their homes if they are being raised by a
single parent or gay parent(s) and put them into orphanages (paid for
by our tax dollars) like 'Lil Orphan Annie. I'd hate to think of what
our country would be like 20 years from now with practically one-third
to one-half the children in orphanages. Use some common sense,
people. If two people love a child enough to want to raise it, who
cares if the parents are straight? The child is loved. End of story.

At any rate, thankfully, the teens who today are coming to terms with
their homosexual orientations will, in all likelihood, be protected
from discrimination in the workplace, be able to serve in the armed
forces, and reap the benefits of legally-recognized unions sometime in
their lives in the U.S., as they are in a growing number of countries
around the world. As it becomes ever-easier for people to "come out",
more are. And people are finding the celebrities they like, the good
neighbors, and other important people in their communities are doing
so, and it really doesn't affect them at all. After all, if someone
down the road's being homosexual affects your marriage or parenting,
you have bigger problems already. Another person's sexuality doesn't
have any bearing on how well they do a job or keep their yard any more
than their religion or skin color.

The one note of irony in all this is, in all likelihood, none of the
advancements in gay rights and even this discussion would be taking
place were it not for the AIDS crisis of the 1980's and, more
specifically, Rock Hudson's death from AIDS complications in 1985,
which brought homosexuality out from the closet. He announced his
illness, refusing to die a liar, and millions of gay people worldwide
(and anyone suffering from HIV) owe him a deep debt of gratitude for