Here is the first personal story from a student about their experience with being silenced.
Taking it Personally
Last November, same-sex marriage was on the ballot in four states – Washington, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota. My friends and I were cautiously optimistic, though history told us not to be; by 2012, when put to a majority, gay rights were on a 23-to-1 losing streak. Proposition 8 rolled in right after my twelfth birthday, the summer I had my first crush on a girl. Years later, a federal court would rule it unconstitutional.
I had the same conversation several times a week in the months leading up to Referendum 74:
“There is no valid argument to be made against same-sex marriage, I can’t believe –”
“I don’t think that’s true, though. I mean, I support gay rights or whatever, I’m not saying that, but I think other opinions do need to be listened to. You’re not really respecting alternate perspectives.”
“It’s not an ‘opinion’, it’s a question of civil rights. This isn’t – I’m not – you can’t put someone’s rights to a vote. I have a right to get married. I have a right to be treated like a human being.”
“Well, yeah, but no one is saying you’re not a human being.”
“Yeah, they all think I’m human, they all want to tell me about their gay friends, they just don’t want me to have a family.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little close-minded? You don’t need to take it personally.”
Homophobic people are the first to tell you that they aren’t homophobic. They all want you to know that they don’t mean you. They mean those other gays, the scary ones. And no, they’re not going to let you get married, and they’re not going to grant you spousal visitation rights, but it’s not personal or anything. How could it be? They have gay friends! Besides, this is about freedom of speech, and there’s no need to get so upset. They keep saying it’s not about hating anyone and I keep thinking about Matthew Shepard, and the teenage lesbian couple shot in Texas last spring, and the Nevada woman found with homophobic slurs carved into her flesh, and the 1,508 hate crimes in America based on sexual orientation reported in 2011. When they say I take things too personally, they don’t realize that it’s fear that makes my voice shake and my lungs fill with cement, not anger. I think of the Transgender Day of Remembrance and the long, weary lists the organizers publish each year: Secil Anne, found with her face and throat slashed.Tiffany Gooden, stabbed too many times to count. Thapelo Makuto, partially decapitated, found with her genitals stuffed in her mouth. Name Unknown, murdered by her brother.
It’s not personal.
The 1942 case Skinner v. Oklahoma found marriage to be one of the “basic civil rights of man”. Democracy is great, except when your humanity is being voted on and you walk the streets of your city a second-class citizen, bumper stickers begging voters to strip you of your rights. When the Tatler included a survey question about same-sex marriage, I checked the results a couple of times a day, wondering whether the girl who had lent me a pencil in History or the boy who had helped me understand polynomials had voted “no”. When an assembly speaker told us she believed marriage was between a man and a woman (“I don’t hate gays or anything, I mean I have gay friends”), I thought about how much my dad must’ve looked forward to walking me down the aisle.
How can my humanity be reduced to politics? How do I convince someone that I deserve the same rights as they do? After I spent months telling myself that I would still be a person, even if Washington voters decided that I wasn’t, Referendum 74 passed. On the same day, same-sex marriage was legalized in both Maryland and Maine. R74 passed by seven points and in a room with 13 people, I now wonder which six of them don’t want me to get married. I wonder if they own t-shirts saying so. I wonder if they warn their children about me. America the Beautiful, America where all men are created equal, America where my rights are voted on and frequently voted down.
One day, perhaps, history will make its meandering way towards justice. One day, I’ll have my white wedding, the one I always deserved. One day, twelve-year-olds won’t watch the results pour in on CNN as their right to make a family is voted down. Until then, I will continue to take it personally.
Ryan, Danielle. “Hate Crimes Down in 2011, but Anti-Gay Violence Up, FBI Says.” Los Angeles Times. N.p., 10 Dec. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2013. <http://articles.latimes.com/2012/dec/10/nation/la-na-fbi-hate-crimes-20121211>.
Skinner v. Oklahoma. No. 316 U.S. 535. Supreme Court of the US. Print.
“Statistics and Other Info.” International Transgender Day of Remembrance. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2013. <http://www.transgenderdor.org/statistics>.