This weekend I flew on a tiny prop plane to Santa Barbara to speak at UCSB's LGBTIQ Pride Event. It was the first ever pride celebration on campus. My speech was sandwiched between funny but raunchy comedians and a helluva sexy and fabulous drag queen named Derek. The campus is in Isla Vista, and according to my host, there are 20,000 students there.
I'd never been to this part of California before and was struck with how laid back it was. Most of the students wore bathing suits; the more clothed ones wore shorts and t-shirts. It was very laid back. In fact, I didn't think these kinds of colleges or places really existed in California. I was out of place in my black San Francisco Bay Area outfit and the oldest one in the crowd at 40.
But I was pleased the crowd was responsive and I was approached by several students afterward. One spoke of applying for a job at an In and Out Burger and being told that "This is a family restaurant." Another young lesbian couple wanted to know how to talk to their fellow queer college students who feel marriage is old-fashioned and aren't interested in repealing Prop 8.
And a young physics major wanted to know if talking to people one-on-one about who we are really made a difference. I decided to share the letter I wrote in response to her question as part of my blog this week.
Dear Isla Vista LGBT Activist,
Yes, talking to people one-on-one does make a difference and being repeatedly out about your stand for full equality and dignity for LGBTIQ people does too. The heart and human connections are the most important. The more people talk about equality, write about equality, and show their support for equality and respect for our people the more the climate changes.
Additionally, the more self-respect and respect for non-LGBT people, that we have, the better as well. This is about everyone respecting differences and celebrating and honoring those differences.
To me the personal is still political.
Use every opportunity to stand up for equality. If I have to call a credit card company, go to the dentist, whatever, I mention my wife or my support for LGBTIQ rights.
Today, I spoke with a psychiatrist about a client of mine whose parents fight constantly. I've never met this psychiatrist before, but I said. "It really saddens me that people wasted so much money taking away the rights for gay people to marry and not using that money to help run free marital counseling and communication workshops for people who cannot afford couples therapy."
She said, "I agree with you completely."
This was an opportunity to come out in support of LGBT equality and to plant a new talking point. I know nothing about her, but I just gave her a talking point for the next person that tells her we shouldn't have the right to marry and wants to spend money on another campaign. I suppose I could have gone even farther and talked about the money the church spent on Yes on 8. But it was simple.
I bought travel insurance this week and said "I'm gay and I want to make sure that if something happens to my wife's mother, my mother-in-law, I won't be denied the insurance benefit because of DOMA."
The guy said, "No worries, we recognize domestic partnerships and civil unions."
I said, "Great, we are legally married in California."
I'm unwilling to let people demote my marriage.
Harvey Milk said that if all of us came out of the closet at once the gay rights movement would be over and we could all go home. As I psychologist I know that coming out isn't always easy, but as someone who is out in all areas of my life I know the power being out has on one's self-esteem. Coming out is good for the psyche and the soul and it makes the world a better place.
Every LGBT person who comes out and keeps coming out is making a difference in someone else's life and in transforming our culture and our laws. In fact, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Powell said that when he voted to uphold the sodomy laws in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) he did not know any gay people. It was only afterward that he discovered his law clerk was gay. Justice Powell says his biggest regret in life was his vote in Bowers making it a 5:4 decision to uphold the sodomy laws. Had he known his clerk was gay it would not have taken until 2003 to repeal the sodomy laws.
Simple acts of coming out create a culture where people are more aware of and more supportive of LGBTIQ people.
Thanks for your question and for your dedication to equality!