Terrance Heath

Telling: Just the Beginning

Filed By Terrance Heath | September 21, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: coming out of the closet, Don't Ask Don't Tell, power of personal

A while back, I wrote a blog post about the price of forcing people to be stay in the closet.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. The combination of homophobia and the closet produces a lot of twisted people, including some who internalize the belief in their own inferiority and unworthiness...

This video, made possible by the end of "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell," is great example of the other side of that equation.

This story, and others like it, reminds of something I quoted from another blogger years ago, who put it much better than I could. Since his blog seems to have disappeared, I’ll repost his words here.

It’s been said before, but it always bears repeating. Horace Griffin said it when he declared, "This black-church-sanctioned homophobia produces a lot of twisted black people," in his book about black church homophobia. I’ve pointed it out myself, in reference to guys like Ted Haggard and Paul Barnes.

But I haven’t heard it put as eloquently as Bruce says it over Crablaw, in response to Dorothy Donahue’s letter to the editor in the Boston Globe.

If you hide your body inside a twisted hole for years, it will become twisted. If you hide your mind inside a twisted hole for years, it will become twisted. If you hide your soul inside a twisted hole for years, it will become twisted. You don’t have to be GLBT to understand that a mind, body and soul cannot live life inside a twisted hole.

If you want people to walk upright and straight, so to speak, you cannot cram them - any part of them - into a twisted hole. Your GLBT neighbor is your sister, your brother. If we forget their humanity, may humanity forget us, until we return to humanity.

Telling is the beginning of believing in and embracing your own humanity, and reminding others of your shared humanity.

But it’s important to remember that it’s just a beginning, as Adam Serwer wrote.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is dead. But the fight for equality in the military is nowhere near finished. While the official end of DADT at midnight on Monday is a historic turning point, unresolved issues with the Defense of Marriage Act and military regulations mean that servicemembers and their partners in same-sex relationships will continue to suffer second-class treatment.

Stephen Peters knows what it’s like to live a lie, both as a servicemember and as a servicemember’s partner. In 2007 he was discharged under DADT after informing his commanding officer that he was gay. Peters had just reenlisted in the Marines--but he didn’t want to hide who he was anymore.

...As of Tuesday, Peters won’t have to hide his life from his co-workers anymore and neither will his partner. But many of the hardships that he and other same-sex partners of servicemembers have faced will remain, because of legal restrictions that prevent same-sex couples from receiving the same benefits that married, heterosexual servicemembers get. That includes health care benefits, help finding work, and financial assistance that eases the difficulty of moving and paying for a new home. Same-sex couples won’t be eligible for the additional pay given to partners when a servicemember is given an assignment that prevents his or her family from coming along. They won’t have access to family-support services provided by the military that often serve as crucial conduits of information regarding what forms of assistance are available and how to take advantage of them.

And, when a servicemember makes the ultimate sacrifice, his or her partner will be denied the same financial support that heterosexual families receive. Unless the two had children together, the partner may not even be the first to know about the death.

This is a moment to celebrate, certainly. But it’s also a reminder of how much is left to do. Martin Luther King famously said "Let us realize that, the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice." This is a moment to remember that it does not bend of its own accord

In other words, the man who said "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice," would probably add that it bends not of its own accord, or because it can do no other -- but because of countless hands reaching up to bend it towards justice sooner rather than later.

...Do we assume that justice has its own gravity that pulls our world, our country and our communities ever closer to it? Do we wait for that gravitational pull to finally take effect? Or do we become that gravitational force, actively pulling, pushing, and prodding our world, our country and our communities closer to justice?

"Telling" is bending the moral arc of the universe closer to justice.

I came to Washington about six months after "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" was enacted. Its repeal is a reminder to me that while work we do as activists often feels like a Sisyphean task -- we face defeat after defeat, suffer seemingly endless setbacks, and watch people in our community suffer injustice without remedy or relief -- it wears away bigotry and justice in the same way a steady drip of water can wear away stone over countless years.

The same it true of the work of the countless people who contributed to the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." The stone of discrimination gave way because of that steady drip of activism. The same will be true of DOMA. The same will be true for employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans. The stone will give way.

That long moral arc of the universe shifted close to justice today. For some of us it was an almost imperceptible shift. But for others it was seismic. We’re not "there" yet, as far as "justice for all" is concerned. Still, today is a day to celebrate how far we’ve come, and how much closer we are to that goal. Celebrate, and remember that the only way justice doesn’t prevail is if we stop working for it.


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The instant relief of this young man is not at all evident. It pays to remember that the reversal of internalized inferiority is not automatic as soon as one speaks one's true name aloud. Acts of social recognition - such as the legalization of marriage equality and the repeal of DADT - are just the beginning of a process that leads to believing one's life is of importance. The enculturation of inequality runs deep into one's soul and is not easily reversed. Gays are now no worse off than other minorities, but we are still a minority.