My wife and I recently traveled to a small Minnesota city for a reunion with some of her relatives. Accommodations were in short supply, so a niece’s mother-in-law, whom I’ll call Gladys, offered us the use of her house. She was going to be out of town and said we could have the run of the place. However, when we arrived, my sister-in-law, whom I’ll call Ruby, informed us that the offer had been rescinded.
The reason? Our son and his partner had decided to come along at the last minute, and Gladys didn’t want non-heterosexual people sullying her house with their gayness, even though she wouldn’t have been there to witness it. We had to scramble to find alternative housing, paying an exorbitant price for the last two motel rooms in town.
For her part, Ruby was embarrassed and apologetic, and we did our best to assuage her. I told her and her husband that the important thing was that they loved and embraced us—all of us—and that I didn’t give a fig about some intolerant old bat with whom I would rarely if ever have any dealings in the future.
While it is tempting to offer this story up as evidence of the type of discrimination that faces my son and his partner daily, that would be incorrect. In fact, none of us can think of one instance wherein they have been harassed or mistreated. It helps, of course, that we live in an extremely enlightened city in a fairly enlightened state, rather than living in a part of the world where gays are jailed or stoned to death.
It’s the highest of ironies to me that most objections to homosexuality come via religion. Were I a religious man, I certainly wouldn’t worship a god who decrees that between 7 and 11 percent of His or Her human creations must either suffer in silence their entire lives or burn in hell, or both. That is simply not a god of my making.
When Minnesota’s gay marriage amendment was introduced, I thought it was a terrible idea, but only because of the timing: I told anyone who would listen that it was too soon after the anti-gay marriage amendment almost passed, that we should wait a couple of years for the smoke to clear before fighting our fight. I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong. This was a change whose time had clearly come, and once the momentum started, the movement became a juggernaut.
In a matter of months, Americans—along with much of the rest of the civilized world—have reversed engines on millennia of gay persecution. We now have openly gay newscasters, entertainers, store clerks and athletes, and it’s amazing to realize that it was only 20 years ago that Bill Clinton, whom many consider to have been among our more enlightened presidents, passed the Defense of Marriage Act, codifying gay discrimination as regards nuptials. And the Stonewall riots, which unofficially started the latter-day gay rights movement, took place less than a half-century ago. The first gay man I knew, in 1966, was voluntarily undergoing aversion therapy at the state mental hospital wherein he would be shown pictures of naked men while receiving electric shocks. He was trying not to be gay.
There are a couple of reasons for the lightning speed with which this evolution—once finally started!—has occurred. The first and most important is the increasing rate at which gays started coming out a few years ago. Then, because of that, the rest of us made a profound discovery: Everyone has gay people in their family. That forced us into either accepting the gayness of loved ones or disowning them, and it seems, by anecdotal evidence at least, that most of us have opted for the former.
Ruby and her husband (and, for that matter, most of the rest of my wife’s family) are as conservative as they come—we do not talk politics with them—but they love their gay grandson, and they love our son, and both are welcomed with hugs and kisses into their home.
And what of Gladys, the niece’s mother-in-law? Well, in our environment and in our time, she is quaint, a throwback. I could think of all sorts of ways to diss her, but I choose to imagine the time when a son or a daughter or a grandson or a granddaughter professes their gayness to her and she has to make a hard decision. It’s one thing to refuse accommodation to a gay couple one hardly knows; it’s quite another to sit across the Thanksgiving dinner table and look a blood relative in the eye and say, “I’m sorry, I just don’t believe that you and your partner should have the same civil rights and expectations of happiness that the rest of us do.”
Do I view this woman in a condescending light? You bet. She’s had opportunity in the last couple of years to rethink and retool her intolerance of homosexuality and has chosen not to do so. But I predict that in the not-too-distant future, when she discovers those gay loved ones embedded in her family, she will deny ever having been homophobic. That’s my hope, for her and for the rest of us.
Adam Granger lives in St. Anthony Park with his wife and dog, Molly, and is a regular contributor to the Park Bugle.