Have you heard? Things are finally looking up for LGBTQIA Americans! (For the uninitiated, that's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex and asexual Americans.) At least, that's the media-borne conventional wisdom, floating down from the Beltway from the same people who insisted that Texas Gov. Rick Perry would be a formidable presidential candidate.
A majority of Americans polled support marriage equality! President Barack Obama now supports gay marriage! So do Vice President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Arne Duncan! Wisconsin's Rep. Tammy Baldwin might become America's first openly gay senator! Marriage equality was legalized in Maryland, Washington and New York!
While I process all this and wonder how Arne Duncan's name is pronounced — "DUN-can," it turns out — I receive a dispatch from the real world. Through blogger Pam Spaulding, I receive the news that Amendment One, the North Carolina ballot initiative that amends its state constitution to ban gay marriage, has passed. Reading about Amendment One, it's difficult not to think of Virginia's own constitutional shame, the 2006 Marshall-Newman Amendment, which legally defines marriage as between a "man and a woman." Like Amendment One, it was horribly worded and overbroad, and potentially affected not just marriage but all domestic partnerships, and with them wills, power of attorney, real estate contracts and interstate commerce.
And just like the Marshall-Newman Amendment, Amendment One passed in a state where gay marriage already was illegal, making it a bit hard to fathom what the point of it all was, if not pure anti-gay animosity. Despite the media narrative assuring us that a gay rights renaissance is underway, the LGBTQIA community is finding out that, as the cliché goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The triumph of Amendment One shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise to those who've been paying attention: A controversy just a few weeks ago proved how far we still have to go.
In late April, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hired openly gay political consultant Richard Grenell as his national security spokesman. It was considered a somewhat bold move, given Romney's perennial struggle with his own moderate record, particularly on social issues. The decision soon aroused the ire of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, who distinguishes himself from other anti-gay religious voices by virtue of having absolutely no filter. To pick one example, he once had a column pulled because it concluded that Native Americans relinquished their claim to America because they weren't Christians.
Fischer launched a radio campaign denouncing Grenell, whose Republican bona fides never were in question, as a "homosexual activist" and arguing that he had no credibility on foreign policy because "homosexuals are about short-lived relationships and frequent anonymous sexual encounters."
Only a week after his hiring, Grenell resigned from the Romney campaign, and the supposedly on-the-outs forces of professional homophobia proved they still can influence a man who might be our next president.
It isn't only on a national political level that the struggle for basic human dignity continues. Shortly before the Amendment One vote, a video of a sermon by Fayetteville, N.C., pastor Sean Harris went viral. In it, he tells parents that "the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch." Similarly, the same week, Cleveland disc jockey Dominic Dieter told a caller worried his daughter was gay that he should have his friends "screw your daughter straight."
Whichever way the nation, or individual states, may go, it's cold comfort to a gay child if his or her parents are seeking counsel from people who advocate child abuse or "corrective" rape.
The recent Virginia General Assembly session led to any number of horrible bills passing, but the ironically named "conscience clause" was among the worst. It legalized discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by private adoption agencies, as well as on the basis of religion, gender and — seriously — disability. Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the bill into law at the end of April.
It isn't my intent to diminish the victories won by the gay-rights movement in recent months and years. But to act as though those who would take those rights away have been hobbled politically and socially is potentially dangerous naiveté.
It's easy for those of us who don't have to deal with the consequences of things like Amendment One or the "conscience clause" on a personal level to act like everything is turning out well, but we owe it to those who must live with them to recognize the work that still needs to be done. No movement can afford to be complacent, even if it's on the right side of history. S
Zack Budryk is majoring in journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University.
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