Every time you feel it’s safe to “go back in the water”, the “jaws of bigotry” remind us that we’ve got a ways to go. I’m referring specifically to an incident that happened last night at a local fast food restaurant near my mother’s home in Clearwater, FL. But the truth is that this incident could have happened anywhere in this country and many others. Even in NY where we feel we’re somewhat protected from old-fashion hate, you still hear of isolated incidents.
Adi and I were minding our own business – waiting in line, commenting on the menu, and making a decision on what we wanted to order for a quick dinner (since we had had a big lunch yesterday). We were third in a line that seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace but despite already being in a state of irritation over something else, I don’t recall either one of us making a stink about how long it was taking.
And then it happened. The young 22-ish male and his mother proceeded to collect their order and walk out of the restaurant. As they did this, the son muttered “Faggots” disguised in a cough. It was meant to be heard only by us as I assume the young “man” was not comfortable spewing his hate loudly in a public place. Well, I heard it loud and clear and Adi and I stood aghast after we’d realized what happened. But not for long. Something propelled me out the door and as this mother and son were getting into their car, I shouted “Fuck You”. It’s moments like these that I wish I had come up with something more clever to say but it was my anger talking.
The kid responded with “Up my ass” to which I responded – WHY? Why did you have to say that? The mother asked what was going on and I told her that her son called us faggots disguised by a cough. She apologized while her son mumbled something else and they both got into their car and pulled out of the parking lot.
Still reeling with anger, I proceeded to recount what happened to the customers in front of us and then the manager. They were all very apologetic and the manager – who was most likely gay – said that a customer in his restaurant should never be subjected to such ignorant behavior. He kindly offered us free drinks as a consolation for our patience and putting up with the ignorance that just took place. If he’d heard it, I got the feeling that the manager would have said something about it.
It’s incidents like these that leave me feeling like a fringe member of society. Despite how I can intellectualize it and tell myself that most people are good and that this doesn’t happen very often these days, it hurts. This is the sort of behavior that reinforces society’s old belief that gay people (regardless of age I would say) are different – in a bad way. I know in reality that there are many examples of respect and admiration for gay brethren and sistren but somehow in the moment of being called a faggot, reality doesn’t matter.
I can recall another incident in Long Beach, New York that took place about 5 or 6 years ago. When a young kid ordered an ice cream sunday and asked for it in a purple-colored bowl shaped like a helmet, the woman serving him at Carvel actually said “Well that’s kind of a faggoty color, isn’t it? I let the kid get his ice cream and then critically scolded her by asking “WHAT did you say?” she retorted by asking “What are you… with the NAACP?”. She obviously meant another organization because there were no people of color in sight. I walked away, deciding not to point out her complete and utter ignorance.
Yes, progress has been made. Adi and I are attending a wedding of two male friends in Vermont this spring. We have that privilege in a few progressive states. But I ask myself, will gay have the right to marry anywhere in this country in my lifetime?
Given that the majority of the church-going public spouts out catch phrases about not hating the sinner but just hating the sin, I wonder. The recent vote in the state of NY didn’t pass mostly because the politicians voting on it didn’t have a balls to push it though.
Gay people can do all the political lobbying we want but what it will take to change the minds of the masses is constant and continuous word of mouth. Gay people need to be proud, stand up for themselves, and call people out on their ignorance. But it can’t stop with us.
If gay marriage laws are ever going to change on the Federal level, it’s the masses that have to be convinced. Straight people who believe in equal rights and gay marriage need to make it known, loudly and constantly to other straight people – and encourage them to do the same.
I was really happy to meet an old classmate that I hadn’t seen for more than 25 years at a mini reunion I attended this week. He’s straight but talked about the fact that he’s very passionate about helping to change the laws with respect to gay marriage. He’s involved in multiple organizations in Southern California.
Granted that a gay marriage law won’t stamp out bigotry. With the recent Compton Cookout incident at UCSD, we know that racism is also alive and well in 2010. Bigotry will continue to rear its ugly head from time to time and the victims of it will continue to feel hurt.
But, gay marriage will be one more step toward validation of gay people and our human rights. And one step closer to making it just a little safer to go back in the water.
Definition image courtesy of thinkb4youspeak.com
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