America’s poisoning of love – my perspective – anti-gay sentiment in United States – Column
I’ve lived on four continents and visited more than 30 countries. I’ve been in Islamic, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and Hindu nations, the richest and poorest of nations, the most war-torn and peaceful of nations. And there is only one nation where I’ve been afraid to hold another man’s hand out of concern for my own safety: the United States of America.
Growing up as a gay kid in America, I remember hearing antigay slurs as early as kindergarten–before I even knew what gay really meant. By the time I was a teen I had already lived abroad, and my experience showed me that my beloved USA was the most violent and homophobic culture in the West.
I was fortunate to have a high school social studies teacher in California who understood this sad reality. She asked our class to count each day how many times we witnessed men fighting or killing other men in films, television, and other media, and how many times we saw mea romantically loving other men. In a six-month period, we recorded more than 15,000 images of violence and zero images of romance. What had poisoned our culture, I wondered, that violence between men could be so casually accepted while love between men was so completely denied?
Today, 15 years later, the media situation has improved. Will & Grace is a big hit, and that’s good, but is it Will of Grace who has a husband to kiss each week?
History is another realm that has often hidden gay love. Try locating these facts in a schoolbook Ancient Greek and Roman societies, the foundation of modern civilization, regarded homoeroticism as the highest form of love. Before the European devastation of Native American cultures, indigenous peoples revered gays for their balance of male and female qualities. Gay relationships have held a respected role in Asian and Buddhist cultures for thousands of years.
Buddhism, which I practice and teach, has a rich 2,500-year tradition of equality. Based on this heritage, the Buddhist association to which I belong has long performed gay unions. Yet same-sex Buddhist unions are denied legal recognition by our government. Why is this?
Many politicians and activists who oppose gay rights would say that America’s Christian heritage supports their exclusionary agenda. In fact, some are now trying to change the U.S. Constitution to reflect their personal religious views and to forever deny gay citizens the civil right of marriage–and the more than 1,000 legal benefits that go along with it.
I doubt I’m the only one who sees this as disturbingly un-American. It smacks of theocracy–more hi line with the Taliban than the U.S. Congress. But who will stop these zealous bigots? Gay people can’t do it alone. We need others to speak out with us before it’s too late.
As I travel these days, I do all I can to get the message out that equal rights for gay people are in everybody’s best interest, as they expand the American ideal of a free, pluralistic society. I remind folks that every such advance in our society’s evolution, including abolition, women’s equality, workers’ rights, and racial equality, was considered unnatural or even immoral before it was achieved.
While in Jerusalem recently, I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial. Engraved there are words that remind me I mast do more to encourage my nongay friends to speak out against those who attack gay people. As Martin Niemoller said:
“When the Nazis attacked the Jews, I didn’t object, for I wasn’t a Jew. Then they attacked the socialists, and I didn’t object, for I wasn’t a socialist. Then they attacked the Catholics, and I didn’t object, for I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they attacked the unions, and I didn’t object, for I wasn’t a member of the unions. Then they attacked me–and there was no one left to object.”
As a proud gay American, I pray our country will fulfill its creed as the land of the free, home of the brave, where all can someday live and love as equals under the law.
Gold is the author of What Is Love? A Simple Buddhist Guide in Romantic Happiness and the best-selling Open Your Mind, Open Your Life: A Book of Eastern Wisdom.
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