When I was a young girl, Anita Bryant was running around America, campaigning against gay rights. She was given an enormous platform, treated seriously, and was (in the short term) effective. In the long-term, she was effective in another, entirely unanticipated way: She galvanized the gay community. Then AIDS came along, and galvanized the gay community in another, more horrific way, and most of America forgot about Anita Bryant, but the fact is, one of the most significant stops on the Highlights of American Gay History Tour after the Stonewall riots is Anita Bryant.
I remember hearing about Bryant — I was about 12 or 13 at the time — and feeling vaguely horrified that men might want to do that with other men. I don’t seem to recall thinking about women. I also have a recollection of feeling, in spite of that squeemishness, a sense that what Bryant was doing wasn’t fair, or didn’t make sense, or something, but I will be honest: it’s possible that I’ve colored that memory with the understanding of adulthood.
I had a gay teacher in high school, one of my sister’s friends came out at about the same time, and at some point, I vacationed in Providence, RI — all of these experiences left me feeling odd, and off, and worried for the people in question, but at this point, I can say with certainty that while I was deeply uncomfortable about the idea of homosexuality, I understood gays and lesbians as – people. With rights and needs and dignity. No matter how much my discomfort might give me a vague sense of worry for them.
Then, as for so many straight people of my generation, I came to discover that I knew and loved people who happened to be gay, and that discomfort ebbed away, a result of love and proximity, and was replaced with a sense of outrage that squeemishness — whether religious or not — could be used to deny people their rights, or their dignity, or, in some heartrending cases, their lives.
Why do I tell this story? Because I don’t think it’s that unusual, and I think it mirrors the trajectory that the country has taken as a whole. I, at least, can explain my old homophobia as the foolishness of youth, but homophobia it was, and I am grateful that I came of age during a time when the gay community was organized and teaching us all what we should have known without the lesson.
But why do I tell this story today? Because last night, I had the opportunity of watching Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA) being interviewed by Rachel Maddow about his efforts to have Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed. Murphy is a decorated Iraq War veteran, he is straight, he is one of those pesky Blue Dog Democrats — and he, like too few others in this nation, recognizes a gross injustice when he sees one. “If you’re an American,” he told Maddow, “you should believe in equality.”
I also remember when DADT came about — it was one of those moments at which my faith in President Clinton died a little more. It was a terrible decision, premised on the notion that active, daily lying is less damaging to unit cohesion than who some soldiers might love or find attractive. As Murphy said last night, when you’re standing next to a fellow soldier in Baghdad, you don’t care about that — you care if that soldier knows how to use a weapon and can kick down a door.
And finally, aside from the fact that DADT is rooted in a denial of rights to American citizens and is premised in an entirely unsupportable argument, it is damaging to our national security. As Murphy pointed out last night, DADT has cost this country 13,000 troops — that’s more than three and a half combat brigades! Not to mention the insane number of Arabic translators who were drummed out for daring to be who they were born to be.
Murphy told Maddow that he wants 218 co-sponsors for his bill (as of last night there were 152), because he wants to make sure that the bill passes and gets to the President — who has said, unequivocally, that he will sign it, once it hits his desk. Murphy also said that he’s spoken to many Congress members who have either said that they’d love to help but can’t, or that they’ll vote for it but can’t sponsor it.
This is where democracy comes in! DADT is a shanda, a disgrace. It must be repealed, and it has to be the people’s representatives, the Congress, that does the work. So we, the people, have to tell our representatives how we feel about it.
Please take a moment to find out if your representative is among Rep. Murphy’s co-signers, and if he or she isn’t, drop them a note, or make a call. Here’s a list of the co-sponsors to date: GovTrack.us and here’s where you can find contact information for your representative: www.house.gov (top left of the page) I’ll follow this post with a sample letter/ phone script, in case you’re nervous, but really: Just your conviction will be enough.
Please also tell friends and family to take these steps — forwarding a link to this post is an excellent way to get all your information in one place and will serve my constant goal of greater readership, but however you want to get the word out, just get it out! This is something that we can honestly DO, this is a real change that could be made, not “in our lifetimes,” but right now.
One more link: Rep. Patrick Murphy If you’re in his district, you might want to thank him!
UPDATE: I’ve just discovered that the website which lists the bill is “temporarily unavailable.” I blame Kim Jong-Il, who is no doubt in cahoots with Anita Bryant. Here’s a Google cached version of the page from last night. It apparently doesn’t show a couple of the more recent sponsors, but it has 150 of them.