Monday, December 13, 2010

The S in GSA

The S in GSA
Supporting people that are different than you is SO GAY!  Guys that stand up for women’s rights are such girls.  The white men and women that marched with King and the NAACP were so black, and standing up for the handicapped is a crippling experience.  But nothing is more socially crippling on our campus than being a heterosexual student, teacher, or administrator that supports the Gay-Straight Alliance, because that is just plain GAY.  At least that is the perception of many students on our campus, for there are students that support the GSA in spirit but would never attend a meeting for fear of social repercussion.  There are straight students and staff that support the GSA and are labeled queer as a result.  Ironically, most people don’t realize that the momentous strides in rights for the LGBT community that have occurred in the last forty years have only been possible by the ever increasing support from heterosexual allies.  Indeed, if it were not for the S in the GSA, the GSA would not and could not exist.
In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the narrator Scout famously gets into a fight whit her cousin Francis when he called her father Atticus a “nigger-lover.”  Though fiction, the moment speaks a truth that permeated our nation—to support the black community during their struggle for equality was to be as detestable as they were.  Klansmen and your run of the mill racists had no problem turning their considerable and violent wrath upon the whites that dared support blacks as if they were black themselves.  One of the most familiar and infamous cases was dramatized in the film Mississippi Burning which was based on the murders of three young civil rights activists—two of them white.  The violence committed against those young men speaks to the fluidity and indiscriminate nature of prejudice.  To be different is offensive enough, but to be tolerant of difference is equally if not more offensive.  To be supportive of the other makes you a traitor to your own.
If it were not for “traitorous” white men, no minority group in the United States would have any of the rights it has today, and every last vestige of power and privilege would remain solely in the hands of white, heterosexual men.  Consider for a moment the fact that it was not until 1920—144 years after the American Revolution—that women in the United States were given the power to vote.  Until there were enough men that agreed to share the power of the vote with women, all the laws that governed women, that granted them rights, that denied them privileges were decided upon primarily by men—several states granted women the right to vote before the 1920 passage of women’s suffrage and that the first US congresswoman was elected in 1917.  This bit of history shows us that the have-nots will only gain power when those that have either concede a portion of their power willingly or it is taken by force.  While the latter is possible when those that have not outnumber those that have such as the struggle between the “wretched poor” and the aristocrats made famous in the novel Les Miserables, when a minority has not, they rely upon the kindness and support of those that have.  And so it has been that one downtrodden sub-group of our great nation after another has slowly received a trickle down of rights, recognition, power, and privilege over the many years of our existence.
Homosexuals are a curious minority, because they are both a minority within the majority and a minority with minorities.  The percentage of people that are homosexual has been widely debated as comprising anywhere between three and ten percent of our population.  On the one hand, the higher end of the estimate speaks to a population that is numerically significant—more so than some ethnic subgroups—yet at the same time, the number belies the true power of the LGBT community because it does not take into consideration the most significant setback of the community—the LGBT community has no cultural, historical, or geographic shared identity beyond the one it has attempted to create for itself.  The LGBT community is an invisible minority that has become visible in our recent history on as a result of their own struggle and their coming together out of a desire to belong and a yearning for the safety of numbers.  LGBT communities have a common bond that extends only so far as their sexualities and the prejudice they have all faced on account.  At the same time, there are divisions of race, gender, and socio-economic status even with the LGBT community and a lack of family support—especially as so many who are LGBT are still shunned by their own families.
The LGBT are an invisible minority, because unlike race or gender, an individual’s sexual orientation is not readily visible to the average onlooker.  While there are some that may seem “obvious” the attempts to assess a person’s sexual orientation by their appearance—and the need to do so by the societal need to label those around us—oftentimes still leads to mistaken labeling of heterosexuals as homosexual and shock and disbelief that some women that are so feminine and guys that are so masculine are indeed queer.  Ironically, it is oftentimes the LGBT that make themselves the most visible that are the greatest targets of violence and receive the most ire from their adversaries who say “They wouldn’t be so bad if they would just keep it to themselves.”  Yet in order for a minority to gain rights, they need to first come together as a community, and in order for the LGBT community to form, the invisible had to become visible. 
It is the invisibility of the LGBT community and the inability to recognize all homosexuals by sight alone that acts as a deterrent to many potential allies.  It was one thing to be a white person supporting the black community, because at the end of the day, you were still obviously white.  However, a straight person that speaks out on behalf of the gay community inevitability calls into questions his or her own sexuality.  Due to the fact that the LGBT come in all shapes and sizes and some even enter a heterosexual marriage and have children before they come out, there is little that can be done to convince a source outside of your head about your orientation one way or the other.  It is even more of a conundrum if you consider the fact that there are many people who are still struggling to figure out their identity themselves.
Thankfully, over the years there have been enough supporters of the LGBT community to make significant strides in civil rights.  In the past forty years, we’ve seen homosexuality removed from the list of mental illnesses by the American Psychiatric Association, anti-sodomy laws stricken down by the Supreme Court, a variety of hate crime and anti-discrimination legislation passed, openly gay individuals elected or appointed to local, state, and national offices as well as various levels of our judiciary, and domestic partnerships and same-sex marriage rights passed in a number of states.  None of these accomplishments would have been possible without overwhelming support from the heterosexual community.  While some of the achievements were advanced by so-called “activist judges,” even they are an extension of heterosexual support for the LGBT community.  Without its straight allies, the Gay-Straight alliance on our campus would not even be allowed to exist, as it was the passage of California Assembly Bill 537 in 2000 which added actual or perceived sexual orientation to the nondiscrimination policy for schools.  It was this law that gave students the legal right to form Gay-Straight Alliances on public school campuses, and in many cases, it was necessary.
Though many advances in civil rights and social justice have occurred over the past few decades, the GSA on our campus still has its work cut out for it.  “That’s so gay” is still the most common slur on our campus, and when seeking an insult, most boys call each other fags.  There are students that do not feel safe on our campus.  There are students that are bullied, harassed, or intimidated over their actual and perceived sexual orientation.  These students cannot protect themselves alone; they rely on the strength of their straight allies to make the campus a safe place for everyone.  Sadly, it is these allies that also come under fire for stepping up to defend their friends.  Many of them are called gay and are subjected to the same bullying, harassment, and intimidation as the students that are actually LGBT. 
There is nothing gay about taking a stand for equality.  Standing up to protect the rights of the LGBT no more makes you queer than supporting the NAACP makes you black.  To suggest otherwise is utter foolishness.  The people that come out as LGBT during their high school experience, that become a visible part of an oppressed minority are brave; the allies that subject themselves to the same harassment and intimidation in order to support them are heroes.  Anyone that is so vested in their own bigotry and so insecure with their own identity that they feel the need to label everyone around them and attack anyone that is different—or people that support and accept their difference—is a coward.
I am grateful for my allies.  It has been with their help that our nation has slowly become and continues to become a more tolerant place for all our citizens.  With each advance in civil rights and social justice, another battle looms on the horizon, and it is with the help of our allies that those on the side of equality will emerge victorious.  Every day, the tide shifts further towards the left, and the number of those that have that concern themselves with those that have not swells.  I feel sorry for the unenlightened bigots that still stand in the way of social progress, because at the end of the day, they are the true minorities.