All Things Queer and Quirky
If you've read a newspaper or watched TV in the last six months, you might think all gay people are spiffy white guys bent on redecorating hetero America in soft cranberry hues with tasteful cowhide sofas. Or that we're all Episcopalian bishops who kneel, ahem, only to pray. Or, better yet, we've got what comedian Kate Clinton calls "Mad Vow Disease" -- all of us happily coupled and chomping at the bit to get hitched.
Since last summer, a tidal wave of news has flooded our shores with stories of gay marriage, gay bishops and gays remodeling straight men, but little else about the reality of gay lives has been reported. As a result, some beautiful and bizarre stories have been overlooked. And that, dear readers, is a crying shame.
In the spirit of keeping you up-to-the-moment in all things queer (a state I know you long for), I present the best of the those hard-to-believe tales, many of which show the seemingly boundless opposition gays face in their quest for first-class citizenship.
What Is Gay? Don't Ask
We start in Lafayette, Louisiana, where 7-year-old Marcus McLaurin was punished for talking about his lesbian mom at school. When another student asked about his family, Marcus said his mother was gay. "Gay is when a girl likes another girl," he explained.
For that remark, he was scolded by his teacher and sent to the principal's office. There he had to fill out a Student Behavior Contract," in which he wrote that he had said "bad wurds." The assistant principal called Marcus' mother, Sharon Huff, to tell her Marcus was in trouble for using "foul words" that the assistant principal "didn't feel comfortable" repeating.
As if that wasn't enough, Marcus also had to attend a one-hour "behavior clinic," and write, over and over, "I will not use the word gay at school again."
Huff turned to the ACLU for help, which petitioned the school to apologize and to expunge the disciplinary forms from Marcus' record. The school refused. Huff is now pondering a lawsuit.
Marcus "doesn't understand why I say gay is not wrong, and his teacher says it is," Huff told the press. "I would like my son to be able to live like every other kid, and be able to talk about his family with his friends if he wants to."
I imagine Joseph Hogue, a gay father in Nashville, Tennessee, feels much the same way. In September 2002, Hogue was sentenced to two days in jail for -- are you ready for this? -- talking to his son about being gay.
As part of his divorce settlement, Hogue was prohibited from "exposing the child to his gay lover(s) and/or his gay lifestyle."
Hogue's ex-wife later complained to the court that Hogue had told the boy, "When someone is gay, they're born like that." For that remark, Hogue was found in contempt of the divorce order and sent to jail. His visitation rights with his son were also curtailed.
Hogue fought back, taking his case to the State Court of Appeals. But in January 2004, the court ruled that, although he should not have been jailed, the order shielding his son from the "gay lifestyle" would be allowed to stand.
While Huff, her son, and Hogue battle for the right to simply discuss their lives, other people want to remove not just the mention of gays from polite society, but gays themselves.
In December, the mayor of a small Brazilian city signed a decree banning gay people, or "any element linked to this class," from moving to the city.
Mayor Elcio Berti said he banned gays to "preserve respect and a family atmosphere." Gays, Berti insisted, "can bring no benefits whatsoever to the town." (Would someone please mail this guy a Queer Eye video, ASAP?)
Since the decree went into effect, gays have protested and Berti has been indicted for violating Brazil's anti-discrimination laws.
Making History, Sort Of
Back in the U.S., where banning gay people is still a no-no, conservatives must satisfy themselves with merely erasing all traces of those pesky homos.
Last December, the press got wind of a plan by the National Park Service to remove footage of gay rights rallies from a video on display at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.
The eight-minute video contains scenes of various events that have taken place at the Memorial. Conservatives argued that for "balance" and "historical accuracy," footage of pro-choice and gay rights rallies should be replaced by footage of pro-Gulf War and Promise Keepers rallies. (The Promise Keepers are a fundamentalist Christian men's group opposed to, you guessed it, abortion and gay rights.)
One small detail: The Promise Keepers' and Gulf War rallies did not take place at the Lincoln Memorial. In fact, they didn't even happen at the nearby National Mall.
Once the do-do hit the fan, the Park Service recanted, saying it was only "updating" the video and would not remove the "controversial" 13-second gay rights or 16-second pro-choice segments.
Thankfully, in their zeal to do away with any hint of queer life, right-wing revisionists opted not to knock down the Lincoln Memorial itself. The same could not be said for a church in Russia's third-largest city, Nizhni Novgorod.
After a gay couple was married in the church in September, the priest who performed the wedding was fired and permanently barred from the Russian Orthodox priesthood. Local officials then bulldozed the church and burnt the wreckage.
The priest had "committed a sin" by marrying the couple, a church spokesman told the press: "He desecrated the place. We therefore needed to destroy the chapel."
And Now, Some Good News
For cheerier news, we travel to a National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals. For fun during game breaks, camera crews find couples in the audience and flash their images on the scoreboard. If a couple kisses, the crowd cheers.
At a game on New Year's Day, the camera settled on two male fans and the crowd laughed, thinking it was a joke. The two men paused, then turned to each other for a long lip lock.
"The crowd's reaction turned from laughter to cheers and significant applause, and then to a murmur, presumably out of shock," said one report, concluding that, "The professional sports community may not be as homophobic as many of us might think."
There's lots more in the story file: A musical in Florida based on the life of gay serial killer Andrew Cunanan; "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" has boosted sales of the black GMC truck the guys zip around in; the finance minister of Spain claimed that gay marriage would "endanger" economic growth by "destroying jobs"; and a lesbian divorce in Iowa that made conservatives howl.
I close with a quote from Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who recently said to the press, "I don't hate gay people."
Bruning uttered that reassurance as he backpedaled, er, clarified an earlier statement he had made. When he learned that a Massachusetts court had green-lighted gay marriage, Bruning said to an Associated Press reporter, "Does that mean you have to allow a man to marry his pet or a man to marry his chair?"
Uh, yes, Mr. Attorney General, that's exactly what it means. I'd like to introduce you to my Sealey Posturepedic husband -- he's the dark green recliner in the corner. And that basset hound next to the chair? That's my ex.
When churches are destroyed for recognizing gay love, gays are banned from a city, and politicians gleefully reduce gay relationships to absurdities, it's easy to feel discouraged about any hope for gay equality -- and humanity in general. But then I recall the old saying that it's always darkest just before the dawn, and I realize -- this is what progress looks like.
Patrick Letellier lives with his human partner in San Francisco. Reach him at LetPatrick@yahoo.com or PatrickLetellier.com.