No H8?

Someday soon I’m going to get one of those “No H8″ pictures taken (partly because, damn, the photographer makes people look good!).  But I have to admit, every time I get close, I start feeling skittish.  I know a lot of our opponents do hate us — especially their leadership.  You’d have to be a blind fool to deny it.  I even started looking up the dates for the next photoshoot during the Prop 8 trial when William Tam took the stand. 

I balk, though, at pushing H8 as a brutal generalization.  Because some of our activists do push it that way.  H8 is their first word to characterize opponents of same-sex marriage, and it can be their last word, too.  I think it’s a word to be used sparingly, and only with great care.  That caution may surprise people who’ve read my entries on Maggie Gallagher, Janice Shaw Crouse, Matt Barber, and others.  But we do a disservice to ourselves, our cause, and even our opponents when we fling the word at every person who votes against us.

A few weeks ago I was canvassing for marriage equality, traveling the sidewalks of Pasadena armed with voter registration data and accompanied by a videographer who would tape the conversations if I could get permission.  I walked up to a handsome front door ready to meet Jeanette and Ohannes, a very old married couple.

Jeanette answered the bell (an eight-tone melody), and no she didn’t want to be taped, but she would talk about gay marriage.  Her husband came out to stand beside her, and they smiled at me.  They oppose gay marriage.  Why?  Because a child needs a mother and a father.  In fact, a child would be better living in an orphanage than with two same-sex parents.

Does that make you want to scream?  Well, our trainers had taught us not to.   And in the long, jaw-dropped pause that followed, they told me they had both grown up in a Lebanese orphanage established in the years after the Armenian genocide. 

Okay. 

I wasn’t about to lecture these two people on the topic of foster care and parentless children (we’re not supposed to lecture people, anyway).  Instead we had a warm and personal conversation about how they came together and built their life, and the beliefs that sustained them through many difficult years.  They were fascinating and gentle and wrong, and at first I had no idea what to say.

The basic rule of canvassing is, When in doubt, just come out.  So I told them I was gay and that I knew I would never build a life-long relationship like that with a woman.  And Lord, Jeannette was helpful.  “I understand,” she said.  “I can see how a member of your own sex would understand you better, and I know it can be frustrating to live with a member of the opposite sex.” 

The videographer told me later, “She really liked you.  If you’d let her, she totally would have given you advice on how to get along with the ladies.”

Jeannette wasn’t filled with hate.  She simply didn’t know much about gays — just enough, in fact, to be completely wrong about us.  She had been lied to by others (and yes, lied to by those who do hate us).  But I didn’t find hate on that doorstep.  I’m sure if Will and I lived next door, we’d visit often for dinner and to hear stories from their extraordinary lives.  I’m also sure we’d be welcome, and I suspect over time their gay-marriage views might evolve from “No” to “Who can say?”

But suppose I moved next door and told Jeannette and Ohannes, “You’re against gay marriage because you have a toxic hatred lodged deep in your hearts”?  They’d think I was wrong.  They’d know I was wrong.  I would be wrong.  And they’d have no reason to hear anything else I said. 

How do we change the minds of these good and misled people, short of moving in next door and going over for dinner?  I don’t have an answer, but here’s another story.  Last year on a canvassing trip I met a middle-aged Asian immigrant who opposed gay marriage because they didn’t allow it in the country where she was born.  The conversation seemed pointless, until I closed it with the question we’re supposed to ask no matter what.

“This will come up again on the ballot,” I said.  “Could we count on your vote?”

“Maybe.”

That stunned me.  “Really?  Why is that?”

“Because I see people fighting for it and I see how important it is to you.”

For a moment I saw her support as a tiny plant pushing up through the cracks on a sidewalk.  We want to let that thrive.

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21 comments to No H8?

  • 1
    August says:

    Thank you. Reason lives. I should stop being amazed at how wonderful your mind and heart work. I know that it is because of what you do that things will be what they are meant to be in the end.

  • 2
    Scot Colford says:

    Oh, Rob, Rob. I know you know thia, but reasonable people come over to the side of reason because they live with it. One of the best things that has happened to my husband and I has been the ability to marry freely in the state of Massachusetts. My husband Michael’s mother, who literally nearly fainted (and I do mean “literally”, not “figuartively”) is very proud of her son and our strong relationship. No one is keeping score, but it’s not untrue to say that our relationship has proved more enduring than some of Michael’s other siblings. But blah blah blah.

    The best thing about being married in a state that recognizes it is that I can walk into an IKEA, a doctor’s office, or a Starbuck’s and mention that, “My husband … blah blah blah” and people *get it*. They don’t need to know who he is or anything about our relationship other than the fact that *it is*. I can’t tell you what power and confidence that provides people. Straight folks have been living with it for years and have *no* *idea*.

    Oh, so about H8. I’m not sure I’m the person who can turn that around. But rest assured that if people *know* you. I mean, *KNOW* you, they definitely understand you for your values. Not for your choice of a spouse.

    And yes, that still means we have an uphill battle, but it’s one we hopefully can fight as equal participants, as opposed to freaky outsiders.

    (Not that I don’t enjoy freaky outsiders.)

  • 3
    Kenny says:

    Excellent post. Couldn’t agree more. As a gay dad with four children (two in college and twins who are three), I know that changing people’s minds is made through simply allowing them to see your life. I won’t change their opinion by screaming at them or lecturing them, but they will begin to see how my family is no different from any other. My partner and I worry about the same thing that heterosexual parents worry about – – With two kids in UC schools, how much higher can the tuition go? With two kids who will be starting school in a few years, what shape will our elementary schools be in given all the budget cuts?

    I also remind myself that people are, at least trying to learn about our life when they ask: “Wow, how much did they cost?” or “Which one of you is the real dad?” And, I always take the opportunity to make people aware of our family structure when someone sees me with my twins and asks, “Oh, are you giving mom the day off?” or “Oh, did mom pick out those cute outfits?”

  • 4
    bob says:

    Rob you rock! i’m a heteroflexible 47 years young man. i found you when Dan Savage posted a link on his blog. i wish to thank you for doing your part to bring the level of political discourse up a notch. Carry on, I’ll be following and sending links to the H8rs I’m aquainted with.

  • 5
    Rose says:

    Thank you. :)

  • 6
    Matthew says:

    I agree. Having grown up and spent most of my time in a small town, I can say that you have to know people and have neighbors like this for change to occur very slowly over many years. Being a gay couple in the middle of nowhere is not always easy but you only change minds by opening yourself up to experiences of other people and vice-versa. I also saw change occur during the many years we were active in a church (Lutheran) as an out gay couple. You articulated better than I could why I have always found lecturing and screaming to be counter-productive.

  • 7
    Martin Stennert says:

    Hm, loved this entry. I know there are enough people out there with an active homophobic agenda, but I suppose in the long run it is people like Jeannette, Ohannes, and the Asian immigrant that are the group whose hearts it is crucial to win. And slowly things are going that way. In 1993 it was at least finally possible that a film like Philadelphia was made with major stars and to win the academy award, by now we can have major characters in mainstream novels and films just be gay without that being more than a subplot – simply because it is just a part of life. I don’t mean to say that it shouldn’t still be made an issue, but that for more and more people it becomes just one of the many shades life comes in, and that in the end will marginalize the haters, until they become just one more fringe group of nut-cases. But like racism and religious conflicts, is a long road, one measured not in years but in generations (who said that, recently, and about what social conflict?) And it is important to have legal institutions, like marriage, forge the way ahead, instead of just following lamely behind.

  • 8
    Ben in Oakland says:

    Rob– I agree. A lot of people are not haters. they are ignorant, they are misled, they are aboslutely indifferent to a group of people they knos nothing about.

    About your closing question. I have disagreed with that question for a long time. I think the question should be this: ““This will come up again on the ballot. Could we count on your vote? Or, if you cannot support same-sex marriage, can you at least not vote on it at all?”

  • 9
    Regan DuCasse says:

    Rob, my brother…you know I love you. But note: YOU had to go to THEM, to plead your case. I’m surprised actually that they were willing to talk to you at all.

    In my canvassing experience, those who support the ban have been underground. Their attitude is “the people have spoken, deal with it, go away.”
    It epitomizes what Golda Meir once said about trying to shake hands with a fist.
    And we aren’t the ones with the fist.

    We’re confronted with irrational and impossible double standards that are being stubbornly enforced.
    In our day and age, simple opinion is expected to be as valid as experience and facts.

    I have often asked the question: would you want to know about Jews from non Jews and anti Semites? Then why are you allowing yourself to be informed on gay lives by those who are non gay and anti gay?

    Even the contradiction of their own statement about what children deserve or are deprived of, is irrelevant to the justification for marriage discrimination.

    There ARE no laws that discriminate against couples based on intention or ability to parent.
    Nor is there a marriage test for the QUALITY of parents that couple will be.

    This is truth is undisputed. It’s fact.
    Yet, they want laws that exclusively diminish the very values that each citizen must have for SELF RELIANCE.

    Current laws require double/non existent standards for gay adults.
    And discrimination against the children of gay parents isn’t their intention?
    Might as well discriminate because one parent uses a wheelchair or is blind.
    Our country doesn’t do that, so setting aside separate laws that restrict the full responsibility any can take is counter productive.

    But it’s hard to say all that to a closed door, and even more tightly closed minds.

    This is the most willful of irrational expectations and double standards I’ve ever seen in MY life, but I know that other discriminatory systems of laws bore much the similarities.

    We could point out the resemblance to Jim Crow. That’s easy enough, and then ask our fellow citizens do they want their views and current socio/political values to mimic Jim Crow towards anyone?

    No, we don’t have to call THEM haters. But we could reasonably ask why they support policies that do.

    Any laws that restrict a citizen from otherwise fulfilling their full potential for responsibility as well as rights, is not right, nor workable into our Constitution. Which is against it’s tenants, intents and purposes.
    If nothing else, we could point to the legacy of equality and justice. This has ALWAYS stood in good stead and been a reliable tool and example to the world as well as our nation.

    But I see an inherent selfishness at work here. There is no direct consequence or affect, even though all the ads said there ‘would be’.
    They don’t HAVE to care and there is little to do to compel them.
    NOT calling them names or the effect of these laws isn’t moving them a whole lot.

    If I had any suggestions to make, it’s reminding them this is a time in history when they made a difference in how a minority was integrated into society.
    Imagine if they’d been there to participate in the advancement of black relations in this country, or that of women where those who fulfilled the expansion of civil rights have a proud legacy to point to.
    And those whose cared only for the status quo or worked directly AGAINST a minority, have always been on the wrong side of history and therefore could make no claim that they helped what was good for anyone, let alone for this country.

    It’s a circuitous way to not call them haters. But it’s a reminder they are siding with them and THEIR legacy on the country.

  • 10
    Makyui says:

    What a sobering article. You’re absolutely right.

    With the genuine hate that’s being pushed by vocal opponents on TV and radio and newspapers, it’s easy to get frustrated and lash out at the wrong people. Hate and ignorance aren’t the same thing — one of them, for one thing, is treatable — and the people who are against us are also affecting the people who might otherwise be our allies, if they hadn’t bought into the lies of the people against us.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, here.

  • 11

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    [...] And Maggie, if we are sometimes too quick to paint our opponents as hateful and bigoted when they don’t deserve it — well, that’s wrong, but you have to share in the responsibility. You’ve made yourself the most vocal and famous warrior against same-sex marriage. That makes it hard to distinguish you from those of our opponents with kinder, gentler, and truer souls. [...]

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