Thursday, June 2, 2011

Come Out Come Out - It's bright out here

June is busting out all over. It’s Gay Pride month where cities and towns across the world celebrate with parades, picnics and parties. Born out of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion the events in the U.S. are now largely corporate sponsored party events. Nashville is holding their event on June 18 – even after the state passed a law a few weeks ago outlawing “gay” from being spoken in a classroom from K to 8th grade.

Not content to legislate speech, the Tennessee legislature passed and Governor Haslam signed into law a few days later a law that forbids municipalities from enacting any anti-discrimination ordinances that are broader than the states. So if Nashville wants to contract with a company, that company only has to meet state anti-discrimination rules, not local ones which might be more far reaching and inclusive. Colorado tried this in 1992 (with a nearly identical law) and the Supreme Court knocked it down as illegal. I guess with the current court it’s worth trying again?

There are ominous and odious ramifications of these actions. I have faith that the American justice system will wend its way and these  laws will be ruled unconstitutional. It’s infuriating that activists must re-fight battles already won, but I suppose that’s life in a democracy.

After Dan Choi was discharged from the U.S. Army last year under President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy he became an activist. The City of Moscow turned down a permit to hold a gay pride march with the mayor referring to LGBT people as “satanic.” For the fifth consecutive year a march was held despite the ban. Choi went last week and was one of many who were beaten and arrested.

If “gay” isn’t mentioned in schools and if there’s no longer recourse for a company’s anti-gay policies then homosexuals will disappear? Preventing a march means that gays won’t really exist? In a recent episode of “Glee” Kurt said: “All that hate. They were afraid to say it out loud. So they did it [in] secret.”

People are born gay. Living an “out” lifestyle is the choice – whether it’s in a family with a partner and kids or being out on the town every night or anything in between. Some even choose to live a “straight” lifestyle even though they sexually identify as gay. Why?

Society in general perpetuates an “acceptable” narrative of life. This is reinforced by some religious institutions. The media does its part by telling stories that reinforce and support the narrative.

It’s so easy to blame the media. They contribute by choosing how the stories are (or are not) placed in prominence, in repetition and with analysis. The public gets a skewed vision of issues this way. By not having a balanced and complete representation of issues, people are left with no other option but to draw conclusions in areas that aren’t covered. LGBT issues are a prime example.

Last week Gallup released a poll showing that more than half of Americans believe that a quarter of the population is gay. Gallup also found that gays are more accepted than at any other time since they began their surveys.

  • 52% of Americans believe that 25% of the population is gay.
  • GLAAD reported that the 2010-11 TV season had a record high of 3.7% of characters as gay.
  • The 2010 Census doesn’t count people by sexual orientation.
  • The Williams Institute estimates there are 8 million LGBT Americans, or approx. 3.5% of the population.

The discrepancy between perception and reality could also be blamed on the media. If stories were told in proportion to population and importance then logic would indicate that the issue would be in perspective. Of course if that thinking had any merit then Sarah Palin wouldn’t be getting gargantuan coverage for driving a RV around looking at national monuments!

Blaming the media entirely isn’t fair or accurate (or balanced!) Media coverage reflects what people are interested in. If millions didn’t care what Palin was doing, then the coverage would shrink.  There’s the potential of circular thinking here – where the media says it’s only giving people what they want and people are wanting only what the media is giving them.



We are citizens of the world.  Whether we have a personal connectedness to a news story or not, an event or action that impacts socity in an important way means that we're all affected.

This is especially true when the story may not have personal significance. In August 1991 Boris Yeltsin lead a coup, taking over Russia and ultimately dissolving the Soviet Union. The revised constitution he championed legalized homosexuality, making Russia freer than the U.S. (until the U.S. Supreme Court threw out sodomy laws in 2003). 15 years later Russia has reverted to pre-Glasnost days, reminiscent of Cold War times. This story impacts more than gays. It impacts foreign policy, economics, and a range of other issues. 

A state government has legislated speech in schools.  The same state has usurped local governmental control.  We may not all live in Tennessee but these actions will reverberate throughout society.

It's time to stretch our comfort zones by not just watching networks and reading from providers that conform to our existing beliefs. We must fight becoming ignorant of alternative points of view. It’s time to come out from the dark.

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