Seven years ago today, Massachusetts sparked a fire that has yet to be extinguished when it became the first state in the Union to allow gay marriage.
Since 2004, 25 percent of states in our nation (including the District of Columbia) have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in the form of civil unions or marriage.
The balance of power over the struggle for gay rights has teetered in years since. Both sides have invested precious time and money in their cause, and both sides have celebrated victory and suffered defeat. And while the outcome of our civil rights movement has at times seemed permanently stuck in limbo, something’s happened over the past two years. The game has changed. The seesaw has tilted once more.
This weekend, something happened. Something big.
Following an increase in coverage regarding homophobia in sports after Kobe Bryant’s “faggot” heard round the world and a number of prominent sports figures stepping up and speaking out against bullying and discrimination, Rick Welts did something no active sports figure has ever done in America. He came out as a gay man.
You may not have known his name before his announcement, but you will now. President and CEO of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, Rick Welts spent 40 years in sports before deciding to come out. “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off limits,” Welts said in an interview with the New York Times. “Nobody’s comfortable in engaging in a conversation.”
His decision to come out at the age of 58 didn’t shock many of his friends and colleagues, but it stands as a significant step towards shedding a dark shadow that has plagued the world of sports for years.
The timing of Welts’ announcement corresponded with the surprising retirement of rugby icon Ben Cohen. And while he may be walking off the green, he takes up a new challenge with the formation of The Ben Cohen Stand Up Foundation, an organization focused on combating bullying and homophobia.
“As athletes, it’s not enough just to have strong bodies. We must have strong characters and use our voices to support those in need and deserve it.”
The weekend concluded when Don Lemon, a prominent news anchor on CNN who chronicled his life and career in his new book “Transparent,” directed his Twitter followers to a New York Times article where he came out as gay.
“I’m scared. I’m talking about something that people might shun me for, ostracize me for,” he said. “It’s quite different for an African-American male. It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture.”
But Lemon realized that coming out was bigger than himself. When Tyler Clementi took his own life after being bullied for being gay, Lemon resisted the urge to remove his sexual orientation as a topic of his book. “I think if I had seen more people like me who are out in proud, it wouldn’t have taken me 45 years to say it, to walk in the truth.”
Appearing on Joy Behar’s HLN news program last night, Lemon said, “I was born gay, just as I was born black.”
Thank you, to all of you. Your courage to live with purpose will change minds and save lives.
There is no shame in being who you are. There is no sorrow in embracing your own unique self. We all have a story to share, a journey we have traveled. Your tears and inner pain are not in vein. Until you feel strong and proud enough to share your light with the world, we’re reminded every day by these remarkable stories that it does get better.
It was also 57 years ago today that the Supreme Court ruled that separate can never be equal.
Tags: ally, Ben Cohen, bullying, civil rights, civil unions, CNN, coming out, Don Lemon, equality, gay marriage, gay rights, homophobia, hope, it gets better, LGBT, love, Rick Welts, sports, Transparent
Google Chrome made headlines last week when it premiered its “It Gets Better” commercial during a new episode of Fox’s ‘Glee’. Support and praise for the lucrative primetime TV spot was almost universal. Almost.
A cameo from Toy Story’s Woody stole the show. A childhood favorite and star of Pixar’s billion-dollar Toy Story franchise, Woody’s kind words of support were a hallmark moment for a company who has been providing same-sex couple benefits for its employees since 1996.
A few are less than thrilled, and that includes Alan Chambers of the now-infamous Exodus International. “Children all over the world, including my two children are fans of ‘Toy Story,’ and to see a character like that endorsing something that at this point children have no need to know about, it’s disappointing,” he says.
But as those remaining few who oppose gay marriage continue to dig themselves into a deeper hole and devolve into something of a self-parody, their plan of attack has grown increasingly flimsy and transparent. Their efforts to enforce an archaic and regrettable point of view on a generation of youth who are growing up in a world that has increasingly and overwhelmingly embraced love is terminally ill.
But as some continue to be blinded by their own fear, more and more are choosing to stand on the side of love. Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo has for some time been very open and honest about his support for gay marriage, a rarity in the world or sports. Following in his footsteps is Sean Avery, a New York Rangers player in the hyper-masculine sport of hockey who recently teamed up with the Human Rights Campaign to support marriage equality in New York.
Such a willingness to publicly call for change has made Ayanbadejo and Avery easy targets within the sports culture. But Brendon, recently appearing on ESPN’s ‘Outside the Line,’ spoke about why he has decided to step up and speak out. “This issue is really dear to me, being that I’m bi-racial, African American. If you go back to the ’60s, this same issue was current but it was about interracial marriage. Now today, fast-forward to 2011, the issue is equality in marriage and allowing same-sex couples to marry and love each other,” he says. “So to me it’s the same thing, it’s a barbaric issue. I think it’s just time that society continues to evolve and advance and it’s time to treat everyone fairly. That’s something we haven’t done in this country, but we’re getting better as time goes on.
If you’re homosexual, lesbian, or gay, that’s the way God created you, so why should you be treated any different?”
Ayanbadejo went on to say that Obama in 2012 has the opportunity to “emancipate 30 million Americans.”
Brendon’s passion for equality may rile up some, but it will also help him become a trendsetter and pave the way for others – such as Avery – to follow. As openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson said, “It is not enough for good people — religious or otherwise — to simply be feeling more positive toward gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Tolerance and a live-and-let-live attitude beats discrimination and abuse by a mile. But it’s not enough. Tolerant people, especially tolerant religious people, need to get over their squeamishness about being vocal advocates and unapologetic supporters of LGBT people. It really is a matter of life and death, as we’ve seen.”
It’s time to stand on the side of love. I do. Do you?
Tags: ally, Brendon Ayanbadejo, bullying, civil rights, civil unions, coming out, Disney, equality, gay marriage, gay rights, Google, hope, Human Rights Campaign, LGBT, love, New York Rangers, Pixar, Ravens, Sean Avery, sports, Toy Story, Trevor Project
Advocates for marriage equality suffered a devastating defeat in 2009, when efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in New York fell eight votes short in the Senate after receiving strong support in the state’s Assembly.
Many may recall Senator Diane Savino’s powerful and heart wrenching testimony in defense of gay marriage prior to the bill’s defeat, stating for all to hear that “we have nothing to fear from love and commitment.”
“If there’s anybody threatening the sanctity of marriage,” Savino said, “it comes from those who have the privilege and the right, and we have abused it for decades.”
A renewed fight to grant marriage equality has resurfaced in New York, stronger than ever. And this time, it may have larger ramifications for the country and the world.
“A win in New York will provide significant momentum for the movement nationally and, quite frankly, internationally,” says Brian Ellner of the Human Rights Campaign. “New York is very significant.”
Why has the landscape changed so drastically in less than two years?
This time, it’s personal.
The true-life stories of decent men and women who have suffered first-hand the inequality of being denied the right to marry the person they love has struck a chord with citizens both in New York and across the country, resulting in many to switch sides.
“That debate has been replicated hundreds and thousands of times over the Internet, emails and coffee klatches and over glasses of wine in New York’s suburbs that has rapidly changed – at an accelerated pace – public opinion.” says Bruce Gyrory, a political science professor at the University of Albany.
Even populations traditionally seen as reliably conservative, such as Catholics, have seen rising support for marriage equality.
Support for marriage has dramatically increased in New York, reaching as high as 58% in a recent poll. “I think at the point you cross 60 percent and approach 2:1 levels of support, the opposition loses its critical mass,” says Gyory.
And as overwhelming support among younger generations continues to make its mark, the realization that this fight is close to a tipping point has begun to dawn.
Law firm King & Spalding, who signed on defend the now defenseless DOMA on behalf of House Republicans, dropped a bomb earlier this week when it abruptly withdrew from the case. Reports of internal conflict and “mayhem” were rampant. “Management was divided, people were threatening to quit,” said one source.
Prior to King & Spalding’s exit, the response from the LGBT community had been strong and forceful. And while DOMA has already recruited fresh defenders in the wake of its latest setback, don’t expect public support to be on their side anymore.
In its latest episode, “Glee” reached new heights of fabulous when its cast belted out Lady Gaga’s gay pride anthem “Born This Way.” It depicted a high school coming together in a defining moment of unity.
Having already called the show a “disgusting gay teen sex romp”, Dan Gainor, a conservative media critic, was less than pleased, panning the show’s creator Ryan Murphy and calling the episode his “latest depraved initiative to promote his gay agenda.”
“This is clearly Ryay Murphy’s vision of what growing up should be, not most of America’s. It’s a high school most parents would not want to send their kids to.”
Hate to break it to you, Mr. Gainor, but you’re dead wrong. Your words have lost their power to persuade. Your hateful rhetoric no longer has a place in a country that is turning increasingly towards love and fairness.