November 2, 2015
I got to spend a day last week with Matthew Shepard’s parents. Shepard is the University of Wyoming student who was brutally murdered in 1998 because he was gay. I was invited to participate in a Department of Justice hate crime training of law enforcement officers in Salem, Oregon. I’ve talked about the “Matthew Shepard case” since it happened, but after hearing his parents talking about their son and seeing his face in theirs, I felt like I finally got to know Matthew himself. The pain of losing a child must be insurmountable. The pain of losing him or her to a hate crime only ads to the weight. The training was held on the sixth anniversary of President Obama signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. So much of that was to due to the hard work of Dennis and Judy Shepard.
Listening them talk about how far we’ve come was encouraging. Gay people now have the same right to marry in all fifty states, thanks to the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision. Discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation in most states is illegal (although it’s still legal in Wyoming). “Homosexuality” has gone from shocking (Does anybody remember Billy Crystal’s character on Soap or Jack Tripper’s flamboyant caracature on Three’s Company) to Ellen DeGegerenes spending her afternoons with middle-class housewives. Some famous athlete or actor comes out of the closet and you can hear the crickets chirp.
But lord, we’ve got such a long way to go. In 2013 there were over 1,200 reported anti-gay hate crimes (and countless unreported attacks). Homophobia is still part of the mainstream youth vernacular (“That’s so gay.”) and there is a presidential candidate who thinks going to prison makes you homosexual. (Can there be a prize for the dumbest brain surgeon in America?) I could go on and on but it’s too depressing. For example, gay kids are still 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight kids. But we’re on it. We are way on it. It’s a good day to be gay in Portland, but it still has to suck in Omaha.
The point is it’s getting better. There is a crack in the heteronormativity of our culture. Not only are there Gay-Straight Alliances popping up in schools all over the country (even Mississippi!), many parents with kids are not just assuming their children are straight. When I imagine dancing with Cozy at her wedding, it might be her marriage to a really awesome woman! Who knows?
So while I was watching the Shepards talk about the murder of their son, how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go, I became lost in thought. There were two things stuck in my head that I thought would be important to say out loud.
First, Andrea and I don’t really care if Cozy is gay, straight, transgender, bisexual or any of the other letters. I think most parents worry that their queer child will just face more obstacles (including being victimized by hate criminals). Sure there are a few idiots who think their kid will burn in hell because of their “choice.” (What if Mike Huckabee has a gay kid?) But most just mourn the loss of freedom that child will experience in a homophobic society. My great hope is that when Cozy is a tween, coming out for gay kids won’t be any more dramatic than coming out for straight kids (and straight kids do come out).
She’s not going to have to wait for the right moment to break it to mom and dad. (Like most parents) we will already know. I’m more worried about finding out she’s left-handed (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Nobody should waste one second of their lives in the closet. (I’m looking at you, Mike Huckabee.) All she’s gonna get from me at the announcement is, “Meh. Have you done your homework? Oh, and I love you, bug face.”
The other thing is there’s at least some good news for lesbians. Because men can be such pricks and are not good about talking about their feelings and shit, heterosexual couples have it rough. They fall into all that Mars and Venus gendered discourse. (Just read any book by Terrence Real.) These “traditional marriage” blowhards don’t seem to worry much about how most straight marriages end up in the dumpster. But research shows that since women are much better at talking to EACH OTHER, Cozy’s lesbian marriage has a much better chance of lasting until she’s an old lady riding off into the sunset (because that’s what lesbians do, I’m told).
Of course the added bonus to all this is that it will limit her exposure to douchebags. I’d prefer her having a soccer-playing girlfriend to a video game-playing boyfriend.
At the least my gay daughter would be forced into taking up the fight against all the oppression that will still exist. She won’t be free to sit on the sidelines and just worry about her queer friends. As I’ve mentioned, it took me way to long to join this fight. Hopefully, she’ll be sitting in her fourth grade civics class in 2024 and reading about the bigoted morons that hogged the limelight in 2015.
And to paraphrase Heathers, one of the best movies ever made, I love my (possibly) gay daughter.