As the fight for Marriage Equality continues — now with the U.S. State of Alabama grabbing headlines for the insolence of Justice Roy Moore — and the Supreme Court having announced that they will hear arguments regarding cases overseen by the 6th Circuit Court of the United States I’ve been contemplating how this all came about. There have been several groups working tireless for decades to see equal rights extended to all people within the United States that do not hold to the hetero-normative standards; without the efforts of groups like The Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders helping make the U.S. State of Massachusetts the first U.S. state and only the sixth jurisdiction globally to recognize the basic human right of marriage for same-sex couple we would not be living in an age in which acceptance and recognition of same-sex couples’ rights has expanded exponentially. And yes, while the decisions within the courts — and the rare legislative motion — have been the means through which the official recognition of same-sex marriage has come to pass, the driving force behind the rising levels of acceptance has not been driven from exclamations from on high but rather by changing the thoughts and attitudes of the general populace. For this I believe we have these most visible people for their bold, fearless leadership in driving forward proper equality for all within the LGBTQ community.
- Ellen Degeneres. I don’t think I can stress this enough. Her blatant refusal to hide who she is, even at the risk of her career, carried over into her award winning daytime talk show that first came to air September 2003. Just as the marriage equality movement landed it’s first victory, Ellen was on national TV in front of millions of people every day to prove that being LGBTQ does not mean that one is leach reachable, less understandable, or less likable. The interactive nature of the daytime talk show allowed Ellen to speak more casually and openly about subjects that may not have been presented in the serial sitcom format, and I firmly believe that this casual conversation nature of Ellen’s show has helped push the change in perception we’re now seeing sweep across the country. Notably, her very public relationships with first Alexandra Hedison and later (and still) Portia DeGeneres née de Rossi have never been subjects of conversation from which Ellen has shied, and she’s always been quite gracious and subdued whenever the topic is breached. Of course, she’s not alone in leading this charge, which brings us to our next notable figurehead.
- George Takei. Uncle George, to which he lovingly refers himself in his social media interactions, came out in 2005 to great shock/awe/delight of all those who either had no clue or had known the “open secret” for decades. Since going public George has been a tireless activist, working with every private and public company his time and health will allow so that he can spread the message of love and acceptance. His message is all the more remarkable when one considers the treatment he and his family received at the hands of the U.S. government during World War II, as they were treated like many Japanese Americans and interred in camps during much of the war. His ability to take that pain and transform it into a display of love and acceptance is nothing short of incredible. I had the pleasure of meeting him several years ago, and he’s a perfect delight in person. He treats everybody respectfully, even lovingly, and surely that aspect of his personality has helped drive forward the acceptance we see today. He’s not been alone in these efforts either, of course.
- Anderson Cooper. Few television personalities are more generally respected in the United States that those who bring the news into the homes of families every night, and Anderson has endeared himself to much of his audience through his insistence on doing nearly as much reporting in the field as from behind his desk. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans Anderson took his crew into the center of the worst flooded areas and helped pull people out of the waters. He’s never been one to back down from uncomfortable topics, and although his coming out was relatively quiet, it came after the fights in Florida and California over state resolutions that defined marriage as between one man and one woman had been very vocally fought. The fact that such a prominent member of not only the mainstream media but also the high society elite — his mother is an heiress to the Vanderbilt fortune — is openly gay and one of the most respected journalists on the planet surely helped changed the perception that much further. While not causally related, it is amusing to note that since Anderson publicly came out in July 2012 we have seen the number of U.S. states that recognize or allow same-sex marriage jump from seven (plus the District of Columbia) to the current level of thirty-five with the stay on the Alabama ruling set to expire on 9 February, and Kansas and Missouri issuing same-sex marriage licenses in some sections of the state.
These 3 are surely not alone, now indeed the only people worthy noted of helping to lead the charge, but by my estimation they have received the greatest combined share of exposure in demonstrating that being LGBTQ does not mean that we ARE different, merely that the people we love are or could contain the same body parts that we do. What these most visible people have helped all of us do is become leaders in our own social circles. Every child who sees Ellen on mention her wife during the show learns that love knows no boundaries. Every layman watching an Anderson Cooper segment knows that he has a boyfriend, and through that lens can come to see that the nature of one’s love does not change the character of the person. Just so, every high school athlete empowered by the likes of Michael Sam knows that one’s talent is separate from one’s emotional bonds and desires, and every victimized child can look to everything George Takei suffered throughout his life and know that it will be better.
The conversation at the local levels has spread and continues to do so because more people feel empowered to come out to friends and family, or even at smaller levels of government, because of the examples put forth by the more visible leaders in the community. Seeing the success of people who would have otherwise been pushed out of their careers helped me overcome my fears in coming out to my own family. In a way, coming out as Bi has been harder, as Bi Erasure is a thing easily forgotten when a Bisexual individual isn’t in an active relationship with somebody of the same sex. Mrs. AP has been my steadfast support throughout the past five years as I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin. Stories like mine, like Ellen DeGeneres’, like George Takei’s, and like Anderson Cooper’s have become the norm among the LGBTQ community. We wouldn’t be there without the fearless examples they set, and it was my goal when I established this blog that I, too, could inspire at least one person to stare down the fear of rejection and embrace the freedom that comes from being out and proud.
We may not all be in the public eye, but we are all leaders in our own ways.
Stay SINful, friends.
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