"Dear America, when you tell gay Americans that they can't serve their country openly or marry the person that they love, you're telling that to kids too. So don't be shocked and wonder where all these bullies are coming from that are torturing young kids and driving them to kill themselves because they're different. They learned it ...from watching you."
As a co-advisor for our campus's LGBT group at my college, and as a longtime supporter of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students (and non-students), I've often had to talk to homophobic people about their point of view. Usually in class it comes up as a student says something is gay, as in "That movie was so gay." I generally start by asking them what they mean: does that mean the movie only finds other movies of its same type attractive? Does that mean some movies are so straight? As an English instructor, I tie it back to the power of language, and how if we're going to use a sexual orientation term to say something is stupid or lame, it will by association suggest that the sexual orientation we're referring to is also stupid or lame. Students learn quickly that I don't let those comments slide in my classroom.
But recently in class, I had a conversation that I'd never had before. We were talking about V's birthday, and how she was turning 5. One of the students said "Just wait until she's turning 13, and obsessed with boys." Much of the class laughed in agreement, but I said, quite honestly and without thinking, "or girls." The entire class gasped (except for the lesbian in the front row, who quietly applauded). I've never shocked an entire room of students so thoroughly and unexpectedly! We talked about it a bit more, and aside from pointing out that sleepovers would be a whole different deal if she's a lesbian, the students listened to my thoughts on the matter and no one stormed out, so I'll call it successful.
I always find it disturbing when parents or any one, espeically if they've never met my daughter, assume they know V's sexuality. I mean, she's freaking five years old. Maybe she does know which sex she'll want to marry, but I certainly don't, and I don't want anyone telling her that what she feels is wrong one way or the other. And I've seen it play out over and over and over, among my friends and my students, that a big part of the heartache of being LGBT is the family expectations, and the feeling that they are letting their family down. I don't want V to be sorry for who she loves. I want her to make good, affirming choices, and find loving healthy partners, and be comfortable in her own skin.
Last year, I had a gay student in the PSEO program, meaning he was a senior in high school, taking college courses. When we talked about V over a year ago, and I said I didn't care if she was gay or straight as long as she was happy, he said "But you'd still rather she was straight, right?" I get this a lot from people, but from him I was a little surprised. No, I said. I want her to be happy and love whomever the hell she wants, as long as they're good to her. Huh, he said. As a man who'd been aware of his own homosexuality for years, he was still astounded that a parent could say this about their own child. His family is a type of "christian" who view homosexuality as a sin on par with child molestation. They are very good, though, at loving the sinner and hating the sin, and when he came out at 15, his family and church supported him, provided he didn't act on his "sinful urges." When he got his first boyfriend at 17, his parents kicked him out of the house.
This young man was not a rebellious student. He loved his family and his church, but he also knew unequivocably that he was gay, and he couldn't change that. He lived with his non-denominational aunt and her family for awhile, and his father threatened to yank him out of classes, and took away his car. They stopped paying for his cell phone. Eventually, he had to move out of his aunt's house, and got an apartment with 6 or 7 other students. He worked hard at his part time job. He ran out of money over and over. He missed his family. He and his boyfriend broke up, and within another month, he moved back home. He promised to give up his "gay lifestyle" and petitioned to get back into the church. He dated a woman, but whenever he told me about her, it was obvious to me that his interest in her was tied to pleasing his family: I've never forced myself to have sex with someone to impress my parents, but that's what he was doing.
The last time I talked to him, he was hopeful that his church would change, and come to see homosexuality not as a sin. I couldn't bear to tell him that it's unlikely to happen in his lifetime. I told him that he was in the highest risk group for suicide, and made him promise to call me if he needed me. In another class, one of my colleagues told him she hoped, despite the rejection from his parents and his church, that he had someone who loved him unconditionally. He said he did. He said my name.
He's transferred, now, to a different college, and he still lives at home. He was engaged to marry his girlfriend, and I could see a light fading in him (though I've since heard that they've broken up). He doesn't want to leave his church, but he will have to, eventually. Or he'll live a lie.
At first when I started to get to know this student, I was furious. I wanted his parents & church brought up on child abuse charges: how is this not profound emotional abuse? But I know that will never happen. Most of the churches in America take a similar stance on homosexuality. Just look at the ELCA, who, when they agreed to allow openly gay and lesbian clergy (but only if they were in long-term relationships, which I find crazy), lost many congregations. I don't understand how much fear and hatred can be tied to an essentially private, personal matter, but I have seen more than once the ramifications.
I know V will feel pressure from the rest of the world to be a straight girl. And I know if she's not that her life may indeed be more difficult than her straight friends. But I don't want an ounce of that difficulty to come from her family of origin. In the meantime, I will vote for people willing to overturn "Don't ask, don't tell" and offer marriage rights to any two consenting adults. And I will allow V to figure out what sex she finds attractive. Because it's not up to me, or anyone else.