Marion Barry Doesn't Get It
By Michael Stanek
There were nights in high school and college when I’d cry myself to sleep over the confusion and frustration I felt over my sexuality. As with every other moment at that time, I’d force my tears to roll silently down my face so as to hide my anguish from the normalcy around me. At 25, with the help of wonderful friends and family, I have survived those wounds of alienation and fear that cut deep into the core of so many young gay men and lesbians.
Many are not so fortunate, though. Some teens in that position end their lives. Some run away because of their fear of rejection. Others spend their entire lives tortured — sometimes with a heterosexual spouse and children and sometimes despairingly alone — too afraid to experience the joy of true intimacy because it would mean being abnormal.
Those who sit in a local legislative seat and say that gay and lesbian Americans don’t deserve equality and respect under the law [“Uproar in D.C. as Same-Sex Marriage Gains,” May 6] simply fail to grasp what it means to be different than the heterosexual norm we are all taught from the moment socialization begins — and how feeling that difference so profoundly weighs down so many gay men and lesbians. Some who are opposed to equality for gay and lesbian Americans are just bigots. Most, however, simply do not understand because no one has helped them know what it means to be gay in our society. I don’t believe D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) is a bigot — he just doesn’t understand.
Growing up, I knew virtually no diversity. In the small college town of Greencastle, Ind., my presumptions about racial differences in this country were challenged. I learned that even when no overt bigotry is present, subtle prejudices still can permeate and degrade some groups.
Barry undoubtedly has felt and continues to witness such subtle prejudice against African Americans, even in Washington. That is why I ask him and other local legislators to reflect on the effect that their opposition to basic fundamental rights has on young gay and lesbian teens.
It doesn’t matter what Barry says or what portion of his record he highlights in an effort to mitigate the harm he has done. It doesn’t matter if he reassures gays and lesbians that he “tolerates” or “respects” us. All that these young teens see is yet another person — this time a community leader — labeling them as unworthy of equality.
Equality does not require preferential treatment; nor does it coerce private institutions like churches into believing what they don’t believe. Equality is a principle that our country was founded upon and that generations have fought for. It is the means for demonstrating to our gay friends and family that they have a stigma-free place in society.
I ask Marion Barry to learn about his gay and lesbian neighbors: to get to know us and to see how our lives are affected by both outright bigotry and the more subtle kind of prejudice that permeates even tolerant places such as the D.C. Council’s chambers.
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