Gay rights and wrongsWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
One of the great blessings of my life is the consistent, long-term presence of many friends. There are three very important people who have been in my life since first or second grade. More than a dearth of blood relatives makes those people my family; we have shared 30 years of ups and downs on the dizzying carousel ride of life.
Two of those people, and my closest blood relative, are gay.
I have been tangentially immersed in the gay culture for so long, it’s a natural and common aspect of life. Three decades of loving these friends and family and sharing their successes in managing careers and raising families has jaded me to the hatred and prejudice many people harbor against the gay community. It’s easy for me to let my guard down and take gay culture for granted. As a middle-aged, overweight white guy with graying facial hair, I am America’s ruling demographic, so the gay rights struggle is something I experience secondhand, like my black friends’ struggles and my wheelchair-bound friend’s struggles.
In the interest of full disclosure, at least three women I dated in college subsequently declared themselves gay, so I’ve directly contributed to the community’s growth.
Because I have such intense love and respect for the people in my life who are gay, it never makes sense to me when I hear someone preaching anti-gay rights propaganda. I can never understand why they care.
It’s basic Golden Rule territory: don’t judge people for the color of their skin or their physical challenges, and don’t judge them for their sexuality. I know that is a simplified and naïve statement, but for me, the issue really is that simple. There are people who are so strongly anti-gay rights, they lust for legislation to limit the gay community’s freedoms. That makes no intellectual or moral sense to me. Some of this prejudice is based in religion. I find it confusing that people who believe in a savior who opens his arms to everyone think he’ll draw those same arms shut to keep gay people away.
And do not tell me you are “tolerant” or “tolerate” gay people. Stop for a moment and think about how condescending and evil that attitude is.
Every month, some anonymous reader sends me a packet of articles photocopied from newspapers. These articles are about gay rights, marked up with a red pen that bleeds exclamation points with scrawls of “HIV” and “AIDS Doom” all over them. I recognize the envelope now, and it lands, unopened, in the trash.
On March 26, I moderated a town hall meeting sponsored by Equality Ohio and Equality Toledo. The meeting, “A Level Playing Field,” dealt with issues of employment discrimination against gay people. It was lightly attended, but the attendees, including a couple who drove from Youngstown, were clearly invested in the issue. The panelists were Michelle Stecker, attorney and interim executive director of Equality Toledo; Kim Welter, program manager for education and outreach for Equality Ohio; and Rob Salem, a clinical professor of law at the UT College of Law.
There were many interesting discussions, and I learned a lot about Ohio’s gay rights laws, or lack thereof. I left the forum with a vague sadness — sadness that there is so much needless public struggle and strife based on something as private as sexuality, and sadness that I have been ignorant to the struggles some of my closest friends endure.
One message that came through was how far behind Ohio is in gay rights. A single gay Ohioan may adopt a child, but a gay Ohio couple cannot. A gay couple may raise a child, but if something happens to the biological parent or primary caregiver, the partner may find him or her self without legal access to the child.
The frequent denial of health care benefits leads to horror stories. According to the panelists, UT has offered domestic partner benefits since then-president Dan Johnson signed them into effect. The Medical University of Ohio did not offer those benefits. When the institutions merged, UT employees retained the domestic-partner benefits, but MUO employees were not offered them. So, people working for the same employer do not have access to the same benefits. According to the panel, it may be 18 months before the situation is addressed. Eighteen months is a very long time to live (and work at a medical facility) without health benefits.
Ohio’s policies have a direct impact on economic development. The panelists have specific examples of companies who will not consider locating in Ohio because they have gay employees who would lose benefits.
There have been studies that show how much states benefit economically from offering equal rights, and how much money is left on the table by states that put prejudice before profit. It would be in the best interest of the local Meta-Plan groups to host a presentation by Equality Ohio to learn just how great our competitive disadvantage is.
It’s a sad irony that I embrace so many gay people without fully understanding their challenges; as the people who know me best could tell you, I’m on a very long learning curve. But I’m willing to learn.