Homophobia and hatred killed dozens of our gay/lesbian family this weekend in a horrific, incomprehensible massacre in an Orlando nightclub.
Many (straight) people on social media and around water coolers in offices everywhere have been pondering whether it is possible that homophobia is still alive and well in 2016. After all, don’t gays/lesbians have the right to marry now? Don’t we even have our own parades, our own special Pride week? Haven’t we come a long way, baby?
And, yes, we have indeed made progress since the days when cops raided gay/lesbian bars and rounded us up and carted us off to jail, beating us badly along the way. We have, for instance, gained the legal right to marry in the United States, a feat that seemed impossible when I first came out at age 17.
But the thing that straight people don’t realize is that to be a lesbian is to live in a parallel universe alongside heterosexuals, but separated by a thin one-way veil.
We can see them, but they never truly see us.
Homophobia, bias, straight privilege, and discrimination don’t usually show up with an AR-15 assault rifle, thank goodness.
But they show up in thousands of other subtle and not-so-subtle ways, often from a smiling friend/coworker or a much-loved relative, and always with the same message: You are a second-class citizen.
I honestly believe that most (normal, intelligent, reasonable) straight people truly do not intend to be offensive, and, from my experience, they actually are quite surprised, unaware, and contrite when their homophobia is pointed out.
Here are just a few examples of comments/actions that I have personally experienced from well-meaning, straight (so-called) allies/friends:
- “I just don’t see why gay people need to call it marriage. Why not just call it something else, like civil union?”
- “My boyfriend and I have been together 20 years and we’ve never gotten married, so I don’t know why the gay marriage issue is so important.”
- “It’s fine if you’re a lesbian, and we can still be friends, but I just can’t support gay marriage.”
- “Hate the sin, not the sinner.”
- “It’s God’s place to judge, not mine.”
- “I wouldn’t want my children to see 2 women kissing on TV.”
- “But you could get a man…”
- “The Ellen show was good until she came out, but then it was all about being gay and not interesting anymore so I stopped watching it.”
- When traveling with straight women friends with my ex, our straight female friends would often come jump in bed with us, never once treating us as a couple, even though they knew we were. (A comparable situation in reverse would be if I simply walked into a bedroom of a straight female friend and her husband, wearing a skimpy nightgown, and crawled into bed between them).
- Straight female friends hold hands in public with their male partners, without having to worry about potential violence because of it, not understanding that lesbians constantly have to scan the environment and analyze every situation for possible danger. When this fact was pointed out later, during a discussion, one friend flippantly said, “Oh, if I were a lesbian, I’d just do anything I wanted.”
- A former coworker, a straight married woman, asked me to lunch, and at lunch, tells me she would like to have sex with me “to see what it’s like”. I pointed out that she had met my (now ex) lesbian partner many times, and reminded her that I was in a long-term monogamous relationship. The straight coworker actually looked surprised and said she didn’t know that it counted as cheating for 2 women to have sex.
- “It’s fine if people are gay/lesbian, I just don’t know why you need to talk about it.”
- “I wish I were a lesbian. Life would be so much easier.”
- “Any woman can choose to be a lesbian. I might just start playing for the other team one day.”
- The hospital scheduler called to schedule my mammogram a couple of weeks ago. She asked me if I am married, and I replied “yes”. She then asked what my husband’s name is, despite the fact that it’s been legal for lesbians to marry for almost a year now.
I will assume that my readers can easily see the problems with these examples, so I will not write a dissertation to describe the multiple ways in which these instances are offensive. (If there are any questions as to why any of these examples are inherently problematic, just let me know and I will be happy to explain further).
Straight people typically don’t realize how they are personally contributing to gay/lesbian invisibility and homophobia every time they do not stop to question their heterocentric assumptions.
Many are even hesitant to call the Orlando massacre what it was: both an act of terror and an act of homophobia.
This was not a random attack; a gay bar was specifically targeted and gays/lesbians were massacred on purpose. (Although it appears at this time that the attack was primarily targeted at gay men, obviously, lesbians were murdered as well).
And it doesn’t matter whether the murderer himself was a homosexual filled with self-hate, as is currently being speculated, or whether he was simply a homophobic, hate-filled bigot for other reasons. We may never know the full truth, but, regardless of the answer, this massacre illustrated homophobia at it’s most extreme, whether that homophobia is internalized and/or externalized.
To gloss over the obvious fact that this mass murder was a crime of hate against gays and lesbians, to say it is a crime against all of humanity or to simply call it a random act of terror, is yet another way of saying to gays and lesbians that we are invisible and that our lives don’t matter.
To deny how deeply this hurts gays and lesbians as a community is yet another slap in the face, albeit one that well-intentioned straight people most likely don’t realize they are committing.
As the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.