Via Andrew Sullivan, there’s a Newsweek poll out showing increased support for LGBT legal rights, including same-sex marriage, and a correlated rise in the number of people who say they know someone gay.
One reason that tolerance for gay marriage and civil unions may be on the rise is that a growing number of Americans say they know someone who’s gay. While in 1994, a NEWSWEEK Poll found that only 53 percent of those questioned knew a gay or lesbian person, that figure today is 78 percent. Drilling down a bit more, 38 percent of adults work with someone gay, 33 percent have a gay family member and 66 percent have a gay friend or acquaintance.
Back in the early 1990s, when I was in the process of coming out in the DePauw community, one friend used to mock me for thinking that the long-term key to increased respect and acceptance is, basically, for everyone just to come out, as openly as possible. “You think the answer for everything is for us to all come out,” she, semi-closeted, chastized me.
Well, yes. I still believe this, and the Newsweek poll gives some validation. Negative stereotypes are best dispelled by confrontation with positive realities. Straight allies are key; heterosexuals outnumber the rest of us by a huge proportion. Parents, siblings, and friends of those of us who are other than heterosexual have huge impact. Not just in politics, but also through their acceptance and love, which helps those of us who grew up with self-loathing heal from it, and for younger generations to grow up healthier and healthier.
DePauw has been committed for decades to diversifying its faculty. We used to be nearly all married white men. Forty or fifty years ago, single men were presumed to be heterosexual “bachelors,” so absorbed in their work that they didn’t have time to find a wife, or who just preferred be single. That was the cultural pretense, anyway; to be openly gay would have meant dismissal under a “morals” clause in faculty contracts; to have openly suggested someone was gay would cause a scandal.
The faculty and student body are much more diverse these days. And the DePauw administration and Board of trustees are enormously gay-positive.
But there’s still that being out thing. It’s easy for students to know who their women, Hispanic, African-American, African, Asian, etc., teachers and fellow students are. But the queer faculty? Our LGBT-ness can be invisible if we don’t conform to stereotypes. Since I’m not particularly effeminate in my speech or mannerisms, and am divorced with two children, many students assume that I’m straight, unless I do something to make it clear that I’m not.
How to do it is the question.
I don’t have a partner I can occasionally refer to in the way that heterosexually-married people casually mention their spouses, or to put a picture of on my desk. I used to make little speeches on Coming Out Day, but that always felt awkward. Long ago I wrote an article published in the student newspaper; that cleared everything up for a few years, anyway. A colleague told me I’d need to write one every four years. But I haven’t felt like doing that (maybe I should!)
So just I make occasional comments reflecting the fact I’m gay. We were talking in a class about an upcoming on-campus recital by the famously handsome singer Nathan Gunn. A young women in the class mentioned one of her friends wants to marry him: I spontaneously and somewhat enthusiastically replied that I would, too, if only he wasn’t married to a a woman. We laughed; it took a few seconds. Everyone then knew I was gay, and I hadn’t needed to make a big deal out of it. I mentioned how important looks have become classical-music, especially opera careers, and how it seems to me that certain gay critics sometimes spend a lot of time reviewing Nathan Gunn’s pectorals when he does one of his shirtless roles. All of which was relevant in a class that deals in part with career-building and publicity.
[12/17/08 edit: I've removed the anecdote that followed here, as well as the comments relating to it. When I wrote the post, I incorrectly assumed that hardly anyone actually reads the blog, and that none of my students do. (No student of mine had mentioned the blog to me or posted a comment for years, whether at its old location or this). That turns out not to be the case, I've since learned. In that context, the inclusion of that in-class anecdote is inappropriate. Lesson learned on my part. My apologies to those in the class who were upset. It wan't my intention. Feel free to contact me directly if you'd like a more personal apology.]