Same-sex marriage: Right or wrong? — Perspectives on same-sex marriage within the gay community
In March 2004, L.A. Youth invited two men who got married in San Francisco and a gay-rights activist to offer their perspectives on same-sex marriage.
In March 2004, L.A. Youth held two discussions on same-sex marriage, exploring Christian and gay perspectives on the issue, with the help of guest speakers with an interest in the topic. Here is the full text of the Gay perspectives discussion.
Perspectives on same-sex marriage within the gay community
Andy of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG): Ron and I are here with PLAG. PFLAG is Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and it’s basically a support advocacy group on behalf of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
… We actually did get married a month ago in San Francisco so you can guess that our feeling is very much in favor of gay marriage. … I’ve always believed that gays should be able to get married but I would have settled for domestic partnership. As long as we have the rights; it’s really the rights that I care about. I just want to be able to take care of each other, to visit each other in the hospital and things like that and the word wasn’t a big deal to me. But now that we’ve actually gotten married, the word has become a much bigger deal to me and I see that in my opinion, it really is separate but equal to call it marriage for some people and domestic partners for others. And now that we are married, I really feel strongly that it should be the same for everyone.
Ron of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG): I agree. After we were married, the thought came to my head: ‘I’m a first-class citizen again.’ Most people don’t even think about that. And it’s true. I’m legally married to someone I love, as my brothers are to their wives. It felt very good—very happy. And I hope we’ll be able to keep our marriage the way it is. The controversy—will it be annulled in a matter of years? We will fight to keep our marriage legal.
Eric Wat, author of The Making of a Gay Asian Community: From a legal perspective, I think there is no issue. Gays and lesbians should be able to marry just like anybody else. From a legal perspective, it’s an issue of discrimination and I don’t think you need a law degree to see that. What I am concerned about though is the social implications on our communities because you don’t do something like this without having some values being normalized or installed in the community and what could that mean? I’m a historian so I always look back into history to see what happened in a sort of parallel episode.
I just finished teaching a class at UCLA. It’s a lesbian, gays, bisexuals, transgender studies class on community formation and we talked about HIV/AIDS and how that changed our community. A lot of people started coming out. In some ironic way it was a good thing because a lot of people started coming out, a lot of people started being active, a lot of people started talking about things that they wouldn’t otherwise talk about. But in other ways, it also creates different classes within our community and a lot has to do with the times it was in. It was the Reagan era. We’re talking about the promotion of conservative family values and so one of the strategies in the beginning of HIV/AIDS was to de-gay the disease, to say that AIDS is not a gay disease. And it’s not. Not only gays get the disease. But the point of the matter is that a lot of people who are gay did get AIDS, and they’re not being taken care of not necessarily because they got AIDS, but because they ‘re gay too. Because society decided to neglect them; they don’t want to see them … they became invisible. So there was a lot of effort in the beginning, even from our community, to say “we’re not promiscuous, we can be monogamous like anyone else.” There was some policy about shutting down bath houses and all these things that were going on, that frankly a lot of people in the community didn’t agree with. Closing down the bathhouses was a huge controversy in the gay community because a lot of people see that the fact that they were able to express themselves sexually, publicly, is something that is very dear to them, because they have been sexually repressed all their lives.
And you also have to consider the times that this is taking place. It’s right after the 60s and 70s. There’s the whole feminist movement. People are questioning all kinds of institutions in America, including marriage. So you can critique marriage from a feminist perspective. It’s so funny because I saw a cable public affairs show before I came here. They were interviewing Condi Rice; she’s a civil rights attorney, she’s African American. She started out in the civil rights arena working with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She went on and defended the bus riders union. She’s a really progressive cause in the community. She was talking about how when she was in college she took tae kwon do because she felt like she needed to protect herself. She got into a fight with a man and she lost that fight so she decided to take tae kwon do as a self-defense strategy. Her brother and father were really upset. The reason they were upset is well, if she has a black belt or knows tae kwon do, she’s never going to get married. Her reaction was, “well, I’m not planning on getting married, there’s all these things I want to do.” We were living in an age in which some women were not even thinking marriage is the only option for them. They’re going against the idea that this is the only way for a woman to fulfill herself. That somehow if you’re not married, something’s wrong with you—you’re not whole. In the 80s we heard all these ridiculous statistics about single women under the age of 35; they’re as likely to get married as getting kidnapped by terrorists. It just goes to show you there’s a critique of marriage from a feminist perspective.
There’s a critique of marriage from a class perspective too. That marriage is a vehicle for profits—used to be handed down, to be consolidated. I don’t know how true that is. That’s a Marxist critique that I never really identified with that much.
A few years ago I was on the gay and lesbian community funding board. Get applications for working on diversity of issues regarding gay and lesbian issues. We get about 30 applications and fund about 12 of them. Two years ago we actually got a couple of applications around same-sex marriage. Both of them got turned down because both of them were actually statewide networks who tried to come into L.A. and organize when they have no basis. This is in some ways irrelevant. But the idea was this is not an issue that was identified by the local grassroots organization—the gay and lesbian community—as something they wanted to work on. No one else besides those two organizations were saying, “let’s work on gay marriage.” There’s been a network, called Equality for California, that has been working on this issue for some years. This is not a new issue in some ways, but it’s a statewide issue; and some people questioned on the board when we were going through the funding, whether or not this is really an issue about social justice in some strange way. Some people define social justice one way. Grassroots people define what the issues are, not from the top down. To a lot of people this felt like a top down issue.
When I was teaching the class at UCLA, I had a person from the African American lesbian organization come talk and she started talking about gay marriage. And she made this observation that at least on TV, the people that you see getting married are seldom people of color and she wondered why that is. And this is in San Francisco, which is a pretty diverse city. And then I have a group of five students who work with the LA gay and lesbian center and the students reported the same thing. A lot of the volunteers—the staff, the centers—are white and not people of color. They’re also trying to figure out why that is. Why people of color are not necessarily interested in this issue. This is all anecdotal; this is not scientific. One of them came up with a really good observation—that the whole campaign was trying to target voters. And if you target voters, then you’re going to target a certain kind of population.
These are things I’m more concerned about. Who are we leaving out? As the gay community, and also from a historical perspective, we tend to start out with an issue and then you get so narrow that we drop a lot of people off. I refer back to HIV/AIDS. I don’t know how much you know about the HIV/AIDS movement in the United States, but it wouldn’t have been as successful as it is if not for the participation of lesbians. I’ll tell you why that is. Because before there was HIV/AIDS, there was a women’s movement talking about health issues. And it was the women’s movement that built all these health clinics in the community that talk about peer education, health promotion in the community—that wasn’t funded by the government. It’s all about self-help. They talk about issues around lack of access, lack of knowledge and research about diseases that affect women. All these things—that when HIV/AIDS hit, there was an infrastructure that the lesbians and women were bringing on to help gay men figure this out. A few years down the line, the strategy changed from questioning the whole health care system to more of a treatment angle. It’s no longer a question of why people aren’t being taken care of, but “let’s find a cure for HIV/AIDS.” Which is really beneficial for a certain population, but for people who don’t have health insurance, it doesn’t matter if you have a cure for AIDS, you can’t afford it. Again, we tend to narrow the question to a point where we drop people off.
Again, I have no qualms about people getting married regardless of their sexual orientation. It should be a choice left up to people. People should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. I’ll use this example around immigrant rights. I think a lot of people would get married—especially if their partner was not a citizen—they would get married so they could stay. But I think if you’re an immigrant of color who doesn’t have status here, there’s a lot of issues besides gay marriage that might prevent you from changing here. I’m primarily pointing to the climate we’re in after 9/11. A lot of people aren’t getting in because we’re closing down the borders. To what extent are we going to be able to translate whatever victory I think we will gain to some of these larger immigration issues, if what we are going after is the rights associated with marriage. How are we as a community going to be able to connect with these struggles? Those are the concerns that I’m interested in, and I’m not too optimistic about that, frankly.
… We shouldn’t look at marriage as just the end of the struggle. That we have become just like anyone else; now there’s nothing to fight for. I think it’s a danger to think that, and not challenge the assumption about what marriage, the pressure that marriage puts on people.
I think that some of you talked about earlier before we started—if a gay student would feel validated if they know they can get married. As a person of color, you know that’s not true. Because a person of color will never get validated—sometimes in the classroom—and they can get married. There’s a lot of other things besides marriage that influence how we see ourselves. I think it will be better for a student to think they can get married. But if you think that’s going to end any kind of discrimination, any kind of hatred towards gay people, that’s another story. I do have some concern about the struggle. But in some ways, the train has left the station. If this doesn’t happen, it will be a lot worse for all of us. So you’ve got to go with the train, pretty much.
Andy of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG): We were there two full days. We got there on a Sunday. I proposed to Ron on Friday. Valentine’s Day was Saturday. I proposed on a Friday and he said yes. I said “Let’s go to Van Nuys,” because Beverly Hills was closed. I said, “Let’s go to Van Nuys and apply for a marriage license,” knowing full well they would turn us down. I felt like, let’s just try it. And then with what was going on in San Francisco, I said “Let’s just fly up to San Francisco, where they will give us a license.” So we flew up to San Francisco and we got there Sunday and we were so excited. I think this does a lot to make marriage special again because you see what the gays and lesbians are going through to get married. You know everybody was talking about Britney Spears went to Vegas, got married, got annulled, blah, blah, blah. You had gay and lesbian couples who have been together 20 years who camped out in the rain to get married. To me this really elevates marriage to a special thing that people are willing to work for the right to do it. It kind of makes it more special to me.
We got there Sunday; there was like a thousand people around City Hall and we found out there was no way they could marry us Sunday. They said come back Monday, but we also can’t guarantee we can marry you Monday. We had a nice warm hotel room. We slept out on the ground outside City Hall. Which would have been fine, but it started pouring rain. It was kind of pathetic. We slept holding umbrellas so we couldn’t sleep. And of course the one person who could sleep was the loudest snorer you ever heard, on top of everything. So we slept out in the rain and we got in the next morning and we got married. While it was not fun while it was raining, but I’m so glad we did it because it just made it that much more special.
What I wanted to say was the next day we came back and volunteered because there was a threat that a judge was going to stop it, which didn’t happen. But we volunteered to get as many people married as possible before the injunction that we thought would order it stopped. I wanted to say that I think the debate in the gay community is a very valid one, over the representation of communities of color within the gay community. And my experience having been there two full days was that there were many people of color getting married, and also many mixed couples. My experience was there was a significant number of people of color and a lot of mixed relationships, which I thought was wonderful.
Ron of PFLAG: There were couples there that had been together 20 years or more. They were there because they were in love with each other. Not necessarily to make a statement, but to be married.
Andy of PFLAG: Everyone was crying; it was just so emotional.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth Managing Editor: You said marriage is not the end of the struggle; it’s a danger to think that. I wondered if you guys could talk about attitudes that you’ve seen towards homosexuality among youth.
César Delgado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: Actually in my psychology class that I’m taking right now they don’t really talk about this that much, but they did just one period, actually. And actually I found out that a lot of the guys … I’m personally against gay marriage but I’m for civil unions. And a lot of the guys, they said that they’re against gay marriage and they’re against homosexuals altogether. I just thought that was really stupid of them to say that, to just blurt it out without having anything to back what they’re saying. They’re just saying that to say it.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: What kinds of comments did you hear?
César Delgado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: I heard the f-word a lot. Not the four-letter one, but the … I just heard a bunch of bad things about them.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: You really got the feeling that a lot of people in the class who thought that homosexuality was bad and gay people were bad.
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: Yeah, but then there were other people—it was just a miniscule amount of people—inside the classroom that were actually trying to be understanding. They were bringing up this whole thing between separate but equal. They said, “isn’t that the same thing that happened in the 1960s.” But I don’t know, I just think that has some remnants of it, but I think it’s a totally different dynamic; it’s working with a totally different thing. My whole problems is because they’re getting married in the name of God. I think that’s a lot of people’s problems if you really get to the root of it, because this whole thing with the separation between the state and the church. It’s never going to happen. Though they say it happened, it’s never going to happen. I mean you’re never going to vote for an atheist president.
Guianna Henriquez, 17, Marlborough School: Was it mostly guys that were saying things against gays? Do you think that’s a guy thing; do you think it’s because they wanted to defend their masculinity?
[student's name removed]: I can imagine them talking, like they’re saying more against the guys, not throwing out the d-word for girls.
César Delgado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: I wasn’t really shocked because they’re guys. I’ve just seen so many people do things like this or say things like this. But I just thought they were saying it for all the wrong reasons. They didn’t really know what they were talking about. They were just saying it because they don’t really understand what’s going on.
Andy, PFLAG: They probably don’t even know a gay person personally.
Eric Wat, author of The Making of a Gay Asian Community: I think it’s in some ways self-defeating to say that religion is diametrically opposed to homosexuality. Up until two months ago there were probably more gay marriages recognized by churches than by states. People could get married in some churches. It’s ironic because it’s the state that won’t recognize gay marriages; it’s not the churches. The churches are coming around in some ways.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: César, you noticed that some of your classmates were saying bad things about gay people. How did you feel? You said you thought they were being stupid. How did your teacher react?
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: The guy’s one of those liberal teachers who doesn’t really do a lot of book work; he just holds discussions. The guy, Mr. Brown—I don’t know it’s just that I would actually say he’s one of the guys because if there’s like a volleyball game, we’ll go. We’ll watch movies sometimes. I guess he tries to relate it to psychology. I don’t know, I guess you could say that about anything. He didn’t defend any side; he just let the conversation roll.
Andy, PFLAG: Have people ever used racial epitaphs in the class? Like if someone used a bad word for a black person or a Jewish person, would he say something?
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: Yeah.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: But it’s OK to say certain bad things about gay people.
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: Yeah that’s also what bothered me. I just kind of wish that they weren’t on the opposing side, just because they didn’t really have anything good to say.
[student's name removed]: It’s like there’s a bunch of people who are against gay marriage. But a lot of people are a little bit more valid. They can explain why they’re against it. In the group of friends I hang out with there’s one girl who’s a lesbian. She’s really cool and we’re all friends with her and she does her whole social life out of school. But a lot of people who are really close to her and really good friends, they’re like, “well, I fully support her and I would never want her to be less than anyone else, but I’m definitely against gay marriage.” And it’s interesting because they would never want her to be less of a citizen than themselves, but they are against gay marriage. I guess they don’t see how interconnected they are.
Andy, PFLAG: César, you said you’re in favor of civil unions. How do you envision civil unions being different from marriage?
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: This whole thing where they say in the name of God. That’s just my perspective because I’ve been raised in a Protestant Christian home. I’ve always gone to church at least twice a week at the minimum. It’s just the way I’ve been raised. Civil unions, I know that you can call a civil union two straight roommates living together…you taking care of your elderly parents. I’m not for discriminating against anything or anyone, but I just don’t see how they can be married in the name of God, because the whole thing it’s a touchy subject, religion. That how when people say things like God bless you, which might be Christian. But they never say anything like Jesus Christ, they never involve the name Jesus Christ. Because then that would signify that they’re Christian. And other people don’t recognize Jesus Christ as holy.
Andy, PFLAG: I’m quite sure in our ceremony they never made any reference to God. And as a matter of fact I don’t think they’re allowed to even if we ask them to.
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: No, I mean the whole marriage thing, that’s under God. That’s what I’ve been taught.
Guianna Henriquez, 17, Marlborough School: I think I kind of understand what you’re saying. For you marriage is a Christian value, a religious institution. There’s a difference between having a religious marriage and a civil union, which is more of a governmental thing. Is that what you’re saying?
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: Yeah.
[student's name removed]: But what about—there’s a lot of heterosexual couples who get married by a judge and not by the church.
Guianna Henriquez, 17, Marlborough School: If the word marriage was abolished and all unions between a man and a woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman, whatever—was just a civil union, would that make a difference? There’d be no issue between the separate and equal.
Eric Wat, author of The Making of a Gay Asian Community: There’s no state-recognized marriage between anyone.
Guianna Henriquez, 17, Marlborough School: Everyone is just a civil union.
Andy, PFLAG: And then if the church wants to do a marriage …
Guianna Henriquez, 17, Marlborough School: And then that’s different.
Andy, PFLAG: Yeah there’s people who advocate that.
Guianna Henriquez, 17, Marlborough School: What do you guys think about that?
Andy, PFLAG: I don’t think that any church should have to marry us if they don’t want to, but I know that there’s also many rabbis who refuse to marry a Jew and a non-Jew. They’ll only perform weddings when both people are Jewish. And no one’s suing them and the state isn’t making them do it. And I would never force a church to marry us—whatever their reason for not doing it. Because we’re different races, because we’re different religions, because we’re both men. I don’t have the right to tell any church what to do; it’s only the state. It’s if our government is issuing marriage licenses to some couples, we think they should have to issue them to all consenting adult couples.
If everyone were getting a civil union, then we would take a civil union. It’s only while some people are getting marriage and some people are getting civil unions. And marriage is clearly the more favored thing.
The other reason, César, that I asked how you envision civil union is because currently even in Vermont where you get a civil union, you don’t get federal recognition of your marriage, so you don’t get federal benefits: social security, veterans , survivorship, things like that. You don’t get those. And then the civil union is not recognized by any other state. So I was wondering if your vision of civil union is the same as marriage, just a different word?
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: Like I said, I’m not for discriminating against anything or anyone. But I do think that people have the rights to have rights, just like anybody else. You can’t just leave it at “you can’t get married, period”. You have to give them an alternative.
Mike Fricano, L.A. Youth associate editor: So the things like the tax benefits, the visitation in a hospital, all that you’re saying should be included?
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: Yeah.
Andy, PFLAG: Because one thing that concerns me is that a lot of people are in favor of civil unions but not marriage, but I don’t know if they all realize it’s not really separate but equal because it’s far inferior. Because …
Ron, PFLAG: We don’t get the same rights in a civil union as we would a marriage.
Andy of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG): We find out all the time the additional rights we don’t have or we arguably have now. But I didn’t realize .We have insurance together of course. A married couple pays less than an unmarried couple. So I didn’t realize that by not having our marriage recognized, we’re paying a lot more for insurance. There’s little things like that every day. Of course people are more aware of the hospital visitation. But it’s like for social security, survivorship rights to collect the benefits. There’s like 1,049 rights that married couples have and unmarried couples don’t have.
Eric Wat, author of The Making of a Gay Asian Community: To answer your question, I don’t really care. It’s a word to me. It’s an important word but I’m worried about the value that people place on marriage—the unrealistic value that people place on marriage—and hence people who are not married, for example. This administration is notorious for doing things like if you’re a single mother, you get more rights if you’re married to someone who might be abusive. The marriage incentive for welfare. All these things that we place on there . Somehow, you’re not a complete person; you cannot be a good person unless you’re married. That’s the thing that I think we need to challenge in the longer term. I mean people should get married, fine. But for people who chose not to get married, I think that needs to be a valid option—and not they are on their way to get married eventually.
[student's name removed]: I was talking to dad about this after we had the thing last week. I’d never really had a real conversation with him about it. What he said about it, which I don’t really agree with, he supports gay marriage, but he thinks there needs to be something extra given to heterosexual couples, because the government needs to be promoting the ideal, and that’s sort of their responsibility.
Eric Wat, author of The Making of a Gay Asian Community: But if it’s the ideal, then why do you need to be promote it?
[student's name removed]: I was like, how can you say that’s the ideal? Is two horrible straight parents better than two loving gay parents? He’s like, well if you have two loving straight parents and two loving gay parents, which one is preferable. And I was like, neither. I don’t think either one is preferable.
Eric Wat, author of The Making of a Gay Asian Community: This is interesting because adults will often say this because you know, children cannot decide for themselves, right. They’re afraid that if we promote homosexuality then children will become homosexuals. What are younger people afraid of? For younger children, younger brothers and sisters getting corrupted? For themselves, that they may be susceptible to homosexuality.
[student's name removed]: I don’t know. A lot of other young people just think it’s sort of this other thing to the side. This is what’s normal and this sort of happens on the side. I think if they bring it into marriage, which is the mainstream thing, which most of their parents have gotten to do—they’re going to have to confront it more.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: Do you think your dad was uncomfortable talking to you about the topic?
[student's name removed]: No, he was comfortable. And I was comfortable talking to him. I’ve noticed this about a lot of my friends’ dads. He was really liberal as a younger man; he protested Vietnam. He’s getting more conservative…A lot of people do feel like a man and a woman is a more ideal set of parents for a child.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: Do you think it would be hard for your dad if he had a gay or lesbian child? If you had a sibling who was gay or lesbian, do you think that would be hard?
Zoë Beyer, 15, Marlborough School: It’s hard to say. He just thinks that the government needs to encourage the ideal.
Andy, PFLAG: When I hear that, it sounds like your dad maybe thinks that gay people can chose to be straight, because that would be the only reason to promote one over the other—to sway people who would otherwise chose gay marriage to enter into straight marriage. And of course my position is, I was born this way, there was nothing I could have done and I grew up during a time when it was still very, very difficult, as hard as it is now; it was very difficult to be gay. And I struggled with it. I never had a choice. And of course now that I’m happily married, I’m so glad I’m gay because the life I have I wouldn’t trade for anything. It really worked out for me. But I don’t think you choose. That’s why I think if you don’t choose it, you can let gay people marry and let straight people marry. One comedian jokes, if you let gay people marry, we’ll stop marrying you.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: I was wondering what you see at your school? Do you feel like people are accepting of homosexuality, or do they feel uncomfortable with it?
Barbara Lee, 17, Palisades HS: No, I think my campus is very liberal. The teachers, the students, They’re very liberal and they’re very open-minded. I don’t know a lot of gay people at my school. I’ve heard there are a couple but I’m not friends with them so I wouldn’t know. And we also were going to write an article about openly gay students at my school but then it didn’t end up getting in there. I didn’t have a chance to read it.
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: During the Valentine’s assembly a couple weeks ago, they actually had one girl recite a poem. The girl was a lesbian and she was talking about her lesbian experiences. A lot of people were really uncomfortable.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: How did you know they were uncomfortable?
César Deglado, 17, Foshay Learning Center: Everyone kind of got quiet and didn’t applaud until a couple seconds afterward. …
Guianna Henriquez, 17, Marlborough School: I think it’s kind of interesting. I’ve asked myself this question so many times. I’m totally for gay rights, but if my brother were to turn out to be gay, what would I think, what would I do, what would my parents think? How would that change my family? I think that’s such an interesting question, I think I got this sense from your dad. A lot of people are OK with other people being gay, but not someone in your family being like that. I think I’ve grown out of it. When I asked myself this question the first time I was like, oh my God what would I do? I couldn’t handle it. I’d be like this is crazy. But I think I’ve actually grown out of it. I don’t know why. I guess I’ve become more accepting of it.
Ron, PFLAG: If it was scientifically proven that being gay is biological from genetic makeup, would there be a difference of opinions? I wonder what with your guy’s friends. Would views change do you think?
Guianna Henriquez, 17, Marlborough School: I think definitely. I think it makes a huge difference if science says something is true. I took a gender and sexuality class last year and we talked about this, about different opposing views between people who write about how you’re biologically programmed to be gay and people who think it’s a choice. And I think it’s so complicated. I don’t know if you would ever be able to prove that, or against it.
Andy, PFLAG: I’d be willing to take an oath, you know under penalty of perjury, to tell you that I’ve always known I was gay and it wasn’t a choice. One thing I’ve noticed is when I’m watching TV, a lot of the people who are against equality for gay people are the people from conservative organizations. They’re not scientists or anything, and they’re not gay ostensibly, and they say “oh, it’s a choice.” And it’s like, if they’re not scientists and they’re not geneticists and they’re not gay, the only way a straight person would know it’s a choice is if the straight person could equally be gay or straight, and chose to be straight.
[student's name removed]: Is there any way it can be anything in between a choice and biological? I can’t really believe that it’s programmed into your genes, but I also don’t think it’s something you can switch on, like OK, I’m going to chose this.
Andy, PFLAG: People ask, how did you know you were gay. It’s similar to what it is for you, if you’re all straight. Just however you knew you were straight, it’s the same thing. Whenever you first felt attracted to someone, or you wanted to go on a date with someone, it’s the same thing.
[student's name removed]: There’s a lot of people who don’t really realize until later on in life. I can’t imagine, I mean I know this happens to people, but like I don’t see someone after college seeing guys and the gene switching on—like all of a sudden the gene switching on and they start losing their hair—like it’s programmed into them.
Ron, PFLAG: In high school and college I dated girls. I grew up in a Latino family, a very machismo family, Catholic, went to private Catholic school, all of it. As I think back as a kid I knew I was gay, but I was always felt pressured to have girlfriends, to date women. And I dated women all through high school and college. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I fell in love too. When you fall in love it will hit you like a ton of bricks, it will. That’s when I told myself, I can’t live a lie anymore. I’m gay; I’ve been gay my whole life. I just dated women to please my family, society.
Barbara Lee, 17, Palisades HS: How did your family respond?
Ron, PFLAG: Different. My mother was pretty upset; for the first hour, she cried. She was more concerned about me being discriminated against and about AIDS. That was her big fear. She was crying and saying, “I looked forward to seeing your wedding and see you with your children.” That’s what I’m going to miss about you being gay. I said, you’re not going to miss a thing. I can adopt easily and we can have a wedding, even though at that time we wouldn’t even think about being married. She also brought up God and religion and so forth. One thing she would say was the Bible says men and women are meant to procreate. That’s why marriage is valid. And I tell her what about heterosexual couples who are married and can’t procreate and can’t have children? She would say, they were born that way. And I would say, well I was born this way as well.
So we debated and she’s great now. As a matter of fact, she wanted to have a brunch for us and our marriage with the family. There was some protest with some of the family members, with their children. They didn’t want to have a brunch and mention that we were married. They were afraid their kids would be confused. So we didn’t end up having the brunch. The kids they were worried about were 4 and 5. I have four nieces, 4 and 5 and two 11 year olds. The 11-year-olds know we’re gay and we’re married now.
[student's name removed]: Were you upset?
Ron, PFLAG: Yeah, it was heartbreaking. My mom’s inviting us to have a brunch with just the family, and yeah, we were very disappointed.
Eric Wat, author of The Making of a Gay Asian Community: I’m not big on the biological argument. It just sounds to me like I got a bad gene, you know.
Like I wish I weren’t gay but I was born this way. I like what you said, that you were glad you’re gay now that you’re married. It’s a good thing that should be celebrated and it’s something that I would have chosen, it’s something that I might have chosen, I don’t know. I’m not convinced entirely that it’s biological. But even if it’s not, why should I get discriminated for choosing something that I’m expressing? Because it’s really hard to prove. I don’t know if the whole civil rights strategy is going to work in the long run. The whole premise of civil rights is you can’t discriminate against someone for something they can not change. What if I chose to be gay? Is that going to make it OK to discriminate against me? I wish we could in some way move toward the idea that even if it’s a choice, it’s OK to make that choice. That I wasn’t born with a bad gene and somehow it’s my mother’s fault. She might be responsible for a whole host of other things, but you know, enough.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: I’d like to look at what strategies you think might make a difference in the high school age group about the way people feel about gays and lesbians, that might make people feel less judgmental or afraid?
Andy, PFLAG: Maybe if you could have a week in a life of our life and how normal our life really is. They talk about how promiscuous gay people are and we party. I can’t wait to just get home and get into bed and relax and do nothing. We argue about who’s going to pick up the dry cleaning. It’s extremely normal. If people just realized how normal we are as a couple than any other couple.
[student's name removed]: The gay straight alliance did it (the day of silence)and they gave these cards that you can show people so you don’t have to talk. They say I’m participating in the day of silence. I did it, but I was in eighth grade and I wasn’t really doing it for the right reason, I was just doing it basically and so were all my friends. I don’t remember it being really successful. People were talking by the end of the day. People were mouthing out the words. I think if it went along with an assembly or something and they said what it was about and what the significance was, it would be better.
Guianna Henriquez, 17, Marlborough School: It was really interesting because the gay straight alliance had an assembly last year. What they did was, basically it was an act. It was if 10 percent of the population were straight instead of the other way around. It was showing us what it would be like if most people were gay and the minority was straight. Our school is liberal in many ways but not so liberal in other ways. They wouldn’t let the seventh and eighth graders be there, even though I don’t think it would influence them in any way. I think it’s because of the parents. They call in and they’re like what you do to my child, when maybe the children—they don’t really care.
[student's name removed]: There’s a fair amount of gay people at our school. It’s not a ton, but it’s an all-girls school and there’re lesbians there. Even my mom is like, do you think they would be lesbians if they didn’t—do you think it sort of encourages that or fosters that. I think that’s what some parents are scared of. They don’t want the school to seem like they’re growing lesbians, which they’re not.
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: What kind of message do you think we should be putting out to our readers about homosexuality? What do you think would open their eyes?
[student's name removed]: How are you going to deal with the people on the staff who are not homophobic, but who are against it?
Libby Hartigan, L.A. Youth managing editor: Julie is writing about how she believes homosexuality is a sin. We are trying to recruit those voices too.
[student's name removed]: I don’t think the important thing is really converting people or making people more tolerant or making everyone like gay marriage. I think that would be one, unsuccessful. Two, I don’t think that should be a goal. But I think showing everyone’s viewpoints, especially because there are people on the staff who have different opinions than what we’re talking about here. Showing all the opinions that people have—and the readers will then see all the different ways there are to think about it and approach it, and all the different angles to approach it. Like talking to people with gay parents. So, not just all the articles with the focus of getting people to change their minds.