By Stephanie Neighbour ~ I’ve always referred to the gay lifestyle as the mother of all loopholes. No one ever expected us to get married, raise children or even stay with the same partner for any significant length of time. My family fully embraced the concept of never having to get too comfortable with any one new “friend” or even discuss the subject of sexual orientation. For most of my life I was comfortable with the status quo of nightclubs, parties, serial dating and praying I wasn’t one of the people whose photo was captured at area pride events. As I continued to nurture my own internalized homophobia and self-medicate to control the inevitable side effects of denial, such as anxiety, there were rumblings of a movement afoot. People began bringing up the topic of gay marriage, families, adoption and civil rights. What the heck were they smoking? Did they seriously think that John Q. Public could ever learn to accept and embrace gay people as equals?
I can’t tell you specifically the first time I was approached by a person who asked me to sign a petition in support of gay marriage but it had to be at least ten years ago. I was attending a local event with friends when an enthusiastic volunteer approached us with her pen and clipboard. She rambled through her well-rehearsed speech about the politics and importance of marriage equality. She went on to explain that their group was working towards changes in the current legislature. I may have been naive about the importance of this particular cause but I was not about to add rude to my already questionable social profile. A few people in our group flat out laughed and walked away. However, I stayed and listened quietly to her explanation of why she was passionate about fighting for our rights. So here stands a volunteer representative, fighting for civil rights and the very people she was fighting for were walking away in droves. I smiled, wished her well, signed the petition and then went to locate my group who, as expected, were back to partying at a nearby beer truck. After rejoining my posse, I recall making snarky remarks about my intent to give Monopoly money for the wedding gifts. I’m the first one to admit, I was an immature idiot who had no clue about the importance of the work these dedicated, insightful and trailblazing folks were doing. I had the unique privilege of meeting a total stranger who was working each day to make my world a better place. Unfortunately, I lacked the maturity to understand the importance of it along with the impact they would have on society.
I was young, ignorant, arrogant and to be honest, afraid of my own shadow. After a lifetime of being taught to hide my true self, stay in the shadows and never speak up, I found myself increasingly surrounded by a community that was no longer content to be silent. What most of us failed to realize is those who refused to sit silent were stepping up and taking the hits for the betterment of the entire LGBT community. I remember talking to a few members of the beer truck crew and we all gave the marriage equality advocates credit for their efforts. We also believed that their dreams would never come to fruition; at least not in our lifetime.
I am far from a fossil, however, I did grow up in a time where marching around, waving a flag and declaring your homosexuality was not exactly the hip thing to do. I discovered my sexual orientation in the years before every sitcom had a gay storyline and MTV aired nothing but music videos or interviews with iconic rock stars. There were no proud coming out moments for celebrities but instead, they were dragged kicking and screaming while denying the rumors unearthed by ruthless investigative reporters. Gay life remained on the down low with nothing but unsubstantiated rumors and innuendos with very few being brave enough to step up and speak their truth. Those who were courageous and openly declared their homosexuality were not given talk shows, magazine covers or a spot on Oprah’s couch. Instead, they risked losing everything from endorsements to television shows and believe me, it happened. Ellen DeGeneres, who is now one of America’s sweethearts and rightfully so, nearly lost everything when she came out. Her sitcom was cancelled, advertisers bailed, endorsements were scarce but she fought the good fight and because of brave people like her, my world has become a far better place.
For more than fifteen years, I have watched what was once considered a grass roots movement become part of mainstream society. Long gone are the days where speaking out about being gay is taboo, unless of course you are in the presence of my father but that remains a topic for a different article. Thankfully, I have matured since the days of the beer truck crew and at 47, I fully understand the importance of same-sex couples having equal rights. I am proud to join my community, share my truth and stand up for what’s right. I believe that each time we sit silent in the face intolerance, it paves the way for the hate mongers to spew their ugly messages.
I live in New Jersey where this week a Supreme Court ruling allowed us to become the 14th state to legalize same-sex marriages. Of course our Governor Christie vetoed the original bill, which was passed in February 2012 and he vowed to take the issue all the way to the high courts. His resolution was to put the matter on the November ballot and allow the people of the state to decide. Why you ask? The answer seems pretty straightforward if you consider that this colorful, opinionated and sometimes rude politician has long been rumored to have his sites set on the White House in 2016. From what I have read, I don’t think Governor Christie has any personal agenda against gay people or gay marriage for that matter. What I do think is that in an effort to avoid having any liberal blood on his hands, he did what he had to do in order to keep his conservative factions content. In doing so, he has definitely lost his street cred in the gay community and I have lost my respect for a governor who I once felt was always being thrown under the bus. This is a man who prides himself on saying that with him, what you see is what you get. However, the way he played the slimy political game with the gay marriage issue shows me that he is no different than every other politician. They opt to position themselves for what is in their best interest before that of the people they are elected to represent.
I’ll leave you with one example of why I feel marriage equality is so very important. I’ve been with my partner for close to ten years and we have never had an encounter where an establishment did not acknowledge our relationship. She also happens to be an attorney and because my family refuses to recognize our relationship, we’ve discussed the need for proper legal planning along with our desire to eventually move forward with a legal marriage. I still refuse to wear any kind of dress but I digress. This week she had a doctor’s appointment for a minor skin issue, however, she gets quite nervous and forgets to ask the important questions. We agreed to meet at the doctor so I could go in the exam room and brief the physician about her list of symptoms. Long story short, we were both coming from work and when I arrived she had already been taken to an examination room. She listed my name on all the paperwork and told the nurses that I, her partner, was on the way. When I entered the office, I was greeted by a matronly woman, wearing cat-eye glasses and sitting behind two sliding windows. When she asked for my information, I told her I was there to meet my partner, Laurie, who was already in with the doctor. She glanced over the top of her outdated glasses and told me to have a seat because she could not allow me to be taken to the exam room. I once again told her that I was Laurie’s partner and demanded to be taken to the room. Once again she told me to have a seat, slammed the windows closed and spun her chair around. I watched as the office staff shuffled around, trying to figure out how to handle the irritated gay looming in the waiting area. Eventually, a smiling nurse opened a door, waved me in and offered up a quick apology as she led me to Laurie’s room.
Following the appointment, I was once again face-to-face with the cat-eyed receptionist. I’ve been around long enough to know when I am in the company of a person who does not approve of my lifestyle and she was one of them. As we walked out, I told Laurie I would have never been treated that way had I been a concerned husband. She agreed. There are no laws that will abolish intolerance, ignorance and hate but I never felt more grateful for that stranger who approached me with the clipboard so many years ago. At that moment, I grabbed Laurie’s hand and said, “I’m really happy we have the option to make this legal.” She agreed and then began to rattle off a detailed description of the ring she expects. I’m definitely going to need a few bestsellers, a lounge act in Vegas or a cheesy hit show on TLC.
This is a special ‘shout out’ to my good friend Stephanie Neighbour. Thank you for writing this great piece and sharing it with all of us here at Indie It Press. Your talent and bravery amazes me! All my love, Leisa Greene ~ Indie It Gal