This year’s Coming Out Week couldn’t have been more aptly timed. As the wound of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi’s tragic suicide still burns in our collective consciousness — and the abhorrent attacks on Michigan Student Assembly President Chris Armstrong continue to affect our own campus — the gay community certainly deserved an affirmation of support. And I’ve got to say that during this week of increased tolerance and awareness, an unusual feeling of pride has come over me.
I’ll admit, when it comes to displays of gay pride, I’m not always the loudest in the crowd. Sure, I write columns from time to time expressing support for gay causes. I’m more than comfortable with my sexual identity. But I’ve never worn a rainbow pin, nor have I adorned a bedroom wall with a pride flag. I don’t take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Spectrum Center and I’ve only peripherally been involved with organized gay life.
I guess I’ve just never felt the need. In high school, I was blessed with an unusually large gay community. My family, friends and teachers were all supportive. My life as a gay man at the University has been a continuation of my complacent high school experience.
But walking around campus these days and seeing the words “Expect Respect” emblazoned on bulletin boards and backpacks, has roused me from complacency and filled me with pride — for my fellow Wolverines. In the past few weeks, this campus has come alive with support for the LGBTQ community. Viewpoints in the Daily, Monday’s vigil in the Diag to commemorate several recent suicides of gay teens and statements by University President Mary Sue Coleman have all championed tolerance and equality.
Such support has played into a national discussion on homophobia currently underway among politicians and the media. As gay rights leaders take the spotlight on the national news and concerned columnists pen their opinions in influential newspapers, more Americans are starting to understand the imminent danger of homophobia. Revealing the viciousness of intolerance will surely result in increased acceptance of gays and lesbians. And with a string of recent legislative and judicial victories for gay rights, members and allies of the LGBTQ community have reason to be optimistic.
On Tuesday, Federal District Court Judge Virginia Philips ruled that the ban on gays serving openly in the military is unconstitutional. This ruling is the latest in a promising sequence of milestones for gay rights advocates. In the past six years alone, gay marriage has been legalized in five states and the District of Columbia, and fair employment and anti-hate crime measures continue to be introduced in state legislatures across the country. It’s increasingly likely that within most of our lifetimes, institutional discrimination against the American LGBTQ community will become a thing of the past. Society is certainly moving in the right direction.
But, of course, even amidst impressive political victories, homophobia still takes its toll. And in spite of all the publicity, I’m skeptical of homophobia’s staying power in public discourse. I sadly suspect that the fascination with gay identity is just the media’s pet topic this month. In the coming weeks or months, after the news has shifted to other things, will Americans continue to focus on important questions of sexuality in society? Probably not.
That’s why it’s imperative that as citizens and community leaders, we don’t take for granted the progress we’ve made. We can’t rest on our forward-thinking laurels and assume that the rest of the country is just like Ann Arbor. Once all the controversy surrounding Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell’s blog dies down — and hopefully, that’ll be soon — we must not forget the lessons it has taught us. For even in the best of times, there are always thorns in the side of progress.
On Oct. 7, the pro-life student group, “Students for Life,” invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, to speak at the University. Billed as a civil rights leader continuing “the dream” of her inspirational uncle, King used her time to rail against abortion and suggest that gay people are friends of Satan. Far from an advocate of progress or civil rights, King used her invitation to the University to further a radical religious agenda and spew intolerance. While King’s views may seem more extreme than the norm, she represents the views of a significant fraction of Americans still opposed to gay rights.
As educated citizens, it’s our responsibility to counteract such narrow-mindedness. The past few weeks have proven that as members of a community, we’re capable of joining together to promote tolerance and respect. And during this week of pride, that fact gives all of us at the University something to be proud of.
Matthew Green can be reached at email@example.com.