Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Some Words From California

(This piece was originally written for the blog Protest H8 Portland, ME on November 12th, 2008)

I was born and raised in Bakersfield, California, a city of 350,000 located about a 100 miles north of Los Angeles. But it's the sort of city that feels about a 1,000 miles away from anywhere progressive. Bakersfield is a bastion of conservatism. It always has been. It always will be. This colored my view of the world growing up. I was deeply confused by what I'd see on TV, or read in books. I'd read "Maurice" and have this understanding that out there in the world, there was a place where it was okay for boys to like boys and girls to like girls, even if it wasn't here. I'd watch "Starsky & Hutch" and just sort of assume that it was a tale of two cops in love. I'd listen to Morrissey records and not care if he liked boys or girls.

And living in Bakersfield, I just assumed there was something wrong with me. I was living in an environment of hate. In school, the worst thing anyone could be called was "faggot." I didn't realize that there were pockets of tolerance all around me. I was completely blind to it because I was a scared little child. Not a child frightened of being taught that homosexuality is okay. I was frightened that I really was alone in believing in equal rights for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

In high school, one of my closest friends came out of the closet to me. And he was terrified of telling me, because he was afraid I would abandon him and shun him. In a lot of ways, he was just like me. He was scared, and he felt alone. Over the years, I met a lot of people like that. People who didn't think it was okay to speak out because they just didn't know that other people felt the same way they did. Some of them were gay, some of them were straight. But it didn't matter. The same theme applied to all of them. They were fantastic people with huge hearts who simply didn't think anyone cared.

Years passed and tolerance grew in California. It eventually got to the point where being out about your sexuality wasn't that big of a deal. And then a funny thing happened. The Supreme Court took a good, hard look at the constitution and couldn't find anything that said it was okay to discriminate against anyone who wanted to get married based on their sexual orientation. Suddenly, equal rights had arrived. And some of us began to really stick our necks out and cheer. But the state politicians were frightened, too. They didn't want it to look like they'd somehow aligned themselves with "homosexuals," so rather than send anything to a vote, they put together a proposition.

When Prop 8 was put on the ballot, a lot of those same frightened people screamed out with shock. Simply put, all Prop 8 was designed to do was add an amendment to the California state constitution declaring that marriage is only recognized between a man and a woman. Essentially, it was a bill designed to take fundamental right to happiness away from a segment of society. It was no different than denying women the right to vote. It was no different than telling blacks to sit at the back of the bus. It essentially said, "You're different, and we're going to treat you different."

But this was California. There was no possible way that a Proposition that takes rights away would pass in a state so progressive, right? Well, a funny thing happened on the way to election day. A lot of money got involved. A whole bunch of extremists gathered a whole bunch of money and fought a campaign full of lies. They blurred the issue. Suddenly, Prop 8 was about "protecting children," or "saving the tax exempt status of churches." These adverts completely ignored the fact that Prop 8 only does one thing: it keeps gays and lesbians from getting married. So, election day came and California had its say.

And that's where my hometown of Bakersfield comes into play. For every Santa Barbara or Santa Cruz, there are a dozen Bakersfields. Prop 8 passed. For all of the people thinking, "There's no way something like this could happen in California," here was proof that it can happen. And it can happen in Maine. Maine is a progressive state full of wonderful people. But there are going to be people like the "Yes On 8" folks who mistake their own personal distaste for a section of society for common law. They're going to tell lies and they're going to get away with it. That is, unless the people of Maine stand up for equal rights. Unless the people of Maine stand up and acknowledge that people are people, regardless of their sexual orientation. Please don't become another California.

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