Smile Politely

Why I’m an Ally

I’ve known ever since I was a young boy that I was attracted to girls. I love the female form: their curves, their voices, their faces, their hair, even their hands and feet. I know this is not a courageous thing for a man to admit. It reminds me of the Onion headline: “Area Man Has Naked Lady Fetish.” But it is from this perspective that I would like to examine why I am such a staunch advocate for gay rights.

As a liberal, there are lots of issues that I can get behind. I could attend anti-war protests. I could rail against genetically modified food.  I could get all up in your face about the PATRIOT Act. Yeah, I care about those things, but they’re not issues that I’m passionate about. The issue that really sticks in my craw, the one that gets my blood pumping, is why homosexuals don’t have full legal rights in this country. This, despite the fact that there are many other issues that have a much more direct impact on my life. I mean, I never have to worry about the state or society recognizing my relationships. So why do I care so much?

The first time I realized that I did care was when I was in high school. Some friends speculated about whether a classmate of ours was gay or not. We discussed the evidence, which for 16-year-old boys was all assumptions and hearsay. Finally, I said, “So what? Would it change your opinion of him if he was gay?” They said, “Of course it would!”

To back up their position, they explained, “It’s a sin.” 

Pul-leeeeze, as Dan Savage would say. These were guys who would have lied, cheated, and stolen if it would have gotten them laid, but start talking about dudes getting with dudes and they suddenly become paragons of piety? What I realized from that conversation was that, huh, I guess I did have an opinion about homosexuality. Or rather, I had an opinion about homophobia:  I was against it.

A few years later, in college, there was a big controversy over a letter written to the school paper. Some deeply homophobic asshat wrote a screed against homosexuality, ending it with his wish that all gays would “move to California, get AIDS, and die.” This letter bothered me. A lot. I couldn’t stop thinking about how hateful and offensive it was. I lost sleep and stayed up late writing an impassioned response. Again, I had to ask myself, why did I care so much?

Of course, an obvious reason for my reaction would be that I was a closet-case myself. Who else would be so bothered about an issue that didn’t seem to concern him? It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times: am I gay? I even tried the clichéd “experimentation in college.” But I always came back to the same conclusion: I love women.

Over the years I have made many gay friends and have gotten involved in gay causes. I read gay books and go to gay lectures. Two of my favorite writers are David Sedaris and Dan Savage. I can’t explain my interest in gay culture, but it’s there. Despite my enduring interest in the ladies, I am a friend of the Friends of Dorothy.

A while back I was reading a book, Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever, by Joel Derfner. It’s a humorous book, but in one serious passage he explains how being gay affects everything he does. This line jumped out at me: “I believe that the desire to love or be loved is the strongest force on earth.”

If this is not literally true, it can certainly feel to two people in love that they can move the world. Not everyone values this power. Some people seek money or status. Some tend to spiritual pursuits. Some have a great need for social justice. And some of us believe, like a trite Beatles tune, that love is all you need. As a romantic, I count myself among the last group. I know the desire to love and be loved is the strongest force in my life.

Coming from that perspective, you can imagine how offensive it is to me that people would actively seek to prevent others from experiencing that power, from loving who they love. I consider the desire for companionship as much a part of the human condition as the need for food, shelter, and safety. To my mind, preventing people from exercising that desire is a form of abuse. It’s an affront to whatever god (or natural forces) gave us the capacity to love in the first place.

The most frustrating thing about this is, it is the civil rights issue that is the easiest to solve. It requires no effort or sacrifice. You don’t have to stop a war or solve hunger problems or build up an infrastructure. There is no practical impediment to denying gays civil rights. It doesn’t prevent straight people from living their lives exactly as they did before.

All you have to do is allow love. Recognize the power and value of it. Anyone who accepts the fundamental need for love in the human heart can’t close his mind to that.


For local resources on how to be an ally yourself, see the UP Center of Champaign County website:

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