On coming out
Every year, that familiar holiday, National Coming Out Day, seems to come earlier and earlier. Seems like I was just taking down my Gay Pride Month banners and poppers and it’s already time to put up the Coming Out tree, bedecked with supportive photos of all the people I still haven’t told. Yes, there certainly is something special about October 11th.
Unlike other people I could mention, I didn’t have a big problem with “coming out.” It was pretty easy for me at 17, when I decided to do it under relatively trauma-free circumstances. I understand the kids these days have it even easier than I did, taking guys to their senior prom and whatnot. At least in my part of the world, we have overcome, and any uneasy don’t-ask-don’t-tell truces I may be living with are of my own making.
At Capital this year, the gay law students group BiGLaw decided to support those who maybe didn’t have it so easy, by trying to commemorate Coming Out Day (which, despite my snideness, is a real day that I remember each year). They didn’t organize any actual event that I know about, but they did put up a few signs reminding people when it was and what it meant to those who can’t be open about themselves and to those who are. I thought it was pretty mild stuff.
The Christian Legal Society, however, decided to organize a presentation from someone at a group called “Mission: America, who was going to come and talk about her experiences as an advocate for preserving traditional families.” I guess that didn’t pan out, and so they decided to hold, instead, a prayer meeting “for those who have come out and/or are considering coming out and/or are struggling with homosexual attraction.” This was to be held on Coming Out Day at eight o’clock in the morning. It was announced in an e-mail to all students.
The e-mail prompted a lot of rumbling among my near-universally straight fellow law students. “How dare they conduct their little ‘hate-in,'” one bleated. Somebody else said they should not be allowed to organize events that appear to directly oppose other groups at the school. In reference to the baleful effects of homosexual attraction, another person suggested we tell the Christian Legal Society, “Thank God we’re not attracted to you!”
This event prompted me to do some thinking. As an ardent defender of our liberal Constitution and civil rights, I felt no desire to try to stop the meeting or to complain to the administration. It would have been hypocritical to tell anyone not to express their beliefs, particularly on the very day that is intended to promote tolerance and openness about others. But I was rather shocked that a “counter-protest” would be organized in response to — well, not even an actual event. Somebody puts up a few signs saying “it’s OK to be gay,” and the reaction is to arrange a prayer group reminding us that some people think it’s not?
The delicious possibilities for civil retribution began swimming through my head. I would go to the meeting wearing nothing but a tiara and a Speedo. I would solemnly stand outside with a sign reading, “No prayer please, we’re gay.” Or: “Touched by an angel; touched by a priest.” Or, while being asked to pray for those literally damned homosexuals, I would suggest that we pray for “the ignorant, the intolerant, and those who maliciously spread misinformation and lies, trading on the backs of the Oppressed just to advance their own political agendas.”
But, sadly for you, dear Reader, I did none of these things and decided simply to attend.
May I say, now having attended a meeting of each group, neither BiGLaw nor the Christian Legal Society exactly commands hordes of zealous followers. The CLS meeting was attended by, er, just the CLS President, me, and my friend. In other words, we outnumbered them by an exact ratio of 2-to-1. Where were the queens? (Did you know it is solid dark at 7am??? I didn’t! That has to have had something to do with it.)
So Sondra and I had a pretty civil conversation with the assembled representative and member of the Christian Society. The CLS seemed unanimously glad to see us, and it was truly eager to explain that it did not intend to convey a message of disapproval or dislike for gay people: “not at all, not, not, not at all.” It just happened to organize a prayer meeting on the same day as Coming Out Day to, you know, let gay people know that it disagreed with Their Lifestyle.
Ah yes. When you hear the dreaded lifestyle argument, you know you are in for a hard ride. To Joy’s credit, she was extremely considerate and polite and I do believe she is sincere. That is to say, she sincerely believes that the gay people of this world are wrong, and she is sincere about telling us. Her position is that if someone knows the truth, shouldn’t that person try to convince others of the truth?
We suggested that this would be akin to organizing counter-protests on Martin Luther King Day, or Rosh Hashana. After all, if Christianity is superior to Judaism, why not attempt to convert Jews on one of the holy days? (“Maybe we should do that,” the CLS, I’m sure, jokingly mused.)
I advanced the idea that, you know, it’s kind of a civil society we’re living in, and there should be room for all viewpoints, and no matter what your religious beliefs happen to be, you should respect the differences of others. On this point, the CLS was philosophical. I know that the Christians at Capital, like all good people, do believe in civil rights and freedoms for everyone. But, we tried to stress, the prayer meeting’s intent appeared to be less than truly respectful of everyone. Rather than trying to convert us on our day, we suggested, maybe they could hold off until next week, or something. When Joy asked that there simply not be Coming Out Day (presumably, she meant, at CULS), because it has nothing to do with law school, I had to disagree: coming out has always been tinged with politics, and it always will be as long as people in our society politicize the issue. Besides, wasn’t it the Christian Legal Society that organized the gay marriage “debate” against the CULS Democrats last year?
At the end of the day, I don’t feel like much changed, but people’s minds are made up and convictions are deeply held. And I genuinely understand, and heartily disagree, with some of them. I’m glad I attended, and I’m particularly glad that the rumored brawl between Christians and rugby-playing lesbians did not break out — particularly not at 8am. It’s obvious to me that law school, like the church, is one of the leading institutions concerned with issues of justice and fairness, so I’m glad that there are busybody Christians and remonstrative straight supporters and sleepy gays on all sides of this issue. Chalk one up for Liberty.