The 12-year-old boy in Tokyo asked, “Mommy, why do some Christian people believe that being gay is wrong, and it’s okay to discriminate against them?” The only answer she could think of was, “Because they are stupid and ignorant, and enjoy condemning people who do not fit their narrow definition of ‘right.’” But, she knew that answer was as bigoted a response as that of some fundamentalist Christians to gay people, and she didn’t feel it was the best way for him to reply to his Christian cousin who questioned her son’s support of gay marriage.
Having heard me speak to her colleagues about LGBT workplace issues, the mom emailed me and asked for the best response to her son’s question. I complimented her mothering skills, and asked her to thank her son for being such a great ally.
I would have preferred to answer his question by saying, “Don’t ever allow religious people, or anyone else, to intimidate you as you find your life’s truths.” Instead, the response I suggested she give to his question was, “The Christian people who believe that being gay is wrong interpret the Bible differently from many other religious people. In lots of places in the world, the majority of Christians are very supportive of gay people. Some people quote the Bible to support their fears and biases.”
She replied that she and her son were very glad to receive the response.
When we follow the Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality, do we imagine there are 12-year-old children in Tokyo following it too? There are actually millions of people around the world who are on this trek to what the young boy in Japan called “the human rights movement.” When her son heard discriminatory remarks about marriage equality from his cousin, he exclaimed, “Mommy, in that moment, I realized that the human rights movement is NOT a thing of the past.”
Like many people who are LGBT or an ally, I feel giddy with excitement about having my primary relationship with my same-sex partner finally affirmed so strongly by people from every spectrum of politics, religion, and geographic location. Most opponents of marriage equality, including Rush Limbaugh, conceded that no matter how the Supreme Court rules in the two cases before it, there is an “inevitability” about marriage equality.
My secret desire at this time of celebration is to have my life of struggle affirmed by people new to the movement. I want to talk about how hard it was for women and men like me to come out in the 1970s and earlier. Mental hospitals were extracting pieces of gay people’s brains to make them straight at that time in my life. Homosexuals were thought of as sexual monsters. Now, we’re valued colleagues and friends whose rights to legally marry, and adopt children, are standards of civilized society.
But email messages like that from the mother in Japan remind me that this extraordinary moment in history is much bigger than me, and the United States. This public affirmation of the humanity of lesbian and gay people is bigger than gay rights or marriage equality.
This is about the global human rights movement that involves the imagination and future of 12-year-olds in every country. This moment in history, echoed in legal and parliamentary chambers throughout the world, represents the ability of society to overcome its fears, as well as move forward without the security of the blessing of religious leaders or followers who think “it’s okay to discriminate.”
There is a new path to personal liberation and self-actualization which is being watched and celebrated throughout the world. Joseph Campbell called it a hero’s journey.
The little boy in Tokyo was confused by the opposition of some religious people to the human rights movement. That’s exactly how I felt when I was coming out. I wondered why so many Christians didn’t like gay people. I wondered why anyone wouldn’t like me. But, I didn’t let that stop me from living a full and happy life. Millions of others like me did the same over the past 40 years.
We didn’t wait for the approval of the pope or the president. We made the hero’s journey. And guess what? Our moms and dads, neighbors and friends, employers and fellow congregants let go of their fear because we let go of ours. They joined us on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. They asked to represent us before the nine straight justices. And the majority of the straight justices realized that we were a part of the human rights movement, as Hillary Clinton declared at the United Nations.
If we can accomplish this extraordinary change in cultural attitudes and laws, anyone can, and everyone should. The mom in Tokyo, like moms and dads around the globe, want their children to feel safe and valued at all times. Now, the majority of them are aware that if their child is gay, transgender, or otherwise different, they needn’t be afraid or ashamed of them.
We did that, all of us together. We made many sacrifices, and endured shameful behavior from others, in order to participate fully in the human rights movement--our human rights movement. It’s not over, but we have proved for all future generations that it’s possible to live full, happy lives even when no one thinks that who you are is okay. The mom in Tokyo knows that, as does her 12-year-old son. So do millions of others. That’s a good reason for us all to feel giddy.
Brian McNaught was named “the godfather of gay diversity training” by The New York Times. He works with corporate executives globally, is the author of six books, and is featured in seven educational DVDs. He and his spouse Ray Struble divide their year between Ft. Lauderdale and Provincetown. Visit Brian-McNaught.com for more information.