Commentary: On Aug. 9, 2007, six Democratic presidential candidates participated in a forum on LGBTQ rights. A distinct memory from watching the event was New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson being asked by one of the moderators: Is being gay natural or a choice?
Richardson arrived at that debate touting his support for civil unions (as long as they weren't called "marriages"). This was, at the time, about as far as leading Democratic politicians went.
On this question, Richardson fumbled, first stating that being gay was a choice and immediately backpedaling when the room reacted. He spent the next day clarifying his position (and improbably claiming he hadn’t understood the question).
At the time I thought that, even if Richardson was unfamiliar with ongoing research and anecdotal testimony suggesting it is not a choice, he had missed an opportunity to make a splash by responding, from the dais of a presidential audition: “Why does it matter?”
The question itself maintains that love between members of the same sex is something of a problem — that loving someone of the same sex might be redeemable as long as it is involuntary. So what? I wonder. None of this requires approval or input from the neighbors.
One needs to be careful with that “so what,” however. “So what” can cut through nonsense, but it can also posit a fake equality that obscures the dynamics of power.
his pitfall emerged in a brief correspondence with a reader over last week’s column. The column addressed LGBTQ Pride Month and criticized a planned “straight pride” parade in Boston.
The reader wrote, “My question is WHY do we have parades and celebrations to highlight a group’s preference for which sex they have sex with … Choose whom you want, love whom you want, do what you want, and take responsibility for your choices. Realize that in a diverse world not everyone will agree with what you do.”
In reply, I asked whether she thought it mattered if being gay was natural or a choice, and she answered, “Whether it is innate from birth, lifestyle choice or whatever, is not the point. Just don’t see the reason to have parades about it!”
The problem of 'fake quality'
This is analogous to the idea of being racially “colorblind,” which may sound reasonable but posits an equality that does not exist.
Why should blindness to color be required to accord every human being dignity and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? It fails to value the person, their heritage and experience in society; and it deflects attention from systemic injustices that punish color. If I don’t see color, I don’t see your oppression — which relieves me of any duty to respond to it.
The point of the parades — the colorful flags, sensational costumes and riotous music — is to be visible; and being visible is about having standing in society.
This is how the “straight pride” parade misses the point (perhaps intentionally), pretending heterosexuals have been oppressed and neglecting the discrimination and violence suffered by the LGBTQ community; as if I would ever worry about holding my wife’s hand in public; as if our largely imaginary ideas about gender identity were not projected onto every surface of our world. (My son was still a baby at his mother’s breast when I heard jokes about him “loving the ladies.”)
Until anybody can hold the hand of their loved one and go unnoticed, until we cease to interest ourselves over who is in whose bed or which toilet they use, until private lives are safe and equally valued in the republic, these robust parades serve a humane purpose.