Coming out as a gay man when I was eighteen-years-old, I had very few people to turn to for mentoring. As far as I could tell I was the only gay member of my family—both immediate and extended—and being the son of a fundamentalist Evangelical pastor brought additional stressors to my already difficult decision. My parents informed me I was going to burn in hell.
Like many of my peers who had a similar upbringing, my knee-jerk reaction to the new world I was entering was to diminish the importance of finding my own gay identity. Same-sex marriage was only a nascent movement in Massachusetts, and I felt it would likely stay there, a token piece of liberal policy. It didn't matter that the society I lived in lacked a path to a state-acknowledged romantic future for me. Nor was I upset that it lacked space in the public forum for people who acted like and resembled me. I was different and sinful. I didn't deserve those kinds of luxuries. I didn't deserve to be part of the community.
That was nine years ago. In that time we've seen unbelievable progress in the LGBT movement, so much so that significant debates are being had on who the spoils of credit and leadership should be attributed to. We've entered into a new period where gay rights leaders are being accused of overreaching, asking for too much from their straight counterparts. Why should two bigoted twins lose a television show gig because of their religious views? Why should a CEO be refused the opportunity to command one of the biggest tech internet browsers because of his recalcitrant stance on anti-gay donations he made? Why should a St. Patrick's Day parade be forced to allow gay people to say they're part of gay organizations? It's just too much, you hear the voices saying in private. Shouldn't they be happy with what they have?
But then comes the kiss seen around the world: Michael Sam and his boyfriend celebrating after the former became the first openly gay person to be selected in the NFL draft. The kiss contained a playful smearing of cake, a drawn out meeting of the lips, perhaps even the use of tongue if your imagination wanted to go there. That was it. You could see more action watching Downton Abbey. Yet the backlash from some was quick and resounding.
Derrick Ward, a former NFL running back, used the age old argument of "what about the children?" to cause a firestorm set on attacking the legitimacy of Michael Sam's affection.
Marshall Henderson, a former Ole Miss basketball guard, used the same tactic as well, adding that the display was "nasty ass shit" and "SICKENING" before making a hilarious backtrack into elementary school level absurdity.
Then there were the usual suspects: the conservative Christian Bryan Fischer made a revolting conflation of gay stereotypes.
Conservative nut, Peter LaBarbera lacked any subtlety:
And the editor-in-chief of Herman Cain's website, Best of Cain, said, "the natural inclination of the human being to look at two men kissing and say, 'Ewwww!'" actually "comes from God," and acceptance of gay people amounts to "rebellion against God.""
This was just for one kiss, one display of two people celebrating an incredible moment through the most natural of methods. There was no harm done, nor should the idea that harm was done even be contemplated. But that's not the society we live in. At least not yet. Individuals are still willing to demean, degrade, and dehumanize gay individuals simply for loving the people they want to love.
Next time someone says that the gay movement has gone too far, ask them if it's alright yet for two men to kiss on national TV. Maybe when that can occur without a national uproar, we can talk about shifting down a gear. Until then, we need to continue providing the images that young gay individuals need to prove they are completely worthy of participating in every facet of life.