Lately, I've been feeling like I need to apologize to every gay person I know. I didn't vote that way, I want to tell them, and I’m not obsessed by your presence.
I can't fathom all this horse-pucky about gay lifestyles. I have no idea how so many voters, letter-writers and politicians can exist in such a state of ignorance and hateful spite. I don't know where it comes from.
In Montana, we voted out the Republican majority in the Legislature. We got rid of a governor who’d boasted about being the "lapdog" of industry. We reaffirmed our commitment against cyanide mining. We even resoundingly passed an initiative in favor of the medical use of marijuana. Yet we voted by a large margin to close the door on gay marriage and add an amendment to the Constitution limiting marriage to heterosexuals.
Since the election, our local paper has resonated with letters to the editor on both sides of the issue. Some of the anti-gay invective is stunning, and sobering. Gays are, in the eyes of some, a threat to the fabric of society, a threat to our very safety, a tribe of lepers waiting to debase our youth and erode the pillars of culture. Accept gays, according to these citizens, and you open the floodgates to immorality and perversity.
In the current session of the Montana Legislature, a bill has been introduced to allow civil unions between gay partners. That debate has stirred up the cauldron of invective all over again. The very idea that gay people might be allowed rights — like the rest of us "normal" citizens — is anathema. How could we even consider this legal gesture of compassion and justice?
I count a number of gay people as my friends. Not once, ever, have I felt personally threatened in any way by any one of them. Not once have I had a second thought about leaving my children in their care. Not once have I had a single moment of unease with one of them.
They are teachers in public schools. They work in government offices. They sell real estate. They own homes. They volunteer on the boards and committees that run our communities. They play softball and work out in gyms. They buy groceries and attend concerts and stop at red lights and have checking accounts.
They are also, several of them, parents. I have been around them with their children. They are exactly like parents everywhere. Concerned with safety, vigilant in their care, distraught by difficulties, and loving in the fundamental way parents are compelled to be.
The suggestion that the example of their lifestyle will inevitably lead their children down a debased and immoral path, or even worse, that it is only a matter of time before they invite their children to share their lifestyle, is so rude, insulting and ignorant that I can't imagine how to respond. I am left stammering for words in the face of it.
I want to know, truly, how many people who voted against gays or write these letters, have actually felt any degree of personal threat from a gay person. How many can point to an example?
On the other hand, we have all heard the cases of gay people left to die on a fence, or beaten to death in a bathroom, or kicked out of the military, or excluded from society. It is commonplace. And, ironically, we don't have to read very far in our community newspapers to unearth examples of debased morality and crimes perpetrated by members of the heterosexual majority — cases of incest, of rape, of child molestation.
When was the last time a heterosexual was ostracized, beaten, abused, or even vaguely threatened by gays, in your hometown news? Can you come up with even one instance?
After this last election, many of us feel as if we live in the midst of an enemy camp. This is a feeling gay members of our society know only too well. That I now have some greater awareness of what that feels like is no solace at all. To the gay people surviving in the midst of a homophobic society, I can only offer my apologies.
Alan Kesselheim is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives and writes in Bozeman, Montana.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at firstname.lastname@example.org.