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By Joe Kort, MSW
Just recently, I’ve become even more political. For years, people labeled me political because of my being “out” as a gay man. But primarily, my reasons for being so out have been psychological and social.
At the age of 25, I remember telling a female relative active in the National Organization for Women that I didn’t believe in, much less care about, politics. She talked to me sternly about the importance of being more active – yelled at me, in fact, for not being more political. “Joe,” she said, “you should be especially concerned, because as a gay person, politics affects your life tremendously.”
I didn’t validate much of what she said. (To be honest, I argued back and told her to mind her own business.) But more recently, I’ve come to understand the essential importance of being politically active and aware.
Like most of us, I don’t understand many things or relate to them until they happen to me personally and/or to someone I care about. In 1993, when President Clinton spoke openly about gay issues and supporting gays in the military, I recall sobbing, being caught off guard. How touched I was that this patriarchal figure was validating us gay men. When my partner and I planned to marry and the local newspaper told us they wouldn’t run our photograph, I began to recognize the legal benefits that others who can marry can enjoy, but we couldn’t. GLBT politics started grabbing my attention. But I still wasn’t that involved.
In 2003, the Supreme Court overturned the Texas law banning private consensual sex between adults of the same sex, declaring sodomy laws unconstitutional. When the news broke, I joked to my partner sarcastically, “Great! Now we can all have anal and oral sex, and it’s not against the law.” He told me that wasn’t funny and explained how sodomy laws like this were used to keep gays and lesbians from marrying and adopting children. That sobered me up right there!
Also in 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court cleared the way for lesbian and gay couples to marry in the state, stating that “government attorneys failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason” to deny us right to marry. And we read about Ontario, Canada, right across the river from us in Detroit, legalizing same-sex marriages. If you weren’t politically aware before, it was sure hard not to be now.
My approach has always been to examine the psychological impact of existing laws and policies that deny gays and lesbians their rights and privileges. So while I was peripherally aware of laws and politics, I wasn’t overly interested. But this last year, what most caught my attention was the purchase of the Human Rights Campaign building. In HRC’s invitation to contributors for donations, they showed the Family Research Council’s building and its funding, then spoke about how we gays and lesbians deserved a presence, too. This prompted me to want to become involved.
Hearing talk about the importance of a GLBT presence in Washington, I was moved to tears. I began to realize how vital it is to have our voices heard and our faces seen in government. To me, that’s where it begins. If rights and privileges are granted us on an equal basis, much of the psychological trauma and damage we suffer will be diminished, even avoided. But correcting the symptoms, without the cause, of any psychological or medical disorder is marginal, at best. So far, my work as a psychotherapist, helping the GLBT community deal with the pain of being closeted and suppressed, was only treating the symptoms of a bigger problem. The causes are the legalities and politics contributing to prejudice against us and create the shame and anguish we’ve had to endure while growing up lesbian and gay.
Today, I’m more political. This year, I co-chaired the HRC dinner. From those involved, I learned a great deal. I met some very passionate activists, working hard to correct the “causes” of GLBT problems. As a psychotherapist, I now feel better equipped to help my clients in their struggle for quality lives as LGBT people.
I feel fortunate to be alive in a time of such sweeping changes. I never expected that I, as a gay male, might someday be able to legally marry the man I love, watch television shows reflecting my life and my people. It was like a dream to meet Governor Jennifer Granholm and see her be supportive of GLBT issues. I saw her earlier this year at a Triangle Event. The Triangle Foundation honored Kathleen Russell, founder of Project YES, with its Catalyst Award. Said Russell, “When I told my family I was gay, I never dreamed that that would mean I would be rubbing elbows with mayors, governors and other wonderful activists.” Hearing her speak, I thought to myself, “Neither did I.”
And I’ll continue to do so by being involved and active, particularly during this election year. And I encourage all of you to do the same. Don’t wait until circumstances affect you personally. Recognize that they already do. This is going to be an important year and we need all the help we can get!