By John Corvino
I was pleasantly surprised two weeks ago to open my Sunday Detroit News and find a full-color image of Leslie Thompson, Executive Director of Affirmations Lesbian and Gay Community Center, holding a “Gay People are Everyday People” poster. The posters, which Affirmations distributed to Michigan colleges and high schools, feature a group of teenagers surrounded by pictures representing various professions: scientists, teachers, mail carriers, soldiers, artists, and so on. The caption “Gay People are Everyday People” is followed by Affirmations’s phone number and website address.
The posters created some controversy at Troy High School, and Thompson’s photo in the Sunday paper was flanked by a pair of point/counterpoint columns under the heading “How schools should teach respect.” One, by therapist and regular Between The Lines contributor Joe Kort, defended the posters; the other, by Troy parent Anthony P. Cruz, attacked them.
As an ethics professor, I make frequent use of the point/counterpoint format in my classes, though I am also aware of its limitations. At its best, it can stimulate dialogue and deepen understanding. But it can also misleadingly frame issues as having two and only two neatly opposed sides, each of which has equal claim to legitimacy. (The gay-marriage debate is a perfect example of such oversimplification: the question “Are you for it or against it?” obscures a wide range of possible positions, not to mention possible reasons for those positions.)
This particular pairing was useful in that it highlighted the very problem that the posters were intended to solveÑnamely, ignorance about who and what gay people are. Cruz’s central argument against the posters was that they promote gay sex, which he views as both immoral and dangerous. The poster’s defenders respond that it is about teaching tolerance, not promoting sexuality. Cruz cites Thompson, for example, explaining that Affirmations doesn’t consider the word “gay” to be any more sexual than the word “marriage.” Cruz’s rejoinder is quite revealing:
“Yet, the very word ‘gay’ is used to define individuals who engage in homosexual activity. Marriage, on the other hand, is defined as the legal union of a man and a woman. Between the sacrifices, mutual commitment and children, this union includes so much more than sex.”
Precisely. Marriage is indeed about more than sex. But so are gay relationships, and for that matter, so is the mere fact of being gay.
Let’s start with the basics: some people are attracted to people of the same sex; some people are attracted to people of the other sex. (“Opposite” is another one of those misleading oversimplifications worth avoiding.)
Some people develop crushes on, fall in love with, and have relationships with people of the same sex; some people develop crushes on, fall in love with, and have relationships with people of the other sex.
Some people in each group have mortgages together, share household chores, put up with in-laws, and experience all of the other mundane things that are part and parcel of what one group takes for granted as “marriage.” That group can take advantage of a web of legal protections to support their relationships, whereas (in most places) the other group cannotÑbut the underlying relationships are much the same in both groups.
Some people in each group raise children (and some of those children, it should be noted, end up at Troy High School).
In short, virtually every one of the experiences Cruz associates with heterosexuals is found among homosexualsÑwith the exception of those associated with heterosexual privilege, such as legal marriage. And even the latter is changing, as the world begins to recognize that homosexuality, like heterosexuality “includes so much more than sex.”
One hopes that Cruz read the counterpoint piece by Joe Kort, who makes this point forcefully:
“People teasingly ask little boys and girls if they have an opposite gender girlfriend or boyfriend, and even speculate that little boys and girls have a crush on their opposite gender teachers. We understand this is a matter of romance and affection, not sex. Shouldn’t the same be true for the gay or lesbian child?”
I would add, “and for that matter, for the gay or lesbian adult?” Sadly, a double standard remains in which heterosexuals are seen as having relationshipsÑrich, multifaceted, and deepÑwhile homosexuals are seen as merely having sex.
In that context, the reminder that “Gays are Everyday People” needs to be spread much further than our high schools (and kudos to Affirmations for bringing it there). It is something that we should embody everywhere by being out and proud in our everyday lives.