Almost eight years ago to today, I sat in my living room digesting the joy and appreciating the efforts of so many who had worked for the right of the LGBTQ community to marry and enjoy the rights that so many others in this country have enjoyed for so long.
I found myself crying quietly, both for those in my community and for my good fortune to live in and benefit from a country striving to understand, better itself and elect leaders not afraid to grow and embrace that which might not be an inherent value of theirs.
Today, I again find myself crying quietly, but this time in anguish for the judicial decision to open a pathway where, for the right of one’s personal belief in a freely chosen context, my community and I can again be denied services and civility from those from whose expertise or skills we might benefit.
Not only have our voices been silenced in preference to others, but our visibility and confidence in being a recognized and valued part of this society has been severely compromised. How many times will I — or we — be willing to sit in a restaurant hoping that a server won’t refuse our order? That a retail sale won’t be delayed until a more willing clerk can be found? That an employer won’t find cause to dismiss us because of a customer’s/client’s preference to work with someone else?
We are being forced to honor and respect others while being denied that same honor and respect.
I understand that this isn’t a universally held bias, but the credibility offered by the Supreme Court’s recent judicial decision lends that bias an unsettling credibility.
I’ve been fortunate to live a life free of much bias. I was raised to not allow the biases and actions of others to hamper my own growth, self-image and confidence. I recognize it as an emotionally- and intellectually-privileged life, a bubble of sorts. So for one of the first times, I’ve had to come face to face with the realities that so many others have dealt with as part of marginalized religious, ethnic or racial communities. That the contributions the LGBTQ+ community and I have made may not be enough to “earn a seat at the table,” whatever that table may be, because of who I am, who I love or what I believe.
As an older member of the LGBTQ+ community, there’s much I don’t fully understand in my own circle, but I do understand the desire and need to live a life of joy and affirmation — the right to pursue happiness. This, I believe, is an underlying principle of our democracy, though perhaps not anymore.
I love the home I share with my husband and dog. I love my neighborhood and the neighbors. I love being a part of this great nation, its stories and potential, but today I’m wondering if I really have a place here, if in silencing my voice, my own growth and the growth I’ve encouraged as a professional educator has also been silenced. And if it has, would I be complicit if I left to live my life wholly and authentically elsewhere?
Although the practical implications of this judicial decision have yet to be understood, the emotional gut punch to me, to my husband, our friends and our community has been immediate and deep. We are for the moment, adrift, unsure and angry.
What have we done to be marginalized, to have such contempt lobbed our way? I fear for our four sons. I “came out,” in part, to ensure that my children could find the courage and pathway to live their own lives and their own truth no matter what it might be. But now, if their lives differ from a social norm, have I actually done them a disservice?
Do we, as Americans, understand the disservice to ourselves to harbor such fear that our only recourse is to legally chain ourselves to a framework that is predictable and creates systemic channels that determine how we live and to what degree we’re allowed to interact in society?
The expansion of these systemic inequities can only signal an intellectual stagnation and emotional stunting that undermines our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and the unalienable rights which we have promised one another.
Today, I am done. I’ll be working in the yard, pondering this decision and how to move forward in a climate that is increasingly unfriendly and not aligned with the values I have cherished and embedded in my life. It is a quandary I never anticipated by being a simple citizen of these United States.
John Lents is a retired elementary principal and proud member of the Ensign Downs neighborhood. He dotes upon his husband Lawrence and his sidekick, Mike the Dalmatian.