Gays and lesbians refuse to lie- the lunch counter sit-ins of our generation
"The truth shall set you free.”
This powerful verse from the bible is one of my favorite quotations from scripture. Truth and honesty are among the most important tenets of the world’s great religions; indeed, one of the Ten Commandments admonishes that “you shall not lie”.
Living a truthful and honest life is one of the hallmarks of a healthy person. Self-esteem and self-actualization can only happen when people are truthful with themselves and the world around them. Truth is also a bedrock principle for the modern-day lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement. Truth is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal as we fight the lies, stereotypes and propaganda spread by those who hate us.
Even Superman understood that his battle for “truth, justice, and the American way” was what made him a superhero to generations of Americans. Yet, in everyday situations, gays and lesbians are forced to lie to survive. In over 30 states, LGBT Americans must officially lie to keep their jobs or might be fired simply for who they are. In areas of government interactions and access to basic civil liberties, gays and lesbians constantly face a choice- should we check “single” on our tax returns, on a mortgage application, for our citizenship papers, or for our passports, despite the fact that we are legally married citizens? Should we lie under penalties of perjury or should we tell the truth?
During the African-American civil rights movement, it was hard for blacks to hide who they were as the color of their skin gave it away. For LGBT Americans, it is much easier to hide in the shadows of second-class citizenship. The closet would seem to provide a safe space away from the pain and suffering of homophobia, yet those who live in the closet live in constant fear, pain and solitude. When they burst the closet door off its hinges, gays and lesbians experience the freedom and joy that follows, yet it is a difficult and personal process that is not without risk.
There are many examples in the lives of LGBT Americans that force us to take a stand, to proclaim the truth, to assert our rights as married couples; as full citizens, not second-class ones. A friend of mine calls these our “lunch-counter moments”. Much like our African-American brothers and sisters demanded to be served at the “whites only” sections of segregated lunch counters, gays and lesbians demand to be served at the lunch counter of equality. The “whites only” water fountains of Jim Crow have been replaced today with government policies, forms, procedures and laws that create a “straights only” culture to deny us our basic civil rights.
The most egregious of these is the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. I have written extensively on this discriminatory law but I thought it important to share what this law does to gays and lesbians every day of our lives and the choices we make as citizens- do we refuse to lie or do we just simply go along with it and allow the injustice to continue.
My husband Harry and I had one of these “lunch counter moments” recently as we returned from France through customs at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. After a wonderful holiday in the land of liberté, égalité, fraternité, we arrived back in our own country to be assaulted by our own government. When Harry and I approached the customs officer to enter, we walked up together as did every other married couple in line. I was ordered to “get back in line, only families can come up here together”.
This was my lunch counter moment. I calmly told the immigration officer that Harry was my husband and that I would not get back in line. He became confrontational. “We don’t recognize your marriage, you are not a family unit under the law, and I order you to get back in line”, he barked.
I refused. I took a stand. I told the officer, “I am not a second-class citizen, I am an American citizen, and the only way I will go to the back of the bus is if you arrest me and put me there”. It was quite a stand-off, a stare down. He was armed with a gun; I was armed with a greater weapon- the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution won. He backed off begrudgingly letting me go through immigration with my husband- just like every other couple.
You might wonder, why bother? Just go through the line quietly and don’t make it a big deal. Well, I invite you to visit a wonderful website www.refusetolie.orgto hear the hundreds of stories of everyday people fighting this battle and why it is a huge deal for millions of Americans.
Just like those who refused to ride in the back of the bus, gays and lesbians must tell the truth and take a stand so that the blessings of liberty will be ours. Otherwise, we will never be able to taste the sweet nectar of freedom from the water fountain of equality.
We Shall Overcome!
Rainbow Reflections is written by Rudy Molinet, a Key West real estate broker and human rights activist. The column appears on Rudy's blog and in the Key West Citizen newspaper every two weeks. Rudy is the recipient of the 2010 Equality Florida- Voices of Equality Award and lives in Key West with his husband of 18 years Mr. Harry Hoehn. You can reach Rudy at [email protected]