THIS JUST IN: Deb Moore is a Lesbian!

Nothing like a small rant to get the blogging juices flowing again.

This past week the actor David Ogden Stiers publicly acknowledged that he is gay.  You will probably remember him as Charles Emerson Winchester, III, on M*A*S*H.  Stiers is 66 years old and has most recently found steady work doing voice acting in animated Disney films.  He alludes to the fact that some of the powers-that-be in Walt’s World didn’t think it would be prudent for an actor in their “family-oriented” fare to be openly gay, and thus he remained closeted to protect his career.

This sudden flash of personal honesty (at about retirement age, ironically) was considered news this week, though it would certainly have been bigger news if a current, more visible celebrity offered it.  He will likely now become more visible in the gay community and might even be seen grand-marshaling a few gay pride parades in future years.   The fine folks at the Human Rights Campaign will probably figure out a reason to give him some kind of award, the best way to assure celebrity presence at the annual dinner.   In short, he’s just set himself up for a sort of mini-hero status in certain circles.

And I say, “Pshaw!”

There are millions of people across this country and the world who have lived open and honest lives of true integrity for years.   And no one has ever offered to put them on the cover of a magazine for it.   These are people who risked family, friendships, jobs, and social standing for one simple reason . . . they chose to live honestly.

I feel sorry for David Ogden Stiers.  To wait until 66 to be true to yourself would not be much of a way to go in my book.   I don’t believe what he did was “wrong.”  He did what he had to do.  I don’t pass judgement on people who feel they must remain closeted.  They have their reasons.  But, I don’t necessarily celebrate them when they finally figure out that there is life outside the closet, like some sort of gay prodigal son.

The bottom line is, it’s only news when a celebrity does it.  But, darlin’, he ain’t no pioneer.

Integrity Can Be Exhausting

The textbook actually uses gay marriage as the sample issue for discussion in the \”Definition\” chapter.  So every time I teach English 1020, this topic comes up.  One of the decisions I have to make is when to tell my class that I\’m gay.  Some of them are astute enough to have already figured it out, but those students are surprisingly rare.  Some of them are unlucky enough to have already made a homophobic remark before I tell them.  Most of them take it with a certain amount of equanimity.  But all of them look at me.    Without fail.  I get every pair of eyes in the room drilling right into me as if they\’ve never seen me before.

Except for Sylvia.

Sylvia was one of those who opened her mouth before I got a chance to.  She made a few terse comments through tight, angry lips about \”those people\” and how they were going to hell, how marriage ought to be defined by the bible \”the way it\’s always been.\”

I was quite taken aback for a few minutes.  Not because of what Sylvia said, but because she was the one who had said it.  Until that moment, I would have pegged Sylvia as the other gay person in the room.  Of course, this phenomenon doesn\’t come as a surprise to most gay people.  If falls into the catagory of \”methinks the lady doth protest too much.\”  But that still doesn\’t make it any easier to watch someone engage in what seems on a deeply intuitive level to be self-loathing.

I thought she might soften her position, as students often do, once she found out I was gay.  But, she didn\’t.  Not one bit.  In fact, I think she became even more entrenched in it.   The second I said I was gay, however, she looked away from me.  And I never caught her eye again the entire evening.

I did my song and dance for the next 45 minutes.  I usually keep this discussion as far away from the bible as I can since marriage is and always has been a civil issue in this nation.   But, I admit, Sylvia sucked me in just a little.  I tried to address some of her biblically-based statements with some gentle correction.  I tried to point out that if we went back to a definition of marriage as found in the bible, then men would have several wives and hundreds of concubines.    Of course, that was probably a waste of breath.  I carry no delusion that I can persuade someone like Sylvia into doing a 180 on an issue like this.

I ended with the final argument I could make.  I told the class that I had no intention of changing their minds and certainly not their belief systems.  But, I did ask them to remember one thing — these were people we were talking about.   These were sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, and, yes, mothers and fathers.  This was not some amorphous \”them.\”  This was the human experience, every bit as much as theirs was.

I dismissed the class.  Sylvia walked out without a comment and still not looking at me.

Some classes are easy and some are . . . less so.  This one made me feel like I\’d been hit by a truck.   I will not pretend to be something I\’m not.  I haven\’t done that since my freshman year at a religious college.   But, I have to admit, there are times when it is tempting.

Every time I teach this class, I think that maybe there is one person who really needs to hear this.  Maybe something I say will give validity to someone who feels very alone or help someone heal a relationship or at least make someone think.   On nights like this, I come home feeling like there might be a chance I\’ve done some really important work.

And, I admit, I come home exhausted.


On Sunday, Susie and I drove across town to the one movie theatre within probably 150 miles that will show “controversial” films.   We had made the trek back when Brokeback Mountain was in theatres and would have done so for Religulous, but apparently the latter was too much even for the Green Hills Regal.   This time we went to see Milk, and I was impressed enough to actually blog my first movie review.

This is the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to political office in the United States.  He was assassinated while serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978.

I had written a paper when I was in college on the gay rights movement for my persuasion theory class.  It just so happened that an entire section of my paper was about Harvey Milk, and so most of the details in the movie were familiar to me.  I knew to expect his failed runs for office and his ultimate success after the redistricting of the Castro.  I knew to expect his death, as well as the death of Mayor George Moscone who was killed by the same gunman.  I knew that the gunman was Dan White, a fellow San Francisco Board of Supervisors member.  (Dan White, by the way, served a total of only five years for the double murder after his attornies claimed the famous “Twinkie Defense” which essentially stated that he was on such a sugar high from a junk food obsession that it affected his behavior and decision-making abilities.  No.  I’m not kidding.)  I even expected the candle light vigil attended by over 30,000 people who marched through San Francisco in Milk’s honor.

What I didn’t expect was what makes this movie a must-see.  I did not expect to see the well known hyper-sexual culture of the Castro District in the 1970s portrayed so honestly and yet, by the magnificent direction of Gus Van Sant, not hampering empathy for the main character in any way.  I did not expect to be so completely overwhelmed by the brilliance of Sean Penn in the title role.  For two hours I didn’t think of Sean Penn once.  He WAS Harvey Milk.  And, most importantly, I did not expect to cry.

Harvey Milk was a civil rights activist of immense importance in our nation’s history.  He accomplished remarkable things, and he did so honestly, openly, . . . yes, even flamboyantly.   One of the things Milk spoke about often in speeches was hope, and I couldn’t help but think about how pertinent that message still is for a nation so hungry for hope that we elected a President to try to get some back.  Harvey Milk was a man ahead of his time, and those kinds often have to pay for being out of step.  He knew what he was doing might get him killed, but he did it anyway to prove “You are not sick.  You are not wrong.”

The fact that Harvey Milk is not remembered as vividly as other slain civil rights leaders says a lot about our country.  Perhaps we’re ready now to give him at least a portion of the credit he deserved 30 years ago.