A Columnist’s Farewell

When I first pitched a column to the editor of a gay newspaper in Chicago, I was expecting to write some short, snappy, girl-around-town pieces for a year or two.

I thought I'd write about what was going on in the bars, in the conference rooms - I'd pass along the gossip everyone wanted to know.

"Nah," my editor said, after listening a moment. "I don't like that idea. But I like the idea of you writing a column. Just tell your own stories."

"Tell your own stories," he said. And so I did.

For 14 years, I've been telling my stories to readers of gay papers from Washington State to Washington, DC. I've talked about the struggle to get my dad to accept my lesbian self; falling in love and breaking up; and, most popularly, I've talked about my dog Max, still barking at 16.

Those stories somehow persuaded readers to tell theirs and share them with me - originally through the actual mail (I still have all of those and tried to answer most of them), then email, and now as comments on posted columns, or as commentary on blogs of their own.

One reader, from Oklahoma, asked if he should come out to his parents, even though they were socially conservative. I still wonder how he's doing, though he wrote me about seven years ago. Another engaged me in a debate about whether there's a place for gays and lesbians in Evangelical churches. He just wrote again recently.

When I still lived in Chicago, I met readers for drinks and for breakfast, sometimes in their homes. Occasionally, someone on the street would call out to me while I was walking my dog. In my pajamas.

In those days, the days before the web, writing a column for newspapers felt intimate. People picked up their free paper on the corner and shared it with a cup of coffee. I felt like I was writing for a community - and I could be pretty sure that someone responding to a column had likely read others and knew me pretty well. It was like we were continuing a conversation.

The web changed life for columnists. It became more important that columns were topical riffs on the news (the web is fueled by hits and hits are fueled by keywords which are easy to search for). When I started running a website myself (I'm the editor of the news site 365gay.com), I started writing columns I wanted to run, things that clarified or put a new spin on the news story of the week.

There were fewer of my own stories. And that made me start to feel like what I was doing, anyone could do. And maybe I should step aside and make room for the new young woman or young man who could.

When the Chicago Free Press closed at the beginning of this month - a paper that was my editorial home longer than the city was my actual home - the conversation came to an end.

But oh, I'm going to miss you. I'm going to miss your stories. I'm going to miss sharing mine, as if we were friends talking quietly over an afternoon cup of tea. Thanks for being there. And if you ever see me in New York - walking Max, I'm sure in my pajamas - I hope you'll say hello.

The New Bisexuals

An article in Psychology Today online said something startling: girls now are three times more likely to be "non-heterosexual" than boys.

Where once lesbians and bisexual women were thought to number one percent of the population - while gay and bisexual men were five percent - the article said that now 15 percent of young women and girls identify as lesbian or bisexual.

Fifteen percent. A 14 percent jump like that is a giant and significant leap in our numbers, which could affect everything from political power to social approval.

The writer, Dr. Leonard Sax, wonders why there are "suddenly" so many queer girls.

And I do, too.

First, I wonder if those self-identifying girls call themselves bisexual because they're actually attracted to women or because they think it's sexier - and cooler - to call themselves bisexual and occasionally kiss girls for show.

After all, a label in our more understanding era is an easy thing to take on. Labels are important, but they don't necessarily lead to political action or even respect for equal rights (in fact, quite the opposite. A recent email I received was from a woman who said, "I'm bisexual, but I don't think they should have gay marriage." Basically her argument was that women should be free to sleep with whomever they want, but they should marry men.)

And if this new 14 percent is actually gay or bisexual (that is, having or seeking sexual and romantic relationships with women) - is it simply because America is more tolerant of lesbians now and so they feel able to come out, is it because bisexuality no longer carries the stigma in the gay and straight world that it used to, or is it something else (or some combination)?

Women have always expressed their sexuality more fluidly - hence all those "Lesbians Until Graduation" (or LUGS) I went to school with at Wellesley (and a long history at women's colleges of women "spooning" and writing romantic letters to each other). I've known women to come out in their 40s and 50s after long happy marriages to men. And I've known self-identified lesbians who married men in their 30s and had happy, successful marriages. This is lifelong bisexuality in fact, if not necessarily in self-identification.

Dr. Sax says - and I find this very interesting - that "female sexuality is different from male sexuality…sexual attraction seems to be more malleable. If a teenage girl kisses another teenage girl, for whatever reason, and she finds that she likes it - then things can happen and things can change. If a young woman finds her soul mate, and her soul mate happens to be female then she may begin to experience feelings she's never felt before."

Dr. Sax's conclusion - which is ridiculous on its face - is that girls are more interested in other girls because boys are "losers" who watch too much porn. Come on.

But girls do tend to have strong, deeply emotional attachments to each other. And it's interesting to think that those attachments - which may have previously just been labeled "girl crushes" and thought childish and insignificant - may now be socially considered lesbian feelings, and thus prod a girl to label herself differently, which leads to permanent changes in her brain.

Dr. Sax didn't break down the numbers; I don't know what part of that new 14 percent is lesbian and what part bisexual.

But what I do know is this: the LGBT community hasn't always been great about welcoming and reaching out to and understanding and supporting bisexuals. But if we want this flood of young women to support us, that has got to change.

The Power of Ellen

American Idol is a show everyone watches - young, old, from Red States and Blue. It is a throwback, almost, to the days of television when families would gather around a television set and watch enriching programming together.

And one of its big draws these days is a lesbian.

The New York Times pointed out last weekend that Ellen DeGeneres "finds a way to remind audiences of her sexual status on almost every episode of 'American Idol.'"

It continues: "More than in any other of her ventures, Ms. DeGeneres's performace on America's favorite television show suggests how hard she works to seem effortlessly funny and how determined she is to be openly but unthreateningly gay."

She brings it up gently, making jokes and bright-eyed allusions, mentioning her wife Portia, talking about her suits and short, tousled hair.

And America loves it.

Ellen is America's sweetheart of the moment, funny, down to earth, a pretty, sparkly woman whom everyone can relate to. And the extraordinary thing is that her gayness doesn't get in the way of that or hide it - instead, she makes being gay seem to be the absolutely normal thing that it is.

And an icon of Gay Normal is important. All too often - still - anti-gay conservatives point to people on the edges of our community as being representative of all gays and lesbians. They take images from Pride Parades and television and gay circuit parties and try to paint us as social outliers who are strange and frightening (or inappropriate and silly) and thus a danger to mainstream marriage, work and family.

Those who lie on our edges - Adam Lambert, say, or Johnny Weir, or any of the Dykes on Bikes - are important to us and are part of our community. They help us define our LGBT culture as one that celebrates fiercely individual personalities who nonetheless come together for common causes and celebrations. We need them and we love them and we celebrate their outrageousness.

But we need our Ellen DeGenereses and Dan Chois (and now Ricky Martins and someday Anderson Coopers), too. We need public figures who seem like the best friend that you wish lived next door, people who are safely sexy, people you can trust to watch your dog, people who you'd welcome to meet your kids and your folks and your elderly Aunt Martha.

Ellen works hard for us. As the Times says, her private life is "served up as an affirmation of gay marriage set in a Harlequin romance frame." And she brings her life "with her on America's most conventional reality show."

She makes gay marriage and gay rights seem easy to take - and not just easy, but almost as if they are a fait accompli. Ellen had a beautiful wedding and the many pictures and videos of a beloved Gay Normal icon getting hitched surely made marriage equality easier for middle America to imagine.

They can picture being at a wedding of a gay couple now. Which means that they are slowly being won over to our side.

America loves Ellen. Her daytime talk show may collect the gigantic Oprah Winfrey audience once Oprah moves on at some point next year. (The Times says she is the best bet to inherit "Oprah's mantle as talk show queen.") Her gentle jokes and self-deprecating bits have made her the most amusing judge to watch on American Idol.

Ellen has hosted the Emmys and Oscars, won 12 Emmys herself, and convinced then-candidate Barack Obama to dance on her talk show.

She is happy and successful and famous and - normal.

She is what middle America wants to be.

The contest for best singer might still be going on over at Fox, but America has already crowned it's next American Idol - and it's Ellen DeGeneres.

Gay for President!

According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll, 50 percent of Americans would support having an openly gay president.

Bad news: That seems unlikely.

Thanks to the last Presidential election, we've all heard of the Bradley effect: voters tell pollsters that they'd vote for the black guy/woman/gay person, but then in the polls they vote for the same white male they always have.

They want to give the answer that's more socially acceptable.

This poll isn't asking the harder question - whether the person being polled would vote for a gay President. It's just asking if they would support a gay person once they magically made it into office (hear that, Charlie Crist? You can stay closeted, come out later when you've won the office, and people will support you. Maybe).

Yet 50 percent of the people polled said yes, they would. A gay President is A-OK with them.

Good news: If this indicates that the Bradley effect may now apply to us, it is a welcome sea change.

The President question is only one question, of course, in a silly (if scientific) poll that also asked whether someone would rather visit Bourbon Street, Graceland or Nashville.

And admittedly, the question also primed the person being polled to feel positively toward us. It said:

"The military's 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy-prohibiting openly gay soldiers from serving in uniform-may soon be changed. Would YOU SUPPORT OR OPPOSE having an openly gay person serve in any of the following roles?"

As we know, an overwhelming majority of Americans now support gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. So they probably were feeling kindly toward us patriotic gay people before the full question was asked.

And then the poll gets stranger. After asking about whether Americans would support a gay President (50 percent support), it lists Supreme Court Justice (55 percent), Secretary of State (56 percent), Commissioner of Baseball (61 percent!) and Super Bowl quarterback (62 percent!!!!)

Honestly, the only thing that seems less likely to be than Americans currently supporting a gay President is Americans supporting a gay Super Bowl quarterback.

Still, the point holds: Americans are becoming more sensitive to the idea that it is not OK to discriminate against gay people.

So what the question was really asking was: Do you feel like it's OK to be homophobic in public, to a stranger?

And the answer to that, it seems, is starting to be "No."


This is just one step in a long series of steps toward equality, but it is an important one. Americans who are afraid of being labeled homophobic by a stranger in public (even by someone as innocuous as an anonymous over-the-phone pollster) are less likely to actually discriminate against gay people. They're less likely to call us names; less likely to allow their kids to bully us in school; less likely to fire us when they find out we have a same-sex partner; less likely to legislate against us.

This is very different from 25 or 30 or 40 years ago, when it seemed like the "natural" thing to do was to find gays and lesbians unnatural. And it is very, very different from the days when straight Americans could not even imagine gay people openly holding any kind of public office, let alone the most highly respected one.

It is steadily becoming more true that being anti-gay is not OK.

Being unwilling to be seen as homophobic in public is a long way from helping us gain full equality, of course.

And it is unlikely to translate into actual votes.

But it is an important step.

Gays Without Borders

The gay news from Africa gets more frightening every day.

In Uganda, a member of Parliament said he would hang his son if he learned that he was gay. He said this while the Ugandan Parliament debated an anti-gay bill imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality - including the death penalty.

In Malawi, a gay couple faces 14 years in prison because they held an engagement party. There, gay marriage is not just illegal (meaning, not allowed) - it is criminal.

And in Kenya, mob violence greeted fake reports of the marriage of two gay men. Rioters destroyed computers and other equipment in an AIDS clinic. They beat more flamboyant men in the street. And they went house to house in a witch hunt to find gay men, arrest them - and beat them.

The American reaction to this - even the gay American reaction - tends to be one of two things.

We're indifferent. Or we're horrified, but blame American Christians and expect them to fix it.

We blame American Christians because some extreme, anti-gay rightwingers encouraged fear of gays within the Ugandan government. Some have taken responsibility for that; some have not.

But it is not enough anymore for the gay community to stand by while our African brothers and sisters are rousted from their homes, beaten senseless, arrested and killed.

We cannot sit back and expect our homegrown American extremists to make it better. After all, they might have been responsible - or at least instigated - the situation in Uganda, but Kenya's horrors were incited by local Muslim clerics.

Instead, we must do what we can. And we can do a lot.

On the home front, we can use our political power to ensure that African gays and lesbians who are in danger in their home countries find political asylum here. And when they get here, we can help them find homes, jobs, education.

We can pressure our leaders to make public statements against anti-gay violence (Barack Obama, of Kenyan heritage and beloved in Africa, would be a particularly effective spokesperson).

And we can encourage our Congressional leaders to tie the billions of dollars of HIV/AIDS funding that we send to gay-friendly education efforts. If Republicans can add pro-life strings, why can't we add pro-gay ones?

But I think we can be even more creative than that.

Christians, after all, didn't have pull in Uganda because they made a speech. They have influence because they have spent millions of dollars in Africa - on AIDS, yes, and also on infrastructure, on food aid, on personnel to educate and heal and help. They send missionaries to live among the people. They recruit.

It is time we did the same.

We need Gays Without Borders. We need to start pooling our talent and resources and assisting developing countries.

After all, gays and lesbians - lesbians in particular - tend to gravitate toward non-profits. We are social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers. Why shouldn't we put that knowledge to use to help Africans? Who knows how to organize the medical establishment (or lack thereof) to fight AIDS better than gays and lesbians? Who can tend to AIDS patients better or with more empathy?

And we wouldn't help just gay Africans, either. Christian relief groups don't just help Christians. Instead, the idea is to be a model - and to encourage a certain way of thinking. In our case, that way of thinking would be: Gay is OK.

Many Africans think of gay people as being perverted. They think of us as an underground sexual cult of some kind. But Gays Without Borders could show them first hand that we are a people to be respected, emulated, idolized.

We are scared and horrified by the news coming out of Africa. It is time we did something about it.

The Judge is Gay. So What?

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker is gay.

Which means that the Proposition 8 case will be decided by someone it directly affects - that is, someone who can't get married under the current law.

The question of the week, of course, is: Is this fair?

A ferocious debate about this is raging in the press and the blogosphere. On one side is the National Organization for Marriage, the conservative, anti-gay marriage organization that has been fighting Prop 8 all along.

They immediately sent out a letter that read, in part: "[Judge Walker has] been an amazingly biased and one-sided force throughout this trial, far more akin to an activist than a neutral referee."

This is ridiculous on its face. For one thing, a REALLY biased (for us) judge would have immediately issued a stay on Prop 8, allowing gay weddings to continue while the case was decided.

The truth is that the National Organization for Marriage would have called Walker an "activist judge" if he ruled against Proposition 8, no matter his sexual orientation. And odds are that we will win this case in Walker's court - simply because the anti-marriage folks presented a very weak (to non-existent) case.

On the other side are the gay blogs, many of which responded with surprise, secret joy and immediate fear about what the right would say. It almost goes without saying that the gay community thinks that Walker being gay is positive news for us.

But why would it be?

Though Walker lives in the liberal San Francisco metro area, he was appointed by the first President George Bush and is a proponent of law and economics, the more conservative/libertarian branch of law that grew out of the fairly conservative University of Chicago law school. He has been a judge for over 20 years without the issue of pro-gay bias coming up.

In fact, gay activists have previously cried foul over his actions. The San Francisco Chronicle reported (in the column that outed Walker's "open secret" to the country) that Walker once "represented the U.S. Olympic Committee in a successful bid to keep San Francisco's Gay Olympics from infringing on its name," leading gay Californians to "hold him in contempt."

But there is a broader issue here that extends beyond Judge Walker: Why are minority identities assumed to be biased in and of themselves?

After all, no one assumes that mainstream identities lead to bias. If a straight judge had won the draw for the Proposition 8 case, no one would automatically assume that he would uphold an anti-gay marriage law.

On the other hand, if he had espoused another minority identity like being Mormon, I bet you that gays and lesbians would have cried foul - even though there are plenty of Mormons who support gay marriage.

This issue comes up over and over again in American jurisprudence. People wonder if African-American judges will fairly rule on issues like affirmative action. They wonder if women judges will be objective when faced with gender discrimination cases.

And so of course they wonder - we all wonder - if Judge Walker feels and thinks differently about the Proposition 8 case because he's gay.

It comes up, of course, because judges are human. They can't help being swayed by their full identities and experiences, whoever they are. Sometimes being a minority makes them more sympathetic to the minority plight. Sometimes being a minority makes them LESS sympathetic, partly because they are worried that they, yes, will be seen as biased.

Being expected to think a certain way just because of your gender/ethnic/religious/sexual identity is insulting.

Democracy is messy. People have all sorts of secret feelings, all varieties of life experience, that can't be captured in simple Democrat/Republican, straight/gay labels. Judges are trained to overcome these as much as they can, but of course they will be swayed by them.

Which way will they be swayed? We can't predict. And that's why identities are not biases.

The Spiral of Progress

We rounded the corner and were met by an 8-year-old girl with her hand outstretched in greeting.

"How are you?" she asked. Her long ponytails jittered with energy. "My name is Selena. Can I ask you a question?"

"Sure," we said.

"What is progress?"

We were at the Tino Sehgal exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. All we knew in advance was that the exhibit was interactive and took over the entire rotunda. We didn't expect that the piece would wind up being a serious conversation with several different people on the same theme.

Selena started walking up the ramp that circles the entire inside of the museum and we walked with her. I looked at my partner Jenny and her friend Lori and said slowly, "Progress is when you take steps toward a goal."

"Can you give me an example of progress?"

"Gay marriage advancing from state to state."

"OK," she said. An older teenager, Jane, was waiting for us farther up the ramp, half hidden behind a pole. Selena summarized our conversation for her and vanished.

We walked alongside Jane, climbing the slope of the circular rotunda, ascending higher and higher with each word.

She asked us again about progress and when I again responded with gay marriage, she gave her own example of progress: the weekend before, she had been out with a group of friends. They were mixed gay and straight, and no one had really noticed. To them, the difference was insignificant.

We talked about what social progress means, and how we can tell if it has been achieved.

The conversation continued to get deeper as we climbed higher.

With the next interpreter, a man in his 20s, we talked about where progress came from. "Consensus," said Lori.

"And where does consensus come from?" he asked.

"Listening," Lori said. Our final interpreter was Michael, an older man who told us a story. He had recently been to a play with his wife, he said. The play compared gay life in the 50s with gay life today. What did we think, he asked us. Have gays and lesbians made progress?

"Absolutely," I said. "In my lifetime you can see that."

With each interpreter, our conversation became a slightly different take on broader social progress, but those conversations themselves were a sign of progress, too. It is impossible for me to imagine that 50 years ago - or even 20 years ago - a similar conversation could have been had with an 8-year-old, an 18-year-old, a 25-year-old and a senior citizen.

Yet here was a random collection of New Yorkers who each believed that gay marriage is progress and weren't afraid to say so to (very straight looking) strangers.

I've been thinking of those conversations ever since.

When we think of the progress we've made on gay rights, we tend to limit our definition to whatever big state or national battle is currently in the news. Did a state legislature vote for gay marriage? We crow about progress. Did voters take that right back again? We mourn our country's backslide into homophobic intolerance.

But the truth is that those big battles aren't making progress - they're reflecting it. Progress comes slowly, person by person, step by step, in conversations like the ones we were having in the Guggenheim's rotunda.

Progress comes when we listen to those who have doubts about gay rights and when they listen to us about how it hurts us to be denied what straight people take for granted.

Progress comes when we tell our own truths to our families, our friends, our colleagues, our clients. Progress comes when, through conversation, people stop seeing us as a thing to be feared and start hearing our stories and empathizing with them.

When we do win those big battles, it is partly because of strategy - but it is mostly because of stories. It is only after we win hearts that we win votes.

At the top of the rotunda, Michael shook our hands. "This is a work by Tino Seghal," he said. "It's called, 'This Progress."

And it was.

Case Closed

If there was one thing we learned during the Proposition 8 trial over the last three weeks, it was this: Prop 8 people have no good argument against gay marriage.

Many of us knew that in our hearts, if not completely in our heads. After all, how could they? We knew that our relationships are just like straight relationships. We knew, from the inside, how committed and loving and strengthening they are.

Even so, when Perry v Schwarzenegger began, I was worried. What well-crafted argument did they have that would keep gay Californians from marrying?

The answer is: There isn't one. There is nothing behind the curtain. The Prop 8 side is still arguing their case as I write this, but it is clear.

Our case against Prop 8 relies on Ted Olson and David Boies proving that we are a suspect class - that is, that sexual orientation is immutable (like race or place of origin), that we share a history of discrimination and that we are politically powerless to protect ourselves.

Also, because the Supreme Court, in Romer v Evans, found that a law that forbid seeing gays and lesbians as being just such a protected class was unconstitutional partly because it was motivated by animus - hostile dislike - Olson and Boies tried to show that the only reason Prop 8 passed was because straight voters didn't like gay people, and that sentiment was encouraged by the Prop 8 campaign.

Because these were the lines of the case, something interesting happened. The lawyers who supported Prop 8 couldn't say that gay people are immoral (that might seem like animus and isn't a legal argument anyway).

They couldn't pass off all their old tropes as facts - that gay people recruit children, say, or that being gay is a sign of perversion, or that gay marriage would lead to polygamy.

And they had to partly prove that the country likes us, that we are tastemakers, that we are legitimate players in the political process. They nearly crowed over antidiscrimination laws, touting the fact that 21 states and over 140 cities and counties have passed antidiscrimination laws.

In other words, they were trying to show we were ordinary and just like everyone else. The result is that they had nothing. Without hate, without the ability to pretend that gay marriage will lead to beastiality or incest, without being able to prove in a court of law that gay marriages hurt straight marriages, they were left with this:

1. The purpose of marriage is natural procreation and raising children created from that union.

2. Marriage is traditionally between a man and a woman.

3. The state has a strong interest in protecting natural procreation and what is traditional.

Plus, weirdly, they had to say that the most devastating portrayals of who gay people are had nothing to do with the actual Prop 8 campaign, but were instead crafted by crazy outliers.

That's right. The Prop 8 lawyers had to basically say that the claims that gay people are perverts/child molesters/polygamists-to-be are all nuts.

I wish America could have seen this trial. After the first few days, it stopped making front pages and likely won't again until the judge makes his decision. I never saw it trend on Twitter. If you weren't watching for it, scanning the news for it, faithfully following the few Twitter feeds coming directly from the courtroom, you may not have really known about the case at all.

I wish America could have seen it live, because this Prop 8 case, like nothing else before, laid out a case both for gay normalcy and for gay marriage.

And it showed - clearly, distinctly - that the Prop 8 campaign (and its supporters and its voters) didn't just have a case we didn't like when they took away the right for gays and lesbians to marry in California.

They literally didn't have a case against gay marriage at all.

It’s Not Abortion, Stupid

Gay marriage is not like abortion.

This might seem obvious - one is about keeping a life from starting, the other is about joining two lives together - but in fact, gay marriage is compared to abortion a lot.

People lump gay marriage in the same polarizing issue category as abortion and gun control all the time. It's one of the issues, it seems, that defines someone as a liberal or conservative, from a Red state or a Blue one.

For example, the Washington Post said in a headline in 2004 that gay marriage is "the new abortion." And often, legal experts or other talking heads will predict the outcome of a Supreme Court gay marriage battle by looking at Roe v. Wade. That decision was a disaster, they say, because the Court's opinion protecting the right to an abortion was far ahead of public opinion. The country was heading toward making abortion legal anyway, the theory goes, until the Court made a big deal about it and caused a backlash that we're still suffering from.

But gay marriage is not abortion. In a New Yorker article on the Proposition 8 trial Perry v. Schwarzenegger, which is currently being argued, Margaret Talbot writes that researchers who "have studied public opinion on gay rights, believe that in five years a majority of Americans will favor same-sex marriage-the result of generational replacement and what [one researcher] calls 'attitude adjustment.'"

She goes on to say, "The generational divide does not produce such results for all social issues. On abortion, for instance, younger Americans tend to be less supportive of unfettered rights. Nor does gay marriage seem to be a life-cycle issue-one that people become more conservative about as they age."

Also, when people change their minds about gay marriage, they tend to do it in only one direction - become approving. Abortion can change minds either way.

Why is this? Because intuitively, people understand that abortion (or gun control) is fundamentally different from gay marriage.

Abortion and gun control are both privacy issues. People who want an abortion or want to own a gun (or who don't want to wear a seatbelt or get their kid immunized) are people who want to make a personal choice without government interference or regulation.

In a world without a government, they would be able to make these choices unhindered.

Also, they apply to everyone equally. Either every woman can get an abortion or no one can. Gays and lesbians who want to get married are simply asking to be regulated in the same way as straight couples. We are asking that the laws apply equally to us.

Yes, we can opt out of the system all together. We can get married in a church without the state's involvement or not marry at all, but live together as a couple. That would be a private choice, and that is the sort of choice already addressed by the overturning of sodomy laws by the Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas.

But what we want is for the law to apply to us. We WANT to be regulated in the same way as anyone else. We WANT the state to sanction our unions. We want to abide by the state's tax laws for couples.

The reason that people (even conservative people, like Dick Cheney) move toward acceptance of gay marriage is because eventually they recognize that the issue is not a moral question - as abortion is - but instead is about a fundamental issue of fairness.

Gay marriage is not abortion. Let's not predict failure just because we think it is.

Our Families, Our Rights

We create our own families. That's what we say in the LGBT community.

What we mean is, historically, our own families have disowned us. So instead, we create new ones - and it is with these new families of friends that we celebrate holidays and share our griefs and joys and hopes.

We rely on these created families for daily support and emotional sustenance. We love them and they love us, exactly as they are.

It is a beautiful tradition, created families, and one that makes the gay community bond even more tightly together.

But now it is time to go back home.

I don't mean that we should abandon our created family. How could we? They are where we rest our hearts. But we each also have families we were born into and the holiday season is a perfect time to reach backward and help pull us all into the future.

Families are changing as the world is changing. Even conservative families are becoming more open to gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. There is less of a sense of shame and more of a sense of Pride.

But not all of us realize this, because we have built a wall between ourselves and our families of origin out of deep hurt and crucial self-preservation. Growing up, we felt different, unwanted, unloved. We were rejected once (or more than once) as younger gay and trans people. We don't want to be rejected again.

So we send presents, but we don't visit. Or we visit, but don't share the facts of our lives. Or we cut off contact completely.

Some of us haven't spoken to our families in so long that we can't remember what their voices sound like, or recall the planes of our faces.

But a new decade is coming, my friends.

All of us have become more activist in the past few years, as more of our issues have come up for public debate and more of our bills have come up for a vote. We march. We write our legislators. We wear stickers and pins and explain our positions to strangers.

Now it is time to go home and explain our positions to our families.

There are some exceptions to this, of course. Some families are so dysfunctional that they can never hear us. Some families are emotionally or physically abusive - it would be dangerous for us to darken their doors.

But in the majority of cases, I think, what separates us is not violence or the threat of violence, but a wall built of bricks of misunderstanding, silence, anger and denial.

It is time for us to break through. Not only for ourselves, but for the greater good of our civil rights.

Studies have shown that people are more likely to vote for our rights or otherwise act on our behalf if they know (and presumably, are fond of) gay people. But results must be better if those gay people also use love and gentle persuasion to show them why bills like ENDA and gay marriage are important to us.

Sometimes, our families surprise us.

I tend to think that my family doesn't care at all about gay civil rights. Yet recently, when marriage was up for a vote in New York, I took a deep breath and called or emailed all of my New York relatives to ask them to call their legislators.

All of them did.

My family can't be the only one that seems indifferent but is instead only waiting to be asked to help.

So go home this Christmas. Or call home. Let's start building a bridge back to our families.

An intact family will not only warm our own hearts - it will eventually help our cause.