There’s probably never before been a safer or more critical time in American culture and politics for LGBT people to come out and acknowledge their identities.
This week when Dan Koeffler, an ABC News co-anchor on the “World News Now” show, acknowledged he was gay in a reference to “Star Trek” actor Zach Quinto, he likely caused a lot of people to realize we might just pop up anywhere – even on TV at 3 a.m. The television personality’s off-hand quip that he might drop his rule against dating actors in favor of Quinto, who recently came out in a New York magazine interview, might serve as an good example for members of our community who have thus far opened the closet door only a little bit.
The television journalist’s declaration hopefully will inspire LGBT people who are tired of listening to Republican presidential candidates backed by evangelical stooges condemn us and threaten to rollback our hard-won human rights gains.
If there was ever a moment for us to stand up against the likes of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was introduced recently at a campaign event by First Baptist Church of Dallas’ senior pastor Robert Jeffress, it is now. The thought of Jeffress — who has made a pastoral career out of trampling on the rights of LGBT people — having the ear of the next U.S. President ought to be enough to scare anyone into action.
If Jeffress would dare to publicly condemn the Mormon faith of Perry’s Republican political rival Mitt Romney in a weaselly attack before reporters after the event, what retributions against our community might he attempt to exact in exchange for helping deliver the evangelical vote to Perry in a presidential election?
We’re talking about an obsessed man who goes on TV to rail against anyone who doesn’t follow his religious philosophy, declaring that merely being a good person is not enough. Anyone one who doesn’t want to burn in hell must believe as Jeffress does, according to his sermons.
A friend of Perry’s who has known him for more than a half-century told me recently that the governor is more enlightened and tolerant than the LGBT community perceives him to be, but I don’t buy that – especially after he failed to condemn Jeffress’ outrageous remarks.
The message doesn’t get much better over in the camp of Herman Cain, who has vowed to reinstate the anti-gay discriminatory policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the U.S. Armed Services if he is elected to the presidency. There are other Republican candidates such as Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachman vying for the party’s presidential nomination who are just as scary, but they appear to be trailing so significantly in the polls that they aren’t a threat, at least for now.
Veteran LGBT activists have long known and shared their wisdom with us about the need for people to come out and stand united against hypocrisy and bigotry, and much has been accomplished as a result. There is strength in numbers, and to quote one of my favorite gay activists, William Waybourn of Washington D.C., “if everyone who is gay came out at once, the discrimination and bullying would stop immediately.”
That obviously won’t ever happen, but it does present a strong argument for a mass, non-threatening demonstration that is the philosophy of the National Coming Out Day. The event has already passed this year, but there is nothing to say we couldn’t declare 2012 a coming out year in light of the importance of the national election.
Bullying is something everyone needs to remember and condemn, and it’s what Kloeffler said was on his mind when he came out on national television in the early morning television broadcast. He was referring to a gay teenager, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer of Buffalo, N.Y., who had valiantly fought intolerance and violent anti-gay discrimination to the point of posting a You Tube video titled “It Gets Better,” only to finally succumb to suicide when he lost the will to endure more intolerance from his peers.
Although Koeffler was likely confident he would suffer no repercussions at work nor in the rest of his life by his admission, it was still a courageous move apparently undertaken in an effort to help others in less comfortable situations. Too many people who could make a difference sit by idly and silently when opportunities arise to speak out against intolerance and discrimination, and Koeffler acknowledged he had been one of those for quite some time.
When it comes to anti-gay discrimination and bullying or any other class of prejudice, situations just don’t get any better without concerted resistance on the part of the oppressed. I know this because I have in the past tried to reason with evangelical Christians, including a close associate of Jeffress’, whom I have known most of my life.
Their reaction to my pleas for compassion as regards the plight of young LGBT people who are victims of anti-gay bullying and other issues involving discrimination was something along the lines of they deserve what they get. A typical response during the conversations was a flabbergasting, “We are so far apart on this,” which was based solely on what I consider to be misguided religious beliefs.
What I learned from trying to reason with the opponents of our quest for equal rights is that it was destined from the start to be a fruitless endeavor, and that our only hope in attracting allies is to appeal to the compassion of open-minded individuals who believe in fairness.
Even if that wasn’t Koeffler’s conscious objective in speaking out on the broadcast, I think his words probably reached a lot of people who are realizing our sheer numbers necessitate them giving more thought to our mission.
Maybe it’s a good time for others to follow Koeffler’s lead and see what kind of difference they might be able to make in spreading tolerance and fairness in their communities.
David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at email@example.com.