In the wake of the recent inauguration of the first African American President of the United States, I reflect on how far we have come in realizing the dream of equal civil rights and a country based on the principle of tolerance. I have always believed in the American dream but have also been unfortunately conscious of the fact that while I may have the access to reach however far I may seek, conversely, others are still being denied the chance to see their own dreams realized. This is why I believe above all else that people should not be judged or denied access to rights provided in the Constitution based upon their gender, race, age, disability, religious preference, affiliation or sexual orientation. The government should uphold its promise of separation between church and state so that churches are not able to fund public policy campaigns or politician’s aspirations. America should allow all people to enjoy the same right to marry and form a family regardless of sexual orientation. Further, the US government should stay out of legislating private, consensual relationships and the Supreme Court should uphold both America’s constitution and human rights.
I wonder whether I will live to see the day when my father, a gay man, will have the right to marry and enjoy the same federal rights and freedom from prejudice that I enjoy. This is not a subject I talk about openly out of respect for my father’s privacy, but to be clear it is not because I am ashamed of where I come from.
My father told me that he was gay when I was nine, a few years before the brutal slaying of Matthew Shepard. Some people probably don’t even remember who he was, but for me this killing marked the day that I would forever become terrified for my dad’s safety—a man I love more than life itself. The following is the point of view from a daughter of a gay man: kids in school constantly making derogatory jokes about gay people, calling out gay slurs and using the term “that’s so gay” as if it was the new definition of stupid, dumb or just plain uncool. By the way, gay means homosexual or happy not any of these other designations, in case anyone would like to understand the word in its actual context. Next, there were the religious extremists preaching that my dad was going to go to hell every day, picketing events and funerals with their disgusting signs. And then there was my boyfriend’s mom who assumed that my dad had AIDs when he got sick. He was actually diagnosed with cancer. Not all gay people have AIDs. Then there was my dad’s partner who drove me to school every day, gave me advice, helped me with my homework, took care of me when I was sick, cooked me dinner, made me laugh at the hardest of times and was my shoulder to cry on. He could never marry the person he loved and will never be legally recognized as the stepfather that he was to me. He never had a legal right to make decisions about me, even though he was the best stepfather someone could ever ask for; a man anyone would be blessed to know. Then there came the time for me to get married. The day was sad and bittersweet for me. I was torn because I wanted to marry my husband but I did not want to support an exclusive institution. What a decision for a child to make. I knew that the best day of my life would not be something my dad could himself enjoy, that the legal privileges I would soon acquire so easily were presently being denied for him. A few months later Prop 8 passed in California and gay people were told that they could not be adoptive parents in Arkansas. What a joke. I wept.
I do not believe in equal rights for all Americans just because I have some abstract idea about social justice. I care because I have watched two people I cherish be treated as a second class citizens for most of my life. I believe the American dream is a mirage if not all Americans are given the freedom to actualize their own dreams. The America I dream of is a country where we are judged by our character and actions. I believe that America should be about mutual respect, tolerance and understanding of all citizens living within its borders, particularly if people have opposing viewpoints and lifestyles. That is the beauty of America. I envision an America free from persecution of minorities, an America that is inclusive and has strong interconnected communities constructing the ideals of our country from the bottom up through collaboration. My dream is that all kids feel the same amount of hope as they grow up envisioning their own futures instead of the hate, fear, betrayal and inferiority that I saw and felt. This is what I believe about the American dream.
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