Straight activism for queer rights

People sometimes wonder why my husband and I are activists for gay and lesbian issues. Usually they assume that we are some flavor of sexual minority: closet queers, bisexuals, polyamorous, bondage & discipline and/or sadism & masochism afficianados, bestiality fans, or something like that. In reality, not only are we not memebers of one of the afore-mentioned sexual minorities, we're probably more "mainstream" than the mainstream actually is!

So why do I do it? I have nothing to personally gain from marriage equality, it takes a lot of time, and it's boring!

There are many complex and related reasons why I am involved, but you can say it started with tears.


I have some friends who are gay, and in around 1990, I decided that I wanted to show my support my marching as a straight person in the annual Pride parade in San Jose. I went down to the parade route, and started asking people if there was some straight group that I could march with. "Oh," they said, "you want PFLAG." So I found the PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) contingent and marched with them.

As we marched, I was overwhelmed by how emotional the response to PFLAG was. The spectators didn't just applaud politely and tepidly, they screamed. While I won't deny that the adulation was a rush, it was also somewhat embarassing. The cheers seemed too extreme a reward for me simply putting one foot in front of another for six blocks.

But as PFLAG walked by, I was shaken to see some people crying -- not little tracks of a single tear, but great heaving sorrows of grief. While I never stopped to ask, I assume that the sight of accepting parents opened raw wounds for people whose families had rejected them. While it didn't seem like much to me, my being willing to publicly demonstrate that I was a supportive straight person seemed to make an enormous difference to the crowd. With so little effort on my part meaning so much to them, how could I not continue?

So I kept marching in subsequent years. When I found the man who became my Beloved Husband, I pulled him in as well. We started marching with PFLAG in the San Francisco parade, where we received wild adulation for two full miles instead of just six blocks. Again we saw people sobbing.

Jim felt, as I had, somewhat embarassed by the disproportionate adoration. But instead of just grinning and bearing it as I had, he insisted that we at least join PFLAG. This got us a subscription to the PFLAG newsletter. A year or two later, he noticed a call for people to come to a marriage equality rally, and felt an obligation to go. "We need to do something to deserve the love," he said.

Role model couple

Marriage was also something on our minds. We had gotten married ourselves six months earlier, and it had seemed grossly unfair to us that we were able to get married with one stroke of a pen, while two of my attendants were unable to marry after twelve years together.

These attendants of mine were a very positive role model couple for me. It was their good example, their warm and loving, yet equal partnership that made me more interested in getting married myself. Furthermore, far from homosexuals in a commited relationship being a threat to our marriage, one particular gay couple had been a positive influence!

Discrimination against any limits us all

I like to keep my hair very short, and I used to wear black leather boots and a black leather jacket a lot. That look worked well for me. (The jacket got stolen and my podiatrist forbade me from wearing boots, sigh.) But that look also made a lot of people -- gay and straight -- assume that I was a lesbian. Fortunately, I have never suffered because of that, but I live in a pretty liberal part of a pretty liberal state.

However, it made me realize that there is nothing I (or anyone else) can do to prove that I am straight. Thus if there is any anti-lesbian discrimination, I am vulnerable. If there is any anti-lesbian violence, I am vulnerable. My life as a straight woman is thus constrained by anti-gay discrimination.

(I hear that this is a huge problem for women in the armed services. Men will coerce women in the service into having sex with them, by telling the women that if they don't comply, the men will report them as possible lesbians.)

Easy fight

Finally, it looked like a pretty easy fight, something that even I could do. Unlike racial discrimination, discrimination against gay and lesbian people was written into the law of the land. That meant that there was an easy target to shoot at. (Fighting racial injustice is much harder, since the root agents are dispersed and frequently hidden.)

So how could I not fight to end marriage discrimination?

Ducky Sherwood