My boyfriend and I have been together for nearly 5 years. For at least 3 ½ of those years, he has been helping me raise my daughter. Regardless of our marital standing, he is very much a father figure in her life. He doesn’t want to get married – it’s never been on his radar. I’m of the “been there, done that, no thanks” mindset. Still, I love him and he’s been a positive part of my life for a long time now.
Oh, and he happens to be black.
I don’t really bring that up unless it’s pertinent to a conversation, which isn’t really often (pretty much only when I talk about his parents moving here from Guyana or when I’m telling the story of when my daughter told me “Kes’ skin is different from mine” and then followed it up with “mine’s smooth and his is dry”). But it’s pertinent to this conversation.
My father is racist. He always has been. As a teenager, he told me that he would disown me if I ever dated a black man. When I was 17, I went with a black friend to a school dance – I made sure to send my dad a picture (we weren’t speaking at the time – it’s a complicated relationship).
A little over a year ago, my dad said to me, “I’m still prejudice, but I really like Kes. No, really. I’m still prejudice, but I like him.”
But things weren’t always so docile and there was a point when I almost lost my family over this . . . and I’m fairly certain they’re not even aware of it.
After Kes and I had been dating for 2 ½ years, I took a big step. I asked my aunt if I could invite him to our family Christmas party (it’s held at her house). I didn’t tell her he was black. I didn’t think I needed to. I was going to have a talk with my father about it, but Kes wasn’t even sure if he could make it, so I figured I’d wait until we knew for certain if it would even need to be discussed – because prior to this, Kes was only known as my friend.
Well, people talk and my family is no different. They put two and two together and there was a big issue. My father wouldn’t speak to me about it. My boyfriend was uninvited – not because anyone else in my family cared about the color of his skin, but because my father wouldn’t show up if Kes did. I cried for weeks. I didn’t want to go, but I went anyway because I didn’t want to keep my daughter from the rest of my family.
The following year, I was riddled with anxiety. All I could think was, “What am I teaching my daughter if I don’t stand up and say, ‘This is not okay’?” And I came to a decision – a conviction I would not have wavered from. I decided to take my daughter to the family party one last time and a week or two later, I would talk to my family and explain that I would not be going to another one until my boyfriend was welcome.
It was very difficult and emotional for me. It wasn’t that I had come to any new understanding about how discrimination was wrong. It wasn’t that it wasn’t wrong before and it was wrong now. It was that I came to a point where I was prepared to lose some of the people I love because it was more important to me that I stood up for what was right. (Luckily, it never had to go there. Without any discussion or explanation, my boyfriend was invited to the party that year.)
I know, I said this was going to be about Chick-Fil-A, right? So why am I writing about the racial tensions surrounding my relationship? Because I have recently come to the same difficult and emotional place that I did 2 ½ years ago.
On Thursday afternoon, I posted this message on Facebook:
“My heart hurts for those who are mistreated, abused, discriminated against, killed, and scorned all because of who they happen to love. My heart hurts even more because there are so many people that are uniformed, misinformed, or just indifferent to all of that. Over the past few days, I have seen things that I really wish I could unsee — sides to people I care about that I didn’t know existed. I’ve been very emotional and it’s been extremely difficult for me to maintain any sense of diplomacy, but I have been trying.
“I’m not usually one for melodramatic exits, but I needed to get that one last thought out there. I think I just need to step away for a little while.”
It wasn’t any major post that brought me to that point – more a straw that broke the camel’s back kind of thing. It was quite simply my daughter’s preschool teacher posting a picture that stated, “I support Chick-Fil-A because I love Jesus.”
Honestly, I didn’t understand why I was so emotional. I didn’t understand why all of this hype was affecting me so deeply. I just knew I needed to step away from it for a bit, so that’s what I did.
I thought about it a lot over the next few days and came to a very clear understanding. After all of my arguments comparing the fight for gay rights to women’s suffrage, to civil rights, to Loving v. Virginia and after all the discussion about tolerance of different opinions and free speech and after all of my unrelenting efforts to remain diplomatic with every blog post, FB status, and article I shared, I developed a conviction stronger than any I had had before.
This is NOT about a difference of opinion. This is NOT about tolerating another’s views. This IS about right and wrong and if you are against gay rights, you are wrong. You’re wrong in the same way that Jim Crow laws were wrong. You’re wrong in the same way that not allowing women to vote was wrong. And I am tired of being “tolerant” of discrimination.
To spell that out a bit more — thinking homosexuality is a sin is an opinion; thinking LGBTs don’t deserve equal rights is not and it is the latter I will not tolerate. And I’m done being diplomatic about it.
Suffragettes did not win the right to vote by being tolerant. The Civil Rights Act did not happen by being tolerant. Loving did not win against Virginia by being tolerant. And we are not going to achieve equality for LGBTs by being tolerant.
This is nothing new to me. It’s not that I had some grand awakening and suddenly believe things differently than I did before. But like the incident with my family, I have come to a point where I am prepared to lose people I care about because standing up for what’s right is more important.
I know most people are tired of hearing about Chick-Fil-A. I know most people are more than ready for all the hype to die down. I’m not. This whole thing has forced a lot of people to show their hands, and I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s a good thing to know where everyone stands on this because I think we may have gotten a bit too comfortable.
There have been a lot of advances lately – more and more states legalizing same-sex marriage, the steady decline of support for DOMA, the end of DADT . . . I think we needed the slap in the face to remind us that there is a still a long, long way to go for equal rights.