Etheridge the karmic center of gay and lesbian America? She
came out in 1993 during inaugural festivities for Bill
Clinton, a time of extraordinary hope: Marriage
equality was just beginning to seem within reach, the
White House was filling up with openly gay and lesbian
staffers, new anti-HIV drugs called protease inhibitors were
approaching the market, and Melissa had the
biggest-selling album of her career, the proudly
titled Yes I Am.
As Melissa had
children, gays and lesbians nationwide were embracing
parenting more openly and defending our right to do so more
aggressively. As she went through a traumatic breakup
in 2000, we were all just figuring out that the
relative honeymoon of the Clinton years might well be
followed by the loneliness of a new Bush administration.
Then in the fall of 2004, as we were all being
poisoned by the Karl Rove homophobia machine, Melissa
faced another personal crisis: breast cancer.
So when Melissa
says, “Your whole life is spent learning why you made
[certain] choices and how to make them different in the
future,” maybe we should listen. “I
think our whole society, this whole reality that we
agree to wake up to every day—we bring all of it on
ourselves,” Melissa tells Advocate
executive editor Anne Stockwell.
No, Melissa is
not arguing that gays and lesbians bring on the relentless
attacks of religious fundamentalists. But we are responsible
for how we respond. Do we cower in closets, fight
among ourselves, ask meekly to be allowed scraps from
the table of equality? Or do we stand up and take
responsibility for our lives, challenge our friends and
neighbors to join us on the side of fairness, and
demand full equality, right now and with no strings
ballot measures, activists in Texas and Maine are doing
just that, and fair-minded straight people are responding.
No more telling voters, “Hey, um, could you
please not vote for this constitutional amendment?
Because, you know, we already can’t get
married.” No. In Texas and Maine they’re
standing up to say: This is America. All citizens
deserve equal rights. Discrimination is wrong. No
After the defeats
of 2004, gay and lesbian America is picking itself up,
dusting off the dirt that’s been thrown at us, and
refusing to give in so easily ever again.
“I’m never going back to the place that gave
me cancer,” Melissa says. “Heaven forbid
that the point of my whole life is for everyone to
We would all do
well to pay attention to Ms. Etheridge. Listen up, Texas
governor Rick Perry: You don’t have to like it that
many Texans are gay and lesbian, but you do need to
treat all your states’ citizens fairly. Listen
up, Reverend James Dobson: You don’t have to like all
us gays and lesbians who share America’s
religious freedoms with you, but you do have to accept
our right to live by a morality of love that’s
different from yours.
going back to the place where we had to accept second-class
treatment. People don’t have to like us, but every
day more straight folks are figuring out that they
like themselves a lot better if they support equality.
It’s the moral thing to do, the American thing to do,
and the healthy thing to do.