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Never going back

Never going back

949_steele

Is Melissa 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 attached?

Battling antigay 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 exceptions.

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 like me."

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.

We're not 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.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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