Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Prop 8 & The Holocaust - The Ultimate "Glass Half-Empty or Glass Half-Full" Test: Visiting Germany as a Teenager, Living in California Today

Back in College, when I was 19, I visited Germany.

I frankly didn't want to. I hated what Germans had let happen in the Holocaust. How 11 million innocents had been murdered by the Nazis for being different, for being labeled "inferior." How Hitler had tried to eliminate the very existence of the Jewish people (They murdered over 6 million Jewish men, women and children.) How the Nazis tried to also kill off as many Gays, Romas (gypsies), Disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses, and pretty much anyone else they didn't like or who dared to disagree with them. How my own family barely survived to have me.

So I didn't want to go to Germany, never mind that most of the people I knew I'd see there hadn't even been born in 1945, when the nightmare of WWII and the Holocaust ended. They couldn't have been Nazis. They couldn't have been the ones standing by and watching their neighbors being taken away to death camps.

But on my trip to Kassel, I only had eyes for the older people. Anyone that looked over 65 was suspect. Had they been a Nazi? Had they worked at Buchenwald, or Auschwitz? Had they pushed kids - kids! - into the gas chambers?

In my 30s, I spent two years of my life documenting and cataloging testimonies of Holocaust Survivors at The Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. Those were incredibly hard years for me, sort of like emotional peace corps work, listening to tales of such horror. And yet many of the Survivors had some faith in humanity, some abiding sense of hope that had not only gotten them through alive, but had enabled them to thrive, and succeed, in their lives afterwards.

So many words ring in my ears. So many real life stories of heroism, of bravery, of people risking their own lives to save others. And real life stories of betrayal, death, and despair.

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."
- Martin Niemoeller

This morning, AP announced that Prop 8, the amendment to the California Constitution that would eliminate the right of same-gender couples to marry, has passed.

While Yes on Prop 8 people celebrate, No on Prop 8 just released this:

“Roughly 400,000 votes separate yes from no on Prop 8 – out of 10 million votes tallied.

Based on turnout estimates reported yesterday, we expect that there are more than 3 million and possibly as many as 4 million absentee and provisional ballots yet to be counted.

Given that fundamental rights are at stake, we must wait to hear from the Secretary of State tomorrow about how many votes are yet to be counted as well as where they are from.

It is clearly a very close election and we monitored the results all evening and this morning.

As of this point, the election is too close to call.

Because Prop 8 involves the sensitive matter of individual rights, we believe it is important to wait until we receive further information about the outcome.”

Yet even if we manage to squeak out a last minute victory (which seems at this point a tenuous hope at best) I know that in "liberal" Los Angeles county where I live, the vote was split 50% - 50%. As I write this it seems that there were only 20,806 more votes for Prop 8 than against.

So as I walk around Today, one out of every two people I see DO NOT want me to have equal rights. They see me as inferior, because I'm Gay. And that is so hurtful, and it makes me unbelievably mad. It makes me want to scream at them. Makes me want to try to hurt every one of the over 5,160,000 California voters for Prop 8 in a way that makes them understand how they've made me feel. How much they failed in their attempt to belittle, to marginalize, to shame me and my love.

But my challenge - my true challenge of character - is that the OTHER one of those two people DO want me to have equal rights. They DO value me as a human being, and they DO believe that our country really does stand for "Liberty and Justice For ALL" and that "All" includes Gay Americans like me. I want to hug them. All 4,760,000 plus of them.

And as I walk around, I have no idea who is who.

So I have a choice. Succumb to the tidal wave of bitterness that threatens to overwhelm me? See the glass as half empty, see everyone as a potential Nazi Gay-hating jerk?

Or see the good? Believe the glass is half-full? Take heart at the progress Gay Americans have made in such a relatively short time, compared to the slow progress of public opinion in "approving" interracial marriage?

It was 1948 when the California Supreme Court finally struck down the laws against interracial marriage. (The U.S. Supreme Court didn't do it until 1967.) But a majority of voters did not approve of interracial marriage until 1991.

By contrast, it was just this past May 16, 2008 when the California Supreme Court struck down the laws against Same-Gender marriage. And it appears that yesterday, November 4, 2008, we lost 52% to 48%. It was close.

And when you break the statistics available right now on yesterday's Prop 8 vote down by age, it's clear that there is a generational shift. Older voters (those 65 and older) voted for the measure 61% in favor to 39% against. But 18-29 year olds voted 61% against the referendum to 39% for it! An exact flip.

Time is on our side. The younger generations "get it," and when the old people die off and stop voting, and more young people come of age to vote, we Gay Americans will get our rights.

And while it would be easy to just be kind to everyone under 30 until then, and suspect everyone older than that, sort of like I did on my trip to Kassel, Germany, that's not really practical.

And not really me.

Now I know that the people who voted against my marriage aren't necessarily EVIL. And I'm not saying I think they want me dead, or that they are Nazis. (Though I do believe many of them would be happier if Gay Americans went back to our closets and everyone pretended to be straight and religious just like them.)

What I am saying is that the people who voted against my marriage have already voted on their moral dilemma. And they were clear: they don't want me to have the same civil rights as they do. They want our government's laws to be applied according to their own religious beliefs - and they believe that civil laws should be applied differently according to who you are. That belief in discrimination is a dangerous, slippery slope.

We should all remember that The Nuremberg Laws (laws that stripped Jewish Germans of their rights and, ultimately, of their citizenship) started in 1935, four years before Germany invaded Poland and WWII began.

A blogging friend asked me if I wanted to move to Canada where they respect Gay couples and give them federal marriage rights, and this was my response:

Thanks Andrea, I agree with you that Canada rocks!

But I'm not moving anywhere - even if Prop 8 passes, and my legal marriage slips into some kind of limbo/lawsuit realm, I will STAY and FIGHT for my rights. We will CHANGE this country for the better, and the WORLD for the better. President Obama will lead us in a better direction, and all of us fair minded people that believe Gay people should have equal rights will have to rise up and lead the leaders on this one.
It kind of goes back to the conversation about an all-gay high school or an all-bully high school. Every school should be safe for gay kids - if the bullies don't like it, let's make a special school for them. Similarly, if the bigots don't like the inevitable shift towards equal rights for all (including Gay Americans) they're welcome to move to Saudi Arabia, or Iran, or somewhere that's TRULY a theocracy - and maybe then they'll realize that having religious beliefs trump civil rights isn't such a grand idea after all.

So I'm heading out Today, and my character will be put to the test. I just hope I am able to be the man I aspire to be - someone who sees the glass as half-full, and is ready to stand up proud to demand - and work - until the rest of the glass is filled!

And in the words of my HUSBAND (hear that, world?), when he heard the news:

"We're not going to be pussies. We're going to be warriors."

See why I married him?

Wish us luck. We've got a long road ahead.




MotherReader said...

I'm sorry. I've been thinking about you all day (3 p.m. here) hoping that things would go the right way.

I found an article from AP that "Proposition 8 received critical support from black voters who flocked to the polls to support Barack Obama for president. Blacks voted strongly in favor of the ban, while whites narrowly opposed it and Latinos and Asians were split."

One, how ironic that Obama's win is connected to this loss of rights. Two, how sad that one discrimation is supported by a group as they rise above their own discrimination.

Bibliovore said...

Hi Lee

I was thinking of you and your husband and daughter all day yesterday as I waited to hear what was going on with Prop 8, after I proudly voted NO on it. I, too, am deeply angry that so many of my neighbors would choose to deny you the right to a marriage to the man you love in the eyes of the law.

But no law, no matter how sweeping or discriminatory, can make your family into a collection of three unrelated people. Families are not defined by laws, but by love. You are a family in your hearts and that's the most important place.

Keep fighting. One day, this country will recognize that love cannot be bound by gender or preference.


David LaRochelle said...

Hi Lee,

Like you, today I am a mixture of feelings. I am excited about the hope our new President brings (he actually mentioned gay people in his acceptance speech!), and disheartened that so many people have voted to take away the rights of people like us. I'm at a loss as to why anyone would deny the right of two people who love each other to become married.

But I still firmly believe things are changing. I just wished they were changing faster, and that we didn't have such setbacks.

Some day things will be different. I know they will. Till then, I wish you and your husband and your daughter the strength and courage to show the world what a real family is, and what real love means.

Your friend in Minnesota,


Sarah Laurenson said...

Thank you for this post. My wife and I are not where you are - yet - and we may never be there. Our overiding thought is to move. The choices are slim - NY, CT, Mass, Canada - and cold. We've had a taste of equality and cannot go back. I cried last night and have been on the verge of tears all day today. The fear, hatred and ignorance is brutal. And the Yes on 8 people who said this was for their kids meant this is for their assumed to be straight kids. I feel for any gay child growing up in that atmosphere of hate.

Anonymous said...

Lee, the court challenges have already begun. There are a number of good reasons why Prop 8 can be struck down by the California Supreme Court.

What the people who wrote Prop 8 did was draft a blatantly unconstitutional initiative that goes against the 14th amendment - all because they wanted to give the California Supreme Court the middle finger for striking down Prop 22. Pure knee-jerk reaction, with nothing holding it together than lies, fear-mongering, and distortions.

Tricia said...

My heart just breaks for you and all the other loving couples who want the same rights that heterosexuals enjoy. I will join you in trying to see the glass as half-full and will hope and pray that this fight will end happily for all gay and lesbian couples in the very near future.

CatBookMom said...

Thank you for the thought-provoking post. (I found you via Short Stuff's blog.) I voted early via mail-in ballot, and I wish I could have voted often. I, too, hope that the uncounted votes will change the result, or that some sort of legal challenges will be successful. I marched, I fund-raised, I contributed, I voted for the Equal Rights Amendment and watched it die away to defeat. Time seems to have given women many of the rights the ERA meant to provide. I sincerely hope something like that happens for my friends in single-sex relationships.

Disco Mermaids said...

Hey Lee!

Don't even know what to say. I am embarrassed to be a Californian at the moment.

Though I try VERY hard to see all sides of an issue and keep an open mind toward everybody's beliefs...I'm finding myself becoming VERY prejudiced against the blatantly homophobic "Yes on Prop 8" people.

I don't understand the hate and the ignorance, and I've actually lost friends (their choice) over this issue.

Please know that, though I happen to be heterosexual, I will do everything in my power to help with the appeals process regarding this decision. Not sure how much one person can do, but I'll sure as hell find out and support the cause in any way I can.

You are one of the loveliest, most compassionate people I have ever met...and I applaud you for being so "glass half full" about all this!

Love to you!

Saints and Spinners said...

In Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, Mr. Slinger put a note in Lilly's purse that said, "Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better." Here's to a more constitutional tomorrow-- and may it come soon.

My aunt and uncle are in a biracial union from the late 1960's marriage, and I often think of them and all the mischegoss they've had to deal with.

Marsaili said...

Thank you for the kind comments on my blog! :)

I am so sick over Prop. 8 ... and so angry and ARGH!!!! Well, just know, that you are not alone in your fight.

Candace Ryan said...

Hi Lee, I discovered your blog from the kidlitosphere list group.

Prop 8 should have been named for what it really is-- Prop H8. I admire your dignity and grace in choosing the high road in response to all of the hatred.

If only the other side could recognize the humanity of your spirit instead of being all hung-up on the gender of your soul mate. Here's to brighter tomorrows and rights that are protected, not eliminated.

Pat Schmatz said...

Hey Lee,

They passed a constitutional amendment like that here in Wisconsin a couple of years ago.

I'm with you - I don't get it. These amendments just seem so incredibly mean-spirited to me. Like, huh? You actually want to CHANGE the CONSTITUTION to keep me from marrying someone? I mean, you want to go THAT far out of your way?

Things are definitely changing, slowly, slowly. I'm going to just keep walking along, best I can, with kindness to others and the fierce determination I've always had to be me, no matter what those others think.

All the best to you and your husband and daughter,

Pat Schmatz.

Christy Raedeke said...

Lee, you should submit this as an op-ed piece to every newspaper in California. Such a beautifully crafted piece of writing.

My heart breaks over this.

Warm regards,

tanita✿davis said...

Oh, Lee. This made me so sad.
Thanks for not hating those of us whom you can't differentiate from everyone else... a lesson to those of us who are indiscriminately afraid...

Carolyn said...

Hi Lee,

I'm so sorry about prop 8. But I think you're right, that a generational turn will make all the difference. It's coming, and time will tell. I'm so sorry it's hard in the meantime...
Love and hugs. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

I think that I need to weigh in here to ask: What, precisely, is being said by people who point to "blacks" when they're discussing the results of Proposition 8?

Blacks made up 10 percent of the voters in California. Of those, how many were first-time voters? And how many voted for Prop 8?

The fact is that we cannot answer these questions. So ... we must ask: Why bring this up?

Proposition 8 passed with more than the required 50 percent majority. I am sorry about this, as I feel it is a horrible travesty. However, I am concerned that the AP is foisted off upon "the blacks."

We must acknowledge: 1) we do not know how blacks voted on this measure; 2) we do not know how many first-time, black voters supported this measure as compared to other black voters; 3) we do not have accurate measures of any ethnic group nor any first-time voters with regards to this measure.

That said, I must ask: What is being said by attributing the success of Proposition 8 to "the blacks?" Are we saying that blacks are too stupid to read the proposition, too ignorant to know that someone would be oppressed by this legislation, more morally conservative because of their religious views? WHAT ARE YOU SAYING WHEN YOU ATTRIBUTE EVIL TO BLACK VOTERS?

NASA: Statistics are a highly logical and precise method for saying a half-truth inaccurately. Be sure that you remember this, when placing the blame.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

I guess it's official when the No On Prop 8 leaders declare defeat. I received this mass email in the last hour (around 11:30 AM, Pacific Time, on Thursday Nov 6, 2008):

Dear Lee,

We had hoped never to have to write this email.

Sadly, fueled by misinformation, distortions and lies, millions of voters went to the polls yesterday and said YES to bigotry, YES to discrimination, YES to second-class status for same-sex couples.

And while the election was close, and millions of votes still remain uncounted, it has become apparent that we lost.

There is no question this defeat is hard.

Thousands of people have poured their talents, their time, their resources and their hearts into this struggle for freedom and this fight to have their relationships treated equally. Much has been sacrificed in this struggle.

While we knew the odds for success were not with us, we believed Californians could be the first in the nation to defeat the injustice of discriminatory measures like Proposition 8.

And while victory is not ours this day, we know that because of the work done here, freedom, fairness and equality will be ours someday. Just look at how far we have come in a few decades.

Up until 1974 same-sex intimacy was a crime in California. There wasn't a single law recognizing the relationships of same-sex couples until 1984 -- passed by the Berkeley School District. San Francisco did not pass domestic-partner protections until 1990; the state of California followed in 2005. And in 2000, Proposition 22 passed with a 23% majority.

Today, we fought to retain our right to marry and millions of Californians stood with us. Over the course of this campaign everyday Californians and their friends, neighbors and families built a civil rights campaign unequalled in California history.

You raised more money than anyone believed possible for an LGBT civil rights campaign.

You reached out to family and friends in record numbers -- helping hundreds of thousands of Californians understand what the LGBT civil rights struggle is really about.

You built the largest grassroots and volunteer network that has ever been built -- a coalition that will continue to fight until all people are equal.

And you made the case to the people of California and to the rest of the world that discrimination -- in any form -- is unfair and wrong.

We are humbled by the courage, dignity and commitment displayed by all who fought this historic battle.

Victory was not ours today. But the struggle for equality is not over.

Because of the struggle fought here in California -- fought so incredibly well by the people in this state who love freedom and justice -- our fight for full civil rights will continue.

Activist and writer Anne Lamott writes, "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up."

We stand together, knowing... our dawn will come.

Dr. Delores A. Jacobs
Center Advocacy Project

Lorri L. Jean
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center

Kate Kendell
Executive Director
National Center for Lesbian Rights

Geoff Kors
Executive Director
Equality California

Blair Jockers said...

I can't help wondering if this would have ended differently if the film about the life of Harvey Milk had been in theatres last weekend rather than its early-December planned release date. By all accounts, it will show gay people as human beings with all the same needs, desires and dignity as straights, and portrays our struggle as the civil rights battle it is instead of the morality tale so many have been taught to believe.

I grew up in the deep south in the 1960's and remember separate water fountains and restrooms... Our day will come.

Anonymous said...

Do I see why you married your husband? Well, no, I don't know him well enough, but I can certainly see why he married you.

And why your daughter will grow up proud and grateful to be your child.

Peace be with you, Lee. We support you, and I know it's not the same as legal rights, but I hope you can take some comfort in it.

Unknown said...

Excellent post, Lee. You're in a much better place about this than I am, right now. Right now, all I am is angry. I'm finding it really hard to talk to anyone at all because everyone wants to tell me how sorry they are are, like I'm supposed to make them feel better.

Logical Thinker is right to be concerned, but the voting information for African American voters is available on and it's very bad for us. 70% voted yes on 8, 20% more than any other ethnic group or race measured. (More or less. You can check for the exact figures.)

Barack Obama did not exactly come out swinging in our favor, either. I'm still keeping an open mind, but I really feel like I've been thrown under the bus like I was with Don't Ask, Don't Tell 8 years ago.

It's going to be a long fight. We have to remember that it only has one possible ending--full equality for everyone.

web said...

I agree with Christy, I think you should submit this to newspapers. It's a fantastic piece of writing and a beautiful mix of anger and optimism.

Charlotte said...

Good luck! I hope that sooner rather than later, you won't need it because people will have come to their senses. I'm so sorry they haven't yet.

(and this comment will work....)

Andrea -- Just One More Book!! Podcast said...

I'm so sorry, Lee.

I always find it startling, because I guess I surround myself socially with like minded people, when I discover that my own thinking isn't universal and is often in the minority -- our last two Canadian elections, being great examples -- makes me really feel odd out there on the street, with my co-workers etc.

I will be thinking of you and wishing you well.

Thought I'd mention this podcast on the issue of same-sex marriage in children's books

And if you need a laugh, watch this hilarious (if sad) video, if you haven't. Unfortunately, Canada has lots of that too.

--Your blogging Friend, Andrea

Anonymous said...

Oh, mercy, this is just an aching post to read. I am still trying to integrate how we could get it so bloody right with Obama and then reveal our lack of evolution (in California, and Arizona, and Arkansas) so vividly. But I guess this is the thing with evolution, isn't it? It is process. In excruciatingly teeny steps. Process. And in the meantime, love and peace to you...

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Fact correction: Laws against the Jews began in Germany in 1933 - among the first were banning (and firing) Jews from all Government jobs.

I wonder if we're that far from a mormon-church sponsored ballot initiative to fire all gay teachers - hmmm... Anita Bryant tried to do that already, back in the 1970s.


Rita said...

So many aspects of this post ring and resonate with me. Ditto with all of these comments. I am here, and I feel.

Robert Weber said...

Lee, you are darn right that time is on your side. Just look at how much the gap has narrowed in just the eight years since Prop 22. Keep fighting for your rights and have faith; change is going to come.

Anonymous said...

So articulate and thoughtful Lee. Your germany analogy is powerful. Keep thinking and writing!