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The United States Of Paradox

Published in “HWFmag”

August 2007

It is a great honour to have been given the opportunity to share with you what is happening within the GLBT community on this side of the pond. Having spent time studying British broadcasting in London in the ’70s, I am well aware of the famous Letter From America that Alistair Cooke broadcast on the BBC each week. On more than one occasion I have been accused of being an insufferable Anglophile. I plead guilty. So writing a monthly column for a British magazine is a dream come true.

Although I am originally from the suburbs of New York City, I have lived in Dallas, Texas for twenty-two years. As you know, Texas is home to two of America’s worst disasters: first, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and second, George W. Bush. Some of you may know that Texans are known for bragging about Texas. I am surprised that I haven’t been lynched yet because my comment on Texas has always been, “I have never seen so many people so proud of so little.” But the cost of living in Dallas is much more reasonable than the major cities on both the East and West Coasts and, surprisingly enough, we have a large and active GLBT population.

I came out seventeen years ago after being married for thirteen years and my son who was twelve at the time continued to live with me, although his mom and I co-parented him through his teen years. Needless to say, it was quite an experience coming out as a middle-aged father. In many ways it was like being thrown into a new country without being able to speak the language!

Upon coming out I was shocked at the amount of hate and prejudice against gay people. I knew that I had to do something to make the world a better place for our community. As a photographer and a writer I soon met many amazing people and have been able share their stories. As gays and lesbians, we need GLBT role models, as we certainly didn’t have any as we grew up. Hopefully my voice has helped in making the plight for the next generation somewhat easier.

No doubt, those of you in Britain look at America under the reign of King George the Mini-Brain with his base of right-wing Christian fundamentalists and wonder just how bad it must be for gays in this country. Bush, the Republican Party and their legion of neo-cons have found it much easier to play to their base by verbally attacking gays instead of focusing on ending the absurd war in Iraq, joining the fight against global climate change or helping those still stranded in New Orleans and Southern Mississippi after the ravages of Hurricane Katrina two years ago. And I haven’t even gotten to suggesting that they fix our corrupt healthcare system as showcased in Michael Moore’s must-see new movie, Sicko.

The religious fundamentalists are the core of the Republican Party’s base and candidates have to placate them during the upcoming primary season when the candidates are selected by members of the party. This is going to prove to be a major problem for the Republican Party with the approaching 2008 elections. Americans have finally grown fed-up with both Bush and the rightwing nutters that make up the Republican base. Hopefully the 2008 election will put a Democrat back into the White House and the Democrats’ control of both the United States Senate and House of Representatives will grow.

Even with all the hateful, ugly anti-gay vitriol spewing forth from Republican politicians, a poll released this May by the respected Gallup organization showed that tolerance towards gays is at the highest level since they began tracking the subject 30 years ago. More than 50% of those polled, 59% in fact, believed that same-sex relations should be legal. This represents a thirteen-point increase in just five years (all of which the “Smirking Chimp”, as he is referred to on a popular website, has been in office). Furthermore, 89% of those participating in the poll believed that gays and lesbians should have equal rights when it comes to job opportunities. We still have the need for more progress when it comes to same-sex marriage with slightly less than half of those polled supporting the concept; still the numbers are moving in our direction. Women tend to be more supportive of GLBT rights as are younger people and both Democrats and Independent voters.

The largest American corporations have overwhelmingly included sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies with Exxon/Mobil being the sole holdout of the top 50 corporations of Fortune 500 companies. More than fifty percent even offer domestic partnership health insurance as part of their benefit package.

As you have no doubt observed, the United States is a country of paradoxes. So many cutting edge cultural trends are born here and yet our Puritanical roots surface far too often. All that plus we drink tea, not in teacups with lemon or milk but in large glasses with more ice than tea and we eat chips with lots of Ketchup instead of vinegar and call them French Fries – or Freedom Fries when we are mad at the French for not blindly agreeing with our foreign policy!

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© 2007 John R. Selig. All rights reserved.