Because I never knew my uncle…
Because I never knew my uncle…
Sometimes people ask me why I support gay rights and marriage equality. Why do I speak up or put the bumper stickers on my car or sign the petitions? After all, I’m straight, I have two girls who also appear to be straight, my siblings are all straight, there’s no pressing need to get so involved with that.
Most times I give them chapter and verse. I talk about fairness and equality. I say I want a future with less bigotry in it for my kids. I ask them how they can justify turning their back on love of any kind, in a world that needs more love and less hate.
But sometimes if I’m sad and a little tired of explaining this fight that really should need no explanation, I tell them I’m doing it because I never knew my uncle.
Never met him. Never even heard his name.
Both my parents had brothers. My father’s oldest brother died young, fighting for Canada, and indirectly for all of us, behind enemy lines in the fields of France. Having known and dearly loved both my father and my remaining paternal uncle, I know what a loss that was. But he was given to his fate, not gladly but proudly and of urgent necessity, to keep us free. I wish I had known him, but he at least was brought to vivid life for me in the loving stories of the family he left behind.
My mother had one older brother and two younger. Growing up, I knew only the two younger ones. My maternal uncles are brilliant, artistic and athletic, with wide-ranging interests. I knew there was another brother, but my mother would only say “My older brother died young.” His name was never spoken; he was not identified on the back of childhood photographs.
When I was a child, I didn’t ask questions. As a teen and young adult, I assumed that, like her own mother’s death from tuberculosis when Mum was eight, the loss was too painful to talk about. Mum was like that, not putting her emotions out there to be seen.
It was only last year, as the Alzheimer’s first began to change her, that my mother told me the story of her oldest brother. In his early twenties, he was newly launched in his profession in a large city in Europe where they grew up. He had graduated, left home and begun an adult life. He was in fact living with a male lover.
His boss found out about it, and in the good-old-boys networking that seems to exist everywhere, consulted with my grandfather. My grandfather was an intelligent, rigidly-honest and somewhat controlling man, who wanted the world for his children, but not necessarily what was best in their own eyes. He brokered a deal, and together those two established men presented it to my uncle. Either he give up his lover and move back home into my grandfather’s house, under his father’s eagle eye, to continue his professional life. Or he would be fired from his job, blackballed professionally, and forbidden to come home at all. They asked him to choose. They gave him a day.
He chose to step in front of a train.
I never knew my uncle. Judging from the other family members I did know, I imagine he would have been brilliant, introverted, slim and athletic, with a quiet sense of humor. And he would have been gay.
If society back then had allowed him to live the life he chose, I might have had fifty years to come to know the man. The world would have gained whatever contributions some five decades of the work of an agile mind can produce. His lover, whose fate I do not know, would have escaped that moment when you hear that the one you love has chosen death. His three siblings would have had a brother, not a deep unspoken loss. There would have been less pain and more joy in the world.
So when people ask why do I put energy and emotion and time into this cause, when they want to know why someone normally as shy as I am does speak up, even to strangers, when the topic is raised, sometimes I tell them… because I never knew my uncle, but I really wish I had. Because I don’t want the children of my daughters’ generation to have the same sad reason for an aching, silent, lifelong hole in their family circle.
Today’s post, today’s participation, has the same goals. I decided to participate in the Hop Against Homophobia because anything I can do is worth the effort. Most readers who move around this hop are not homophobic, or they wouldn’t be looking at these websites. But sometimes it’s easy to take the low road, to frown at prejudice but hold our tongues and keep ourselves out of the fray. My hope is that this hop will reinforce the message that that’s not enough.
North Carolina just voted to forbid gay marriage and enshrine hatred and discrimination in their constitution. My home state of Minnesota will have a referendum trying to do the same in November. It’s not enough for those of us who are straight allies to feel complacent in our lack of prejudice. It is vital for us to speak up.
If we who have no visible “agenda” for supporting gay rights step up to the plate and put our vehement support behind equality, we become harder to dismiss and ignore.
As you go through this hop you will see all kinds of stories, meet all kinds of people, with one common theme. Discrimination and hate are not acceptable. We must work together to move out of the darkness. Write, speak, vote. When your neighbor says something about “Those gays have no right…” don’t just let it slide. When your pastor claims God’s support for oppression and bullying, speak out about God’s love for all of his creation. When a college student talks about the hassle of going to vote, remind her that her own rights, and her status as a thinking participant in her own government, are at stake too. Sign the petitions, be vocal, be seen. Bigotry is everyone’s problem and everyone’s shame. We are better than this.
What part of love don’t they understand?
As encouragement to readers moving around this hop, those of us participating are offering some prizes. In my case, three people who comment either here or on my Goodreads blog before midnight on May 20th will be chosen by the trusty names-in-a-hat method to receive one ebook of their choice from my backlist (or a copy of Home Work when it comes out later this summer.) Your comment can be as short or as long as you like. Then click on this link to get back to HAH home base and find another blog to visit. We’re all in this together. Thanks for coming by.