When I was a freshman at a college near Boston (Cambridge), I needed a job, so I signed up at the work-study office to be a personal driver.
My employer turned out to be a professor at a state university.
It turned out he wanted more than a driver.
He was just a closeted white-professor.
I was not gay, but I was empathetic. I did one actual driving chore, and then we agreed to part amicably. No harm, no foul.
It was 1973 and that’s just the way things were done.
I’m from San Francisco, and grew up just a few blocks from Castro Street, and saw the evolution of my neighborhood. I thought I was gay friendly enough.
As a parting gesture, the professor invited me to a party on Beacon Hill. As a curious college sophomore, I accepted. Maybe I’d meet people from a different school.
The colonial townhome was nicely appointed. And filled with more of the professor’s friends.
But these weren’t just university types. They were a unique subset of Brahmins. Captains of industry. CEOs. Top dogs. Wealthy. And older. And all men.
They were successful in all areas. Except they couldn’t be open about their relationships nor about themselves.
They were also all White men, White and privileged. Just not where it counted. Certainly not in terms of the right to be married.
It was the kind of secret societies gay men set up because gay was still taboo.
My ex-boss, the professor, was giving me a little American history lesson.
I thought about them on Friday when the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision ruled in favor of gay marriage.
President Obama had quite a day.
He started it on the phone congratulating Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff on the victorious and historic case that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
“Not only have you been a great example for people,” said the president. “But you also brought about a lasting change in this country and that’s pretty rare when that happens.”
Since the topic of same-sex marriage started as a more prominent rallying cry in the early ‘90s, there’s been enough of a change in public attitudes so that most people see Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion as completely logical.
Of course, it’s about due process and equal protection—the 14th Amendment. Translated: it’s about freedom and equality.
But I know for decades it’s been more logical for most people to be totally silent and let it be.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has always been the unspoken guideline.
Especially in the Black churches.
And that’s where Obama ended up later on Friday afternoon.
If you haven’t seen the president’s speech, you should. It was Obama’s best ever. Better than Selma. He closes his eulogy by singing “Amazing Grace.”
And he discovers his soul.
It’s the speech that all of us who follow race issues in this country have wanted to hear from him, as he honored the people who died at the hands of a White supremacist.
In that sense, the afternoon was in synch with the morning.
But those who know Black churches know that, for many of us, including the president, coming to terms with gay marriage has not been an easy evolution.
And that made the day as polarizing as possible.
I’ve talked to Black ministers during the ‘80s at the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Black ministers and gay marriage usually didn’t mix then, and not likely now.
Kenyon Farrow, the former Executive Director of Queers for Economic Justice and Policy Institute Fellow with the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said in a 2011 article in Black Enterprise magazine that it hasn’t changed much and that there may be queer-friendly churches in some urban areas and large cities that are more open, but not likely those in small towns or in the south.
Obama deftly managed to be in both worlds last week.
But even before the ruling, the Christian Post was reporting that the Coalition of African-American Pastors announced plans for civil disobedience if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
“If they rule for same-sex marriage, then we’re going to do the same thing we did for the civil rights movement,” said the Rev. Bill Owens, president and founder of CAAP. “We will not obey an unjust law.”
Same thing for the civil rights movement?
But shouldn’t civil rights be honored first?
What to do?
Maybe as Obama pointed to lead plaintiff Jim Obergefell as a great example for change, Black ministers and others can look to Obama similarly—for a little leadership.
The president is one who has made an amazing transformation, an example of someone who has changed his views on the issue.
He was blind. But now he sees.
Emil Guillermo is an award-winning journalist and commentator who writes on race, politics and culture for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. www.twitter.com/emilamok ; www.fb.com/EmilGuillermoMedia; www.amok.com
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