Jerry Davich: Where is the local gay community?
JERRY DAVICH June 29, 2013 11:25PM
Jerry Davich. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 2, 2013 7:04AM
My assignment for today’s column was simple, even cliché in the journalism world.
Talk to region residents from our gay community about the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. With Chicago’s gay pride parade taking place today — an already festive event that would double as a historic celebration — I figured today would be the ideal day for such a column.
As you know, Wednesday was a remarkable day for supporters of marriage equality and gay rights when the nation’s highest court struck down a provision of that federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples. The court also cleared the way for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California.
You’d think it would be relatively easy to find local gay couples who may someday be personally affected by this court ruling and eager to chat about it, right? You’d think wrong.
Sure, there are a few outspoken, familiar-faced and media-friendly gay couples in Northwest Indiana, and I had no problems contacting them for input. But I wanted to talk with other couples who had fresh insights, novel views and new situations.
“It’s like we are the only same-sex couple living in Indiana,” joked Amy Sandler of Munster, who is always vocal about such issues along with her partner, Niki Quasney.
Of course they are not the only same-sex couple in this region, let alone this state. Personally, I know many gay couples, as well as gay singles, gay divorcees and gay grandfathers. They are bankers, lawyers, teachers, administrators, public office officials, you name it. Their names, faces, and community roles are familiar to you, I guarantee it.
But asking them to step forward publicly and offer insights for a newspaper column is typically asking them for too much, I’ve learned through the years.
“People are afraid to be out,” said Sandler, echoing the obvious reality about gays who choose to remain more closeted with their sexual preferences, lifestyle choices, and opinions on such hot-button topics.
“I wish you had more options,” Sandler told me.
Tell me about it. My email contact list includes a folder labeled “GAY ISSUES,” with emails about related subjects, news stories, and local sources who are either gay or gay rights supporters. It’s one of the thinnest email folders I have.
Other folders include “ALZHEIMER’S,” “MENTAL HEALTH,” and “TOURISM,” each one packed with local sources who eagerly respond to my queries. Not so with our gay community.
Don’t get me wrong. I have several go-to contacts who are wonderful, courageous and always available for feedback, insights, or other leads. They are on the front lines of gay rights issues and want nothing more than to amplify their views in a newspaper column.
But I was specifically hoping for input from new voices or, even better, from more, uh, mature members of our gay community who have a greater depth of knowledge, experience and social stature. I guess that’s too much to ask from those who feel the potential risk far outweighs any gains in our socially backward corner of the state.
For instance, Gov. Mike Pence quickly issued a statement countering the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling against keeping legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits.
“While I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, I am grateful that today’s decisions respect the sovereignty of states on this important issue,” he said. “These decisions preserve the duty and obligation of the states to define and administer marriage as they see fit.”
“Given that opportunity, I am confident that Hoosiers will reaffirm our commitment to traditional marriage and will consider this important question with civility and respect for the values and dignity of all of the people of our state. I look forward to supporting efforts by members of the Indiana General Assembly to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voter consideration next year.”
House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, offered a more realistic insight on this ruling and Pence’s stance to keep us in the 1950s (or 1850s for that matter): “For those who are under 40 years old, this is not even a debate.”
A middle-aged (and straight) colleague of mine smartly noted: “I almost wonder if this entire issue will be resolved when people my age begin dying off and the people who are in grade school today become involved in voting and electing people.”
So true, I say.
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, noted: “Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways.”
Burdened in visible and public ways — this says so much about this issue as well as why so many local gay men and women keep such low public profiles. I get it, I do. But it’s frustrating for me to offer them a platform to express their views, their angst and, more to the point, their joys and all I hear is crickets.
However, like with most socially progressive issues I am convinced that we, as a society, will someday look back at this “landmark” ruling and others sure to follow and wonder, “What was all the controversy about?”
We’re obviously not there yet, but across the country openly gay journalists chatted openly this past week about this ruling and related issues with openly gay guests, making history of sorts. This included “Good Morning America co-host Sam Champion on ABC-TV, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, Anderson Cooper on CNN, along with colleague Don Lemon who took viewers to the iconic Stonewall bar in New York.
I have been to a few gay bars in my day and it was suggested for me to visit one again, this time to find local reaction to this national news. I recalled a gay bar in Lake Station that has had several names through the years, so I went there on Friday night.
I pulled up in my car and an older man was just leaving the bar, now called “The 219.” A younger man shadowed him. Discreetly, I asked the older man, “Is this still a gay bar?”
“No, no, no,” he said politely.
The younger guy seemed more offended, hissing, “No way, not for a couple years.”
Then, as I drove away, I heard the younger guy say the F-word — the N-word in the gay community— either to me, to the older guy or possibly under his breath. It wasn’t quite the local reaction I sought, but it spoke volumes about the challenges ahead.
Connect with Jerry via email, at email@example.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.