Homophobia At Home In Connecticut

National debates on whether gays should indeed have civil rights—and if so, which ones—continue to inspire threads of passionate comments at a wide variety of online media sources from The New York Times to my local Patch.com blog. While I’m usually bored, amused or numb (or some combination of the three) when reading the more homophobic comments by the national community, similarly prejudiced comments from folks in the local community have, in rare moments, left me stunned and staring at my computer screen. The other day, I was embarrassed to realize I had fat tears racing away from my eyes.

Sometimes I comment, other times I don’t. Today, I’d like to share the response that won’t fit into a comment box. I fully support freedom of speech but please remember that while you’re at home typing away on your computer, you might as well be standing in a large circle of locals at the farmers’ market or town hall or outside your favorite café or restaurant while talking about “these people.” You’re talking about me, my wife, and my family.

We’re your neighbors. We’re standing here, right next to you, and you’re looking in our eyes as you talk about “those homosexuals.”

That’s exactly how close it feels as I read another “unscientific poll” posted at Patch.com by local journalist Susan Schoenberger essentially asking my neighbors what rights they think we should or shouldn’t have. Out of professional respect, I wrote a private letter to Schoenberger back in May and asked her to consider another perspective regarding a poll asking for comments about Obama's evolving views on same-sex marriage. She didn’t respond. Perhaps she didn’t receive my message? I sent another but still no response.

Patch_s Poll_ Should the Boy Scouts Allow Local Units to Decide Whether to Admit Gays? - Granby-East Granby, CT Patch

Obviously, Schoenberger’s never experienced what it’s like to see a poll in a public forum asking the community whether her marriage to her husband should be recognized by the federal government or whether her husband should be allowed to be a scout leader or her son a scout because of their sexual orientations.

Patch’s Poll_ Should Gay People Be Afforded the Same Federal Rights in Marriage? - Granby-East Granby, CT Patch

And local journalist Ronald DeRosa has surely never had his personal life be the subject of polls such as his equally disturbing posts titled "Should Gay People Be Afforded the Same Federal Rights in Marriage?" and "Do You Care About a Private Group’s Stance on Issues Such as Gay Rights?" and "Should Schools Police Kids' T-Shirt Slogans?" illustrated by a photo of an anti-gay t-shirt worn by a Connecticut teen.

Regardless of whatever DeRosa and Schoenberger’s best intentions or personal politics may be, this sort of “community journalism” creates a very different discussion and environment than this morning’s poll regarding the U.S. Postal Service cutting Saturday deliveries.

My marriage and family is the topic that’s been proposed once again for discussion—clothed this time in the Boy Scouts of America issue. Might this have something to do with the advertisers who pay salaries and Patch.com editors’ eagerness to please AOL?

I simply ask local journalists and community members to consider the fact that gay people are probably standing in your circle outside the coffee shop. Like you, our hands are in our pockets on a cold day. And we hear, unfortunately, all you have to say about us.

Each and every comment that acknowledges our right to civil rights is profoundly appreciated. But the homophobic comments from neighbors—even if they’re in the minority, even if there’s just a couple—can be unsettling at best and heartbreaking at worst.

Surprised I was surprised, I began tweeting a series of quotes as I read comments from several polls:

Overheard in CT: I guess the homosexuals and pedophiles need somewhere to go. [...] Why can't they just form their own clubs?

Overheard in CT: most gay men do not believe in..."sexually faithful" relationships, so their arguments for "gay marriage" are specious at best

Overheard in CT: gay choice is based in a deep need to compensate for a severe lack of essential nurture...or a severe destruction of psyche

Overheard in CT: I find it amazing that homosexual behavior, which used to bring a chorus of "Ewwwws" 50 years ago, because we knew...(cont)

Overheard (cont)“…we knew it was unnatural and aberrent, now must be thought of with the same warm fuzzies as for heterosexual couples.”

Overheard in CT: We think we are enlightened, but actually our minds are being slowly boiled in the ever warming caldron of the PC-ers,

Overheard in CT: If the homosexuals come in, I would expect many parents to pull their sons out. I know I would do so.

Overheard in CT: Why not have Gay Boy Scouts of America and Lesbian Girl Scouts of America…

Overheard (cont): If they have any doubt they should be supported in being heterosexual…

Overheard in CT: The policy just says you can't be "open" about the gay thing.

Overheard in CT: Attacks are expected when a study challenges the strident advocates of same-sex parenting.

Overheard in CT: Bravo, BSA and Chick Fil-A

Overheard in CT: I don't give to the united way because they support gay parades and such.

Overheard in CT: I'll be taking my scout to chick fil a …for a sandwich. That's after I send a big check to the local scouts.

Overheard in CT: "Try joining the NAACP or any womans group if you want to know real discrimination"

Overheard in CT: "Its a real simple concept, start your own gay troop instead of forcing your beliefs on others who do not agree with you."

Overheard in Ct: Boy scouting has has largely enjoyed the blessing of God for all its years. Let's just not mess with success.

Overheard in CT: It's a shame these people keep getting away with wreaking havoc on so many great institutions.

Reading these quotes now, I again feel numb. But there are moments when it feels like we’re living some sort of contemporary, virtual version of Shirley Jackson’s short story, “The Lottery” (set in another small town I lived in). Meanwhile, we’re also paying taxes that benefit our community, voting on issues that affect our community, sending our child to the local school, in line behind you as you order a sandwich, holding the door for you as you enter the post office, and reading the same papers and local blog.

“We” are part of “you.” So, as you exercise your freedom of speech, please consider addressing us and these very personal issues with the same respect you’d hopefully employ if speaking to our faces—the same respect you’d want if your sexuality and family and civil rights were being openly debated in most every public forum, everywhere you look.

And this issue is not “moot until May” as one commenter said. My wife and I will be living this issue every day for the rest of our lives.

Chivas picChivas Sandage’s first book of poems, Hidden Drive (Antrim House, 2012), places Ada with Eve in Eden and explores same-sex marriage and divorce. Her essays and poems on gay marriage have appeared in Ms. Magazine,The Naugatuck River Review, Upstreet, Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate (Prometheus Books, ‘04) and are forthcoming in Knockout Magazine. Her work has also appeared in Artful Dodge, Drunken Boat, Evergreen Review, Hampshire Life Magazine, The Hartford Courant, Manthology: Poems on the Male Experience (Univ. of Iowa Press, 2006) and Morning Song: Poems for New Parents (St. Martin’s Press, 2011). Sandage holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a BA from Bennington College. She lives in Connecticut with her wife and daughter and blogs at csandage.com.

Image, top, courtesy ACLU