By INGRID GOOCH
In my parents’ house there is a photo on the mantle, faded from years of exposure to the sun. It has always been a part of our house; for as long as I can remember, that faded photo has overlooked our family room. In it, my mom is dressed in blue and gold and two men are standing to her right. Her hair is up in a bun, decorated with flowers, and she is resting her hand on her stomach. The men are in suits with the most jovial expressions on their faces. I am also in the photo, though I was not yet born. I did not arrive until five months after this photo of my godparents’ civil union was taken. I never thought much about that photo until I began to grow up and realize that the world is not quite the haven of tolerance and acceptance of diversity that I had always assumed was typical.
Tolerance and acceptance of diversity are core values in our family, and this faded photo reminds me of the gift that my parents gave me by modeling these values over the course of my life. Today, civil unions and gay marriage are discussed openly in the news, but 17 years ago, before this topic was even acknowledged, we were doing it in our backyard.
As I am writing this, I am realizing that I have chosen the most difficult question to address because I have always recognized homosexuality as a normal part of life, and it had never occurred to me that this was something not everyone accepts; that loving my godparents fell into the category of acceptance and tolerance of diversity. I lost this naivety as I grew up and began to learn that homosexuality was considered a societal taboo. For example, when I started school, I would talk to people about my godparents, unintentionally making it clear that they were two men. It was a non-issue in my family, so at six years old I neither concealed it nor blurted it out. In fact, I didn’t even realize my godparents were gay until I was about 11 years old; it was that normal.
Once I got into middle and high school, though, I began to see opposition toward gays. For example, during a school dance, my straight girlfriend could not bring her straight girlfriend from another school because it was considered too “suggestively homosexual.” Additionally, I dated a boy who was horrified to discover that my cherished godparents were gay. He expressed his feelings by referring to them as “perverted” and “disgusting.” Since I had grown up with two men as godparents, this opposition was foreign to me, but once I was able to grasp that homosexuality was a controversy in our society, I made the conscious decision to support gay rights. Basically, I continued with what I had been doing all my life, exercising tolerance and acceptance of the diversity in our society, I just understood more clearly what I was really doing in making this conscious decision.
In high school, I began to lead by example rather than sitting quietly on the sidelines. Two of my high school friends found the courage the come out to me, an action that I deeply respect, as I now understand the level of trust such an action requires. Sadly, neither friend felt comfortable coming out to their parents. They both told me that if they were to tell their parents, they would be disowned. Whether that is an accurate assessment of how their parents would react is irrelevant; this is the very real fear with which they live.
I am concerned for my friends because, based on my godparents’ experiences, I know what life could be like for them. In 1984, one of my godparents was on a date with another man, enjoying a walk in the park. Thinking they were alone, they shared an innocent kiss and returned to their car. Suddenly, several men approached them, severely beat them, and chased after them with shotguns yelling that they were going to “kill you fags.” My other godparent was so tormented by the intolerance he witnessed in his school that, in order to survive, he joined the other boys in beating up gay schoolmates simply to hide the fact that he, himself, was gay — an act that he now thoroughly regrets.
Even today, despite the great progress our society has made for gay rights since the 20th century, intolerance exists en masse. My godparents cannot wear their wedding rings on their left hands, they cannot keep photos of their wedding, their vacations or their families on their desks at work; they cannot talk about their personal lives in the workplace or secure spousal insurance through their jobs; they cannot hold hands in public — all simple acts that the straight community takes for granted.
As a college-bound young adult, I respect the rights of those who disagree with me, but my concern is in the harm that intolerance of diversity can breed. I have a richer life because my friends — gay and straight — feel comfortable sharing their lives and experiences with me. Conversely, they have richer lives because I share my life and experiences with them. Our peaceful, non-judgmental coexistence benefits everyone and harms no one. This is, to me, the greatest gift that diversity in life grants us.
Ingrid Gooch, 17, graduated from the Connelly School of the Holy Child in Potomac, Md., in June, and will attend Hood College in Frederick in the fall to study psychology and French.