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LGBTQ myths debunked with science and facts

Stereotypes harm LGBTQ community despite no evidence

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Studies show that same-sex couples are just as committed as heterosexual couples in their romantic relationships.

MYTH: Being gay is a “choice”

Americans are evenly split on whether sexual orientation is a choice, or is determined by nature, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, with roughly 40 percent of respondents on either side. But, the percentage of people who believe that sexual orientation is not a choice has nearly doubled over the past few decades, up from about 20 percent when the Los Angeles Times conducted a similar poll in 1985.

The myth has powerful legal ramifications: the strongest argument anti-gay activists can make to remove accommodations for discrimination against the LGBTQ community is the claim that LGBTQ people were not born into their sexuality, “choosing” instead to be a part of marginalized groups.

FACTS: A 2019 study by Andrea Ganna, et al published in Science looked at the genes of 492,664 people and concluded that “same-sex sexual behavior is influenced by not one or a few genes but many.”

Based on this and other evidence, most researchers have concluded that sexuality is determined by a combination of environmental, emotional, hormonal, and biological components, making sexual orientation not a choice but instead controlled by a variety of uncontrollable factors.

While there is no consensus about what combination of factors produces sexual orientation at the individual level, The American Psychological Association notes that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.”

MYTH: Gay relationships don’t last

This idea of homosexual couples not taking their relationships/partners as seriously as heterosexual couples derives, in part, from the history of gay couples not being able to affirm their commitment to each other legally.

FACTS: Several studies have been published refuting this myth, which included tens of thousands of gay, lesbian, and straight participants and their partners who provided feedback about the stability of their relationships.

A 2017 study of homosexual and heterosexual couples by researchers at Bowling Green State University found that different-sex and female same-sex couples had more stability in their relationships than male same-sex couples. BGSU concluded that this is because gay and bisexual men are exposed to more stressors that lead to problems in their relationships.

Research by UCLA psychologist Ilan Meyer has found that female same-sex couples prioritize emotional intimacy more than male same-sex couples, which resulted in their ability to support the partnership longer.

A pair of studies published in the journal Developmental Psychology in 2008 showed that same-sex couples are just as committed as heterosexual couples in their romantic relationships. One, by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that there was no difference in the level of commitment or relationship satisfaction between homosexual and heterosexual couples, and even found that lesbian couples were “especially effective at resolving conflict.”

MYTH: Bisexuality and pansexuality are the same thing.

For many people, bisexual is used as a catch-all term for anyone who is not heterosexual or homosexual. But in reality, there are many different forms of sexuality.

FACTS: Though both involve someone being attracted to more than one gender, bisexual and pansexual are not synonyms.

Bisexual people define their sexuality on the basis of romantic attraction to two sexes; hence the prefix “bi.” However, bisexuality has different conditions for each person. One bisexual male may be 30% attracted to men and 70% attracted to women. Or a bisexual female may be attracted evenly to both genders.

But gender categories are not limited to “male” and “female,” which allows for people to identify as nonbinary, or genderqueer, which means they do not identify as either male or female gender.

Bisexuals may or may not be romantically attracted to nonbinary people but even if they are, they are still considered bisexual. Nonbinary people also can identify as bisexual if they are attracted to male, female or nonbinary people as well.

Pansexuality relates to being attracted to all people regardless of their sexual orientation. This also includes agender people; those who do not identify with any gender. Though pansexual people are attracted to all genders, they are not attracted to every person. Personality, physique, morals, etc. also matter to pansexual people too.

MYTH: Same-sex parenting is harmful to children

The belief that heterosexual couples — and preferably married ones — make better parents, is deeply embedded in the belief systems of many Americans, for both political and religious reasons. Some advocates of this viewpoint, including many with a political or religious agenda, have opposed changing state policies to allow same-sex parenting and adoption.

FACTS: Statistics show that limiting parenting to heterosexual couples leaves many children out altogether rather than being adopted and fostered by gay couples who could give them the opportunity to thrive.

“Same-sex couples are seven times more likely than different-sex couples to be raising an adopted or foster child,” a UCLA Williams Institute brief concluded in July, 2018. It showed that between 2014 and 2016, among couples raising children, 2.9 percent of same-sex couples were raising foster children, compared to .4 percent of same-sex couples.

Adoption and fostering laws vary by state, but every year thousands of children age out before getting adopted or fostered, having long-term effects on their mental health. Only three percent of those who age out will earn a college degree. Seven out of 10 females who age out will become pregnant before the age of 21, according to the National Foster Youth Institute.

Divorce can have harmful effects on children. A 2020 HealthLine article lists depression, substance abuse, future issues in the child’s own relationships, and more. Rather than bash the parents for splitting up, however, the article offers ways to help children adjust. The same counsel can be given to children of gay parents when and if they experience bullying or anxiety.

MYTH: People who transition will regret it later in life

Arguments against gender confirming procedures, such as surgery and hormones, include the idea that there could be negative effects on the person receiving the treatment and that they may change their mind.

FACTS: Studies show that hormone therapy and surgery often help people who identify as transgender learn to love their bodies and greatly improve their mental well-being.

A 2017 study led by a team of Dutch researchers showed that gender dysphoria and body dissatisfaction plummeted after these procedures. The depression and “lower psychological functioning” that patients experienced before the procedure were all caused by the discomfort they felt in their own bodies, the researchers concluded. Hormone-based and surgical interventions improved body satisfaction among these patients.

A 2016 systematic review published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment found that estrogen hormone therapy positively affects the emotional and mental health of male-to-female transgender individuals. Patients reported a decrease in depression, feeling happier and more confident in their bodies, and fewer symptoms of dissociative issues.

A 2021 analysis of a 2015 survey published in JAMA Surgery found that transgender and gender-diverse people (TGD) who had gender-affirming surgeries “had significantly lower odds of past-month psychological distress, past-year tobacco smoking, and past-year suicidal ideation compared to TGD people with no history of gender-affirming surgery.”

“Deciding to transition was one of the most important and difficult decisions I have ever made,” Arin Jayes, 30, a non-binary trans man wrote in an email.

“I didn’t truly know it was right until after I did it. This statement may seem radical and scary. It’s a bit existential, even, because it took a leap of faith,” he said. “One may ask, “Why on earth would you do something so permanent if you weren’t sure?” As someone who has been there, I can say that if it doesn’t feel right, you know. It is important to trust yourself and your bodily autonomy.”

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10 ways to build back LGBTQ human infrastructure better

The Build Back Better Act will benefit the community

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LGBT Congressional Staff Association, 2018 mid-term elections, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In 2021 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $1.75 trillion human infrastructure bill — the Build Back Better Act. It contains 10 concrete provisions that it will directly benefit the LGBTQ community. It awaits Senate approval to become law.

Most media reports covered the climate change and social safety net programs. LGBTQ people will undoubtedly benefit from clean air, water and reduced emissions. LGBTQ people of color or those with limited incomes will undoubtedly benefit from the expanded social safety net programs. But sometimes queers, lesbians, Asians, young people or immigrants are overlooked. Here are 10 ways that we benefit.

1. Retroactive benefits for same-sex couples married before 2010

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibited the IRS from recognizing same-sex marriages. Windsor changed that, but only for same-sex marriages after 2010. Couples who married before — some wed by then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newson, then-New Paltz (N.Y.) Mayor Jason West, or in Canada as far back as 2004 — could not claim federal benefits. The bill allows these couples to back-file claims for federal tax credits and refunds.

2. Queer Asian lesbians who tech 

A disproportionate share of immigrant tech workers are lesbian/bi/trans women and/or Asian. The bill extends H-1B visas for these workers by recapturing unused, previously authorized, worker visas. Watch Jenny’s video to learn more about LGBTQ Asian immigrant knowledge workers.

3. Enforcement of anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination

The National LGBTQ Task Force tells that nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ Americans report having experienced discrimination in their everyday lives. Last year, the Supreme Court held in Bostock v. Clayton County that the Civil Rights Act protected LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment. (See my amicus brief with TLDEF in that case.) But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which conducts investigations and enforcement lawsuits, badly defunded under Trump accrued a backlog of claims. LGBTQ people who lost their jobs are still waiting for their cases to be heard. The bill provides $321 million for the EEOC to resolve those cases.

4. College Financial Aid for Queer Students and DACA Young People

Two provisions will help more LGBTQ young people attend college. First is a $550 increase in the federal Pell Grant; second is the exclusion of Pell Grants as income for tax purposes. It’s always been strange that the federal government gave out Pell Grants and then took some of it back through taxes. This exclusion increases the $550 even more.

In addition, undocumented LGBTQ young people, or Dreamers, who enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program could attend college but were denied federal financial aid. The bill allows them to apply for aid, including Pell Grants and subsidized student loans.

5. Preventing LGBTQ youth suicide, community violence and trauma

The Trevor Project has long shown that LGBTQ youth face the highest rates of suicide. The bill provides $75 million in funding to support the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and its network of crisis centers. It also provides $2.5 billion to support programs to reduce community violence and trauma.

6. Fighting HIV/AIDS

Countless men who have sex with men have died from AIDS. African American, Latino and older gay and bisexual men have the highest rates of HIV disease. APICHA and APAIT remind us that Asian and Pacific Islanders have the highest rates of new infections. The bill provides $75 million to support the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program to provide primary care, support services, and medications to communities disproportionally affected by HIV/AIDS.

7. Supporting LGBTQ families with children

An estimated 3 million LGBTQ Americans are raising or had a child. Family Equality found that 63 percent of LGBTQ millennials have or are planning to have children. The Child Tax Credit, oft regarded as a program to lift low-income families out of poverty, will also help LGBTQ families with a tax credit of $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for children under age six.

8. Protecting vulnerable LGBTQ elders

As more and more LGBTQ age, some have limited support. SAGE reports that many LGBTQ elders lack children or caregivers to look out for their needs. The bill reauthorizes funding for elder justice with programs and trainings to prevent and investigate abuse, neglect and exploitation, especially in nursing homes, as well as $74 million for resources that focus on elder community issues.

9. Protecting LGBTQ undocumented immigrants

There are a quarter million undocumented LGBTQ immigrants in the U.S. Immigration Equality fights hard for them but can’t do it all. The bill allows undocumented immigrants to work, protects them from deportation and allows access to social safety net programs.

10. Reuniting LGBTQ immigrant families and workers

LGBTQ Immigrant families have been separated, sometimes for decades. LGBTQ relatives in Mexico, the Philippines, China, Vietnam and India have had to wait up to 19 years to be reunited with their loved ones in the U.S. The bill clears the 10-20 year visa backlog and allows legal immigrants already here to permanently live and work in the U.S. by recapturing 500,000 unused, previously authorized, green cards.

These 10 provisions in the Build Back Better Act can meaningfully improve the lives of so many everyday LGBTQ people.

The House bill now goes to the Senate. It will undergo several changes. Some, many, or even all of these LGBTQ-friendly provisions could be negotiated out. So TAKE ACTION and email your U.S. senator and tell them “I urge you to support the House’s $1.75 trillion human infrastructure bill and its provisions that will benefit the LGBT community. Build back our nation’s LGBT human infrastructure better!” Call upon our senators to act swiftly in 2022 to make all our lives better by passing the BBB Act and send it to the president’s desk to be signed. 

Glenn D. Magpantay, Esq., a long-time advocate for the LGBTQ, AAPI and immigrant communities, is the former executive director of NQAPIA. He is a civil rights attorney, and a professor of law and Asian American Studies. He has testified before Congress and authored reports for the congressional record. He is principal at Magpantay and Associates: a nonprofit consulting and legal services firm. 

Magpantay may be reached at [email protected]  or www.linkedin.com/in/glenn-d-magpantay-esq 

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‘Jilly’s Tree’ and the power of community

That little two-block stretch is quite a neighborhood

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(Photo by Thomas Gilespie)

“Look at Jilly’s tree!” That was what the president said to his wife on 17th Street on Christmas Eve. 

And who could miss it? It stands close to 18-feet tall, almost in the middle of the street. A Frasier fir from the same nursery that supplies the White House itself. It’s decked out in hundreds of blue and red lights, American flags, little pieces of educational ephemera — small chalkboards, rulers, a giant pencil — and, of course, dozens of photos of President Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden. 

And it was “Jilly’s tree” after all. A tree not only dedicated to her, but to all American educators. And that’s what President Biden called it, Jilly’s Tree, when he and the first lady visited on Christmas Eve. Just past noon, after their unannounced visit to D.C.’s Children’s National Hospital, the 40-some odd black automobiles that make up the presidential motorcade came roaring down New Hampshire, taking a left on Corcoran, a right on 17th then in a flash pulling up outside Floriana’s, that well-known, well-liked Italian restaurant that has long been an anchor on 17th Street. 

Dito Sevilla, the well-known barman at Floriana’s, himself a mainstay of the strip, every year since 2012 he’s erected a tree in honor of something held dear. In 2018 it honored Nancy Pelosi and all the then newly elected women members of Congress. Pelosi visited the tree on a Friday morning before Christmas. In 2020 it was dedicated to Kamala Harris, then the newly elected first woman vice president. She also came to visit. She got takeout, too. But the tree isn’t always political in the strictest sense. In 2019 it was dedicated to Kennedy Center honorees, featuring a giant Big Bird on top. 

And no one was really expecting the president to visit. The first lady, sure. That had been rumored for some time and the excitement surrounding that possibility was enough for anyone. But when he popped out of the presidential limousine he handed over this year’s White House Christmas ornament. Dito asked if he would hang it on the tree himself. In a sort of avuncular response, Biden replied with a simple “yeah buddy,” and placed the ornament among the little chalkboards. Those chalkboards featured the names of teachers across the country. 

And in a sense of community, among the teachers featured was everyone from nearby Ross Elementary. After all, Ross Elementary is a model. And not just for education but a model of what the government can provide — a school, maybe a library, a post office, or a park. But the gay community on 17th Street shows indeed what a neighborhood can provide — the charity of Annie’s, a Pride festival, a sense of belonging and an 18-foot evergreen that can draw even the president of the United States to our little one-way street of seemingly little importance. 

At a glance it could be any street in Washington. But it’s that little stretch of two blocks, from R to P, taking in Church and Corcoran streets, that proves the power of community. It was powerful enough to warrant a presidential visit on Christmas Eve. Think what else it could do. Or has done that we’re not even in on. 

It’s now that time of year when discarded Christmas trees litter the sidewalks of the District. And Jilly’s Tree will soon be gone, too. But folks are already wondering: What will be next year’s theme? Dito is looking forward to honoring Michelle Obama’s eight years as first lady. Will she visit, though? 

I’d put money on it. 

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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What I Learned from Joe Biden 45 (Gulp!) Years Ago

Why The Lessons Give Me Hope for 2022

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Evan Wolfson & then-Senator Biden, Yale Political Union, February 10, 1976 — with permission, Yale Daily News Publishing Company

The twin threats that still loom over us — the anti-democratic radicalization of the Republican Party and the persistence of the pandemic — are making this a tough time to appreciate the many first-year successes of the Biden Administration.

We are in an undeniable moment of peril and there is every reason for alarm, but also for hope. I will continue beating the drum on the urgency of passing measures such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Freedom to Vote Act, the Protecting Democracy Act, and the Judiciary Act, as well as holding those attacking our democracy accountable.

And in this end-of-year piece, I reflect on how what I learned from President Biden so many years ago gives me hope that in 2022 we can turn a corner. We can prevail in the work of defending and righting our democracy.

It was the summer of the Bicentennial. The summer I first saw a fax machine (which, during several minutes of noise, laboriously spooled out, on a curl of smelly, waxy paper, documents arriving from Wilmington to Washington). The summer after my sophomore year in college. The summer of 1976, when I interned for a then-wunderkind senator named Joe Biden.

Even as a kid, I was into history and politics. I knew that Biden, at the age of 29 — still too young to serve — had defeated a seemingly unbeatable incumbent. I was aware of the horrible car accident following his election, and how he rode back and forth by train to be there with his two little boys at bedtime. I watched Biden become “a liberal who breaks ranks” (as I described him in my diary), a gregarious, energetic, precocious, ambitious young senator.

My diary from 1976 shows me also to have been energetic, precocious, and — sometimes cringe-worthily — ambitious. I had a diverse network of friends and roommates. Despite a cascade of plays, movies, lectures, pleasure reading, and other distractions catalogued in my diary, I was excelling academically. I had succeeded in winning election as Speaker of the Yale Political Union, climbing to the top of the greasy pole among the other greasy pols at a school full of wannabes. And as my diary recounts, in blow by blows, 1976, as it happened was also the year I first had sex. With a woman.

When I reread the diary now, I am struck by how much this 19-year-old kid was doing, how well he was doing, how insightful and passionate he was about so much. And that, indeed, is how I’ve long remembered that year — a time of growth, accomplishment, and adventure.

But the diary also records what I had forgotten: so much second-guessing and self-doubt, a sense of losing ground and erratic confidence, critiques of my friends and myself… so much yearning outpacing my undeniable striving. I had forgotten how much perspective I did not have then on what really mattered, even as I was doing stuff that mattered and wrote endlessly in the diary about wanting to matter.

One of the things I wanted back then was to land a job in Washington. And so I was thrilled when the hotshot young Senator Biden agreed to come speak to the Political Union. After presiding, as Speaker, over his appearance, I wrote in my diary:

February 10: Senator Biden was impressive tonight. Young, energetic, warm, and intelligent. Egotistical to some extent…. I want to work for him…. I want a summer job in DC. This is important, unlike the Speakership. It’ll show that my credentials stand up in the ‘real world’ and will be that critical initial involvement leading to other jobs.

Over the next couple months — while juggling impressive courses and activities, and wrapping up the Speakership — I wrote letters, made calls, and even traveled to DC in hopes of securing an internship. My diary displays the determination and idealism with which, in the midst of my studies and activities, I pursued that ambition. For instance:March 8: A day of firsts and things that would have been orgasmic at one point in my life. Lunch with a congressman (we talked politics and then job), going on the floor of the House, sitting in the Speaker’s chair and standing at the podium where Truman gave the Truman Doctrine speech, where State of the Union speeches are given. Riding in Members Only elevators, hobnobbing with Senator Biden like a friend [but] no definite job…. Biden and I are becoming real chummy. His AA asked me back tomorrow, as the Senator and I kibitzed our time away. Good luck. I want a job so badly….

Senate Intern Pass, Summer 1976

Then, on April 20, I got the call.

For the next several months, my diary contains voluminous descriptions of an exciting, busy Bicentennial Summer in DC, and my thrills, frustrations, and aspirations as a witness to, and sometime participant in, the activities of an office of a Senator on the go. The numerous entries tended to go like these:

May 25: Attended my first Foreign Relations Committee hearing…. I sat on the stage behind the Senators and entered through the private doors. Funny how when I see the sign STAFF on the elevator, I almost turn away until I realize and then get a kick out of it…. Am going to slowly widen my activities until they see I’m reliable and capable. Did some press work (phoning in ‘actualities,’ quotations on tape from Biden…to radio stations in Delaware). I used a computer research machine, ‘Scorpio,’ to read a report on Rhodesia and took such stuff out on own initiative this evening, having ordered it from the Library of Congress. Tomorrow — sale of nuclear reactors. Must remember that my goal this year should be to know how an office and Congress run…not to make policy. I have eleven years (at least) to go on that….

June 3: To my great joy, I was assigned as the Intern for Foreign Relations. I’ve handled some relatively thorny constituent requests…. I also decided that the only way I would advance from office work (not exactly crap, but not policy-making either) would be to take initiative and show them what I can do. I figured that the one thing I know I’ve gotten from a Yale education that I would not have gotten on my own is the ability to write quickly and well. So, I made impressive inquiries at the Congressional Research Service, including a jaunt to the Library of Congress (where my researcher was shocked and probably a little annoyed to discover that I was younger than he, and not a Legislative Assistant) …. I submitted it to my L.A. [legislative assistant], a former C.I.A. guy who knows everyone in the foreign relations business (!); he seemed pleasantly surprised. I hope he’ll consider it good and timely enough to: A) submit it to Biden, and B) warrant including me, at least as an observer, in the substantive areas of senatoring.

June 9: Started work at Roy Rogers [where I moonlit nights to make some money during that unpaid summer internship].

July 21Was walking down the hall to the Foreign Relations Committee when [Vice Presidential nominee Walter] Mondale popped out (he has the office right across from us). He began walking right in front of me, and the TV people ran backwards ahead of us with bright lights and cameras. I was flanked with Secret Service — and hadn’t even tried to get into the picture! Couldn’t have done better if I’d tried. Had a low today, too: had to go pick up the Senator’s lunch. Although LA’s do it (and in other offices, it’s one of the high points of an intern’s day), it still rankled.

Even during that long-ago summer, I noted firsthand how much Biden cared about policy and government across a broad range of areas, tapping many sources of expertise and input, putting in the work. I wrote on June 16 that the Senator “does look at every single letter that goes out with his signature. He also rejects drafts and demands a lot — rightfully so.” I saw how engaged he was, and what a people person.

One diary entry, for instance, gives the flavor, recounting an outing at the beach with the Senator and the woman he was then dating whom I was introduced to as Jill — now our First Lady Dr. Jill Biden — whom I liked right off the bat and every time I was with her.

August 1: Yesterday…I went to Delaware to spend time at the Biden picnic for volunteers and supporters…. What a folksy state. The Senator running around clowning and taking pictures in his bathing suit, splashing with his kids in the water. The Governor [Sherman Tribbitt]– ‘howaya, Sherm’ — in loafers and short sleeves walking on the sand. Me playing ‘football’ with Beau and Hunt Biden (7, 6), then taking them in the cold ocean, counting continually to make sure — like a camp counselor — that there were 5 kids all the time, heads above the water and all….The kids gave me something to do other than fawn on the Senator, as I knew very few of the people there. At one point the Senator grabbed me and made a joke about Yale; I had walked in front of someone taking a picture with him — boy, was I embarrassed. He and I bantered a little, in and out of the water — but I still am not sure he knows my name… I still don’t know where I stand. I so want to be a part of things…

Back at school in the fall, I stayed in touch with the Senator’s office, and occasionally heard from him as well — treasuring every contact.

September 27: Got a nice note from Biden…. He says that he is glad I took him up on the suggestion that I keep in touch with ideas for legislation. He said, ‘You have always been a reservoir of ideas. [!] … In light of all your outside interests, I trust your studies are not suffering. Keep in touch… Joe.’

Soon, though, my diary reveals that I was busier than ever — juggling highs and lows of friendships, teaching Sunday School, and diving into a new role as Yale campus co-coordinator for the Carter-Mondale campaign, all while shouldering another challenging course load (my favorite semester at college, it turned out). And throughout, figuring out for myself what it was going to mean to be gay.

Of course, 1976 was a long time ago, and very early in my life. Still ahead of me lay graduating college and law school; the Peace Corps; decades of lawyering and activism; founding and leading the successful and transformative campaign to win the freedom to marry; teaching at Georgetown and Yale; close circles of friends (including, still, the college roommates I had written and worried about, and now, our respective spouses and partners); uncle-hood; travels; and a happy marriage to the man I love. In 1976, I had no way of knowing that this was what life held in store for me — but as I reread the diary, I can see now that the 19-year-old me was finding his way to at least two major lessons that have shaped my life (and been hallmarks of my work) ever since.

First, I learned that year that greatness as in “I want to be great” comes, if at all, from actual service, making a difference for others, rather than from the credentials and things I’d begun the year by pursuing — to be Speaker of the Political Union, or to be in politics for the sake of glory or even attention. I discovered that after striving to get elected Speaker, the actual position didn’t feel as worthwhile as I had thought it would, whereas engaging in debates (and meeting visitors like Biden), my grunt work organizing the campus and helping deliver a Connecticut win for Jimmy Carter, teaching students at Sunday School, and digging as an intern into substantive research — not to mention my actual studies — felt gratifying and proved meaningful.

I was learning for myself the lesson best conveyed in my favorite speech of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, the one I hang on the wall of every office I’ve had. When they give my eulogy, Dr. King said, “tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize — that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards — that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school…. I’d like somebody to mention that [he] tried to give his life serving others… tried to love somebody. [All] of the other shallow things will not matter…. I just want to leave a committed life behind.”

My diary shows me learning another lesson, too: the power and affirmation that come from not wallowing in the negative, from being hopeful, from focusing on the pathway not the problem, from being kind — to others, and to myself.

While I wince at the young me’s sometimes shallow ambition and excessive judgment (“fancied greatness,” as another hero, Abraham Lincoln, described his youthful sense of self), I am simultaneously proud of what the young me was actually doing — even as he wrestled with what it meant and where he wanted to go. As the young me learned that year to pursue a committed life in a meaningful way, and to be charitable toward others, so older me is again reminded to be kind to my young self, too.

Then-Vice President Biden & Wolfson, Freedom to Marry Victory Celebration, July 9, 2015.

I last spent real time with Joe Biden when the then-Vice President spoke to the more than 1000 advocates and celebrants at Freedom to Marry’s Victory Celebration on July 9, 2015.

“Let me begin by saying I take full credit for Evan” were Biden’s opening words (greeted by laughter). He then shared lessons he’d learned from his father about love, his evolution in understanding gay people, and how he came to support the freedom to marry — even getting out in front a bit to help nudge the Administration along. He recalled his pivotal Senate role in defeating the anti-gay Robert Bork, nominated by Reagan to the Supreme Court. That, in turn, led to the appointment of Justice Anthony Kennedy instead, who went on to write the marriage victory we had worked for and were celebrating.

“In 1983, there was a Harvard Law essay making the constitutional case for marriage equality written by a young man,” Vice President Biden told the audience. “He said, ‘Human rights illuminate and radiate from the Constitution, shedding light on the central human values of freedom and equality.’…. That was the basis upon which I took on Judge Bork.”

“These were not words from an illustrious Supreme Court Chief Justice,” Biden concluded. “These are the words written by Evan Wolfson when he was in law school. Pretty courageous for a 26-year-old kid at Harvard Law School when the future looked so dark and lonely.”

Whether or not his former intern’s law school thesis on marriage, written just a few years after my internship, really had been top of mind in Biden’s thinking as he took on Bork and continued his Senate career, I still appreciated his generosity. It was yet another example of what I know I really learned from him.

When I endorsed him for president, I wrote that “Biden [sometimes] got things I cared about wrong — even, initially, my own work to win the freedom to marry. But, crucially, he has also always shown a willingness to listen and learn, an eagerness to explore new approaches and syntheses, a capacity to empathize and evolve.”

“I have seen firsthand,” I added, “how, unlike Trump, Joe Biden cares about governing, knows how the government works, and will work through it, not war on it…. Biden’s concern for people and deep knowledge and experience give him the ability to bring people together” and to deliver on good ideas to restore our democratic possibilities.

From a wunderkind senator, the embodiment of ambition, Joe Biden came to embody virtues of empathy, faith in government, and hope as a politician, candidate, and now, our president. On him now — and on us — literally rests the future of America as a democracy.

I can’t claim to know President Biden well enough to know every bit of his inner thinking, but from what I’ve experienced in interacting with him , it’s clear that in his own way, too, Joe Biden learned what I began learning under his tutelage: A committed life is found not in just the ambition to be great, but the ambition to “do great” — to do for others. To persevere and put in the work. To listen and to grow. To be kind. To be hopeful, and to convey hope. And, too, and always, the personal matters.

Now, heading into 2022, we must redouble our efforts to help (and push) President Biden and all true democrats. Together we must rally enough Americans to defend liberal democracy, reach for justice, combat inequality, and build America back better. We have to persuade, organize, hang in, maneuver, mobilize, and vote. What I learned as a college kid, and since, sustains my belief that we Americans can, yet again, meet the call to action and rise to the great work this moment and history require.

Vice President’s Remarks, Freedom to Marry Victory Celebration, July 9, 2015

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Evan Wolfson led the campaign to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Since victory in 2015, he advises and assists diverse movements in the US on “how to win,” as well as activists seeking to win marriage in other countries worldwide.

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The preceding piece was previously published on Medium and is republished with permission.

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