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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Now We Know Or-You-Know-What

It's that time for holiday season newsletters in which we look back at the past year with rose-colored glasses and try not to shudder.

This past year --- in which my major personal writing project seems to have been this column --- has been one of growth and self-enlightenment. The first thing I've learned is the power of the internet. I started writing "Family Ties" as a way of expressing some feelings about the unfair way gay people are treated in the United States. It also was a way of "doing something" about my oldest son, Rick, who has been a missing person for four years now, and for other gay people like him (although one of the things I've been reminded of is that no two gay people arte alike and therefore there's no one else exactly like Rick, which is simultaneously a sadness and a relief).

Little did I know that the column would grow from just a dozen or so postings to people in my circle of friends and acquaintances to its present mailing list of several hundred, many of whom forward it on to other folks. I honestly don't know the locations of every mailbox that "Family 101" ends up in, but I have heard from folks in nearly all of the 50 states, plus Canada, Mexico, The Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, the West Indies, The Netherlands and many other countries. I've heard from gay men, lesbians, bisexual folks of both genders and others in varying stages of the process of transgendering. I've also from their parents, siblings, children and other relatives and friends. If the sampling I've discovered in less than one year of writing has been any indication, the world is full of these gay and gay-friendly folks and official statistics about their numbers are way, way, undercounted.

I've learned that a united gay and gay-supportive community can accomplish quite a bit. Ask Laura Schlessinger, whose crummy homophobic television talk show is all but obliterated, much like the fall of communism. Enough outraged people said to her major sponsors this year, "Tear down your part of the wall which protects this self-styled Queen of Ethics, Morals and Values!" There are a few sponsors and broadcasters who still keep Schlessinger going, but the point was made. Whatever values she promotes, her views on homosexuality are not mainstream. The efforts of an organized opposition have relegated her to the boob tube's insomniac hours.

Gay people and their supporters also made a difference politically this year. Sheila Kuehl (formerly Zelda Gilroy on the old "Dobie Gillis" show) was elected a state senator in California, along with three other out-of-the-closet lesbian politicas there. In Vermont, efforts of same-sex union supporters managed to get the nation's first domestic partners law passed and it looks as though the law will hold up, despite an organized effort by the radical right to overturn it.

Finally, the gay and gay supportive vote helped Vice President Al Gore win the popular vote in the U.S. presidential election and probably the popular vote in Florida, although we'll never know for sure. We voted for Gore because he represented the best of some admittedly less-than-wonderful choices, in terms of furthering the goals of the gay civil rights movement. What none of us counted on was the corruption in the Florida electoral process and the partisanship of the conservative Republican appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court, all of which conspired to make George Dubya Bush our president-select.

With the pending inauguration of Dubya as commander-in-thief, the next great battle lines are quite obvious. Those of us who still believe equal rights for our gay loved ones are possible must focus on the 2002 election and voting for candidates who are committed to promoting equality and eradicating homophobia to oppose any Bush appointees to our nation's courts --- from the U.S. Supremes on down --- who are unwilling to be at least open-minded on gay rights issues. If this means having a few vacant judgeships until the next presidential election, there are far worse things that could happen --- like a court made up of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas clones!

To quote a great American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, we need to "keep our eyes on the prize" --- a world that has room for equal treatment of all people, no matter whom they love.

From my family to all of yours, may your Yule be cool and all the holidays be bright and gay!

Published 17th December 2000


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