Or: How I scored a gay t-shirt.
By Danny Michaels
In the last throes of the debate over New York’s Marriage Equality Act, the votes to pass the bill in the State Senate didn’t reflect the state’s popular attitude towards same-sex marriage. The senator representing Buffalo, Mark Grisanti, who’d been opposed to same-sex marriage during the campaign for his seat, was undecided on whether he would support the measure. So on the Saturday before the vote, I volunteered for the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) efforts to ask Buffalonians to fill out postcards expressing their support to Grisanti.
This experience – essentially asking people to sign a petition – seemed nearly pointless at the time. I couldn’t imagine that Senator Grisanti would walk into his office on the day of his vote and look at the pile of postcards from the supporters and the pile from the opponents and say to himself, “Well, looks like that pile is a little bigger so I guess I’ll go with those guys.” Unappreciative of the impact these postcards could potentially have with Senator Grisanti, I took my experience with the HRC as an opportunity to enjoy an afternoon in Buffalo.
When I showed-up, I was asked why I chose to volunteer. Slightly annoyed by this informal litmus test, which I felt was administered because my voice wasn’t as feminine sounding as some of the other guys, I responded, “Ya know, I’m actually not particularly supportive of same-sex marriage, but I really wanted a free t-shirt.” Throughout the day several people, assuming I wasn’t homosexual and wasn’t in favor of same-sex marriage for simply selfish reasons, asked why I supported the idea. I invariably used the joke above as a kickboard with follow-ups depending on my stereotypical view of the audience.
To an older white couple attending Shakespeare in the Park, I followed by saying, “…and the other side didn’t have my size.” To a middle-aged gay professional man in Allentown, I said, “…and the shirts for the side supporting the homosexuals are, unsurprisingly, more fashionable than those opposing.” To a group of uber-liberals sitting around a tree in Bidwell park, I added, “…Unfortunately, all of my ‘God Hates Fags’ shirts shrunk in the dryer.”
After making a variety of the same anti-marriage equality, pro-free t-shirt jokes, I switched the opener in response to a couple of muscular-looking guys playing basketball at Delaware Park. I told them that I wasn’t really interested in the same-sex marriage issue at all but I thought this experience would be a great way to meet some bisexual girls. This was actually closer to my wildest expectations of what I could take away from the experience anyway, but in the end, I just ended-up with the t-shirt. The girls I volunteered with were either too old, prudent, or out of my league to be interested in me. None of the guys were really my cup of tea either, given that I only drink coffee – to which one of the guys offered to buy me whiskey; assuming, I assume, that the liquor would distort my judgment on the matter.
A rough majority of people I talked to throughout the day were supportive of the initiative, which isn’t surprising given that we canvassed the areas of Buffalo with a very high concentration of liberals. However, even in these areas, some individuals shared their concerns with allowing homosexuals to marry. When I asked, “Do you support marriage equality in NY?” some responded with a cold, “No.” Someone said, “No, it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” and one opponent cleverly said, “No, I’m for marriage inequality,” which is like telling a Pro-Life activist that you’re Pro-Death.
One older man confided that he just couldn’t support the initiative because it says in the Bible that homosexuality is an abomination and he doesn’t think the government should be legitimizing it. This sentiment was echoed by Democratic Assemblyman, Dov Hikind. Waving a Torah on the floor of the Assembly during debate he said, “If you think we should redefine marriage, you wanna tell God, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, you got it all wrong,’ do it. But I [...] will [...] not [...] do anything like that…”
These arguments follow a line of logic that is persuasive to the religious at first glance. ‘If I am,’ one may ask, ‘religious, why would I condone something that my religion frowns upon?’ The reason is that there are different considerations that one must apply to political institutions than the standards applied to religious institutions. Groups can’t simply refer to purely religious reasons to justify their positions on any matter. Individuals shouldn’t be arrested if they fantasize about their neighbor’s wife or work on Sunday, even though these activities are outlawed by the Ten Commandments.
As Assemblyman Hikind said later in his speech, “I wish it wasn’t in the book, because if it wasn’t, I’d be standing right next to you over there pushing this, supporting it, because there would be no reason not to.” If it is kosher to use solely religious arguments to oppose or favor legislation, maybe it should be asked of the Assemblyman if he is in favor of outlawing all hot dogs that aren’t Hebrew National, given that they aren’t kosher. However, given that many New Yorkers (including myself) swear by that brand of beef franks, that legislation may actually be popular enough to pass, especially in the wake of all the Independence Day BBQ’s.
Assemblyman Hikind also said, “I gotta tell ya, I came close to maybe changing my point of view when I started looking at all the celebrities that were telling New Yorkers what the moral, what the right thing was… when Lady Gaga got involved and told us this, ya know, we should support gay marriage, I said, ‘ya know, Lady Gaga, ya know, she is my example of how I should lead my life and how I should behave.’” Hopefully for Hikind, The Fame Monster is also a moral monster that doesn’t support any of the basic values that his constituents hold.
I hate to pick on Assemblyman Hikind so much but he makes it easy by opening his mouth. In the same speech quoted above he said, “By the way, talking about civil rights… 46% said yes, 45% no, that’s the minority community. [Sarcastically:] I assume they know nothing about civil rights in the black community.” Being black, I honestly did not know that we were the public arbiters of any civil rights issue. Was this one of the gains of the civil rights movement?
One of those in the black community that apparently knows more about history than me is former NY Giants Wide Receiver, David Tyree. In opposition to the same-sex marriage bill, he said, “How can marriage be marriage for thousands of years and now all of a sudden, because a minority – an influential minority – has a push or an agenda and totally reshapes something that was not founded in our country?” As Abraham Lincoln said in his speech in Cooper Union, to blindly follow the founders of this country in whatever they did “would be to discard all the lights of current experience – to reject all progress – all improvement.” Though if we were to do so in regards to marriage, David Tyree should frown upon the marriages of Derek Jeter’s and Barack Obama’s parents, because even Lincoln said, “…I am not nor ever have been in favor of…having [blacks] marry with white people.”
Luckily, these arguments weren’t as persuasive as they have been in the past. As Mayor Bloomberg said, “…the recognition that the lifelong commitment [homosexuals] have made to each other is not less than anyone else’s and not second-class in any way.” As Governor Cuomo said, “Their love is worth the same as your love. Their partnership is worth the same as your partnership.” It was very refreshing to see Senator Grisanti take up this argument and help the Senate approve same-sex marriage. Saying, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York, and those people who make this the great state that it is the same rights that I have with my wife.”
I must acknowledge here that I initially opposed same-sex marriage for a blatantly selfish and homophobic reason. As one of the more unlucky single guys, I didn’t want any more competition for the affection of girls than I already had. Allowing homosexuals to marry, I thought, might add some more legitimacy to homosexual relationships. This could lead more women to engage in relationships with other women, in turn decreasing my odds. Gay guys and straight women are people I don’t particularly understand. This is why I was homophobic, in the same sense that I am heterophobic, because like the xenophobic low-skilled laborer, I didn’t want some foreigner taking a job that I am lucky to have intermittently at best.
A few years ago, I abandoned this position and have come to embrace same-sex marriage. This has been the case for many New Yorkers. The change has been remarkable, considering how low on the radar this issue ranks in regards to other issues facing the polis. The issue of same-sex marriage has never been one of what Senator Stephen Douglas called “the leading political topics which now agitate the public mind.” Yet, on the night the Marriage Equality Act eventually passed, Buffalo gay rights activist Stacy Watson accurately summarized the shift in public sentiment saying, “Both gay and straight people alike have just gotten tired of inequality being acceptable; it’s just not acceptable any longer.”
My experience volunteering for HRC’s postcard campaign originally seemed a few tiles short of futile – a good opportunity to just joke around – but I was surprised to read in The New York Times that this is exactly what persuaded Senator Joseph Addabbo of Queens to support the measure. He was nicknamed ‘The Counter’ by gay rights advocates, because he told Governor Cuomo that his vote would hinge on the amount of individuals that petitioned his office. In early June, those constituents in Queens who petitioned his office in support of the measure totaled roughly 80%. “In the end, that is my vote,” Mr. Addabbo said.
In 2003, Mayor Michael Bloomberg had said, “I think I’ll stay out of the marriage business.” Yet in 2005 he came out of the closet to support gay marriage. Governor Andrew Cuomo hadn’t supported it until 2006. This June marked the first time a clear majority of New Yorkers (between 56-58%) supported it. On the night the same-sex marriage bill was signed into law, Christine Quinn, the first openly gay NYC Council Speaker, gushed, “To have it supported by 60% of the voters, this is a huge step forward.”
“…Okay, Seth, the best place in the city for gay couples to hold their parties this summer, is called, HEY YAAA!!! This bitchin’ sausage, egg, and cheese party was built by Governor Andrew Huomo in the Chinatown section of Little Italy. And this place really answers the question, ‘you really think you can squeeze that up there?’ This place has everything: Frank Sinatra impersonators, Abolitionists, an old woman dressed as the Incredible Hulk, and is that Derek Jeter who just walked in? Nope, it’s a Middle Eastern Swim instructor from the Jewish Community Center named Ahkmed…”
When Danny Michaels lost his job recently, he was under the impression that unemployment would be like an extended version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. However, his life is more like a movie of a guy who watches “Days of Our Lives” and “The View” before taking his afternoon nap in order to be well-rested for an afternoon “Teen Mom” marathon. This schlemiel is frequently spotted around town at the Buffalo City Mission on “Taco Tuesdays”, the bi-weekly Sex Addicts Anonymous Ice Cream Social, and the JCC where he takes advanced Jazzercise classes.