Royal Oak: Who really won?

You, dear reader, now know something I, writing this column, do not: How the vote on the Royal Oak human rights ordinance turned out. I hope it passed. But at the risk of tarnishing my flawless reputation as a swami, I suspect it failed.

Too much money was being spent by genuinely evil outside forces, in an effort to frighten people into thinking their city was going to be turned into a gay theme park, where Mother’s Day was banned, heterosexuals were routinely fired and Ward and June Cleaver’s savings were seized to pay for AIDS medication for same-sex partners.

Actually, many, maybe most, of the “no” voters didn’t really believe this garbage. However, I suspect many feared something would change for the worse in ways they couldn’t predict.

Most may simply have felt things are pretty good now, and figured if it didn’t seem broke, it didn’t make much sense to mess with it.

Then, too, some otherwise tolerant heteros didn’t like the notion that their town would become nationally identified as some sort of sanctuary for gays.

But if the proposal did indeed fail, as one did last year in Ferndale, don’t think this is a victory for creeps like Gary Glenn, a religious nut from Midland whose unhealthy obsession with gays ought to raise a few delicate questions about his own psyche.

Oh, no. What few on either side seem to realize is that the war is essentially over.

The real battle is not over whether gays should have equal rights, or whether we shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The only issues are when, and how.

The day the battle was joined on these terms meant that it was only a matter of time before, through custom, legislation and/or judicial decision, sexual orientation will be seen as a category as worthy of protection as sex and race is.

Ironically, in the short run, the defeat of the human rights ordinance may in some sense help Royal Oak’s gay community, who will get a certain sympathy from a somewhat guilty-minded populace. No, they won’t be able to come out of the closet and work for the ignorant bigots at Dickson’s half-moribund Bible bookstore. What a hardship. But the Nazis won’t burn down stores displaying the pink triangle either.

What may be hard for young gays to understand is how astonishingly far they have come since I was in high school in the 1960s. Believe it or not, absolutely no one was talking about gay rights openly then. Homosexuals, as they were politely called, were seen as perverts.

The only question was whether to treat them as filth deserving punishment or as mentally ill people deserving compassion. Not till the Stonewall riot in 1969 did any one imagine there could be a third way, one of refusing, resisting and demanding their rights.

Thirty years later, and we have openly gay congressmen, for Sappho’s sake. Not to mention artists, actresses and about anything else. There are even gay Republicans.

Nobody, except a very few on the lunatic fringe, is talking about openly and legally being able to persecute gay men and women, even those who really want to. Few, if any, gay people back in 1969 expected to see any of this. Nor did they imagine that they’d live to see intelligent, enlightened mayors, like Ferndale’s Charles Goedert, a married man with children who has openly welcomed gays to his city, and watched them improve its neighborhoods by fixing up aging housing stock.

Incidentally, the real villains here aren’t the sexual Ku Kluxers like Glenn and the dumb housewife who is his pathetic pawn. They are Royal Oak’s mayor, Dennis Cowan, and the three other cowards on Royal Oak City Council who, last November, didn’t have the guts to do what they were elected to do — vote for or against this ordinance.

They didn’t, at first, even have the courage to set this vote, opting instead for a “nonbinding” referendum that would cost the taxpayers $25,000. But when Cowan’s Cougars were advised that was illegal, they scurried off to make it binding.

Had these wimps done their duty, we would have heard little afterward. Grand Rapids has had a similar ordinance for some time, and not only are pink triangles not flying from city hall, the Gerald Ford Library has not been renamed for Quentin Crisp.

Naturally, religion played a part, with the media, for the most part, paying the most attention to storefront fundamentalists who railed against the proposal.

The nation’s biggest Christian denomination, one well-known for socially conservative policies, has another, too-little-heeded take on all of this:

“It is essential to remember one basic truth: God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation ... God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual.” That’s from a pastoral letter (Always Our Children) issued by the U.S. Catholic bishops four years ago.

Eventually, society will catch up with them.

Footnote: While Royal Oak was agonizing over human rights, and the entire country was eagerly anticipating the televised killing of Timothy McVeigh, an amazing thing happened. America was voted off the United Nations Human Rights Commission!

How dare those wogs! Immediately, with statesmanlike class normally seen only among 2-year-olds, the House of Representatives fired back by voting to withhold our annual dues.

“This will teach countries a lesson,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Demmocrat. “If they would like to get this payment, they will vote us back on this commission. If they don’t, it will cost them.” Yes, we are, as always, a shining example to the world.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
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