I’m wondering how to begin this story. I want to tell you cute stories about my son, sweet stories about my husband. I want to distract you from your day and give you the smiles again, smiles that you likely need. I want you to feel good, to go back to before. But before I can do those things, I need to be clear about the one gift I cannot and will not give you this year, and that is absolution.
I’ve worked my entire life to be where I am. I grew up poor, a food stamp family struggling to make ends meet in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. I came out as a gay man when I was 17, a freshman at a private Catholic university. I had been the victim of a hate crime, and chose to speak about it in public, to discard the moniker of the victim and play the role of the aggressor, fighting actively against an injustice our university community refused to. I sued my university for the right to assemble a gay-straight alliance. I recognized the inherent need to feel part of a larger community and bring those on the periphery to the table. I traveled the country talking about the importance of fighting for principled beliefs and refusing to be limited by those with less heart and more hate. I dug my feet into the sand and committed to living a life of gratitude, respect, and hard work.
Then I met Dominic, the man who would become my husband. Our values aligned, and we fought, together, to live a life that was open and allow others to identify in our relationship the commonalities of human experience. We put in the time, effort, and work that included coming out to family members who did not understand. That is exhausting. And it continued for years, continues still, with no time to rest.
For a year after we married in New York, our marriage was still not recognized by our home state of New Jersey. Now my husband and I live in a world where marriage equality is recognized nationally. Yet we do not hold hands or kiss in public, because for all we have accomplished, there are still those who cannot, will not, understand. Those who will hurt us.
We have worked exhaustingly hard to start a family, approaching obstacles with grace, perseverance, and heads down, knowing that we would become parents to the baby who was meant for us. And then Gabe was born. And when the doctors pulled him from the womb of his birth mother and encouraged me to stand up and see my son for the first time, in his first seconds of life, I knew that this little boy would have fathers who would fight for him with 10 times the resiliency and grit with which they’d fought for themselves.
For our family, the Obama presidency has profoundly changed our lives for the better. President Obama was the first sitting president to express his support for our equality in marriage, job protection, and child-rearing. With Constitutionally-protected equal access to the word “marriage,” our son has insurance coverage, his dads keep their legal rights across state lines, and his family is afforded an equal and not inordinate level of protections, the same as any other family.
I understood that President Obama had a uniquely tinted view on equality, having likely felt the sting of discrimination, having been on the margin throughout his life. He is a man who seems to want a world made more whole by his contributions, left better for his children. We’re with him.
The 2016 election carried with it enormous stakes for families like ours, to uphold President Obama’s legacy of protecting women, children, minorities. The Republican platform sought to strip basic civil rights from families like ours. It attacked same-sex marriage, instead supporting “natural marriage.” It aimed to defend merchants who want to deny service to families like mine under the banner of religious freedom.
It stands to reason, then, that we would reach out to the people in the world who have expressed their love and support of our family. These folks are among those we treasure most dearly, and to whom access and trust are given. We need support, the same as any family, because sometimes we can’t do it all on our own. Sometimes, these two grown men are afraid, and just want to hide until morning.
And it’s fascinating what happened.
Many of the people who had said they would do anything to support our family were expressing their intention to vote for the Republican Party, its platform, and its candidate, Donald Trump. Despite our attempts at educating these people who had differing political opinions, they were unmoved. While they did not self-identify as racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or misogynistic, they saw a candidate who was all of those things and said, “That’s our guy.”
It’s not often that we actually get a chance to do something to protect families like mine, who scatter themselves in places that are not blue, who fight every day to be seen and survive. We don’t often get opportunities to tell young gay kids that they are good enough just the way they are, that life is worth sticking out. But it’s elections that give us that chance. To ensure their right to exist. To be.
And so you had your choice, and you made it. You chose the party that wants to revoke my marriage, who wants to prevent families like mine from enjoying the same protections you already have. You chose the party that wants to preserve the right to turn my family away from a restaurant while allowing your family to eat inside. And we can never go back to before.
This was not “just another election,” as some have said. This isn’t a case of sour grapes. This is an administration that threatens my family’s very right to exist. Nearly every Trump appointee has a history of supporting anti-gay legislation. Vice President Mike Pence is a staunch opponent of LGBT rights on every possible level. Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions voted against same-sex couples having access to Social Security, has voted to Constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, and supports a company’s right to fire someone specifically for being gay. Ben Carson, who associated being gay with bestiality and pedophilia, has been picked to head up Housing and Urban Development. The nominee for Health and Human Services, Tom Price, voted against extending hate crimes protections to gays and lesbians. James Mattis, if confirmed to be Secretary of Defense, is against gays and lesbians serving in the military. The nominated CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, opposes our marriage and has argued against our right to adopt children. I could go on and on. I will not.
So listen: It is not my responsibility to make you feel better about what you did. It’s not my job to absolve the guilt you feel over voting against my husband and son. It just isn’t. I wake up at 5 in the morning so that I can feed my son and hold him for a few minutes before commuting 90 minutes to work. I have a job, and when I leave at 5 p.m. to commute another 90 minutes home, I don’t have the time to coddle you or make you feel like everything is okay.
Everything. Is. Not. Okay.
Throughout my life, whether in the frigid winters of the Catskills, or on the steps of a courthouse fighting for equality, I have long been inspired by powerful women, people who stand up for themselves and those around them, in the face of all adversity, because they are the only ones left to do it. The soundtrack of my story is one filled with inspirational voices who beckon me to go further, to do more. To be a man my husband and son can be proud of. And now, when asked to both forgive and forget, to allow to stand the betrayal of those entrusted with our love, I’m left again with the voices of powerful women. And this time, it’s the Dixie Chicks, who sing my truth loudly and unabashedly, for all to hear:
I’m not ready to make nice.