When a TV show is “ground-breaking,” it doesn’t really create something new: It reflects something already happening in the population, but the culture hasn’t caught up with it. With “Sex and the City,” we were faced with the trope, “All women want to be married by the time they’re 25 and if not, they’re devastated.” That wasn’t true in the general population, but the culture hadn’t caught up with it until “Sex and the City.”
Similarly, LGBT characters aren’t new; everybody has LGBT people in their family. And everybody needs to make the effort to come out in any and every way they can. If people who are opposed to equality realized how many individuals they already like, admire or even love are LGBT, the battle would be over. It’s important to come out to our parents, children, co-workers, boss — you name it.
Some conservatives can be homophobic, but the moment their child is on the spectrum, they do a complete backflip: “That’s my kid, I’d better protect them.” Look at Dick Cheney and his daughter Mary; all the nonsense goes away.
Prop. 8 in California was so devastating, such a setback. Two years after that, my wife (Christine Marinoni) and I were in Washington state, where she’s from. We were lobbying to get gay marriage passed, and we talked to on-the-ground organizers. The insight was so illuminating. They said, “We made a bunch of mistakes in California.”
There were people who had wanted to stop gay equality, and they were lying low. But they showed up at the end of the campaign with lots of money and lots of misinformation; they ran ads on TV, and scared the hell out of everybody. They spread fear that your church choir will be required to dress in drag, and kindergartners will have to learn about gay sex at age 5. This organizer said, “Our first mistake was to say, ‘We’re not gonna stoop to respond.’ Now, in Washington state, when the opposition puts an ad on, we will respond directly within 24 hours.” He said, “In California, we tried to talk rationally. But fear is much more powerful than rationality. However, we discovered you can fight fear with love.” So in the Washington media, they sent out a message of love, not just gay-gay love, but straight-gay love. They showed straight siblings, cousins, friends, children and parents speaking about how important gay marriage was in their lives even though they were straight.
In one ad, a person said: “One of my sons is gay and one is straight, and they’re treated differently under the law. That’s painful for me and painful for them, and it’s just wrong.” They were able to open people’s eyes, and same-sex marriage was legally recognized in December 2012.
Of all the victories and defeats we’ve seen, nothing has been more inspiring than that victory in Ireland. That took everyone’s breath away.
Equality proponents knew they were going to win, but didn’t take it for granted for a moment; they worked, they organized, leaving no stone unturned. And to have the vote come from the general population was absolutely game-changing. The important thing to remember going forward, though, is no outcome is ever 100% assured. We have to keep organizing like our lives depend on it.