Dan Wentzel on Bigotry in a Post-Proposition 8 World
A week after the election, I was riding the bus home in Santa Monica when we went past one of the many protests around the city against the narrow passage of Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to eliminate marriage rights for an entire class of people.
The bus driver surveyed the situation and exclaimed, loud enough for the passengers to hear, "sodomites!" I've been so hurt and angry since my theoretically liberal and gay-friendly state passed Proposition 8 that I instantly replied, just as loudly, "Hey, I'm one of those sodomites, too!" Maybe I should have had a snappier comeback, but the driver was stunned. I'm guessing that nobody had ever stood up to him for saying something homophobic. The driver has a right to free speech and is entitled to his beliefs and opinions -- and his bigotry -- just like everyone else. However, he was a public employee in uniform, on the clock.
Once upon a time, I might have been too scared to say something, or I'd have just grumbled in silence. No more. In my anger, I wanted to immediately report the driver to the transit authority. But I found myself with a moral dilemma. What if this person was fired as a result of my complaint? These are tough economic times. Would he find another job? What if he was just having a really bad day? So for two days I thought about whether to report the driver.
I realized that in a post-Proposition 8 world, it is not okay for me to enable anyone's bigotry with my silence. If he had said the "n" word or the "k" word or something else offensive regarding someone's race, gender or religion, there would have been no question about whether to report him. But gay men and lesbians are no longer willing to be doormats. It is no longer acceptable for people to say bigoted and hateful things about gays or anyone else in front of me. This behavior has to stop now.
If the bigots thought they would slap down gay men and lesbians by passing Proposition 8, or if they thought it would end the gay civil rights movement, they were mistaken. I haven't seen the gay community this galvanized in a long time. The passage of Proposition 8 might be this generation's "Stonewall," the 1969 riot that began after an unprovoked police raid on a gay bar in Greenwich Village and that marked the start of the gay rights movement. If we can somehow harness the energy unleashed by California's Proposition 8 vote, we can achieve tremendous gains for us and for future generations of gay men and lesbians.
One of the most gratifying aspects of attending "No on 8" rallies was the number of straight demonstrators who showed up -- people who see this not just as an issue for gay men and lesbians but as a matter of everyone's civil rights.
So I finally stood up for myself and reported the driver to the transit authority. If someone were to say something racist, sexist or antisemitic, I would say something, even though I am white, male and non-Jewish. But I wonder, when a homophobic remark is made in a conversation among straight people, whether anyone is willing to say, "That's not appropriate and I find that offensive." I don't know, but I hope so.
I am sorry I had to report the bus driver, because I'm sorry that the incident happened. However, if I won't stand up for myself now, who else will stand up for me? The world has changed. No more Mr. Nice Gay. We are all in a post-Proposition 8 world now.
Dan Wentzel is an actor and writer living in Southern California.