A 10-foot pole has been picked up by Walter Mondale, the pole that previously he would not touch the issue of homosexual rights with. Mondale spoke at a fund- raising dinner in New York the other evening for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a political action committee that gives money to candidates who back homosexual rights legislation.
A decade ago, a national politician siding with the gay-rights lobby, or what there was of one back then, would have been risking political suicide. Today it can be a political death wish not to be for gay rights. Mondale is now racing to catch up with the 1980 Democratic Party platform, the National Council of Churches, Ted Kennedy, Jerry Brown and nearly 60 members of the House who are cosponsors of a gay civil-rights bill.
Mondale, a presidential aspirant though not yet fully booked into every last Holiday Inn on the campaign trail, is engaging in practical politics. Advocating gay rights puts him in favor with the estimated 20 million members of the nation's gay men and lesbian community. A large number of that significant minority, whether they are gay pride activists or the emotionally self-imprisoned, have successfully persuaded many politicians that discrimination in jobs, housing, public accommodations and federal programs on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong. Legislation in the House and Senate is pending.
The political strength of the gay rights movement was seen in the 1980 congressional elections. Supposedly that was the big year when the Moral Majority and New Right emerged as wielders of national clout. Jerry Falwell, the righteous finger-waver, said that homosexuals "are an indictment against America and are contributing to her downfall."
Falwell wondered, "If homosexuality is deemed normal, how long will it be before rape, adultery, alcoholism, drug addiction and incest are labeled normal?" In the fall of 1980, 51 of the 55 House members who cosponsored the gay civil rights bill were returned to Congress by the voters. Two did not seek reelection and two who lost had races in which their sponsorship of the bill was not an issue.
For all of the political advances that have been made, the country still suffers cultural homophobia -- an irrational intolerance or fear of homosexuals. Even someone as intelligent as Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-N.J.), who generally supports civil rights for homosexuals, retreats on the issue when it involves gay teachers. "We cannot have proclaimed homosexuals teaching in our schools because people will not put up with it," she said in recent hearings before the subcommittee on employment opportunities. "It is ridiculous not to have them in construction or insurance companies; who cares?"
Fenwick was in thrall to the gay-as-wicked-predator myth. No evidence exists that homosexuals are compulsive recruiters to their orientation, much less obsessive seducers of children. Fenwick's argument overlooks the fact that teachers already face dismissal or discipline for advocating personal leanings in the classroom, whether it is their religion, politics or sexuality.
Susan Green of the Gay Rights National Lobby correctly points out that "sexual orientation is determined by age three or four and will not change significantly thereafter. Using one's teaching position as a platform to attempt to influence a student's sexuality is wrong, and most gay teachers would agree. The idea that people become gay just by associating with gay people is simply incorrect. That idea doesn't make sense, as most people have associated with gay people, whether they know it or not."
Although most in the larger heterosexual population have moved past the attitudes vented in the infamous crusade of Anita Bryant in Florida, when bumper stickers saying "Kill a Queer for Christ" were common in Dade County, the country is still more politically accepting of homosexuals than culturally accepting. But even political acceptance has a negative tone. In the 1960s, it was not enough for whites to "accept" blacks. The moral obligation was to unite in a political alliance, and end the abuses caused by discrimination.
It should be that way now, with blacks, gays or any minority: share in the struggle to win the rights they are due.