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The Closet Is the Enemy

Jim Burroway

May 27th, 2010

California State Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) was outed earlier this year following his DUI arrest after leaving a Sacramento gay bar. At that time, he was a reliable vote against pro-gay causes. Now that he’s out of the closet, his voting record is starting to change accordingly:

Ashburn was the only Republican senator to vote in support of allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, but he also voted against a bill that could remove a political obstacle to proposals to legalize same-sex marriage.

Ashburn then took the unusual step of publicly explaining his votes on the Senate floor.

“I would not have been speaking on a measure dealing with sexual orientation ever prior to the events that have transpired in my life over the last three months,” Ashburn told his colleagues. “However, I am no longer willing or able to remain silent on issues that affect sexual orientation and the rights of individuals. And so I am doing something that is quite different and foreign to me, and it’s highly emotional.”

The bill Ashburn opposed, SB 906, passed the state Senate and clarifies that clergy members would not be required to perform a civil marriage that was contrary to his or her faith. This removes one objection by marriage equality opponents who (Wrongly) claimed that clergy would be forced to perform same-sex marriages. Ashburn’s objections was essentially over a technicality:

But he said it was “troublesome” that the bill also described marriages as “civil” unions. Proposition 8, approved by voters, gave a definition of marriage, and Ashburn worried the new definition in the bill could muddy the water and lead to new lawsuits on the issue.

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Timothy Kincaid
May 27th, 2010 | LINK

Welcome to the fight for equality, Sen. Ashburn.

It doesn’t erase your history, but we’ve all had history and for many of us the closet compelled us to despicable behavior. I hope that you now feel freedom to live with integrity and to vote accordingly.

Burr
May 27th, 2010 | LINK

I wonder if this changes some people’s thoughts on the practice of outing..

Lindoro Almaviva
May 27th, 2010 | LINK

Tim: (and my apologies first)

Welcome my ass. He was all too happy to go trolling for d1ck in the cover of the night while during the day he was all too happy to fight for the inequality of those whose appendix/b> he was all too eager to work on the night before.

I understand that a vote for equality is a much needed vote for equality, no matter whose hand is the one been raised, but; I think it is time that we in the gay community stop welcoming these hypocrites like they are the prodigal son. If you believe that bible story, it should be painfully obvious that while the prodigal son was partying he was not out there looking to ensure that his father lost his farm, or his property, or his dignity. i wonder how different the story would have been if the prodigal son showed up to re-posses on his father property.

These people are not prodigal sons and in my book not worthy of being welcomed any more than you would welcome a poisonous snake into your house, even if it was confined to a terrarium. He and people like him chose to remain in the closet and chose to fight against the dignity of people just like him. He chose this behavior in the face of evidence that pointed at how misguided it was. He chose it for personal, political and economic gain in spite of the plea of many who continued to be killed, tortured and denied basic human decency because people like him chose to not only vote against any advancement of basic rights but also chose to speak against us and to align with people who believed we are no better than filth.

So now we are not filth? Now we are deserving of basic human dignity? In sipte of everything that he has said and done in the past, all of a sudden we are A OK?

Thanks for the vote, but, In my opinion, he deserves to be treated with the same dignity and respect he treated us for decades; and hear the same words he spoke about us for that long.

Cole
May 27th, 2010 | LINK

Pretending to be heterosexual and acting on the prejudices of heterosexuals are the problems. The wife, kids and anti-gay bigotry were apart of his heterosexual cover.

Mark F.
May 27th, 2010 | LINK

Boy, some of you people just won’t give anyone an inch of slack. Sure, he’s responsible for his past actions, but can’t we recognize social forces that push people into the closet? Perhaps some people posting here were out at 13 and supported by their friends and family and church, but that very often is not the case.

Why hate someone who is struggling to at least start doing the right thing?

Eddie89
May 27th, 2010 | LINK

Better a friend now, than an enemy forever.

Eddie89
May 27th, 2010 | LINK

W.W.H.M.D?

What Would Harvey Milk Do?

TampaZeke
May 27th, 2010 | LINK

What exactly are we supposed to be celebrating? He supported a non-binding RESOLUTION that has absolutely NO legal standing on an issue that the CA assembly has no say over, DADT.

He voted AGAINST the bill that the Assembly actually has say over and the only bill that would actually help gay people win marriage equality in the state of CA.

So Mark F, Please, by all means, tell us where we should give him slack and why?

The ONLY thing that he deserves credit for is standing up and saying that he can no longer be silent on gay issues. Kudos to him for that. But he then followed that moving statement with a vote against a very important bill that would have actually helped gay people.

Lindoro Almaviva
May 27th, 2010 | LINK

Sure, he’s responsible for his past actions, but can’t we recognize social forces that push people into the closet?

Sure, did the same social pressures forced him to become a rabid anti-gay crusader?

When I was feeling the same type of pressure i dated a woman, but i didn’t go around calling gay people the filth of the earth or attempting to make sure they were not treated with any resemblance of dignity and respect.

So exactly what and which social pressured forced him to say, do and take the virulent anti-gay positions and actions he took?

I’m all for giving people the benefit of the doubt, but I am failing to see how the social pressure made him do something that he knew was affecting the men he was sleeping with.

Mark F.
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

Look, he had some technical problems with the wording of the marriage bill. Big deal.

He supports repeal of DADT. It’s symbolic yes , but only 5 GOP member of Congress actually voted for repeal today.

I never said social presure made him do anything, only that it can be a big influence on people.

Let’s see what he does in the future. I don’t see what good this anger over bad things he did in the past does.

Look, we have a President who has explicitly said he is against gay marriage. Are you angry with him? Steam coming out of your ears? Or is that just reserved for Republicans?

TampaZeke
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

NEWSFLASH:

OUR PRESIDENT ISN’T GAY!

Priya Lynn
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

Jim said “At that time, he was a reliable vote against anti-gay causes.”.

I think you meant to say that he was a reliable vote for anti-gay causes.

Lindoro said “Sure, did the same social pressures forced him to become a rabid anti-gay crusader?”.

Social pressures didn’t force him to, but they certainly encouraged him to. I went through a brief period where I tried to suppress my attraction to men and I was very anti-gay at that time.

Jim Burroway
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

Priya Lynn,

Thanks for the correction

Lindoro said “Sure, did the same social pressures forced him to become a rabid anti-gay crusader?”

Speaking from personal experience from having spent 4/5ths of my own life in the closet, yes. You would not gave wanted to know me ten years ago, nor I you. Ashburn is starting on a transformation which will have implications far beyond his own understanding today. What I read here is VERY familiar.

I can’t say whether he will start a blog and become an activist. ;-) But in his own way he will become an advocate, if only to advocate for himself. If that’s all he ever does, then that will be good enough because that’s all that you and most everyone else, including myself, ever really does in the end, each in our own way.

Timothy Kincaid
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

Lindoro,

Sure, did the same social pressures forced him to become a rabid anti-gay crusader?

Yes. That’s the cruel irony of the closet. Often fear of exposure, fear of being thought to be “weak” on gay issues, fear that if you are too friendly someone may suspect, contribute to an outward display of hostility. And there’s always telling yourself, “yeah, but see I’m not really gay, I’m not like them.

Jokes. Slurs. Votes.

(Though I’m pretty sure that Ashburn never called gay folk ‘filth of the earth’)

And all the while you feel all of the pain that you are dosing out on others. I’ve never forgotten a couple of my own comments from the closet.

The closet is damaging to everyone, both in it and out.

TampaZeke

He voted AGAINST the bill that the Assembly actually has say over and the only bill that would actually help gay people win marriage equality in the state of CA.

Well, actually, not really. This bill – like virtually all pro-gay bills in California these days – is window dressing.

It’s not that the legislature is gay-unfriendly; it’s the opposite. They’ve run out of measures to push for equality, so they often give us “pro-gay” stuff that is more style than substance.

This bill said, basically, “should marriage ever be legal we are just afirming that your pastor doesn’t have to perform them, which was already the case.”

Not a bad bill (other than some wording problems) but not essential or important. It will do absolutely zero towards winning back marriage, in my opinion.

Richard Rush
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

Timothy said,

This bill – like virtually all pro-gay bills in California these days – is window dressing . . . They’ve run out of measures to push for equality, so they often give us “pro-gay” stuff that is more style than substance.

There may be a little more benefit, although it may be an unintended side effect: During the time these bills are chauffeured through the legislature and finally passed, they receive some media coverage, and that coverage helps nudge public opinion in our favor, I think. Over the long haul I think we benefit from most media coverage, even from much of the negative stuff which provides an opportunity for refutation.

I’m old enough to remember when homosexuality was virtually an unspeakable topic, so I saw a lot of benefit early in the Clinton administration even though we ended up with DADT. That was the first time in my memory where our lives and concerns were openly discussed at the highest levels of government. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot (can you blame me?), there was Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986.

Jason D
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

Lindoro, closets are deep, disturbing things.

I had myself convinced of all sorts of lies. I was masturbating from a very young age at the thought of attractive men (NEVER women) and yet still had myself 100% convinced I was straight. No really.

I made fun of “fags” to fit in.

If conservative politics had been my game instead of the arts, I might’ve ended up in this man’s shoes.

In college I said I was “bisexual” even though I had still had no sexual interest in women –and the ones I tried to date could tell! I was having sex with men, but I was purposefully choosing men who found me very attractive, but whom I found completely unattractive so that I could keep convincing myself I wasn’t really gay. After each sexual encounter I felt like crap, usually freaked out for a week, and then got multiple STD tests and became completely celibate for 6 months to a year, and then I would repeat this shame cycle with the another guy or one of the ones I’d already been with.

I did some pretty stupid and ugly things in pursuit of phantom heterosexuality and convinced myself that all my lies were truths.

So yes, I can cut Ashburn some slack. No one is excusing his past crimes…if he has any conscience at all, he’s already torturing himself plenty or will be soon. Hopefully that will lead somewhere positive. Only time will tell.

Richard Rush
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

Regarding the closet,Jim Burroway said,

Speaking from personal experience from having spent 4/5ths of my own life in the closet, yes. You would not gave wanted to know me ten years ago, nor I you.

and Timothy Kincaid said,

And all the while you feel all of the pain that you are dosing out on others. I’ve never forgotten a couple of my own comments from the closet.

Thanks to Jim and Timothy for revealing that.

So often people caution us not to assume that virulent anti-gay people are themselves gay. But the anecdotal evidence just seems to pile up, even from those who are not virulent, but who are just mildly trying to throw other people off the scent.

At this point I feel near certainty that people such as Peter LaBarbera, Scott Lively, Matt Barber, Joseph Nicolosi, Robert Knight, and Mike Heath must be intensely self-loathing homosexuals, much like George Rekers. Given the multitude of career paths available, why else would they choose to be professional persecutors and embrace it with such intense fervor? Of course, for all of them, religion plays a huge role. I can’t imagine a secure heterosexual having that much motivation. The efforts of many other religiously motivated anti-gays don’t seem so singularly focused, so I feel no such certainty that they must be gay themselves.

Priya Lynn
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

I agree with you completely, Richard.

Jim Burroway
May 28th, 2010 | LINK

Richard,

I would be extremely wary of applying such assumptions. I’ve known a lot of truly straight people who expressed far more homophobic sentiments than I ever did.

My own anti-gay beliefs weren’t across the board. I was against DADT in 1993 because of my commitment to personal liberties. I was also generally supportive of non-discrimination policies and hate crimes legislation, and I was against criminalization of homosexuality, simply because I didn’t think anybody’s sexuality should be reason for active punishment. I really did buy into the whole “privacy of the bedroom thing.” I really thought Colorado’s Amendment 2 and Bowers vs Harwick were really boneheaded and dangerous developments, but my objections were based on personal liberties concerns, not any positive feeling toward “homosexuals”.

But I was strongly against same-sex marriage because, well, I somehow thought it would “encourage” homosexuality. Or something like that. I don’t think I ever worked it out fully, but I think the truth of it was that I saw marriage as the same threat as Alan Chambers does. You know, if marriage really is an option, then who would want to struggle with being ex-gay?

I was also appalled at the idea of adoption by gay couples, for reasons I could hardly articulate. But I also loathed Anita Bryant. Always did. I didn’t like how she demonized other people who disagreed with her. I at least had that going for me.

The things I supported, I talked about. For some reason, I wasn’t afraid to express those opinions.

The things I was against, I expressed that as well, and I wasn’t always very nice about it. My behavior then still troubles me today.

But I’m most ashamed for my ignorance during the height of the AIDS crisis. I never bought into the God’s punishment thing, but I did believe a lot of what anti-gay activists said about the supposed “scientific facts” of 500 lifetime sexual partners on average, everyone ravaged with countless diseases, etc. And because of that, I also bought into the idea of “innocent” victims verses the others. It was in confronting and overcoming that ignorance but seeing others still promulgating it that led me to establish this blog.

I guess one of these days I should write about my own journey. I haven’t done that yet. This comment is the most I’ve written so far. Somehow, it strikes me as something worth doing.

But back to the point at hand, sure, I have my suspicions about some people. We all do. But I think we should keep in mind that while it’s fun to caricature people and their behaviors, it only occasionally has a passing resemblance to reality. It’s the hardest lesson I had to learn about gay people while coming out of the closet. Now that I’m out and “on the other side,” I think it’s equally important to hold that lesson close to my heart when regarding our opponents. Look at them for what they really are. They’re not cartoons. They’re real people. And that’s what makes what they do all the more serious.

Fg68at
May 29th, 2010 | LINK

Typo: He is “Roy Ashburn” like in the Tags and not “Roy Asburn”.

Brennin
May 29th, 2010 | LINK

“What Would Harvey Milk Do?”

He would engage in political backstabbing and get shot for it, along with an inept mayor who fraudulently won an election with the help of an evil cult leader. Oh, and deplete oxygen.

Timothy Kincaid
May 29th, 2010 | LINK

Thanks Fg68at. fixed.

Richard Rush
May 29th, 2010 | LINK

Jim,

I really hope you are not very troubled or ashamed by your past attitudes and your expression of them. You have certainly made up for them many, many, times over. Thanks for sharing your story.

I had a somewhat different experience with the closet. It was only during my early to mid teen years that I imagined that I might outgrow the homo. While I always understood that it had to be my secret, it never occurred to me to see it as “wrong,” “immoral,” or a “sin.” So it remained my secret through college, and although I fell madly in love with a straight roommate (which is another story), and had a few isolated sexual encounters before graduation, I finally “came out”* just after graduation in the summer of Stonewall (1969). It was the mid 1980’s before I let any straight person know my secret (of course, they might of thought it). My partner still reminds me of the time in the early 80’s when I made him hide in the basement because one of my co-workers showed up at the front door.

As a person who was always socially awkward and painfully shy, my way of dealing with the straight world was to slink away from any sexual conversation. I always felt my face was turning red at any mention of queers or faggots, and I just wanted to escape the situation. But I never concocted stories about girlfriends, etc.

There is one thing that haunts me now: While I have lived during this extraordinary period for gay people beginning with the summer of Stonewall until now when we seem on the verge of having it all, I have done absolutely nothing until the 2000’s to participate in improving the lives for gay people. I never came out to more than just a few straight people until after other courageous gays paved the way. I watched those courageous people take the risks to make it all happen, and now I am reaping the benefits.

* Remember, the term “coming out” had a much more limited definition in 1969 than it does today. In those days it meant only coming out to yourself and to other gay people and living a double life. It was universally understood that, of course, you kept it a secret from family, friends, and co-workers if you wanted to survive.

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