Long-time American, First-time Voter

Disclaimer: This essay is heavily personal for me and as such, conveys some of my beliefs that might differ from yours. I don’t mean it to come off as arrogant or morally superior, but such is the nature of discussing personal and emotional topics. I respect your right to your opinion and believe we’re all doing the best we can. But I also believe that through shared understanding, we can all be better.

Today I completed my voting ballot for the 2020 presidential election. As I drove to the drop-box to officially submit my vote, I couldn’t help but consider the fact that at 34 years old this was the first time I was voting. And as I considered this fact, I began pondering two questions:

1) Why had I never voted before?

2) Of all the elections, why was it this election that inspired me to vote?

Why Did I Never Vote?

The answer to the first question is a simple, but depressing truth. Until just a few years ago, I masqueraded as a member of the social elite: a white, straight male citizen of the United States of America. Frankly, I didn’t vote because the outcome of elections could only really impact my life in very small ways. I was represented by the majority and thus, the politicians and laws of our country acted in my best interest. And sadly, I took no interest in the care of other under-represented citizens of our country.

Why Vote Now?

The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated.

Personal Awareness of Inequality

As you know, just a few years ago I relinquished my status as a white, straight male and officially became a member of the queer community. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy a very privileged life because I’m still white and I’m still a man. However, officially relinquishing my “straight status” has opened my eyes to some of the prejudice that exists in our country.

Just a few weeks ago I found myself reading the officially published platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties. I was irritated by the fact that everything I saw on social media seemed to disagree with everything else and thought I’d go to the source to find out what was true.

I had known for a long time that the Republican Party generally did not support same-sex marriage, but I also assumed this had changed once the Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage in 2015 (that was only 5 years ago). However, reading the platform revealed in no uncertain terms that one of the goals of the Republican Party is to overturn the right for same-sex couples to marry. Imagine reading the official stance of the political party you were raised supporting and realizing that they are still actively fighting against your right to marry. Not only that, but two days later members of the US Supreme Court issued a statement for the repeal of same-sex marriage. These are some of the most well-educated and respected individuals in our country and they were telling me that I don’t have the right to marry. As Jenny can attest, I was more than a little frustrated and hurt by the prejudice and hatred I felt behind these discoveries.

Nothing quite motives like feeling personally attacked.

Reflection and Atonement

As I’ve considered the prejudices in political process and law, my mind has also been drawn to the prejudices I’ve personally experienced in my life and my own refusal to acknowledge it. Let me share some of these memories with you and put you in my shoes.

- Driving through San Francisco with your dad saying disparaging things about the gays and you making a disgusted face, lest he realize you are one of them.

- Laughing as your siblings play and replay a scene from The Sound of Music where one of the characters points to himself and sings “fa fa.”

- Uttering a sigh of relief and sinking into the background when the kids at school finally start calling someone other than you a faggot in the locker room.

- Being gay and parroting information about how allowing same-sex couples to marry “destroys the sanctity of marriage” when Prop 9 was on the California ballot.

- Mentioning that you watch Modern Family at a family gathering only to be told in disgusted tones that the show is advancing the “gay agenda” when the “gay agenda” represents granting you the rights that others already have.

- Attending a college where students were expelled for holding hands with someone of the same gender and not speaking up when you wish you had the courage to do that same.

I don’t share these memories to inspire guilt or pity. I do, however, share them to illustrate two things:

1) We all find ourselves behaving certain ways according to the dictates of our society without considering the prejudicial and hurtful implications of such actions.

2) I, as a member of the queer community, have much to atone for. When I should have been the most empathetic, I was the one laughing or standing idly by.

Why did I vote this time around? Because people are actively working to deprive me of my rights and because for years I have stood by idly as my fellow gays and other minorities have been hurt and treated unfairly.

Why am I sharing this with you?

Who you vote for is your business and I know we’ll all vote for who we think will do the best job, but I have one favor to ask. Look outside your own privileged world if only a bit more. Consider the implications of electing your candidate in terms of helping those whose voice isn’t as loud as yours. I wish someone had told me the same years ago because I didn’t care until I became part of a group that has been the target of prejudice throughout recorded history. The members of our human family deserve the same rights and privileges and our country is failing them.

I might have laughed at the expense of my fellow gay people and stood quietly in the corner in my past, but I won’t do it anymore. And as much as my upbringing teaches me that political talk is impolite, I won’t apologize for talking about it because silence only serves the majority.

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