Tuesday, October 25, 2005
by Wayne Besen
The bone chilling air is what I remember most about the day I slouched on my snow speckled front lawn in Bangor to pawn my new furniture. Only months earlier I had moved from Florida to work at a television station and my body was still adjusting to the frigid weather. I was shivering that afternoon, but I had no choice because this was about survival. The rent was due, I was hungry and parting ways with the dinner table would at least earn me enough to buy dinner.
At the age of 24, I traversed the East Coast so I could launch my career as a television news reporter. This was a great opportunity, but it was also risky because I had to spend my life savings to make the long trip, buy winter clothes and put down money for an apartment.
After three days on the road, I arrived in Bangor and excitedly looked around. I strolled down Main Street, took the requisite picture beside the Paul Bunyan statue and shopped at the Bangor Mall. Having signed a contract, I expected to be in town for a while, so I rented an apartment on Ohio Street and furnished it.
The first week on the job, my boss stridently warned me against interviewing "liberal" professors from the University of Maine. This dictum was enough for me to be very careful about coming out of the closet as a gay man. This was a bizarre experience, as I had been open about my sexual orientation since I was in high school and even started a gay group in college. However, I desperately needed this job and was willing to sacrifice.
Things were going well at the station and I was covering diverse stories from politics in Augusta to the blueberry industry down East. My boss told me that I was doing a fine job and producing good work.
One evening, I was at a local gay nightclub enjoying a cocktail and chatting with a few patrons. I was excited to be out, and while the bar was claustrophobically small, at least it was a place where I was free to be who I am.
Suddenly, a pack of my inebriated co-workers streamed down the bar's staircase to listen to the guest DJ, a heterosexual man who also worked at the station. When the gang entered, I was spotted and confronted about my sexuality. One of the producers that night warned that there might be problems if my boss knew I was gay.
In a small town, gossip spreads quickly. By the time I arrived at work the following week, the secret was out. Not a word was said, but it was clear by the way people gawked, like I was an alien who had just landed from Mars. For the next several weeks, my boss would avert his gaze when he spoke to me. He became critical of the same quality work he had praised before I had been outed.
Eventually, I was called into my boss's office and summarily fired. I asked why and his response is seared in to my memory like a cattle brand: "You're not right for Maine," he icily replied.
A couple of months later, the wife of a fellow reporter told her closeted co-worker that I was fired for being gay. I sought legal counsel to remedy this egregious example of discrimination. To my surprise, I was told that there was nothing I could do because in Maine, it is perfectly legal to end someone's career simply because he or she is gay.
A new study by the University of Southern Maine's Center for the Prevention of Hate and Violence features the stories of 48 victims of discrimination. Unfortunately, the people in the report have not come out and put a public face on this issue.
Although I believe these folks should come forward for the greater good, I certainly can relate to their reticence. I rarely talk about this experience because even a decade later it is humiliating and still evokes painful memories. It damaged my career and if not for my supportive family, I may have been destitute.
I am now compelled to speak out after The Christian Civic League of Maine's Michael Heath brazenly said, "there is simply no evidence provided in the report that any of the claims are true."
Imagine the audacity of Heath, who has helped create an environment of fear, turning around and mocking those who are afraid to come forward with their stories. I don't suppose the Civic League will hire these people if they are fired for coming out?
Discrimination in Maine is very real and destroys lives. Some elitists might declare, "just go find a new job." But working class Mainers understand that when you are living paycheck to paycheck, it is not so easy to pick up the pieces and move on.
Fortunately, I got lucky and found a job working on a political campaign with people who cared more about the content of my character and the quality of my work than my sexual orientation. During this campaign I had the opportunity to visit every county in the state and meet the majority of fair-minded citizens.
I am hopeful that on November 8, Mainers will do the right thing and make the state a discrimination-free zone by upholding a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, credit, housing, public accommodations or education.
While I eventually got used to the cold weather, it was the anti-gay climate that made me leave. As long as state law allows a boss to tell a person that he or she is "not right for Maine," talented people and business leaders will conclude that Maine is not right for them. It is time Mainers put this ugly chapter behind them and send a strong message that they stand for fairness and equality.
Let the STUPID little people be afraid..If eveyone came out of the closet who in the hell would they would they then?
Here some good TALKING POINTS:
They may not help keep your job in Maine, but they are good oneliners!!
Read these carefully. They may be useful "talking points" over the next few months before the election in 2006.
10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage is Wrong
01) Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
02) Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
03) Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
04) Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
05) Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
06) Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.
07) Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.
08) Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.
09) Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.
10) Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.
posted by , at
Kevin Gettmann - Palm Springs, Cal.
Thank you Dominic. I loved your article and the logic behind it. Straight bigots are so brain dead that "the 10 reasons why gay marriage is wrong" is just another nail in their ever weaking arguements against what will eventurally become just another chapter in the ongoing march to civil rights in this country. Christianity has often been an anchor to those dragging their simple minds thru the ever thicking muck of discrimination.
posted by , at
I love the 10 reasons! Please don't associate Christianity with bigoted views. Jesus never said a word about homosexuality or abortion, but he had plenty to critize about organized religion, divorce, and people who mistreat the poor. Don't be silent-speak out against all discrimination! Marilyn in OKC
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