It was the Oscars, arguably the gayest night in entertainment, and I was holding back tears.
No, I wasn’t visibly moved by Penelope Cruz or her dress, I wasn’t on the brink because of the sadness of losing the talent of Heath Ledger so early, I wasn’t even farklempt at the fabulousness of Hugh Jackman’s confident singing, dancing and general over-all hunkiness- although…
Anyway, what got me all moist behind the eyes was the articulate and impassioned speech of a writer named Dustin Lance Black who was standing onstage holding an Oscar for writing the Best Original Screenplay- MILK.
These are some of his words that night:
“…When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life, it gave me the hope to one day live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married. I want to thank my mom who has always loved me for who I am, even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches or by the government or by their families that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours. Thank you, thank you, and thank you God for giving us Harvey Milk”
Being “less than”- that’s what got me. It is the attitude, the phrase, the feeling that permeates the hearts and minds of everyone at some point in their lives. As a therapist, as a friend, as a citizen, I’ve heard it often. I sometimes catch myself believing it.
My first response is to retreat shamefully into denial “No, no, don’t talk like that”, “That’s not true”, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”- but really, it’s a feeling, a thought, an attitude born out of experience, out of shame, out of fear and out of ignorance. And in the sense that it still happens to every one of us- especially those denied rights despite biological science and personal understanding of experience, it is true.
But it is not always going to be true.
Those of us who are denied life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the name of prejudice or religion or social distaste are simply not the same anymore. We’ve lived through too much. Hell, we’ve died through too much.
And if those words of Dustin Lance Black mean anything, it’s that guilt and shame are temporary conditions, imposed only if we let them.
And I think we’ve passed a significant mile marker on the way to true freedom with those words spoken on national television. We just need to believe them.