Out in an Election Year
With the presidential election just a month away lesbians across the nation have to decide who their candidate will be.
The 2012 election is turning out to be one of the most divisive in recent history. With women’s and LGBTQ issues taking center stage, we find ourselves in double jeopardy. Because our civil rights, reproductive rights, and pay equality are threatened, as well as the right to choose, the results of the 2012 election will have an extremely important effect on the way we live in America.
The hot-button issue that is creating much of the passionate divide today revolves around same-sex marriage. Though many states with GOP leadership are passing laws that mandate a woman’s reproductive rights, redefine rape, and reduce access to contraception, a primary aim of the GOP is to put a stop to marriage equality.
So, what’s it like being an out queer woman at a time when your marriage status can change if you step over a state line, and when walking down the street hand in hand with your partner can incite derogatory slurs, and when equal rights under the law can seem like a far-off dream?
To get some idea of what’s going on in our country today, I spoke with four women from three states; each woman has her own political leanings and has a different job. Kaitlin Noss, who teaches in the Cultural and Regional Studies Program at Prescott College in Arizona, is fired up. As a queer woman in a red state, Noss sees the effects of the policies that all red states share, and Arizona’s particular immigration issue as well. “I’m pretty sure you could call it a white supremacist state. It’s that bad,” Noss says.
Pictured: Kaitlin Noss
“I’m white and have citizenship papers in Arizona. Both of those factors make my interaction with the law extremely privileged,” Noss says. “I can also buy airline tickets and fly anywhere in the world, I can enroll in school and seek medical care without fear of being detained or harassed or deported.”
However, many Arizona citizens do live in fear because of their race and are made to feel vulnerable on a regular basis.
“It’s never been more clear to me than in the past 10 years, living in Arizona, that being queer may be difficult in this country, but being marginalized by your immigration status makes people vulnerable to extreme state violence, which I simply do not face because of where I was born,” Noss says. “Being queer or transgendered and undocumented presents a really unique and difficult situation for people.”
Noss considers herself fortunate to have a position at a liberal arts college where she and her partner are given domestic partnership benefits and are very supported by their friends and colleagues. However, the off-campus community hasn’t been so inviting.
“It’s not easy being out in a small rural Arizona town. I’ve definitely had people yell ‘Dyke!’ out the window. I even got spit on once at the mall while holding hands with my partner,” says Noss.
But being part of a small town also lends itself to a feeling of unity within the queer community that isn’t always present in bigger cities. The sense that “we’re in it together” creates strong relationships and strong bonds.
“It really makes me question the current priorities of many LGBTQ groups that are focusing on marriage campaigns while so many people in our community are facing life-threatening exclusion by the state,” Noss says, before adding, “I can’t even think about trying to fight for the right to marry in Arizona when so many people are fighting to stay alive and safe in this state.”
Noss mentions three local groups that are doing great work as allies to the queer and immigrant communities: 3rd Space, Puente, and the Hummingbird Collective.
When asked about the upcoming election, Noss says her concerns are twofold.
“I’m worried, like many, that it will be Romney, but I’m also worried that Obama will continue to be too soft on the legislation Arizona is passing [such as SB 1070, which some say promotes racial profiling, or HB 2281, which bans ethnic studies]. Obama deported a record 400,000 people this past year, but he also supports the DREAM Act. It could be worse, but it could be better,” Noss says. “I don’t want to leave the health and well-being of the people of Arizona up to the November elections, but I will definitely vote for Obama.”
In a different part of the country, Sergeant Heather Patterson is proud to be a “Christian lesbian from Texas who is in the Marines.” Currently stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Patterson has a unique perspective from inside one of the most notoriously conservative professions in the country. Though both Texas and North Carolina are red states, Patterson asserts that when you are in the Marines, physical location has little influence on the political climate.
Pictured: Heather Patterson
“Even though the military consists of people from all over the states, the climate is largely conservative,” she says.
Despite the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gays in the Marines are still excluded from protection under its Equal Opportunity Policy, which still does not include protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“I haven’t experienced any blatant discrimination aimed specifically at me. However, the military is still not exactly a gay-friendly environment,” Patterson says. “Anti-gay slurs and comments are pretty constant, though the people I work with have learned to not say certain things around me.”
Patterson believes there is a very good candidate for president this year, but because of the two-party mentality in the United States, people are not really considering what he can offer.
“I am voting for Dr. Ron Paul, who is running as a Republican at the moment but is a Libertarian,” Patterson says. “I believe without any doubt that he is what’s best for this country.”
Patterson believes that many people are letting assumptions and labels prevent them from looking at the actual issues, assuming that they won’t agree with Paul because he’s currently running as a Republican.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that he has proven to be far more anti-war than Obama, he intends to decriminalize marijuana use, and he believes that the government has no right to tell people they can’t get married or to amend the Constitution,” Patterson says.
Patterson argues that Paul will work to reinstate American civil liberties that have been jeopardized over the last several years.
“In my opinion, the most terrifying example of us losing civil liberties is the National Defense Authorization Act,” Patterson says, arguing that every citizen should read it before voting.
Because she is in the military, Patterson’s sexuality and professional life rarely intersect. “My job has nothing to do with my sexuality. Personal relationships don’t have a place at work, especially in the military,” Patterson says. “Outside of work, my sexuality affects most areas of my life, although it doesn’t define who I am any more than being from Texas or being in the military.”
Trish Bendix, the managing editor at AfterEllen.com, is a familiar name in the queer community. Currently living in Portland, Ore., with her wife, Bendix has experienced life on different sides of the marriage equality line.
Pictured: Trish Bendix and her wife
“I just moved to Portland less than a year ago, so I’m still learning about all of the statewide laws and leanings,” says Bendix. “It seems to be a tad more [liberal] than conservative. But since I live in the city, I feel like I live in a bubble.”
Having lived in Chicago recently, before she moved to the Pacific Northwest, Bendix and her wife were married in Iowa in May 2011.
“Since we lived in Illinois [at the time], where we had only lived a month or so after being granted civil union status, it was made oh-so-apparent that on one side of the river we could be seen as spouses, and as unwedded partners on the other,” Bendix says. “It’s such a mindfuck! Moving to a new state, you have to learn what you are allowed to be there.”
With laws varying—literally, state by state—a matter of a mile can make or break the legality of a union.
“Straight people are married once and it’s done. I have to keep altering things in my life based on my location, and it’s just ridiculous,” she continues. “Soon, when I drive 10 minutes to Vancouver, Washington, I’ll be back to that same one-side-of-the-river scenario.”
When asked about the upcoming election, Bendix says she will lend her support to President Obama.
“I’m voting Obama again. He’s done some good things for our LGBTQ community while in office. Sure, he could have a better track record, but at least he’s acknowledging our wants and needs.”
If you’ve paid even a small amount of attention to politics in recent months, it has become apparent that the conservatives are waging a war on women across the country. It is a misconception that queer women are not also affected by these mandates.
“It comes down to this: It’s our bodies, ourselves, dudes! I don’t want anyone to tell me, my mother, my sister, my friend, what can or can’t happen, for me, my uterus, my mind, or my family,” Bendix says. “It is mind-boggling that women who are part of any facet of the GOP could even pretend to agree with the patriarchal notions that are trying to keep women under the thumb of the powers that be.
“It’s maddening, especially when you know people in your own family who vote Republican. I have some of those, and they say it’s about unions, or labor laws, or money. To me, those things will never be as important as an individual’s ability to decide for themselves,” she continues.
Because she writes and edits for a popular queer website, Bendix is somewhat of an anomaly.
“Yes, my job has almost everything to do with my sexuality, and vice versa. I find this isn’t the case for most people. While I don’t separate myself and my sexual identity, I fully respect and understand that many people do. However, my day job is Googling ‘lesbian’ all day,” Bendix says, proving just how different queer women’s lives in the United States can be.
Another successful lesbian writer with popular websites (YourDailyLesbianMoment.blogspot.com, arlanwashere.com) is Arlan Hamilton. Currently living in Houston, Hamilton divides her time between writing and working as a production coordinator for touring musicians like Cee Lo Green.
Though she hasn’t experienced anything specifically discriminatory, after a recent move from California to Texas, Hamilton said she “immediately felt the difference in climate.”
For a lesbian blogger with a cult following, being out is normal for Hamilton, who is an advocate for being true to yourself and living life to the fullest.
“Texas isn’t the most tolerant state. There are definitely pockets that are great, but [go] a couple of miles away in any direction and you’d have to think twice about holding hands with someone of the same sex,” Hamilton says. “I think twice…then I do it anyway.”
Like Bendix and Noss, Hamilton says she will be voting for Obama.
“If I could vote for him more than once, I would. I don’t agree with everything Obama has said or done, and I don’t think of him as the second coming, but he has done more to help push the U.S. forward than any other president in my lifetime,” Hamilton says.
“Plus, if Romney is elected, I’ll move to another continent,” she adds.
When asked about the war on women, Hamilton has the same “attack on one, attack on all” perspective as Bendix.
“Anytime one woman is attacked, I am attacked. The GOP is attacking millions. Redefining rape is horrifying. Taking away Planned Parenthood funding is deplorable. So even though it doesn’t affect my physical body right now, at this moment, it most certainly affects me personally—and should affect us all,” she says.
Since one of her jobs is in the gay community, Hamilton’s online identity is strongly tied to her out-and-proud sexuality.
“My sexuality is as much as a part of me as my race. So it depends on how you look at it,” she says. “In some ways, it’s one of the biggest things that defines me. Both are what I wake up as and what I am so proud to be. I live to be black and gay, and I’d die defending either.”
Hamilton recently wrote an open letter online about marriage equality that ended up going viral.
“It was to hypocrites who will allow a fabulous gay man to design their wedding gown, but who then go vote against that same man’s right to marry the person he loves. Or someone who’ll allow their children to be raised and educated by a gay teacher for eight hours a day, but then doesn’t think that same woman should be allowed to marry her partner because of something the Bible has told them,” she explains.
“It reminds me of the movie The Help. As a black woman who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, I obviously have seen and heard about this all my life. My issue is with hypocrites.”
When asked what it would mean for her and her state if a Republican gets into office, Hamilton says, “If a Republican wins, my state will probably jump for joy, and celebrate by shooting guns in the air, barbecuing something large, and murdering a few abortion docs—legally.
“While they’re doing that, I’ll be gassing up the car, readying myself for that midnight run to the private airstrip where I’ll stow away on someone’s cargo plane. They have gay clubs in Beirut, right?”