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In 1988, I was nearly dead. Literally, actually, dead. My liver was the size of the rugby ball and was so swollen and painful it forced me to sleep on my left side. The substance abuse problem that had seen me kicked out of college, understandably forsaken by my friends and family, had finally pushed me into homelessness (I had grown up the child of substance-abusing parents and this was the only life I had ever really known). The only thing between me and death on the street was a detox and, subsequently, a rehab, both of which were funded by government programs. So there's that, to those who want to get rid of the social safety net. Since then, I've become the father of two, I've worked as an executive in large companies and as a business consultant, earned honors bachelors and masters degrees, and am now a doctoral student who has been a productive taxpaying citizen and active member of my community since 1988. I would have no doubt died on the street without the help of the government. Thanks to the people who fought for those programs, I'm alive and contributing to society. And remember, it was the Republicans who have fought these programs every step of the way. If the conservatives had had their way in 1965 and 1968 when those programs were passed, I wouldn't be here today.
But that's not the most important part, for me. It's what happened next that makes me an impassioned supporter of Barack Obama in this election.
What happened was the gays.
There was only one rehab that would accept me and so I relocated from Washington DC to downtown Baltimore. As part of the program, I was required to attend several AA meetings a week. Because of its location, the rehab was proximate to AA meetings that were either predominately black or predominately gay. After attending of few of each, I realised that the people in the gay meetings just seemed happier to see me. So I became a regular attendee at those meetings.
And then the people in those meetings saved my life.
I grew up in a rural eastern Connecticut town where there were no out gay people. My mother had gay friends, I'd lived in New York and had been in theatre companies, so I was no stranger to gay folk, but my experience in Baltimore was like being dropped onto an alternative planet where everyone was gay. In short order, these men and women became my family and taught me how to be a responsible, grown up human. I was by no means an easy person to like, but they loved me back to health and sanity. A famous chef let me stay at his apartment when my benefits ran out and I was facing the street again. Other people helped me get jobs to get me back on my feet. They fed me when I had no money to eat, they drove me to my doctors appointments, they helped me apply to go back to college, they lent me money when I needed it for books and tuition. And not one person ever asked for anything in return, except for mutual care and respect.
There was A, my sponsor, an incredibly smart, kind and extremely tolerant man who listened to my pointless pontificating with the best sort of patience—the kind that doesn't let on that you're being tolerated. He took countless hours out of his life to help me through my first difficult years of sobriety. There was B, my best friend in those years, who gave me my first sober job and put me up for several weeks in spite of his boyfriend's obvious objections. And K, my sponsor's sponsor, whose kindness and intelligence still give me something to aim for. And there was M, the godfather of downtown Baltimore AA, who had been with his partner for 40+ years through decades of incredible discrimination and prejudice and who still approached life with the determined resilience I can only aspire to even now. As I'm recalling these people and those times, there are literally dozens others I could name who made my life better and made the world a better place to be. These people lived, worked, loved, and had families exactly like the people I grew up with in my little Connecticut town, except that they loved people of the same sex (and, I'll admit, were generally better dressed).
So when I hear people like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and Michelle Bachmann say that my friends shouldn't have the same rights as I have, I see red. That M might have been denied a spot at his partner's bedside when he died after their half-century together inspires a fury I cannot describe. That my friend B might (hypothetically) not be able to get on his partner's (of more than 2 decades) insurance and might get sick and die merely because they are gay, offends my sense of justice and makes me want to go slug the nearest Republican. That any of these people would be considered second-class citizens in any way is an appalling statement about just how backward our country can be.
That ignorance and hate and intolerance could be the basis for public policy rather than reason, tolerance, and progress, makes the choice between the parties not only practical, but moral. Here's the rub: Because of this issue, you cannot support the Republicans and call yourself a good person, full stop. I don't care if you are a devoted, thoughtful believer in University of Chicago-style laissez-faire free market economics or if you think Mitt Romney has magic capitalist fairy dust that will suddenly bring full employment. Those are pragmatic concerns that people of good faith can disagree on. But systematic, political oppression is moral issue and no amount of "good for the greatest number" can justify denying gays and lesbians their full civil rights. Imagine a candidate in the 60s who agreed with you on all the economic issues but who was pro-segregation and anti-civil rights. There would be no way you could vote for such a person in good conscience, no matter how good they were on other issues (and to be clear, given the Republicans views on women, poverty, foreign policy, etc., this is certainly not the case here—it's a thought experiment, and a pretty fanciful one at that).
So I don't want to hear "I disagree with the Republicans on the gay rights issue but I'm voting for him on economic issues". You are voting for the whole package, and that includes a patently evil belief in denying our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters their full rights as American citizens. You either vote for Obama and the full legal rights of the GLBT community, or you're voting to deny those rights. Those are your only choices. You're voting for the bigots or you're voting for the people who saved my life.