Not long ago, my wife and I had a dinner meeting with two business colleagues. To call it a dinner is actually a bit of a stretch. It was a tasting of appetizers for an event we would be hosting just a few days later. After about four rounds of bite-sized hors d’oeuvres, and a glass of wine with each, our male companions revealed that they were both gay. It wasn’t something they needed to tell us – my wife and I have highly evolved gaydars. Our line of work, friends, and proclivity for fashion tends to place us, happily, in gay-friendly environments.
At some point the conversation turned even more personal. “I feel comfortable with you guys,” said one, as he proceeded to tell us his coming out story. It was a fascinating and heartfelt account of a teenager who was dating a classmate, only to find himself attracted to her brother. The other, inspired by his colleague, also began spilling the beans on his very recent coming out. His was a relatively late confession for a gay man in his late 20s living in Los Angeles. Both accounts were different in many ways but carried a common theme – fear of judgment. Each had worried about how those around them would react to their admission. One had even lived among some who outwardly expressed, in vulgar terms, their vehement disgust for the gay lifestyle – an intimidating environment for anyone that has yet to publicly divulge their sexuality. The fear of losing friends and alienating family members was at times crippling, they both conveyed. There was a constant concern of whether those around them would shun, or embrace, who they were.
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard a coming out story, but this time something was different – their experience felt a lot like mine.
If you have a right-of-center worldview and live in Hollywood, you can understand what I’m saying. Coming to the realization that you don’t think the same, politically, as most of the people around you was a truth I came to just recently. When you first recognize this fact, one learns pretty quickly to tread lightly when the topic of politics is broached. There is nothing so telling as the look on the face of a liberal-minded Angelino as they first learn that you are from that other camp. That glazed look is unmistakable. At best, they are guarded when they speak to you next. At worst, they spread the word to those on their team, dinner schedules no longer show availability, and calls are no longer returned. It’s a soft bigotry that you have to experience to fully comprehend.
The ubiquity of intolerance to right-wingers can be felt in almost every influential enclave of Los Angeles. I’ve experienced it thoroughly in the short time that I’ve come out as a libertarian-leaning conservative. In one incident, I was attending a parent assembly for my daughter’s first school. Given that it was the initial gathering of the year, it was a full house and many of the new parents were excited, including my wife and I, to enter a new community of families. What would the teachers and parents be like? How could we get involved in the school? What new friends would come into our lives? It was an exhilarating time to say the least.
At the assembly, the school director stood at the lectern and cheerfully announced the demographics of the parents – the number of families of multi-racial origin, Hispanic origin, Black families, and same-sex households. The place was dripping with pride, clapping with approval for each statistic. But nothing received applause more loudly than the absence of diversity in a particular domain. “One area that we lack diversity is political affiliation,” claimed the school director. The crowd of parents cheered as if their child had just scored the winning goal in the World Cup Finals. A few parents even gave a standing ovation to add an exclamation mark. No one had to say which political affiliation was lacking – everyone knew. It was an intimidating moment for my wife and I. We were just two parents trying to find a safe and comfortable learning environment for our little girl – in a city with few good school options. I looked at my wife with, no doubt, a hint of despair in my eyes. Adding irony to the situation was that the blind bias was being celebrated in front of the school director, an openly gay man, and was expressed by parents that were purposely avoiding the liberal-controlled public school system by enrolling their children in a private school.
The environment would eventually lead to us pulling our daughter from their program.
On another occasion, the sentiment toward right-wingedness was a bit more direct. In route to an afternoon birthday party, breaking news hit the radio airwaves. A congresswoman had been shot in the head and reports were unclear as to whether she was still alive. It was Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, and I knew her to be a Democrat.
As we arrived at the party, small talk ensued. Not knowing the attendees well, I reverted to the news of the moment to spark conversation.
“Did you hear about the Arizona congresswoman,” I asked a reality TV producer I’d become nominally acquainted with.
“No. What happened,” he asked.
“Well, apparently she was shot point blank in the head.”
“Was she a Republican,” he inquired.
“No. It was Giffords. She’s a Democrat,” I replied.
“That’s too bad. It would have been nice to have one less Republican in the world,” he said with no hint of compassion for the victim in his voice. Deer caught in headlights was surely a good description of my expression.
Each of these events made me think back to that tasting I had just a few months earlier, and how similar my world was to those two gay men. Being caught in an environment where most of the people around you don’t think like you do, and some thoughtlessly despising your kind, is not a fun place to visit let alone live. Ever present is the concern that people you’ve grown to like won’t return that feeling if they learn about a particular facet of your life. The worry that even your loved ones could be affected if the community’s decision makers don’t approve of who you are is a constant backdrop.
As I witnessed the reaction at both the parent assembly and afternoon birthday party, I was completely taken aback at the unabashed bigotry displayed by each. They couldn’t have felt more comfortable expressing it. How would my beliefs affect my daughter if I were outed or if just one industrious parent Googled my name? I can clearly remember the feeling that I had at the appetizer tasting as the two gay gentlemen told me about their early fear of being discovered – and as I sat there, at that very moment, I was experiencing the same exact fear they were describing. “What if they move on to a discussion of politics – how will they react,” I thought. Would I have to start the conversation by quickly admitting that I’m for gay marriage? Would they even hear me when I recite the fact that the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the legal action against the California ban on same-sex matrimony, and the passage of New York City’s gay marriage law all include prominent Republicans leading the way. Would I be brave enough to say that I didn’t think thoughtful social conservatives were “homophobes” because of their opposition to these efforts?
As I sat there through the tasting – inhaling chicken skewers, guzzling down Pinot Grigio, and listening to their coming out stories – the topic of politics never materialized. But one revelation did – Hollywood conservatives and the gay community are more alike than they may care to admit. Hopefully, someday soon, both groups recognize this very poignant fact.