It was no accident that Harvey Milk came to San Francisco. California is amazing and the “Bay Area” is incredibly so. Until recently, California has the most desirable climate of any of the fifty states. I lived, for nearly 15 years in the high Sierras. Even winters there are easier than almost anywhere else. California produces the finest and most diverse vegetables and honey compared to the rest of the country. What impressed me the most, living in Northern California, was the racial diversity, diverse sexual orientations and, to a large degree, a greater acceptance of those differences than anywhere else in the country. Because it is such a wonderful state in which to live, it also attracts a lot of wealth. With that wealth comes a number of conservative voters who are most interested in protecting their wealth—hence, all the back and forth on gay rights. Living in the Bay area, however, warps one, albeit in a good way. It is easy to get used to the tolerance of diversity as a way of life. The only problem is that “that particular tolerance” is hard to find outside of California.
The lack of tolerance in this country comes at a great cost that no one seems to address. Many crops are not being planted this year because of how we are treating Hispanics. I remember the U.S. Army losing 12 of its 15 Arab speaking interpreters because they turned out to be gay. Some of the many things that enrich California so are the contributions of its many diverse groups. The quality of the whole is sorely diminished when so many different people are disenfranchised.
When asked where I came from, I reply, “I came from the S F Bay Area.” Invariably, I get the comment that they hear it is a good place to be “from.” What I find as one of the best reasons to live in California, folks from the deep South find the tolerance of diversity as the best reason not to.
I try to understand from where this attitude towards homosexuality stems. The fact that the poor of the South turn to religion for answers is not surprising. This is the Bible Belt. There nearly as many churches here as there are Starbucks per capita in the Bay area. The prevalence of fundamentalist religions may explain why most gays and lesbians moved to northern California. The fact that AIDS treatment was spearheaded in San Francisco also accounted for a large migration.
There are communities of gays and lesbians here in the South, but they are a bit more unobtrusive than life in the Castro. It is this unobtrusiveness that accounts for some of the attitudes down here. AND, those same attitudes account for the discretion displayed by gay communities. The result is that most people down here have very little intercourse, as it were, with the gay community. I am afraid the largest source of association, here in the South and possibly the rest of the country, is when a pedophile is outed as a homosexual. Gay priests, gay Republicans who court senate pages, and the latest one, the mega church leader who has been accused of gifting young boys. Because the gay communities are so closed outside of San Francisco and probably Manhattan, these criminals, I believe, represent the largest association the rest of the people in America have with the gay community.
This would explain why the military is so afraid of homosexuality. The military seems not to understand that gays are just like them except for their sexual orientation. Gays are not sexual animals that will make overtures to all the “straights” once they are allowed out of their closets. If anything, the gays I have known have a greater respect for sexuality and gender differences than the average straight. Perhaps the military and the straight community is afraid the gay community will treat them with the same respect that the straight folks treat women. The military and, indeed, straight America needs to get a grip on how they treat women in this country.
We may not stone women for committing adultery, but they are sorely disrespected by their military and civilian brethren . We have made some progress since the 60’s, but we still have a very long way to go. How nice it would be if the United States could be known as the Land of Milk and Honey.