By Victor Xu
Homosexuality was originally listed in the World Health Organization’s compilation of diseases and disorders until 1992. Prior to the 19th century, death was a common penalty for homosexuals. By the 1950s, gay rights in America had improved, but not to the point of equality. Only 60 years later, junior Christopher Fiscus, who is openly homosexual, said he can walk through the halls of CHS without encountering a single instance of intolerance.
“You won’t find outright homophobia here,” Christopher said. “It’s not like someone will walk up to you and outright hate you. You’ll find a lot of people who are apathetic toward it. They don’t really have an opinion; it’s just something they’re accepting. That’s been my experience here.”
A variety of research indicates Christopher’s experience with growing tolerance toward his sexual orientation is not limited to Carmel. A CNN Research Opinion Poll published on Aug. 11 showed that, for the first time, more than 50 percent of Americans believe gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to marry and have their marriage recognized as legally valid.
Furthermore, a survey published on May 25 by Gallup Daily News showed that people who believe homosexual marriages should be legal jumped from 43 percent in 1977 to 58 percent in 2010, among the highest percentages surveyors have ever recorded.
“More and more we see people becoming tolerant of sexual orientations and being different,” Grace Woerner, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and junior, said. “That’s really awesome to see, since at the Activities Fair we filled up a whole page full of names to come join the GSA. It’s just really awesome to see people taking more action this time around.”
An Age of Acceptance
The same CNN Research Opinion Poll revealed that, with age taken into consideration, nearly six in 10 Americans under the age of 50 believe gay rights are protected under the Constitution.
However, Brian Powell, a sociology professor at Indiana University and coauthor of an upcoming book titled Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family, emphasizes that one should be cautious with statistics due to margins of error.
Although many individuals in our society have taken notable strides toward tolerance, Fiscus said discrimination toward homosexuality is still prevalent.
On Sept. 9, for example, freshman Billy Lucas of Greensburg High School was found dead in his barn after committing suicide. According to Fox 59 News, Lucas hanged himself after enduring weeks of bullying from peers who believed him to be gay. Lucas’ story demonstrates that intolerance still continues despite trends toward acceptance.
Nevertheless, Powell said there has been a marked shift in American views on homosexuality within the past 10 years. According to Powell, the shift is characterized by a number of trends, including demographics, or social composition. Younger generations consistently show more inclusive views when compared to older generations.
“One of the biggest (social) divides is one of age,” Powell said. “We find that younger people are more inclusive in their views of same-sex couples, and that’s going to keep on happening. So what’s happening is that as more people are entering adulthood, the people who are going to be the future voters of the United States are precisely the ones who have become much more inclusive.”
Perry Fiscus, Christopher’s father, said today’s views toward homosexuality are significantly different from those of his youth. He said he still remembered the scandals that ensued when celebrities revealed they were gay, but now few people stop to consider such confessions. Revealing one’s homosexuality was almost unheard of when he graduated from high school in 1986.
“I didn’t even know what ‘gay’ was at that time,” Mr. Fiscus said. “It wasn’t talked about in my school, and there were no students who were openly gay. As I think back to some of my classmates, I realize now that some of them were most certainly gay, but at the time had no idea.”
Christopher also said he sees age as a significant factor in tolerance. He cited maturity and openness as reasons why discrimination in the high school level is rarer, in his experience.
“As people grow older they become a lot more accepting,” he said. “When I was younger you wouldn’t see that a lot. You would find people who were more curious about (homosexuality) since it was something they hadn’t experienced before. But as people get older into their high school years, they understand it more and come to their own opinions about it and either accept it or don’t, which is really their prerogative.”
However, maturity is one issue Woerner said she believes students need to actively address, especially with regards to offhand comments and slang. She and the GSA are working to have the school display greater respect toward gays and lesbians.
“We’re all adults and we all have different viewpoints and perceptions of things,” Woerner said. “People need to be absolutely more tolerant and more mature too. I mean we hear slang terms all the time in this school. People sometimes say ‘This is gay’ or ‘You’re a faggot’ but don’t understand what it actually means.”
Powell cites increased comfort levels toward homosexual relationships as another reason for the shift in opinion. While homosexuality was an incredibly taboo subject only 10 to 20 years ago, he said people became more comfortable with the topic as time passed.
Powell emphasized that media plays a significant role in shaping growing comfort toward such relationships. At the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards, TV shows “Glee” and “Modern Family,” both of which feature homosexual characters, received numerous nominations and awards, including the title of Best Comedy for the latter.
According to Powell, the possibility of a show such as “Modern Family,” which features three families, one of which is a gay couple with an adopted child, occurring 15 or 20 years ago was miniscule. He also cited Ellen DeGeneres’ show in the 1990s, in which she revealed she was a lesbian. Her show essentially ended due to the negative reaction, but today she’s one of media’s most beloved characters.
“People watch TV shows, and they get very involved with these characters,” Powell said. “It’s not contact per se, but it’s a form of contact. I think just coming of age when people (and media) are just talking about these topics makes it less uncomfortable.”
According to Christopher, an increase in comfort levels contributes to the level of tolerance he sees at CHS. He said his friends and family ended up reacting very positively a few months ago when he revealed his sexual orientation to those who didn’t already know. Yet, while he didn’t face any discrimination, it doesn’t mean discrimination toward homosexuals doesn’t exist.
Christopher said, “I don’t come off as a stereotypical homosexual, so I don’t face a lot of discrimination from peers, teachers, staff or anyone from high school, but I do know some outright homosexuals who have faced some discrimination. That’s a really big shame, but there’s really nothing you can do about it, at least not right now. I mean that’s just how people are going to react.”
Mr. Fiscus said his family’s liberalism contributed to the positive reaction Christopher received when he revealed his sexual orientation.
“High school is tough enough with AP classes, SAT prep and other activities without fighting over being gay or straight,” Mr. Fiscus said.
Another factor of the shift in opinion stems from gays being more socially open to heterosexuals. A 2007 poll by Pew Research, a nonpartisan organization that collects information on current issues, revealed that 41 percent of Americans have a close friend or relative who is homosexual. Those who closely knew someone who was gay were more than twice as likely to support gay marriage than those who did not.
Similarly, when asked whether school boards should have the right to fire homosexual teachers, only 15 percent of those close to a homosexual supported the idea. In contrast, 38 percent of those who were not close to a homosexual had a similar response.
“It’s much more difficult to say you’re opposed to something that provides rights to somebody if you know somebody that falls into that category,” Powell said.
On Aug. 4, District Court Judge Vaughn Walker struck down California’s prohibition on gay marriage, known as Proposition 8, ruling that the legislation violates the U.S. Constitution. This monumental decision, which Powell expects to be appealed, is the first time a federal judge has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
According to Powell, the court case, along with recent legalizations of gay marriage in nine states and possible future legalizations, will have tremendous implications as it moves through the judicial system, especially if the decision is upheld.
Powell said the power of law, in this case a legal change, often leads people to reevaluate their own views. For example, in interviews he conducted for research in his upcoming book, some of those interviewed said they didn’t consider same-sex couples families because they couldn’t get married. On the other hand, in states where gay marriage is legal, the number who consider a same-sex couple a family doubled.
“It’s about the power of law,” Powell said. “This happened with interracial marriage with court cases. Same thing. People were opposed to interracial couples getting married. In fact, the opposition to interracial marriage was much higher than opposition to same-sex marriage has been. But after several court cases occurred and a key Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, came out in the 1960s, attitudes then switched.”
Christopher said he supports any measure, including the recent striking down of Proposition 8, which would give more rights to the gay community.
“Any strive for granting civil liberties to a minority in America is obviously good, but (the fall of Proposition 8 ) just takes another step to giving rights to the last group in America that doesn’t have everything it should,” he said.
Woerner stressed that people need to empathize with homosexuals and understand how they, or anybody, would feel about being denied the right to marry.
“For (homosexuals) not to be able to marry is absolutely ridiculous because they have feelings too and can’t change how they are,” she said. “It’s just what it is. If you can’t marry the person you’re in love with just because (somebody) doesn’t like it, (that person) is not in the relationship, so they wouldn’t know. It’s just ridiculous and appalling.”
Religious Views of Homosexuality
Opponents of the striking down of Proposition 8 and gay and lesbian relationships in general often include religious groups. Most predominant religious doctrines, including Islam, Judaism and Christianity, do not condone homosexual activity.
A 2003 survey by Pew Research showed that in most predominantly Muslim nations, a vast majority opposed societal acceptance of homosexuality. In the same study, 86 percent of Evangelical Protestants, 67 percent of Catholics and 48 percent of Mainline Protestants said their respective churches discouraged homosexuality.
Nevertheless, Powell said while many religious groups used strict doctrinal views to argue against same-sex relationships, others, such as the United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church, have shown more inclusive views toward homosexuality.
Sophomore Heejung Kim, a devout Christian, said she opposes homosexual relationships because of her faith.
“I don’t support same-sex relationships,” she said. “God created man and woman to be together, and same-sex relationships are spiritually unnatural.”
She added later, however, that even though she personally opposes same-sex relationships, she does not believe government should define or control marriage.
Furthermore, a 2003 survey by Pew Research indicated that 48 percent of people who attend religious services at least once a week believe homosexuality is a lifestyle preference, and 16 percent believe it is a result of an individual’s upbringing. Christopher considers this a common misconception about homosexuality.
“People will go as far to think it’s a choice that I make in my daily life, like this is a lifestyle I’ve chosen for myself, no different from the color of my hair,” he said. “That’s just horrible and absolutely untrue. I believe I was born this way and that doesn’t make me a second class citizen in any way. My hope for the future is that the federal government and the American and world population view homosexuality as something that cannot be changed. It’s something that’s been here since the dawn of man and it’s not going away.”
Although Christopher said an increase in tolerance of homosexuality is apparent at CHS, it is not anything close to full tolerance yet. Still, Powell emphasized the rapidity of this shift in attitude.
“One of the things that is most interesting to me,” Powell said, “and maybe less easy for people of your age group to see, is how much change actually has occurred in a really short period of time.”
The Gay-Straight Alliance will meet on Sept. 24 after school in Room B215.