Released earlier this year by Princeton University Press Straightforward How to Mobilize Heterosexual Support for Gay Rights is sure to make an impact on readers, straight and gay alike. By giving suggestions for steps that our heterosexual allies can take in every-day life, Yale law professor Ian Ayres and Quinnipiac University law professor Jennifer Gerarda Brown aim to get the LGBT community closer to our civil rights goals. We spent some time with the authors to discuss the book and what experiences with LGBT people inspired them to fight for our rights.
I have to start by asking this, because in the post-Liza and David Guest and Star Jones and Al Reynolds era one never knowsbut I assume that you are both heterosexual?
Ian and Jennifer in unison: Yes. Happily married and heterosexual. [Both laugh]
As heterosexuals how did you become aware of gay rights and issues?
Ian: It is a very specific event in my life. It was 1979 and I was in college and taking my girlfriend home to meet my parents. My father very explicitly told me that she and I could not stay in the same bedroom while we were under his roof. However, when my sister came to visit with her girlfriend the next month they were allowed to share the same room. I asked my father why he thought this was fair. His reason was that I would one day be able to marry my girlfriend and sleep with her in the same room. Society doesnt give my sister that same right. He said it wouldnt be fair to treat us the same.
Jennifer: No specific event really that I can think of. Its just all around us and you cant help but be drawn to it.
Do you think that equality is possible? In the near future?
Ian: We will end the major parts of discrimination in our lifetime. The future is for equality. The opponents know they are going to lose. The signs are everywhere. Most of the Fortune 500 companies have given gays rights. Thats a tremendous change from ten years ago!
Jennifer: The next generation believes in equality. It is the seniors who are opposed. The future generations will be for equality in every conduit.
Why should heterosexuals care about empowering homosexuals?
Ian: Heterosexuals are the beneficiaries of such discrimination. They have a moral obligation to do something about it, to even things out.
Do you have children? You mention in Straightforward that one way to overcome the issue of homosexuality is to raise your children in gender non-specific ways. Did you do that with your own children?
Jennifer: Yes. We have a daughter who is ten and a son who is eight. We dressed them in a unisex way until they were about four or five. When children reach a certain age they are going to naturally gravitate towards wearing dresses or boys' clothes, but until they started doing that, yes I did treat them in a gender non-specific way. We are also raising them to know that they must choose a mate on the content of their character and not on their sex.
Ian: They know not just straight and gay, but also bisexual and transgender. We have gone out of our way to show them diversity.
How plausible do your suggestion to speak out [against anti-gay slurs and injustices] is to everyone? There are some people in middle America who are simply not going to feel comfortable speaking out in their offices in favor of gay rights.
Jennifer: You are right, but everyone can do something. Everyone can raise their children to be accepting and open to others.
In Straightforward you discuss how parents of LGBT children can do things to make life better for them. What one piece of advice would you give to the parent of an LGBT child?
Ian: Even if you blow it when you are first told [that your child is gay] gather yourself up; you have more time to say the right things. Treat them as someone you love. You will always have a second chance at making things right.
Jennifer: Join PFLAG. Join LGBT organizations. Even if you feel that homosexuality conflicts with your religion there are organizations for just about every religion that can help you reconcile that. Even Catholicism has a group called DIGNITY that you can join.
What is one piece of advice that you would give a LGBT person to help make things better for them?
Jennifer: You have to come out and let the world know you are there to make a difference for yourself and everyone else.