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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Report on visiting 'shOUT speaker Russell Roybal

What I found interesting about Russell Roybal’s speech was his choice of “text”—rather than look at a work of literature or a series of images, he chose to examine the policies of the United States government through gay/lesbian/transgender theory. Much as literary works can reflect cultural views of homosexuality, so too can actions taken by the government. Roybal showed that Hall’s key principle #3, that social attitudes about sexuality change over time (237), can be seen by changes in government policy. He began his speech by listing the disappointments of the Clinton era (“Don’t ask, don’t tell”), the Bush era (“The Defense of Marriage Act”, among others), and now the Obama era (refusing to overturn DADT, for example). That isn’t to say his entire speech was doom and gloom. He noted that there have been many advances in LGBT rights in recent years—including a recent change in census policy that allows for gay married couples to be counted as such for the very first time. Despite a few losses, state referendums have greatly expanded LGBT rights in areas of marriage and work discrimination. These “texts” reflect growing acceptance among the American public. The disappointments of Maine and California, however, show that this acceptance is not at all complete. While I would have taken the overall picture as one of success, Roybal asserted that “There is no such thing as being a little equal.” You either have full equality, or you do not. If LGBT rights are in fact human rights, then no compromise is acceptable. The distinction between public and private lives is in this case indistinguishable—any and all actions taken by the government about LGBT rights in general has a profound impact on the personal lives of millions of people in this country. Roybal ended his speech with an impassioned plea to President Obama, asking him to recognize this connection.

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