June 2, 2012

Appreciates risk Obama took on gay marriage


---- — Congratulations to President Obama for taking a big political risk when he announced his support of same-sex marriage. It took him a while, but his way is to think difficult issues through, and I respect him for it.

Over the years, many social customs have been modified or changed altogether. There was a time when women couldn’t vote, when interracial marriage was illegal in many parts of the nation, or when a man couldn’t come home without a paycheck or his neighbors would talk trash about him. There were plenty of jobs in those days, and if nothing else was available, one could always work in a factory, on an assembly line, as a shipping clerk or delivering telegrams. I’ve done all of those and even taken a turn on Brooklyn’s infamous docks as a longshoreman.

It must be difficult to be young today; not only is there a superabundance of new technology to absorb, but social mores are changing faster than you can blink your eyes. In my youth, nobody ever thought that one day they might be sitting in school next to a student with two mommies or two daddies.

But that’s the way things are these days, like it or not. “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine,” someone once said. One never knows what they might produce.

If you are young, you probably can’t imagine that there was once a time when, if I wanted to take a train to points South, I would have to change to the Jim Crow car in Union Station, in our nation’s capital, just a stone’s throw from the place where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I Had a Dream” speech. In many parts of the country, African-American men and women alike were kept from voting by poll taxes, unfair literacy requirements and other devious devices. America is no stranger to discrimination.

Not long after our president made his historic announcement and we heard about Mitt Romney’s high-school haircutting adventure, my mind wandered back to a young man from my teenage years. Nathaniel was one of about 12 members of the Carver Social and Athletic Club, a teenage boys club named in honor of George Washington Carver. We spent much of our non-school time playing touch football, softball and studying together.

Nathaniel was a soft-spoken teenager who had many feminine mannerisms, which displayed themselves in his gestures and the way he used language. I never asked whether Nathaniel was gay because it didn’t matter to me, but I do know that he was raised in a Brooklyn apartment with a single mother, an aunt, five sisters and one bathroom. Naturally, he was the best dancer in the club; and two of his sisters were old enough to date Carver SAC members.

From time to time, as unthinking people are wont to do, someone called Nathaniel one of those insulting names that put their own ignorance on display. But bullies only do their thing when their victim is alone or they have you outnumbered. We Carver guys stuck together, and no haircuts took place around us.

In the end, what we all need to understand is that there is nothing gay about being gay. It must be difficult to be forced to hide who you are instead of showing what you have become. If I was suddenly to learn that one of the men or women with whom I come in daily contact wanted to marry someone of the same sex, it would make no worldly change in my own life. Not only is it important to mind your own business, but most of our most valuable personal learning comes from contact with those who are different from us.

So I was proud of my president when he issued his personal support of same-sex marriage. Homosexuality is not particularly popular in the African-American community, and our president has taken a large risk by that one statement.

But it is about time that someone stood on principle instead of expecting fame or fortune to reward everything they do or say.

Ken Wibecan is a retired journalist. Once an op-ed and jazz columnist, later an editor of Modern Maturity magazine, these days he and his two dogs enjoy the country life in Peru. He can be reached at