Facebook can feel faceless sometimes. Over the last week, the site has seen a lot of conversations about Chick-fil-A, often among total strangers able to shout at each other just because they happen to have a friend in common. It is worth remembering that behind each unfamiliar headshot or puppy pic is a real person. When you litter your friend's wall with vitriol about the idiocy of your interlocutors, you are talking about people, not pixels.
So here's my message to social conservatives: Just because you were a member of the Boy Scouts, I don't think you are a bigot. Have those waffle fries; I'm not going to glitter-bomb you. But please, hear me out on why these organizations are so troubling to me, personally. Let's get beyond the avatar, so we can understand that this is more about people than about anonymous wall posts.
Hi. My name is Conor Gaughan. I am 32 years old. I was born an Air Force child. Most of my formative years were spent in the suburbs of Denver. Mike and MaryAnn were incredible parents, instilling in me a strong moral compass. I have an older brother -- Ghirmay. He joined our family after emigrating from Eritrea. He's now married with three adorable girls. I have a younger sister -- Michaela. She is a senior in high school. As a family, we grew up going to church every Sunday. I attended a Christian Brothers high school. In 2002, I graduated from Harvard, with a degree in economics. While in school, I was a varsity letterman, and I started a non-profit to help at-risk youth. In the ten years since completing my degree, I've largely worked in finance. And, I now work in the media business helping nonprofits to speak the language of American Pop Culture. Oh, and somewhere in there, I came out of the closet. It's nice to meet you.
Growing up is never easy. But, teenagers who grow up gay are four times more likely to take their own lives. No, that has nothing to do with our sexuality on its own -- suicide rates are lower where gay kids are accepted. It's because our institutions, and all too often the adults in our lives, tell us we're not as good as our straight peers. In 29 states, it is legal for an employer to fire me for who I am. In 31 states, leaders and voters have told me that I am not worthy of the fundamental human right to marry. You want to marry because you love your Mr. Right; I have no rights to do the same. And, the consequences of this inequality are terrifying and real. For example, I can be denied access to my loved one on his deathbed. There are over 1,100 other rights that I am denied.
When gays get so angry about a chicken sandwich, it is because Chick-fil-A has given around $5 million to fight to discriminate against us. When we praise brave Eagle Scouts who give up their badges in protest of the Boy Scouts of America's prejudice, it's not about scoring political points; it's because there are kids in dens who are being taught to believe that they are less than equal. When we rant about the pastor who preaches that gays should be thrown into a concentration camp, we scream out of fear. And our fears are justified -- in the last seven days, a lesbian in Nebraska was carved with a knife, a gay man in Oklahoma was firebombed, and a girl in Kentucky was kicked and beaten -- her jaw broken and her teeth knocked out -- while her assailants allegedly hurled anti-gay slurs at her.
I am your coworker, your frat brother, your cousin, your neighbor. And I am watching as you defend institutionalized discrimination.
Eat all the chicken sandwiches you want. But, realize that behind this debate are real people -- kids like the girl in Kentucky who fear for their safety, women like Sally Ride's widow who are denied their spouse's Social Security benefits. Even if it doesn't seem like it, we want nothing more than to leave behind the angry debates on Facebook and on Capitol Hill. There are, after all, a lot of pictures of One Direction and grandkids we would rather be posting, sharing and 'liking.'