The day after the presidential election I took a long drive to Utah for a few book-signing events. My memoir about my life as a gay child in a fundamentalist church was recently released, so I drove to Utah, then to Los Angeles, on a publicity tour.
Utah is where I first met another gay man. I lived there as a child, and my first encounter with a gay man was inside the front door of a Salt Lake City pizza parlor 33 years ago. Actually, there were two gay men in the restaurant that evening, one white, the other black. I watched them enter together. The white guy asked his partner, "What do you want, dear?" My stepmother, Fluffy, freaked out. It was Utah, after all, and she was visibly disturbed by their audacity. An affectionate interaction between people of the same gender was unacceptable to her. Fluffy was horrified at their boldness and concerned that they might try to touch me. In a Salt Lake City pizza parlor. Thirty-three years ago.
So on the night of the 2012 presidential election, knowing that Obama had prevailed over Romney, I packed my things and left home the next morning for a week-long road trip to Salt Lake City. I've got to tell you: It's a pretty barren drive across the states of Nevada and Utah, but knowing that Romney had lost the election was a bit of comfort. And besides, several decades have passed since I lived in Utah. I imagined that things had changed.
My partner and I pulled into Elko, Nev., that evening, and it dawned on me that checking into a hotel room in Elko, Nev., might have some unique circumstances to consider. Not that there's anything wrong with Elko, mind you, but I've been living in California for the last 30 years, and I sometimes forget that although I feel perfectly comfortable sauntering up to most hotel registration counters with my partner and asking for a king-sized bed, things might be different in Elko. Most urban cities I travel to are worry-free in that regard, like Seattle, for example, or New York City, or Chicago, or Miami. There are many locations in this country where it would not occur to me to ask for two beds when we check into a hotel, but Elko wasn't one of them. I requested a room with two beds in Elko. The next night, when we checked into a motel in Park City, Utah, I again requested two beds.
The next morning, in the Park City Starbucks, I pulled a newspaper out of the pile of abandoned reading material, looking for election coverage that I had missed during my long drive. Romney had lost the gay vote, the front page said, as well as the Latino vote, the Asian vote and the young vote. Romney had only prevailed with the older white vote, according to the story. He had also prevailed in Utah. Utah had voted overwhelmingly for Romney, it said -- 72 percent, to be exact, if you believe exit polls to be exact.
I posted a comment on my Facebook page to remind fans of my Utah book signing, and it didn't take long for a Salt Lake City resident to post a warning in return: "Where in Salt Lake City?" she asked, warning, "This is a place where 65% of the people believe they can beat the gay out of you."
I should mention that, by all outward appearances, I am not stereotypically gay. I drive a truck. I look like I can take care of myself in a fight, should it come to that. No one in Utah is going to look at me or my partner and assume that we are gay, unless, of course, we check into a hotel and ask for a king-sized bed. Unless, of course, we display signs of affection to show that we are more than just fishing buddies. There are places in this country where we know what is expected of us as gay men. Invisibility is the requirement. When we dare to break the confining expectation of invisibility, we often wonder whether someone might have noticed.
So that warning on my Facebook page dominated my thoughts for the next few days. It was a reality check. Perhaps the Utah of today was no different from the Utah of my childhood. The Mormon Church still dominates the landscape there. The church excommunicates gay members who dare to seek happiness by refusing to live their lives alone and celibate. The Mormon Church demands a miserable and impossible existence of LGBT people, in my mind.
The rest of my visit to Utah became dominated by thoughts of how difficult it must be to live there if you are gay, how impossible it must be to live within the constraints of Mormonism. I thought about how impossibly hopeless it would have been for gay people in this country if Mitt Romney had won the election.
Now let me say this: I don't care what people think of me. I really don't. If the vast majority of religious people think less of me for being gay, I'm good with that. People can believe what they want to believe. If they insist that I am an affront to God, I'm not going to make that my problem. If the fact that I have found another man to spend my life with, a man who makes me very happy, is offensive to them or their God, the solution is for them to keep it inside their church or in the privacy of their own homes. Their desire to categorize certain people and certain relationships as inferior in the eyes of their religion isn't a problem for me, until they attempt to encode those beliefs into law. Religious beliefs don't need to be encoded in our country's laws. They don't need to manifest themselves in our leaders. They don't belong in a political party's platform.
So today I am reading headlines of how the Republican Party leaders are lamenting their election loss and speculating on why their candidate couldn't carry the Republican Party to victory. In the weeks since his defeat, I've read headlines that declare Mitt Romney to be "stunned" at his loss. Stunned? Really?
Here's a newsflash for Romney: In 1885, when your Mormon great-grandfather had four wives, it would have been acceptable for elected officials to think their obligation was to solely represent their white male constituents. Women didn't have the right to vote at that time. Neither did most people of color. The world has changed. Perhaps you and Utah and the Mormon Church have a ways to go before you catch up with the rest of society, but it is no longer acceptable to believe that you only need to appeal to white male Christians. If you dare to ask for the privilege to govern the people of this country, you must govern for everyone, even for the two gay guys who would have preferred a king-sized bed in Utah.