Tipper Gore -- the woman many Democrats believe should have been the First Lady after her husband, Vice President Al Gore, won the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election -- announced her opposition to Proposition 8 Saturday night during the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center's 37th Anniversary gala in Los Angeles.
Her opposition to Prop 8 -- the California ballot initiative that would overturn the right of same sex couples to marry -- is not really all that surprising. Last January, Al Gore posted an unprompted video on Current TV announcing his support for marriage equality. Tipper has had her own strong ties to the LGBT community- - including a drum solo during the Human Rights Campaign's Equality Rocks concert in May 2000 on the eve of the LGBT Millennium March on Washington, when the White House looked within reach. An author and photographer, Tipper also developed a close relationship with furniture moguls Mitchell Gold and Bob Williamsafter Gold suggested that Tipper sell her photos through their stories, with ten percent of the proceeds going to the Gore's
The Climate Change Project, an outgrowth of An Inconvenient Truth.
Tipper Gore and Gold also share an abiding interest in mental health issues. In fact, she attended the LA Gay & Lesbian Center's gala in order to introduce Gold, who, with his partner Bob Williams, was being honored for his philanthropy, his founding of Faith in America, and his new book, Crisis, a collection of personal stories about the trauma of growing up gay in America.
Tipper says she thinks the book "is extremely significant and can be transformative in our society" to give voice to the millions "who have felt the sting of discrimination and being unwelcome in the places of worship and many other places in our society." That point was underscored recently by the
Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network which released a new survey Oct. 8 that found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experience harassment.
A GLSEN press release says:
The survey of 6,209 middle and high school students found that nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students (86.2%) experienced harassment at school in the past year, three-fifths (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and about a third (32.7%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe.
"The 2007 National School Climate Survey reveals that, on a whole, the situation is still dire for many LGBT youth when it comes to school safety," GLSEN Executive Director Kevin Jennings said. "It's hard to believe that anyone who reads this report could continue to turn the other way as our nation's LGBT students are bullied and harassed at alarming rates. The good news is there's hope. The 2007 National School Climate Survey also shows that when schools and educators take action, they can make a drastic difference."
So while the Yes on 8 campaign has made much of school childrenwho went to watch their lesbian teacher get married in San Francisco's City Hall -- no one has really considered the impact the fight over Prop 8 is having on LGBT youth.
It was one of the questions I asked Tipper Gore. At first reluctant to give an interview, she took immediately to the link between mental health issues and Prop 8.
"I strongly oppose Prop 8 because I oppose discrimination in any form and it clearly is all about discrimination."
You and your husband are squarely behind marriage equality -- "Yes, we are, she said" -- so what would you tell people who are sitting on the fence about same sex marriage?
"I would ask them to think about what is the true meaning of our democracy - it's equality and justice for all. That battle is not finished yet for many people. They still feel the sting of discrimination within the system of laws that we have and it's something that all of us need to think about -- to be tolerant of people and understand that people are different and they must have and they deserve respect and equal treatment under the law."
LGBT teens are reportedly three times more likely to commit suicide -- "I think it's four time more, actually," she said, who is public about her own bouts of depression. So what kind of impact do you think the fight over Prop 8 will have for those struggling with depression?
"Mitchell Gold in his new book Crisis talks about the rates of depression and suicide in gay teens. I've been aware of it for years, very concerned about it. So absolutely this is a mental health issue. We need mental health parity -- but we also need tolerance, and love and compassion for gay people -- teenagers and otherwise because they have to feel included and they cannot feel discriminated against. I mean, personally, I don't understand it. We're all created equal, we're just all created differently."
The potential deep depression if Prop 8 passes is not limited to activists and closeted youth who might have dreamed of coming out if equality prevailed.
In fact, David Mehnert, a special education music teacher in private practice who specializes in autism and musical savants, emailed me about a letter he sent to parents of his pupils warning that if Prop 8 passes, he may leave California. He also suggests a serious "brain drain" of experts whose talent is "portable" and would feel better living and working in a state such as Massachusetts or Connecticut where their marriages will be recognized.
Here are some excerpts from Mehnert's email:
"I want the parents of the children I teach to know that this issue [No on Prop 8] is important to me - and important to them, too, if they care about the work I do. Because it's quite likely I will leave California if this passes, as will many gays and lesbians. It pains me considerably when I think about the children and families who will be affected....
Like it or not, a successful Prop 8 will precipitate a gay brain drain from California as thousands of gays and lesbians (like me) leave the state - or, perhaps even more important, never come here in the first place to begin their careers. California has long been a GLBT magnet, and the best and the brightest have come here for generations -- since the Gold Rush, in fact. They have been key players and proponents of many California industries, not least the recent Silicon Valley boom.
There's a reason the Google Corporation came out early and strong against Prop 8: they know it will damage their company and Silicon Valley competitiveness over the medium- and long-term....
What galls me most about the "Yes" campaign is how 100% wrong they have it on education. Because when it comes to the brain drain, what Prop 8 will really do is lessen the chances that your kids will be taught by some of the best teachers in California...
Need I mention that California universities and research institutes will lose faculty to more tolerant states, like Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut? The cultural, scientific, and entrepreneurial losses will come in every field.
Think about your kids. For any of you planning to vote "Yes" on 8, you should know what you are voting for and what the real consequences are likely to be in your childrens' lives.