There it sat in my Inbox for weeks like an overdraft notice:
“Man Killed in Cameroon for Sending a Text Message.”
I knew it was going to be depressing, knew exactly why he was killed without even opening the letter, and didn’t want to deal. Besides. What could I do about it?
I like to think of Cameroon as the birth place of BeBe Zahara Benet, the first winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I can’t even say the name of the African country without intoning it with Mother Ru’s faux-Oprah style elongation. To me, that word means glamour and style, grace and poise. But to thousands of homosexuals, it is yet another place on this planet where we are not wanted, shunned, jailed, and yes, even killed for falling in love. I opened my email and confirmed my suspicions.
Roger Jean-Claude Mbede was sent to jail for three years for sending the text message, “I’m very much in love w/u” to a man. After his release from prison – where he was beaten, malnourished, and ostracized because of his homosexuality – Roger could not find employment nor proper treatment for his testicular cancer because of his “crimes.” Weeks later, he was found dead in his village. His attorney, Alice Nkom, the head of Cameroon’s Association to Defend Homosexuals, was the one who sent me the email and is leading the charge with Amnesty International to decriminalize homosexual acts, real or perceived. I signed their petition to appease my guilt that I wasn’t going to do anything else and got back to Facebook. Until I was disgusted by my apathy.
We spend so much time in America talking about the unfair treatment of gay people. As we should. It is ridiculous that in 2014 we are still dealing with vitriol from not only the Phil Robertsons of the world, but highly educated, ELECTED officials who are sworn to uphold America’s values, not least of which our founding principle that All Men are Created Equal. We need to be loud and fight against 20th Century values fourteen years into the 21st Century.
But I will admit that even I get annoyed with the Left and GLAAD and the HRC for jumping on absolutely every slight against the LGBT community, no matter how insignificant it may seem. How sensational coming out stories still are. And our obsession with defining everyone’s sexuality, especially the famous, as if it defines who we are and what we stand for above all else. I long for the days when we are beyond labels, beyond boxes, and can just see each other as people, defined by our actions and not our desires.
However, this is not the world we live in nor will it ever be. We feel a deep need to belong, to feel safe, to feel important within our own group and superior to others; therefore, the obsession with sexuality, one of our most basic personality traits, will always be around. As will the need to defend it from the rooftops. Yet, it must be America’s goal to evolve to a point of if not acceptance, tolerance. America, the self made country. America, the harbinger of freedom and democracy must evolve to a state of equality. We rest in the middle of the continuum, yet claim to be the greatest country in the world. Dozens of countries have marriage for all, not just in certain states, and adoption for all; dozens of countries look at homosexuality as an unforgivable sin, worthy of fines, prison, and death.
Yet it is the latter that makes it hard for me to even complain. I am able to write anything I want about being gay – or anything for that matter – without fear of real punishment. I don’t have to hide the fact that I am in love with a man, that I am MARRIED to a man, nor fear that one of my many text messages of affection will be confiscated and held against me in a court of law. I live in a country where a show about drag queens is not only on TV, but a huge hit.
In my most humble of fantasies, I run through the streets of oppression with Larry Kramer‘s torch, burning down the haters and lighting a fire in the supporters. I know this isn’t true. Nor will it ever be. I am lazy. I am complacent. My husband and I can live our lives without interruption. Sometimes I think about how different Julian’s life would be had he been born in Africa. Or even Mississippi. And take a giant sigh of relief that he wasn’t. But what about his ancestors? His distance relatives in Belize? I feel compelled to do something for the ones who can’t help themselves, yet my activism goes as far as signing a Change.org petition or sharing this post on Facebook with admittedly selfish reasons of putting out new content to get new followers. I wish I would go to marches, start revolutions, or be some kind of gay Harriet Tubman, sneaking homosexuals out of Africa to the bountiful shores of West Hollywood. But I know I won’t. I will waste hours online reading about the Oscars or planning my next trip to Vegas while people like Binyavanga Wainaina are putting their necks on the line to make a difference.
As far as America still needs to come treating homosexuals with compassion and acceptance, I know that we will never feel the true weight of Hatred. And I am grateful. And ashamed for my own indifference to those who do.