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In My Words: 'Evolution' on homosexuality can take time

After Barack Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage rights, Associate Professor Anthony Hatcher defends the president's "evolving" position.

Associate Professor Anthony Hatcher

The following column appeared recently in the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News, the Gaston Gazette and the Shelby Star via the Elon University Writers Syndicate.

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‘Evolution’ on homosexuality can indeed take time
By Anthony Hatcher - ahatcher@elon.edu

President Barack Obama has now endorsed same-sex marriage, saying his views have been evolving on the issue. I take him at his word because I recall my own evolutionary process after my college roommate told me he was gay.

It was 1976, and James and I met each other when we arrived at UNC-Greensboro for our sophomore years. He had transferred across town from North Carolina A&T. I was returning to UNCG having parted with my freshman roomie, whose relentless smoking put my allergies into overdrive.

As the weeks passed James and I became friends, though we rarely hung out together. He was an art major and I was in the English department. Arriving on campus the previous year from a small eastern North Carolina town, I met openly gay people for the first time on UNCG’s campus.

I didn’t dwell on the fact that some of my classmates were gay, since it usually wasn’t a topic of conversation. We all just went to class, ate greasy food and listened to loud music.

One day a buddy of mine asked me if James was gay. I dismissed the idea, saying he seemed to be around women all the time. That night I told James a friend had asked if he was gay. James quietly replied, “I am.”

I was stunned, and more than a little confused. As enlightened and broadminded as I thought myself to be at age 20 – after all, I was a white guy rooming with a black guy – I had a tough time with this new information.

As the weeks passed, friends asked rude questions that I was too ignorant to answer, such as, “Is James the girl or the boy in his relationships?” One night I was actually dumb enough to mention that question to James, who rightfully lashed out at me. Things cooled between us for a few days, until we fell back into our routine.

A girl I was dating at the time eventually told me she was embarrassed that I was rooming with James “because people might think you’re gay.” I wasn’t the only one who was unenlightened.

At the end of the academic year, James and I were packing to go our separate ways for the summer. We hadn’t discussed our living arrangements for the fall, so I as I was going out the door I asked, “Do you want to room together again next year?”

“I just assumed we would,” he answered.

We continued to live together until our senior year and kept in touch after college. He moved out of state, and we eventually stopped calling, as friends sometimes do. With maturity and distance, I have often reflected upon how difficult life must have been for James in the 1970s and 1980s. He was not only gay, but he was gay and black – in the South, no less.

This remains an issue in 2012. An NPR report that aired just before Amendment One passed in North Carolina noted that blacks make up a little more than 20 percent of the state's population “and some polls show they strongly favor a ban” on same-sex marriage.

In the same report, a 74-year-old resident of Hickory, N.C., who has two lesbian daughters, said, “I love them just as much as I ever loved ‘em” but that he planned to vote for the amendment.

So, yes, I take President Obama at his word that he needed to mull over the issue of gay marriage in order to arrive at a decision.

Evolution, as we know, takes time.

Anthony Hatcher is an associate professor of communications at Elon University.

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Elon University faculty with an interest in sharing their expertise with wider audiences are encouraged to contact Eric Townsend (etownsend4@elon.edu) in the Office of University Communications should they like assistance with prospective newspaper op/ed submissions.

Viewpoints shared by this syndicate are those of the author and not of Elon University.

Eric Townsend,
Staff
5/23/2012 9:42 PM