Washington is in meltdown mode – again. If the pharmaceutical companies weren’t already making obscene profits, I might even suspect the Tea Party House members were enacting a clandestine economic stimulus program aimed at increasing the sales of antacids and blood pressure medications. But lest we allow the shiny spinning object known as “raising the debt ceiling” to blot out the sun and every other story under it, I’d like to take a moment to focus on three unexpected heroes, who, like Governor Chris Cuomo in New York, raised their heads over the side of the foxhole in the war for equality and sounded off. Think of them as the Three Tenors for Human Rights: Leon Panetta, Al Franken and Stephen Colbert.
Reading those three names, I’m guessing you are wondering what the heck Leon Panetta did for the gay movement that was worthy of notice. But with Panetta, it’s more about what he didn’t do. He didn’t stall. He didn’t flinch. He didn’t use his lack of time on the job as an excuse to drag his feet until a more opportune moment presented itself. Two weeks after the final report on assimilating gays into our armed forces landed on his desk, he acted on it, officially ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) as military policy. He knew it would bring disparagement and protestations from the Republicans at a time when the administration is trying to court their cooperation, but he made the call. DADT ends now. Thank you Mr. Secretary.
Al Franken is a less surprising character to find in our three part harmony, as his liberal biases are well known. But Al Franken vexes me. He follows me on Twitter, (though he never initiates or answers tweets), and I take advantage of his follow to send him a Direct Message once every week, politely begging him to raise his profile and get into the national discussion. Franken could, at any time, have access to the mighty soapbox of the Hollywood shows that reach a segment of the country the political cable shows never will. He’s quick witted. He’s hilariously clever. He’s experienced on camera. Yet the Senator chooses to remain in the bunker. To me, he’s a high powered weapon the Democrats have never taken out of its fancy aluminum carrying case.
Then, at the Senate Committee hearing on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) the nation got a full on view of Senator Franken unleashed. If you haven’t seen the video of Senator Franken bringing Tom Minnery, the executive director of Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink, into the cold cruel light of reality, give it a peek. It’s quite obvious now that all the time I was wishing Senator Franken would go forth and spread the Democtraic word, he’s been using on preparation for his Senator duties. So, I’d like to say, Go Al Franken! Thank you. But I’m still going to tweet him every week to try to lure him out more often.
Our final culture warrior, Stephen Colbert, is a liberal comedian who spends his work-life playing a Conservative so well he has confused some actual Conservative politicians into thinking his persona is his real personality. But when Stephen Colbert decided to make a video appeal to young, under stress gays for the “It Gets Better” project, he left “Comedy Stephen” on the set. He talked from his heart, recalling what it felt like to be bullied, what it felt like to be called “queer”. He called that word a “common weapon”. He ended his message with the words: “It gets better, and people get nicer.”
I hope Stephen is right about that last “people getting nicer” part. It’s hard to see when we are focused on haters like Michele Bachmann’s husband Marcus and his “barbarians need to be educated”comment. But I know he was right to speak from his heart, as Stephen Colbert who survived high school, and not Stephen Colbert the comedian. And I’d like to say thank you.
So those are my unsung heroes of the week. Three voices in the chorus of people who, when their time to contribute came, sang out loud and strong. May all of us follow their lead, when it is our time to solo.