January 13

From the desk of Stephen Snyder-Hill: The Kluwe Case

Snyder-Hill_high resStephen Snyder-Hill joined the military in 1988 and served nearly three years on active duty in Germany and fought in the first Gulf War in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait before his honorable discharge in 1996. He reenlisted in 2001 and was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn in 2010. Throughout his military career, Snyder-Hill received numerous awards and decorations, including the Meritorious Service Medal. He is currently a registered dietitian and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with his husband and two dogs.

“Tell our stories.”

That’s what I say to gay people all the time. It will change others’ minds. Part of what has happened with America’s recent remarkable change in perception toward issues like gay marriage has happened because people have been personally influenced by a loved one who is gay. It is so much harder to have a callous attitude toward someone who you know and love. Stories humanize the gay rights movement for people.

I also talk to gay people about gaining allies. If someone without a personal affiliation comes out in support of marriage equality, his or her words are powerful. It is a true testament to their selfless natures that these people care about other human beings even if they are not directly related to them.

We in the gay community love these selfless people. We aspire to be like them. To love others for who they are, to see their struggles and advocate for those weaker than themselves . . . wow! Now that is a hero. These heroes change minds and influence others in a more powerful way than many people within our community ever could.

Examples of support like this make me think of Chris Kluwe, the former NFL punter. I watched him on Stephen Colbert’s television show discussing marriage equality. Of course, I was happy to hear Kluwe’s stance. I instantly wanted to find out more about him. Did he have a family member who was gay? Maybe a relative? Or is he gay? Come to find out Kluwe is happily married to a woman, which makes him one of those heroes I mentioned. I thought, “Here’s a human being who recognizes that all people deserve the same rights. Awesome!” But then Kluwe lost his job for possibly the same reason.

The NFL is not known for its players outwardly supporting marriage equality. Once I heard someone compare the NFL’s mindset about equality to the military’s old policies, which I can relate to. There is speculation that this player most likely lost his job due to his advocacy for marriage equality. This allegation will truly resonate with all people, much more so than the issue of marriage equality itself.

When I said that the strongest ally is someone who doesn’t have a reason to be, I was talking about people like Kluwe. His stance affects people in a stronger way. In the gay community, people lose their jobs every day . . . for being gay. This infuriates me, and it’s one reason why ENDA cannot come soon enough. But, until then, we tell our stories.

Kluwe was likely fired for no reason other than a small-minded person was bothered by Kluwe’s wish for equality for all. Take a typical American who may not know a gay person and doesn’t have much of a stance on gay marriage or employment discrimination. Kluwe’s story in the news makes the issue become real: an NFL player loses his job for saying he believes in freedom. Now this typical American can see how wrong it is or put himself or herself in Kluwe’s place and start to wonder, “What if this was me?  What if I had a son who was gay, and stated what I believe: That in America, the land that promises life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all people, means to me that he deserves to marry the person he loves? Could I lose my job over it?”

The fear of losing my job because of who I am is all too familiar to me. I have been in the military for twenty-five years. I have lived in hiding, and have run around in my own house, taking down pictures in case I was discovered. Living in hiding always seemed so wrong.

When someone threatened to reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I challenged the notion and asked a question. My question became a national debate. It wasn’t because people became outraged that someone is gay and serving in the military, and was disrespected. They became outraged because a real U.S. soldier serving his country in a war zone was booed.

And no one spoke up.

No one thanked me for my service to our country.

I didn’t have to be angry about that, because I believe the country is for me. While the outcomes were different, what happened to Kluwe and me because of our forthrightness on marriage equality is bigger than our stories.  Something more powerful than words happened and people started to internalize how hate feels . . . and they did not like it. Hate never wins, and that’s why America is starting to open up and see what gay people have been living with.

We need to tell our stories. We don’t need to convince people that hating is wrong; they will realize that on their own.

Kudos to you, Chris, from one soldier to another. Thank you!

-Stephen Snyder-Hill
Snyder-Hill’s forthcoming book, Soldier of Changewill be available September 2014.