By Michele McCormick
Gay folks in Laguna won’t have to wait for this month’s Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 to know that they belong here. Laguna’s Senior Center, The Susi Q, has gotten out ahead of the political game by delivering a message of acceptance and hope to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) individuals through initiating two new programs. The Susi Q is one of the first senior centers to offer both a social club and a support group for this often underserved population. Director Nadia Babayi said, “We want to offer a place to come gather socially and to find support and resources.” Not since resident and activist Audrey Prosser along with former mayor Toni Iseman led a peaceful “No on 8” protest parade through downtown Laguna have gay residents witnessed such a warm civic embrace.
The U.S. Supreme Court is poised, as this article goes to print, to announce decisions on two cases that will greatly impact the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The highest court in our nation is delivering a message to all Americans about the right of GLBT citizens to marry someone they love. Despite the heated arguments over the dispensation of marriage equality, most would agree that everyone has an equal need to belong and to be affirmed in life and love. Psychologists remind us that from the beginning of life that the innate need for belonging and secure attachment is central to our mental health. Across cultures marriage and family are primary social structures that establish these basic needs.
As a marital therapist working with straight couples, I spend my days witnessing the importance of commitment. It secures the stability and health of relationships. Couples come in afraid that they are losing each other. They come in hurt. They come in mad. They come with resentment. And, they come with a measure of hope still wearing their wedding bands. I can’t imagine withholding this privilege from gay couples, especially those with children, or those who arrive at the altar already exhausted from years of battling discrimination in all its forms. Marriage is a safe harbor that allows for trust and intimacy. Within this foundational structure couples are free to face conflict — to argue without fear of abandonment. True, this is an idealized view of marriage. But, ideals shape behavior. Ideals create hope.
Hope like this might have offered a different life for my father. If still alive, he would be 86. He died at 53, ending his life because he believed, as taught by family and church, that he was by nature an abomination. My father’s fragile self-esteem was formed by the southern culture and historical period that surrounded him. As a man of faith, he took it all to heart and it took him down. I look forward to the day that our government and other foundational institutions equally affirm all people.
The Lavender Seniors in California’s East Bay area was one of the first groups to provide resources to an aging population that missed out on the current tide of acceptance. They explain in their material, “LGBT seniors came of age at a time when it was criminal and considered sick to be LGBT. They often were fired from jobs; evicted from their homes; disowned by family, friends, and community; dishonorably discharged from the military; hospitalized in psychiatric wards; taunted; sometimes arrested and imprisoned; and beaten. Thus, for most LGBT persons – during earlier times in particular – the only way to survive was to be “closeted,” to hide their sexual orientation and gender identity from family, employers, neighbors, and officials, and attempt to “pass” as heterosexual. Given these conditions, many experienced depression, often isolated, and were unwilling to access medical or social services they perceived as unwelcoming.
This Father’s Day I had a dream. My father was alive, living in New York City as a gay man. I watched him cross Madison Avenue elegant looking in an Armani suit, smiling, walking hand-in-hand with his spouse. I like to imagine that if he were alive today, he would live in Laguna Beach where he would find the acceptance and love he needed so long ago. I would invite him to meet new friends at Club Q Laguna. He would attend Susi Q’s first meeting of the new support group for seniors this September. He would discover that his daughter was the psychologist facilitating the group. And, regardless of the laws of the land he would be happy. He would know he belonged here.
Michele McCormick is a resident, writer and practicing psychologist in Laguna. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.