Ellen Andersen

Who Are You People Anyway? A Bilerico Challenge

Filed By Ellen Andersen | January 30, 2006 12:28 AM | comments

Filed in: Living

At the beginning of the semester, I require students in my introductory American politics class to write a political autobiography. I'm pretty open about the specific content of the paper--mostly I just want my students to reflect on how and why they developed their opinions about politics and public policies, and why those opinions seem right to them.

Well, I've been reading those papers this week, and it struck me that I'd like to know the same thing about Bilerico's writers and readers. What political issues do you feel strongly about? To what extent do you think your political views have been shaped by your parents, your sexuality, your race, class, or religion? Have your views remained the same during your life, or have they changed (and if so, what made them change?)

It's only fair that I start off telling you a little bit about myself.

I'm a Democrat, which should be pretty obvious to those of you who know that I'm the immediate past-president of Indiana Stonewall Democrats. What's less obvious is that it took me a long time to come out of the closet as a Democrat. For most of my 20s, I called myself an independent and refused to identify with either political party. Why? Partly it was a way to hide my ignorance of American politics, which is pretty embarrassing for a professor of political science to admit. Partly it was because I was much more libertarian when I was younger -I completely bought into the concept that "that government is best that governs least." And then there was my dalliance with Ayn Rand. But the parties also used to overlap on social issues. It was perfectly respectable to be "liberal" (read: pro-choice) Republican, particularly if you grew up on the east coast, as I did. In the past 25 years, though, as social conservatives have increasingly come to dominate the Republican Party, the concept of a liberal Republican has come close to being an oxymoron, Ahhhnold Schwartzenegger notwithstanding. In addition, I came to realize how much the "rules of the game" in the United States were structured to privilege some groups over others. Made it difficult to blame poor people for being poor.

While it took my awhile to accept my democratness, I've been a vocal feminist since elementary school. I remember being furious that the boys got the better playground just because they were boys--and also that there had never been a woman president. Made me nuts. I was certain down to my bones that girls should be able to do anything boys could do. And that's never changed. I don't really know why feminism was my first political passion. Maybe my 7-year old subconscious knew I was a lesbian a decade before the rest of me figured it out. Maybe it's because my father happily allowed me to tag along after him as he hammered and sawed his way around the house and backyard, without ever suggesting that it was "man's work." Or maybe it just came down to a little kid's intuitive sense of fairness. I was a wee girl in New York City during the first flowering of the modern women's movement, and I remember the ridiculous arguments made against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment. It just seemed so obvious to me people shouldn't be allowed to discriminate against women because they were women. ...

This only scratches the surface of how I became the political person I am today, of course. I haven't talked about how coming out, or being raised Lutheran, or being raised in New York City helped to shape my politics, but I've gone on long enough. Now it's your turn. How did you become the political person you are?

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I have a friend who is very interested in joining the Stonewall Democrats, but she can't get a response to her inquiries. Who does she need to contact?

Ellen Andersen | January 31, 2006 10:49 AM

Hi Kevin,

Yikes! That's never the kind of news I like to hear (err, about the no response part not about the interested people part.) I'd really like to talk with her, both about her interest in us and about how's she's tried to make contact with us ([email protected]). She can also visit our website: www.instonewalldems.org. And she's welcome to attend any meeting of the Board: they're all open to the public. We meet every third Sunday of the month at Vic'c Coffeehouse, from 6:30pm to about 8pm.

Thanks for asking!

I have never thought of myself as a "political person". I was raised in New York City too (the Bronx), in a Jewish-liberal-Democrat society. Everyone I knew was Democrat and many were union people, including my father. I think because I grew up in such a diverse atmosphere that I learned early on to respect and value people of different religions, cultures, ethnic groups, etc.

I also remember as a young child knowing about "gay people". It was never anything unusual for me. My parents took me into Manhattan often, and we saw all sorts of people there! I grew up in the 60's and spent a lot of time in Greenwich Village, so I saw it all!!!!

When my son came out about 8 or 9 years ago, I began attending PFLAG meetings. What started as a support system slowly became a passion. I did not like what I saw happening in Indianapolis, Indiana, and the country as a whole. Eventually I joined Indiana Equality and my fate was sealed. There was no turning back. I have always had a sense of justice (somewhat of an ingrained Jewish trait) and I hate to see people being discriminated against because of who they are.

I feel that the gay-bashers do so out of fear. They are narrow-minded, scared people and don't know how to react to people who are different than they are. They attempt to put shame into their victims, thus trying to make them seem "less-than".

But it's not working any more. The GLBT community is fighting back and I am proud to be a part of that fight. I will not tolerate anyone making my son feel "less-than". As I have taken this journey, I have met the most wonderful people - and I won't tolerate anyone making them feel "less-than" either!

So, as far as politics goes, I suppose I have found my niche. It just boils down to fairness and equality. I don't think that's so complicated.