Editor's Note: You've seen Steven Colbert's "Better Know a Lobbyist," but our version is so much gayer! Each weekend, we spotlight a different TBP contributor. In case you've missed any of our previous interviews, I've got links at the end of the post.
Today we're talking with one of the members of our ed team, Scott Kaiser. Scott is a gay man living in sin in Phoenix, Arizona, with his partner of over twelve years whom he still cannot legally marry. He grew up in the Midwest which he credits for giving him a down-to-earth perspective on life and a love of casseroles. Although not a professional writer, Scott was of the early ones on the blog scene operating two successful sites, including the now defunct Scott-O-Rama.
Follow me after to jump to read more about Scott's memories of the 90's, his love for Speed Racer, and his opinion about the passage of Prop 102 in Arizona.
1. How did you get involved with TBP?
I've known Bil Browning through online contact for a while now. He contacted me when The Bilerico Project was first expanding beyond Indiana to the national level and asked if I would be available to contribute an article for it. At the time I was writing for some other blogs, so I declined but wished him luck. I had just tired to launch a similar, although not specifically LGBT-focused, site a few months earlier that ended up failing. I wasn't interested in getting involved with another such site again. I watched and read The Bilerico Project (although in lurker mode) and marveled at its success.
Recently I had the urge to write some blog posts (being the opinionated S.O.B. that I am) so I asked Bil if the offer still stood. He graciously allowed me to become a contributor even though I can sometimes be a real pain in the ass. Bil recently told me that I tend to stir up trouble, but he likes that about me.
2. What was your coming out experience like?
For the most part I had a fairly easy coming out. In high school I struggled with the feelings of attraction I had for other men, but I never thought I was actually gay. My parents never had "the talk" with me about sex as they assumed the school health class would teach me everything I needed to know. Unfortunately that class didn't come until I was a junior in high school. Everything I learned about sex before that was second-hand information through friends. There was even a time in grade school/junior high that I thought women got pregnant through oral sex after I found a picture of a woman giving a guy a blow job. I was that naive for a period of time, so even puberty came as a surprise to me. I just assumed that my homosexual feelings were just another phase, like puberty.
Once I was older and on my own, I began to know better. I responded to a "men seeking men" ad in the back of the Riverfront Times in St Louis which resulted in a casual hook-up with another gentleman, but I still didn't think I was gay. It was more than a year later when living in Columbus, Ohio, that I came out at age 23. I was working for America West Airlines at the time and surrounded by gay co-workers. When I finally told everyone I was gay, it was greeted with a yawn. The year was 1992 and at a time when there was huge growth and acceptance of the LGBT community occurring (Clinton's election; the 1993 March on Washington, The Real World on MTV, etc.), so I really couldn't have picked a better time.
I didn't tell my family I was gay until 2004, though. I remained in the closet with them for so long at the urging of one of my sibling's who is also gay. I was implored to remain in the closet as my sibling felt that they would be outed if I came out. My sibling did not think my parents (being in the conservative Midwest) would accept us. I used my sibling as an excuse to hide my homosexuality from the rest of my family for far too long. Finally in 2004 after Bush won re-election, I told them. I was upset because I knew my mom had voted for Bush and had donated to anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family. She didn't do it because she herself was anti-gay per se, but she is pro-religion/pro-family. I wanted to put a face on the "deviant homosexuals" that these groups were vilifying and let her understand just who her donations were hurting. When I told my family, they were very accepting although my mom struggled with it, even calling it "that problem you have" for a couple years. She still loves me though and even asks about my partner when we talk. It will be one of my life's regrets that I didn't come out to my dad before he passed away in 2000.
To those Bilerico readers out there that still have not come out to their families, I urge them to do so. Although it won't be easy and acceptance won't happen overnight, they need to have faith that the love their family has for them will trump any prejudices regarding them being gay. I speak from personal experience.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your life and why?
I would ultimately have to say my dad. He sacrificed so much to give us kids a better life by working long hours and doing without little things for himself. He was always there when I needed him, and he instilled in me the basic tenet of being good to others that I try to guide my life by. I still miss him each and every day.
4. What factors do you think contributed to the passage of Prop 102 in Arizona, and what can the community do to recover from this defeat?
I'll answer this question honestly, but let me warn everyone in advance: my answer will probably piss a lot of Bilerico readers off.
It is my belief that the passage of Prop. 102 in Arizona can be directly attributed to the California Supreme Court's ruling about gay marriage. When I heard about the ruling, I did not celebrate it as many of my gay brethren did. No, I thought the ruling was bad news, and I think this election proved me right. There is a real fear here that what happens in California will make its way into our state because of our proximity and the migration of Californians to Arizona, so I knew that although we defeated an anti-gay marriage amendment here in 2006 it would be back on the ballot in this election. The opposition seized the opportunity and played their hand.
Frankly, our community was stupid. With the conservative right throwing around the buzz term "activist judges" to rile up their base, we decided to press a court case all the way to the California Supreme Court giving fuel to their fear-mongering tactics. We forced the issue right before an extremely critical national election. An issue like gay marriage tends to turn out more voters from the other side than ours. I know we can't time every court case, but honestly what were we thinking?
Consider your average GLBT voter in this last election. Most of us wanted to get Barack Obama elected. We also wanted to increase our gains in both the House and Senate. All around the nation there were key races and ballot oppositions that many of us were passionate about. We're not single-issue voters, and believe it or not, some of us thought other issues were as important or even more important than gay marriage in this election. Here in Phoenix our completely bigoted yet popular sheriff was up for election, and many of us thought trying to get him out of office would have more of a direct impact on the lives of gays and lesbians in our area than the passage of Prop. 102 (after all, gay marriage was already illegal in Arizona so we didn't lose anything new with its passage). So with all these different causes, where does the LGBT voter donate his or her time, money, and resources? I myself put my effort into the Obama campaign rather than fighting Prop. 102.
I don't share the opinion of many of my fellow gays and lesbians that we shouldn't be willing to accept even one day more without marriage equality. Yes, I fully support and will work for it, but I believe we should do it wisely. I've been with my partner for over twelve years now. I don't need the government to tell me my relationship is valid, and our unity isn't threatened because we can't get married. Our bond is deeper than that. Yes, I understand it's a matter of equality, but just like the civil rights movement, this won't be won overnight. It takes time to educate people and erase bigotry. We need to pick our battles and accept smaller victories along the way instead of always going directly to the endgame. Again, just my opinion.
Lastly, I am strongly resisting the urge to say "f#@k California." When many other states approved anti-gay marriage amendments I noticed a disturbing, callous attitude among some (not all!) in the LGBT community that it was somehow these conservative states' gay and lesbian residents own fault for living there, and if they wanted to be treated better they should simply move to a more liberal state like California, New York, or Massachusetts. What the people who adopted that attitude don't realize is that not every gay or lesbian has the resources, nor the will, to leave friends, family, and jobs behind to pursue equality elsewhere. Now that Prop. 8 banned gay marriage in California, I see people reacting like this is the absolutely worst thing ever to happen to the LGBT movement ever when it's really just the same thing that has been happening all across America for some time. My personal belief is the Arkansas Initiative Act 1 was much more infringing upon our rights than Prop. 8 in California, and that was the one we really should have been fighting.
I'll be soon writing a blog post here at The Bilerico Project though about how the passage of Prop. 8 in California might actually turn out to be a good thing!
5. What's the best movie you've seen lately?
I have trouble quantifying movies as "best" or "worst", so instead I'll tell you the movie I watched recently that was the biggest pleasant surprise: Speed Racer. My partner and I watched this on DVD after avoiding it in theaters due to all the negative reviews. He wanted to see it because he grew up watching the cartoon, and I wanted to see it because it was done by the Wachowski brothers who created The Matrix (one of my all-time favorite movies).
I can see where a lot of people would not have liked the movie. The thing that was different about Speed Racer though was that it wasn't a cartoon that was adapted into a live-action movie; it was a cartoon (albeit with human actors). The visuals and style of the movie were absolutely amazing. Like most Saturday morning cartoons, it didn't have much of a plot or character development, but that's not what this movie was about. It was just a sugary, fun time like it was meant to be.
6. What's your favorite way to spend the weekend?
There isn't any particular one way I enjoy spending it other than to have it be pleasantly memorable in some small way. If I wake up on Monday morning and think to myself "where did the weekend go", then I didn't spend it the way I wanted to.
Check out previous interviews with TBP Contributors
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Rev. Irene Monroe