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Dana Parsons / ORANGE COUNTY

Legislation That We Can Do Without

May 21, 2006|Dana Parsons

If you're a gay Californian who doesn't speak English, hang in there. The last couple weeks may have been especially stressful for you, but things can only get better.

And, no, you're not paranoid: People are out to get you.

First, you probably saw 10 days ago that the state Senate passed a bill requiring that historical achievements of gay people be taught in California schools. If I were gay, I'd be as offended as all get-out (as we used to say in Nebraska) that things had come to this. The premise of gay rights used to be that your sexual orientation was irrelevant to your status as a member of society. The fight for your rights centered on getting homophobes and other antagonists just to leave you the heck alone so you could make your way in life like everyone else.

That now would be replaced by potential homework on what other gays have done for America. In trying to be helpful, it strikes me that the state Senate has stooped to condescension. And to something that badly misses the mark.

That is, does the state Senate think that anti-gay feelings involve a sense that they haven't contributed to society? With all due respect, I'd suggest the missing link in acceptance of gays isn't one of achievement.

It's that ... oh, nevermind.

It bugs me to side on this issue with the traditional anti-gay forces. I could bite my tongue and say that there's no outright harm in citing the contributions of gay people. But the measure smacks of poignant desperation and ill-conceived logic -- that noting the achievements of gay men and lesbians somehow will translate into tolerance.

Now, as for not having mastered English....

Just like the California Senate, but with a different frame of mind, the U.S. Senate has a plan for you. It has approved a largely symbolic measure proclaiming English the national language. It also approved a dueling measure that is less emphatic, but either could be included in new immigration laws.

You're probably wondering where you missed the part about America having a national language. And that, by implication, if you don't speak it, you're not really one of us.

Just a hunch, but the measure appears aimed at Spanish-speaking residents -- legal or not -- who don't bother to learn English but who still avail themselves of bilingual services. Those services aren't targeted for extinction, but if that isn't the ultimate plan, it makes you wonder why the measure was introduced in the first place. That is, the government can't force people to learn English, so what's the point of declaring it the national language unless there's another shoe to be dropped?

The prevailing sentiment is that such a declaration would unify the nation and provide a common foundation. Groovy. It's hard to argue against the value of everyone knowing English, but mastering it traditionally has been left to individuals, not the government.

So, my non-English-speaking gay Californian, you're front and center on lots of people's minds. I have a funny feeling you already knew that.

Perhaps you're troubled that two ham-handed solutions are on the table, both trying to fix problems created solely by people's intolerance of your very presence among them.

Maybe that's why both "solutions" do nothing except point out how fractured the society is. Both only point out some raw nerve endings in America; neither heals them.

If I were you, I'd be offended by both sets of legislators: those in California trying to help me and those in Washington trying to marginalize me.

One group telling you that you belong because the "gay" part is somehow connected to other people's achievements. Another group telling you that you may not belong because you don't speak a language that is not constitutionally mandated.

Confusing, isn't it? You're probably thinking you just want to be left alone.

Must make you wonder if some of your legislators have a little too much time on their hands, doesn't it?

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Dana Parsons can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.

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