There has been a lot of mischaracterization of the fact and intention of my question to Ben Ray Lujan on Monday night at the Farmington County Democratic Candidate Forum, the first and only forum or debate opportunity for candidates to ask questions of one another. In this day of "sound bite" politics, I appreciate your giving me this opportunity to set the record straight instead of letting this be spun by the Lujan and Wiviott campaigns to an inaccurate portrayal of my views and serve as a distraction from the real issue and the real point of my question, which is:
Does Ben Ray Lujan have the courage to stand up on the difficult issues that face us as a society?
First, I deeply respect the right of every individual to choose their own lifestyle. I was raised in my native culture, which has for generations been tolerant and inclusive of all people regardless of their personal lifestyle choices. And I hold the deepest commitment to working toward the day when every single person in our whole society can be accepted publicly and privately for who they are without fear or shame.
My question the other night was not about whether Ben Ray Lujan is gay or not. And if all the people who have known Ben Ray over the years at the state house, in the community and in his own extended family, and have for years known and accepted him as gay are wrong, that's perfectly fine. His sexuality is not the issue here.
My question was about his maturity and integrity in handling the issue and whether or not he is ready to be our representative in Congress. Being a leader means taking tough stands, and that takes courage—courage that starts in a person's heart, and that starts at home.
My question was about whether Ben Ray had the courage to stand up to his parents, who have been a very active presence in his public life and in his campaign. And many voters, especially including members of the GLBT community and members of Lujan's own family, have expressed concern to me that there may be a level of public deception going on in the way that Ben Ray and his parents have handled this matter by so actively promoting publicly that he has a girlfriend.
Let's be clear, if a private citizen chooses to keep their sexual orientation secret, that's their right. But Ben Ray Lujan, by his own choice, is not a private citizen, but a candidate for public office, and in this context, he is asking us to trust his decision-making, his judgment, his leadership capability, his maturity, and, frankly, his honesty.
Being a political leader isn't just about having a big office and fancy title. It's not even just about what you say your stance is or will be on the issues. A person who actively puts themselves forward as a public figure, an elected leader, by definition, is putting themselves forward to be a role model.
As such, they need to accept a higher level of responsibility for their actions. If they actively put forward a deception to hide their homosexuality, then they send a terrible and damaging message that there is something wrong with being gay. In a very real sense, they become a "gay basher" by their actions, which clearly say there is something shameful about being gay. And that does incalculable damage, especially to young GLBT people who are struggling with this issue.
I have spent the bulk of my professional career working with young people, helping them get into and succeed in college, I know first hand the damage that this kind of message sends, when leaders by their actions say that being gay is shameful and thus, by extension, that young people struggling with their own sexual identity should also be ashamed of who they are.
And that damage is especially grave when it is in the form of a person's own parents not accepting who they are, and pressuring them into living a lie. I have seen first-hand and experts agree, when parents do not accept their children for who they are, this creates a deep wound that forms an underlying cause of many of our worst social problems – alcohol and drug abuse, depression, domestic violence, hatred and intolerance.
Therefore, when a public figure and role model chooses to deceive on the issue of his lifestyle and sexual identity this is not just private or personal matter, but an issue of direct concern all of us, including the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender community, as well as to the general well-being of our whole society. Some of these may be difficult issues, certainly, but all the more reason we must talk about them, and not sweep them under the carpet, with an understandable, but misguided cry for personal privacy.
That being gay is shameful is not the right message for Ben Ray to be sending to the very people he claims he is mature enough and courageous enough to stand up for. Our representatives in Congress need to be an embodiment of the acceptance we seek in our society, acceptance both of others and of themselves. This means that if our public leaders allow themselves to be the victim of intolerance –by others or even by themselves to themselves—then they are not in a position to defend the rights of others. They become party to the intolerance, and our leaders, especially now, need to be stronger willed and more principled than that.
That is what my question was about. And that's what I will continue to fight for: that day when every child, including Ben Ray Lujan, can grow up proud of who they are, where they come from and what their place is in this world.
Benny J. Shendo, Jr
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
CD 3 candidate Benny Shendo sent a statement about our story in the New Mexican. I'll post the whole thing:
at May 21, 2008
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