Metro Weekly

A Dead Weight

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

Often I hear from less progressive, less liberal corners that a hallmark of ”relativists” is their inability to discern between good and evil. Hey, no problem. You want evil? I give you Jesse Helms.

While I’m generally loath to speak ill of the dead, I’ve got no problem making an exception in Jesse’s case. Sure, he adopted a child with cerebral palsy. And Hitler was vegetarian — doesn’t mean I’m about to revere him as an animal lover.

I remember coming of age in Reagan’s America, that president having been elected when I was 11. For a little gay kid, just coming to terms with what it meant to be different, hearing of this new thing called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency that — as far as I knew for a short time in the early 1980s — might be some innate gay illness. At the dawn of a pandemic, a child with budding pubescent thoughts, I feared my very nature could be fatal. Sen. Helms certainly didn’t help matters.

In his folksy manner, he could call for quarantine of people with AIDS. His legacy lives on with the embarrassingly naïve HIV travel ban, still on the books. He dismissed gay people with seemingly not a thought, but maybe a chuckle, as though we were some subhuman bits of filth.

He scarred the American landscape to an even greater degree with his Confederacy-traditional brand of racism, fighting the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, and infusing race into his campaigns with an ugliness only he could muster.

In short, July 4 was a very good day. It marked the extinction of a dinosaur in a class by himself. To sweeten the occasion, Malia Obama celebrated her 10th birthday.

Standing on my roof, watching the fireworks over the National Mall, there was a slight drizzle. I’ve always considered a bit of rain on New Year’s Eve to be a good omen. It helps to wash away the old year and start fresh. On this recent July 4, I thought the same for our country.

This was the final Independence Day of the George W. Bush presidency. Hallelujah! To be clear, I don’t think Bush is evil. He is no Jesse Helms. Rather, he’s just an ambitious, arrogant, rich boy, who has left the country worse off than when he took the reins so many years ago. If the next president is anything, please do not let him again be the sort who will use Air Force One to buzz a NASCAR event. ”Hey, it’s just jet fuel!”

With the end of Bush’s presidency and the death of Helms, I’m hoping we’re at the end of an era. Malia Obama’s big One-Oh on the Fourth is my metaphor for what comes next.

Granted, I’ve always respected John McCain. I can’t imagine what sort of hell he lived through as a Vietnamese prisoner of war, and for that alone I could never disrespect him, regardless of whether or not that should be a measure of his character. For suffering so in the service of his country, I would always take my hat off to him. And while I don’t agree with him on plenty, I do appreciate his fiscal conservativeness.

As for Hillary Clinton, I find her to be awfully admirable. I think she’s pretty good at kicking ass and is dedicated to her country’s progress. I can’t excuse that vote authorizing war with Iraq, but nobody’s perfect. Plenty of people knew, however, that it was a mistake at the time. I’m sorry she wasn’t one of them. Also, the thought of possibly 28 years of two families running the United States also makes me a little sick. Why bother rebelling against English monarchy?

So back to little Malia. She’s not her father, but she reminds me to hope. I’ve not been very hopeful about presidential politics for quite some time. Can you blame me? A majority of my fellow citizens seemed to think this George W. monkey-man was the way to go. On top of that, I fear people get a little too caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the presidency, forgetting that whoever sits in office also sits on the crapper, occasionally.

I’ll agree with anyone who says Sen. Obama does not have much experience. But I think of the feeling I got, hearing on July 4 that his daughter was celebrating a birthday. It’s a feeling of hope in the same proportion as the relief felt upon hearing of Jesse’s death. If Barack Obama, through his daughter, can make me hopeful — and I’m not really asking for much more than that from the cheerleader-in-chief — he’s got my vote.

With luck, July 4 saw the end of one American era and start of a new one. Malia Obama will be the face of that new era to me. Maybe it will include the end of fossil fuels. Perhaps it might even have a spot for polar bears to avoid extinction. Certainly it will include same-sex marriage and gay Americans serving openly in the military. Without Jesse and his brand of hate, it will be that much easier to get there.

Will O’Bryan, Metro Weekly‘s managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby, he insists. He can be reached at

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.