I spent two years living at 319 Ellis Avenue. It was a crackerbox house situated a mere block from the campus at what was then called Mankato State University. What was best about this place, however, was that it was cheap. Legally, six people could reside there. In practice, the number hovered around nine. I say hovered because it seemed to fluctuate with needs of the inhabitants and their friends.
I was an unlikely candidate for 319 Ellis Avenue. I was straight, my family was in tact, and boiling water was not a challenge for me. But my good friend who had one of the illegal rooms took domination over the basement and drew in people she knew. Eventually I brought in one of my oldest friends and my sister, but the rest of the cast evolved.
Diane was someone just coming out. She was the victim of physical abuse and spent much time crying and leaning on friends that were not her roomates. Damien owned a rifle and was proud of the bikini-clad women gracing his posters on the faux panneling of his room. Tom was lively and informative while watching the winter Olympics. He had fashion sense, rhythmn, and knew a good skater when he saw one.
When new people came, we never asked much. Could you pay the rent? Keep your mess to a minimum? Would you please adhere to the kitchen cleaning schedule? This meant more to us than who you shared your private time with.
Eventually, my own sister came out. It was a long and difficult process. All the while, friends were shipped off to Desert Storm and millions of gallons of oil spilled in Alaska. What have we done to people? I remember thinking. There is war and our natural resources are threatened, and here is my sister, my heart, ashamed to admit who she is–someone she has been all along?
That was 21 years ago.
It doesn’t seem like we have come that far. Maybe some of the stigma of sexual orientation is fading. Maybe it feels like we are more open simply because more people are “out”. But we are still having debates over what constitutes a marriage. What constitutes a marriage is the union of two people.
The wars are still raging, our natural resources continue to be threatened, and people, because of their private life, still get treated like second-class citizens in a country where we claim to be created equal.