When Frank Bruni spoke, he made me laugh, he made me cry, and he made me think. The crowd absolutely loved him, and for good reasons. Bruni is fiercely intelligent, and hey – the man’s funny. He graduated second in his class with an M.S. degree in journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he won a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship. In 1995 he joined the New York Times as a restaurant critic. He went from cold facts to stark opinion in 2011, and Bruni’s current claim-to-fame is that he is the New York Times’ first openly gay op-ed columnist.
It is a torch he carries well. When Bruni spoke at Goucher, he was funny, witty, and inspirational. He began what developed into an impassioned speech on gay rights by recalling funny stories from his food critic days. His stories of making a reservation under the name “Ben Stiller” and having the manager of a posh Manhattan restaurant freak out over a perfectly working soap dispenser had the crowd laughing and rolling in their seats. Once the stage was set, Bruni moved on to issues of the power of the LGBT community, the AIDS virus, the difficulty of coming out, and the ongoing battle for marriage equality.
Bruni made several good points. His comments on the ‘Wrath of the Gay’ and how large commercial businesses have come to fear an LGBT boycott put a very human spin on what might be considered only a social or political issue. His recall of the AIDS virus and how deeply it negatively impacted social relations with the gay community was deeply touching. He remarked on the alienation he felt within his community when he first came out in 1981, and how the AIDS virus only increased the negativity. “We had to remind the straight population that we are not stats, or strangers, but beloved neighbors, students and coworkers,” Bruni said.
Bruni’s comments on marriage rights were also interesting. As someone who is in support of gay rights, I agree with most of his rhetoric. As one of his impassioned lines goes, “We are speaking the language of love. The language of commitment is a language everyone can understand, straight or gay.” This is nothing but the truth. Additionally, when contrasted with the affectivity of straight marriages, the case for equality only strengthens. “The average length of a marriage in America is 8.8 years. We are paying a lavish compliment to an institution that needs it.”
This is where Bruni and I have our differences. The political timeline of change is less of a straight path, more of a winding road. Change takes time, and a lot of it. Bruni appears to be of the opinion that we will have all 50 states granting the right for same-sex marriage within 10 to 20 years. I’m not convinced. We’ve seen a government that enforced slavery, we’ve seen unfair exclusion of immigrants, and we’ve seen a government that takes advantage of the poor. Most recently, we’ve seen a government that couldn’t even agree to keep running. I’m pessimistic about the speed of change that Bruni seems to think is right around the corner.
Despite this difference of opinion, I maintain that Bruni was an inspirational speaker. His statements on marriage equality are hopeful and optimistic. When he speaks of his past as an openly gay man in the 80s, we can see how far people have come towards acceptance. When he speaks of his personal relationship with his father, it is a story so touching and so admirable, the crowd can’t help but be stirred. Frank Bruni is a brilliant writer, a witty critic, and an inspiration to the entire community. He reminds us that sexual orientation is just an adjective – one that holds no sway over our value as individuals.