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Topics In the News
Two Outstanding Columns by Frank Bruni
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/10/12
Last updated on: 04/10/12
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Frank Bruni.

In two outstanding columns published on April 10, 2012, New York Times writer Frank Bruni addresses the question of the message being sent to gay people when equal rights are denied. Although the main column is a meditation on the life of famed food writer Craig Claiborne, and the other a blog post about the forthcoming ballot questions regarding same-sex marriage, the two pieces are unified by Bruni's concern with the incessant attacks on the self-esteem of glbtq people in popular culture generally and, more particularly, in the current battles over equal rights.

Bruni, who hold degrees from the University of North Carolina and the Columbia University School of Journalism, may be best known from his stint as the New York Times restaurant critic from 2004 to 2009. But before that, he reported on the Persian Gulf war for the Detroit Free Press, served as a Times bureau chief in Rome, and reported from the Washington, D. C. bureau covering political issues.

In 2011, he became the Times' first openly gay columnist. In March 2012, he received a GLAAD Media Award as Outstanding Newspaper Columnist.

Bruni's main column on April 10 is entitled "Contentment's Elusive Recipe". It considers the life of Craig Claiborne, who is widely regarded as the father of contemporary restaurant criticism, and who, along with James Beard and Julia Child, helped revolutionize American cuisine.

Bruni's meditation on Claiborne is prompted by the imminent publication of a biography by Thomas McNamee, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Claiborne and the American Food Renaissance.

What Bruni finds most striking about Claiborne's life is "the discrepancy between the magnitude of Claiborne's accomplishment and the limits of his contentment." Observing that "in McNamee's pages [Claiborne] frequently comes across as fearful, irritable, lonely and depressed. . . . His story, with lessons that transcend the kitchen or brasserie, proves anew that reaching the summit doesn't mean enjoying the view, that professional victories don't silence personal demons, and that a loving companion matters."

In explaining Claiborne's unhappiness, Bruni declares that "Part of his challenge was being gay in a very different country and time." He points out that "In 1963, as his star at The Times rose ever higher, there appeared this front-page headline: 'Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern.' Emperor of the newspaper's food pages, he was reduced to anthropological curiosity on its cover."

He concludes that Claiborne's story "is a sad reminder: happiness has less to do with achievement than with perspective. And sometimes the person inside a life, storied or otherwise, is least able to savor it."

Bruni's blog post, called "Society's Message to Gays", acknowledges that "We've come a very, very long way" since the 1963 story about the wide concern caused by overt homosexuality in New York City that must have discomfited Claiborne, but, he writes, "we haven't come far enough."

Bruni continues, "And one of the questions I'd ask opponents of same-sex marriage, which is the hot-button gay issue of the moment, isn't so different from the question I just raised about that 1963 Times article: what's the signal being sent to gay people? To gay teens and young adults, for example, who may wonder if they're somehow lesser, somehow warped? What sort of special challenge are you creating for them? What sort of burden?"

As Claiborne's life illustrated, "the slog to fulfillment and contentment can be a tough one," so why, Bruni asks the opponents of same-sex marriage, "Why make that slog harder for someone than it has to be?"

In this simple question, Bruni powerfully exposes the animus that motivates the opponents of gay rights generally and of equal marriage rights particularly.

Bruni makes it specific: "the passage or defeat of marriage equality isn't just about weddings. It's about worth. It's about the message a society delivers to men who love and pledge commitment to and maybe start families with other men, and to women who love and pledge commitment to and maybe start families with other women."

For all their professed concern for the "deinstitutionalization" of marriage, family values, and religious beliefs, the opponents of same-sex marriage are largely motivated by a simple desire to make certain that gay people receive loudly and clearly the message that we are unworthy.

"Voters in states with marriage equality on the ballot can tell us that we matter as much as anyone else," Bruni asserts, and adds: "Or they can tell us that we don't."

In a sense, Bruni validates what some opponents of same-sex marriage have said, that the battle for equal rights is less about the benefits of marriage and more about our need for validation.

When our opponents say this, they intend to denigrate the significance of equal rights and pretend that we are somehow demanding that they approve of our "lifestyle" or sexual practices. In reality, however, the demand for equal rights is simply asking that our country help make the road to contentment no more difficult than it need be.

Bruni expresses the hope that most of us "figured out long ago how not to root our self-esteem in the soil of popular opinion," but he knows that that is not true of everyone. "Some people respond to the climate around them. They flourish when it's hospitable. And when it's hostile, they fail to, often falling prey to self-destructive behavior, and on occasion even ending their lives early."

In his forthright yet richly suggestive prose, Bruni explains exactly why the ballot measures in May and November are so crucial.

In the video below, from August 2011, Bruni appears on the CNN Piers Morgan show to discuss same-sex marriage.

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