When I began teaching at Yale Law School in , a friend spoke to me frankly. To be a "homosexual professional" was to be a professor of constitutional law who "happened" to be gay. To be a "professional homosexual" was to be a gay professor who made gay rights his work. Others echoed the sentiment in less elegant formulations. Be gay, my world seemed to say. Be openly gay, if you want.
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Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights , published in is both an analysis on society's views on race and sexuality and a collection of autobiographical anecdotes. Everyone covers. To cover is to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream. In our diverse society, all of us are outside the mainstream in some way […] every reader of this book has covered, whether consciously or not, and sometimes at significant personal cost. Yoshino, writing in a poetic tone, shares personal anecdotes to help frame the larger, societal issues he covers later in the book.
He explores the idea and concept of a "normal" sexuality, with most conflict occurring as an adolescent and college student. His internal struggle to accept and embrace his identity inform the beginning of covering. Afterwards, when a colleague cautions him to be "a homosexual professional" instead of "a professional homosexual",  Yoshino begins to reflect on the concept of muting different identities.
In the new generation, discrimination directs itself not against the entire group, but against the subset of the group that fails to assimilate to mainstream norms.
This new form of discrimination targets minority cultures rather than minority persons. Outsiders are included, but only if we behave like insiders - that is, only if we cover. This covering demand is the civil rights issue of our time. It hurts not only our most vulnerable citizens but our most valuable commitments. For if we believe a commitment against racism is about equal respect for all races, we are not fulfilling that commitment if we protect only racial minorities who conform to historically white norms.
Yoshino's main source of activism concerns gay rights, and argues that the idea and need for assimilation is inherently damaging, using the gay concepts of assimilation and closeted behavior as ways to frame the conversation on civil rights.
Homosexuality was not a very accepted trait. In , the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classified homosexuality as a psychopathologic problem. Though conversion therapy is scarce today, conversion therapists feel that Americans have been brainwashed into accepting homosexuality after such strong thoughts against the sexuality during the mid-late s.
To sum up the first chapter:. Conversion is the ultimate demand for assimilation- while passing and covering leave the underlying identity relatively intact, conversion destroys it. When someone asks for conversion, the difference between the two available refusals is immense. Which will we choose? Will we say we cannot change? Or will we, like the early gay activists, say we will not change, meeting the demands for conversion with a demand for equality?
While in Oxford, Yoshino had fallen in love. The person he loved was not a woman. He had to tell his dad this. He then came out to his mom.
Though they were both supportive, he knew that this was not what they wanted. Rather than trying to change a gay person's perspective and likings, they would just ignore the fact that a person was gay. The shift from conversion to passing was gradual and did not necessary represent an advance in society's acceptance of homosexuals, because of their overlapping.
Passing was an act that his parents demonstrated. Though they accepted the fact that Kenji was gay, it was not something talked about, and more ignored from their thought of their son. It was in that Yoshino met his first boyfriend. Through the act of covering, Yoshino never brought his boyfriend to work events or talked about his boyfriend in public, when around straight people.
Homosexuals see this as "acting-straight" as heterosexuals see flamboyant acts as "acting-gay. Though you do not doubt the fact you are homosexual, you also do not radically protest for it and show the world that you are gay.
At the most basic level, it raises thornier issues of classification. I'm sometimes asked, for instance, whether I consider same-sex marriage to be an act of covering or flaunting. I think it is both. Yoshino gives further evidence to his position through the Shahar case.
This involved a lesbian losing her job deputy personnel because of her sexuality and the boss finding out of her marriage to her partner. As a first generation Japanese American, Yoshino would go back to Japan every summer, which was his parents' attempt to preserve the Japanese culture in their children. He was unsure where he was from and felt like an outcast in both situations. The most dreaded question he was asked was "Where are you from, really?
In the case Rogers vs. American Airlines , Renee Rogers sued because as an airport operation agents, her job prohibited her from wearing an all-braided hairstyle. In sex-based covering there is both covering and reverse covering, being masculine when expected, while you are feminine, and vice versa.
For certain jobs women were asked to be more masculine to show that they are rough, aggressive and forceful. In many workforces, women earn the respect of her co-workers by acting masculine. Sex discrimination surfaces in the courts, like the case in which Ann Hopkins sued Price Waterhouse.
She was asked to both cover and reverse cover but when she could not deliver, her nomination for the partnership was taken away. She later went on to win this case and was the first person admitted into the partnership by court order. The Civil Rights are ending as laws are being created to protect religion and disabilities by required accommodation.
Also, a student in Oklahoma was suspended for wearing a headscarf in a public school. Yoshino thought that this should be changed. That there is no reason for groups to cover:. I believe we should adopt a group-based accommodation model to protect traditional civil rights groups from covering demands" . What most excited me about gay civil rights was its universal resonance.
Unlike other civil rights groups, gays must articulate invisible selves without the initial support of our immediate communities. That makes the gay project of self-elaboration emblematic of the search for authenticity all of us engage in as human beings, it is work each of us must do for ourselves, and it is the most important work we can do. In the new civil rights, it is the people that are covering that must use their freedom and start to uncover themselves.
The new civil rights harnesses authenticity and sees a characteristic less in a group but more in terms of our common humanity.
Evidence of the shift is shown through the Supreme Court rulings in 's Lawrence v. Texas and 's Tennessee v. Lane dealing with, respectively, gay rights and disabilities. This assumes that all minorities are not proud of their identities and feel that they must hide it from society.
Many reviews do point out the fact that it is something a lot of people do go through because society wants them to fit in a certain mold. The reviews goes through the events in the book but does bring up the fact that racial covering is another strong approach to showing methods of covering:.
The NY Times also believe that the book showed a personal search that can motivate all others to find their true selves. The review in O Magazine continued to praise this book:. Russell K. Robinson, an acting professor at UCLA School of Law, could personally relate to Yoshino's situation: he did not think the people close to him accepted his homosexuality.
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The Pressure to Cover
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‘Covering’ to fit in and get ahead
Against that conventional understanding, Kenji Yoshino argues that the demand to cover can pose a hidden threat to our civil rights. Though we have come to some consensus against penalizing people for differences based on race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, and disability, we still routinely deny equal treatment to people who refuse to downplay differences along these lines. Gays are asked not to engage in public displays of same-sex affection. The devout are instructed to minimize expressions of faith, and individuals with disabilities are urged to conceal the paraphernalia that permit them to function. In a wide-ranging analysis, Yoshino demonstrates that American civil rights law has generally ignored the threat posed by these covering demands. With passion and rigor, he shows that the work of civil rights will not be complete until it attends to the harms of coerced conformity. At the same time, Yoshino is responsive to the American exasperation with identity politics, which often seems like an endless parade of groups asking for state and social solicitude.