Sunday, March 25, 2007
Why do straight people hate gay people with such vehemence?
The following is a copy of an open letter to the heterosexual community written by gay activist Larry Kramer and published in the Los Angeles Times on March 24:
DEAR STRAIGHT PEOPLE,Why do you hate gay people so much? Gays are hated. Prove me wrong. Your top general just called us immoral. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is in charge of an estimated 65,000 gay and lesbian troops, some fighting for our country in Iraq. A right-wing political commentator, Ann Coulter, gets away with calling a straight presidential candidate a faggot. Even Garrison Keillor, of all people, is making really tacky jokes about gay parents in his column. This, I guess, does not qualify as hate except that it is so distasteful and dumb, often a first step on the way to hate. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama tried to duck the questions that Pace's bigotry raised, confirming what gay people know: that there is not one candidate running for public office anywhere who dares to come right out, unequivocally, and say decent, supportive things about us.
Gays should not vote for any of them. There is not a candidate or major public figure who would not sell gays down the river. We have seen this time after time, even from supposedly progressive politicians such as President Clinton with his "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military and his support of the hideous Defense of Marriage Act. Of course, it's possible that being shunned by gays will make politicians more popular, but at least we will have our self-respect. To vote for them is to collude with them in their utter disdain for us.
Don't any of you wonder why heterosexuals treat gays so brutally year after year after year, as your people take away our manhood, our womanhood, our personhood? Why, even as we die you don't leave us alone. What we can leave our surviving lovers is taxed far more punitively than what you leave your (legal) surviving spouses. Why do you do this? My lover will be unable to afford to live in the house we have made for each other over our lifetime together. This does not happen to you. Taxation without representation is what led to the Revolutionary War. Gay people have paid all the taxes you have. But you have equality, and we don't.
And there's no sign that this situation will change anytime soon. President Bush will leave a legacy of hate for us that will take many decades to cleanse. He has packed virtually every court and every civil service position in the land with people who don't like us. So, even with the most tolerant of new presidents, gays will be unable to break free from this yoke of hate. Courts rule against gays with hateful regularity. And of course the Supreme Court is not going to give us our equality, and in the end, it is from the Supreme Court that such equality must come. If all of this is not hate, I do not know what hate is.
Our feeble gay movement confines most of its demands to marriage. But political candidates are not talking about — and we are not demanding that they talk about — equality. My lover and I don't want to get married just yet, but we sure want to be equal.
You must know that gays get beaten up all the time, all over the world. If someone beats you up because of who you are — your race or ethnic origin — that is considered a hate crime. But in most states, gays are not included in hate crime measures, and Congress has refused to include us in a federal act.
Homosexuality is a punishable crime in a zillion countries, as is any activism on behalf of it. Punishable means prison. Punishable means death. The U.S. government refused our requests that it protest after gay teenagers were hanged in Iran, but it protests many other foreign cruelties. Who cares if a faggot dies? Parts of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. are joining with the Nigerian archbishop, who believes gays should be put in prison. Episcopalians! Whoever thought we'd have to worry about Episcopalians?
Well, whoever thought we'd have to worry about Florida? A young gay man was just killed in Florida because of his sexual orientation. I get reports of gays slain in our country every week. Few of them make news. Fewer are prosecuted. Do you consider it acceptable that 20,000 Christian youths make an annual pilgrimage to San Francisco to pray for gay souls? This is not free speech. This is another version of hate. It is all one world of gay-hate. It always was.
Gays do not realize that the more we become visible, the more we come out of the closet, the more we are hated. Don't those of you straights who claim not to hate us have a responsibility to denounce the hate? Why is it socially acceptable to joke about "girlie men" or to discriminate against us legally with "constitutional" amendments banning gay marriage? Because we cannot marry, we can pass on only a fraction of our estates, we do not have equal parenting rights and we cannot live with a foreigner we love who does not have government permission to stay in this country. These are the equal protections that the Bill of Rights proclaims for all?
Why do you hate us so much that you will not permit us to legally love? I am almost 72, and I have been hated all my life, and I don't see much change coming.
I think your hate is evil.
What do we do to you that is so awful? Why do you feel compelled to come after us with such frightful energy? Does this somehow make you feel safer and legitimate? What possible harm comes to you if we marry, or are taxed just like you, or are protected from assault by laws that say it is morally wrong to assault people out of hatred? The reasons always offered are religious ones, but certainly they are not based on the love all religions proclaim.
And even if your objections to gays are religious, why do you have to legislate them so hatefully? Make no mistake: Forbidding gay people to love or marry is based on hate, pure and simple.
You may say you don't hate us, but the people you vote for do, so what's the difference? Our own country's democratic process declares us to be unequal. Which means, in a democracy, that our enemy is you. You treat us like crumbs. You hate us. And sadly, we let you.
This is a powerful letter. Larry Kramer has been a passionate gay rights activist for many years, and he has written numerous (and in some cases, very controversial) columns, books, and articles about the manner in which gay men and lesbians are treated at the hands of their heterosexual counterparts. This commentator agrees with almost everything written in Kramer's letter, with one glaring exception. Kramer states the following: "Gays do not realize that the more we become visible, the more we come out of the closet, the more we are hated."
This commentator believes that, at minimum, the above statement requires qualification.
Poll after poll has shown that those heterosexuals who state that they know gay people personally tend to be less homophobic than those heterosexuals who state that they do not know any gay people personally. Of course, this could reflect bias in that those respondents who state that they do not know any gay people personally could be denying the fact that they actually do know gay people personally; these respondents may feel that, by distancing themselves from gay people through denial of personal relationships with gay people, their hatred of gay people becomes less difficult to admit. This is certainly a factor that should be explored before taking the results of these polls at face value.
Anecdotal evidence, however, supports the contention that those individuals who claim to know gay people at a personal level are less likely to be homophobic than is the case with respect to those individuals who claim not to know gay people at a personal level. I know many gay people, and am aware of the experiences which many of them underwent upon coming out to their friends, family members, fellow employees, and neighbors. In the vast majority of cases (including that of my own personal experience when I came out), gay adults have reported receiving unexpected support from some of the most unexpected quarters; several recent conversations with gay men who had just come out of the closet were both interesting and thought-provoking. While there will always be people blinded by zealotry and raw hatred who are prepared to sever relationships with members of their own families based on the sexual orientation of those members, most parents realize that their adult children are the only adult children they will ever have, and those parents who do not immediately accept their sons' or daughters' sexual orientation usually (but not always) continue to love their children, and most (but not all) of these parents eventually accept the fact that the sexual orientation of their children is something for which they are neither "responsible" nor to be "blamed"; many such parents educate themselves about sexuality and become supportive and accepting of their children. Note that the writer employs the term "accepting" as opposed to "tolerant;" these two attitudes are worlds apart, and tolerance very rapidly disintegrates when passions are aroused.
Some of the ugliest and most hate-filled organizations in the US (organizations bearing such benign-sounding names as the "American Family Association" (AFA) (at http://www.afa.net/) and the "Family Research Council" (FRC) (at http://www.frc.org/)) fully understand the difference between tolerance and acceptance, and will do just about anything to ensure that neither tolerance nor acceptance of gay Americans becomes the prevailing norm (perhaps recognizing the fact that tolerance can and does transmute into acceptance under the right societal conditions). The former organization is particularly vitriolic and unapologetic in its frenzied attempts to link homosexuality (and male homosexuality in particular) to pedophilia, incest, bestiality, and religious bigotry. The AFA routinely calls for its members to boycott corporations that extend domestic partner benefits to the spouses of their gay employees; right now, the AFA is engaged in an almost laughable attempt to blackmail Ford Motor Company into dropping its gay-friendly policies (specifically, its "promotion of homosexual marriage" and its more general adoption of "the homosexual agenda" -- Ford has supposedly endorsed voter guides that urge the defeat of state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, and Ford regularly advertises its vehicles in publications targeted towards gay audiences). (NOTE: Since writing this article, the AFA has dropped its boycott, claiming that Ford complied with the AFA's demands; in fact, Ford has made no substantive changes whatsoever, and the AFA has clearly lost its nerve.) This commentator refers to this boycott as "almost laughable" due to the fact that, while it is painfully obvious to any clear-thinking individual that such a "boycott" is likely to generate pro-Ford attitudes and consumer brand name loyalty in the gay community (which has proved itself, time and time again, to be extremely loyal to corporations that include the gay community in their outreach efforts, and that offer gay employees the same spousal benefit packages as are offered to straight employees), the extent of the sheer hatred espoused by this boycott is truly frightening. The AFA posts a link on its Web site to an excerpt from the FX channel's drama named "Dirt," referring to this excerpt as an "explicit, sickening homosexual scene." The scene in question shows a passionate same-sex kiss followed by oral sex (the latter is seen from a distance, as is done in literally countless heterosexual scenes in literally countless heterosexual-oriented movies and soap operas). Because Ford was one of several sponsors of this drama, Ford has been targeted in the cross-hairs of the AFA's puny boycott. Fortunately, Ford refuses to be intimidated or cowed into submission by these religious fanatics; when this commentator called Ford to commend Ford for its pro-gay attitude and to warn Ford executives that the AFA was orchestrating a mail-in campaign to flood the C.E.O. (Alan Mulally) with emails, this commentator was assured by Ford management that Ford executives recognized orchestration when they saw it, and gave the AFA orchestration the back of its corporate hand.
What can be distilled from the above is the extent to which some organizations (the AFA being just one right-wing group of religious fanatics) are willing to wear their unadulterated hatred of gay men and lesbians on their collective sleeves. Kramer is correct in noting that attitudes such as these are, in any meaningful sense of the word, evil. Kramer is also correct in noting that not one politician in this country actually stood up to Marine General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, when Pace made his statement referring to gay Americans as immoral. The best that the gay community received in terms of a defense were luke-warm rejections of this position by some of the politicians that we like to think of as allies. Kramer is correct in stating that there is not one politician who will not hesitate to sell us down the river. We are reduced to voting for the politician who will do the gay community the least damage once elected, as opposed to voting for the candidate who will strive to make America live up to the promise, enshrined in stone on the pediment of the US Supreme Court building, of equal justice under law. This tells us volumes about the gap -- the gap between what is said and what is done in our society; between what is promised and what is actually delivered. This commentator observed then-President Bill Clinton sell the gay community down the river as his very first act of political maneuvering -- as alluded to elsewhere on this blog, Clinton folded like a house of cards upon being presented with the first hot potato of his career as President, crafting (with a little help from the military) the ludicrous "don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy which is actually a policy which encourages gay servicemembers, as a matter of both fact and law, to tell lies about themselves and to hide the truth about themselves. Again, it is with respect to self-identification that this commentator disagrees with Kramer's assertion that "...the more we become visible, the more we come out of the closet, the more we are hated." The bastards who fashioned the DADT policy were well aware of the power of coming out to transform the lives of both gay people and those who love gay people, whether as relatives or as friends. The authors of DADT knew exactly what they were doing when they implemented a policy intended to prevent gay people from coming out of the closet. No single tool is more oppressive than the closet, and efforts by right-wing politicians have, consistently, been to force gay people back into the closet. Commentator Bill Boushka has written about this very issue extensively in his book "Do Ask, Do Tell," in which he takes a scalpel to this policy and examines the shattering impact that it has on the self-esteem and self-identity of those servicemembers who labor under its yoke.
Kramer also identifies the manner in which Bush has packed virtually every Article III court (including the US Supreme Court) with jurists who are less than friendly to gay men and lesbians. However, notwithstanding the seriousness of this development, we have to acknowledge that a conservative US Supreme Court handed down Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), effectively halting the movement to exclude gay Americans from the protective ambit of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and that a conservative US Supreme Court handed down Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), rendering all state sodomy laws unconstitutional as applied to consensual sexual activity between same-sex partners in private, non-commercial settings. These were crucial decisions, reflecting a sea change in the manner in which the federal judiciary now treats gay Americans. Furthermore, we have won the right to marry, either in both name and substance, or in substance alone, by invoking state constitutional analysis before state supreme courts. Gay marriage is now legal in both name and substance in Massachusetts, and in substance but not name in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont. New Hampshire is poised to become the next state to enact a comprehensive civil unions statute that will grant to gay couples all of the rights and responsibilities (at the state level) of heterosexual marriage, and California could well become another state to enact gay marriage in both name and substance (as nearly happened in 2006, when this measure was passed by both chambers of the legislature but vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger).
We need only look to the UK to see how different the attitudes of UK citizens are towards gay Britons relative to the attitudes of US citizens towards gay Americans. Civil Partnerships were backed by both the New Labor party and by the Conservative Party. Gay men and women are open about their sexual orientation to a much greater degree than is the case in the US, and British law flatly prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation (the legislation in question is actually much broader, and will be discussed elsewhere). In most parts of the UK, sexual orientation is simply not an issue. Most UK citizens simply do not seem to care about the sexual orientation of their neighbors. The British armed forces have managed to integrate gay servicemembers into their ranks with very few problems. The writer does not discount the gay-bashing and abuse that does occur from time to time, but it is not nearly as prevalent and as vicious as is the case in the US. This is reflected in art, culture, and popular music. Whereas "The Pet Shop Boys" is only mildly successful in terms of sales and market impact in the US, this group is a huge success in the UK -- to the extent that both gay and straight British citizens are familiar with the lyrics and the music of this group (which is referred to as a "notorious" homosexual band by the FRC and other right-wing anti-gay American organizations). Other nations are much more accepting of gay citizens than is the US.
South Africa became the latest nation to offer full gay marriage to those of its gay citizens who wish to marry. In doing so, South Africa joined Spain, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, and Canada in offering marriage in both name and substance. The UK, France, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Iceland, and several South American countries have all adopted sweeping and comprehensive measures offering gay marriage in all but name to their citizens. As the US falls further and further behind the curve, it will become subject to increased ridicule. The time will come when gay industrialists, skilled laborers, and other much-needed professionals will refuse to enter the US upon being informed, at entry, that their relationships with their spouses will be nullified as soon as they set foot on American soil.
Hopefully, our state-by-state strategy, which has won us four states to date, will continue to succeed, even in the face of state constitutional amendments prohibiting state supreme courts from recognizing gay marriages. Many states have rejected such proposed amendments to their constitutions, and Kramer's unadulterated pessimism may prove to be exaggerated.