…but I don’t hate anyone!
First, I didn’t say hatred, I said bigotry. Bigotry is formally defined as “obstinate and unreasonable adherence to an opinion or idea.” Depending on the context it can shade into narrow-minded intolerance, or blind and excessive zeal, as well as dismissiveness of other ideas. But the central meaning, and the meaning I intended was that “unreasonable adherence to an idea.”
The unreasonable idea (the idea not supported by facts), is not even the obvious one…
The really unreasonable idea underlies both the example of thinking gay=AIDS and the defensive comment from the email: it’s both expected and acceptable that they be less informed than I am because they aren’t gay—because HIV is a “gay disease.” Which is not just technically wrong, but dangerously so.
World wide, men haven’t made up the majority of people living with HIV infection for a long time. In the U.S. straight women are catching up to the rest of the world, where the majority of infected people are straight women. The biggest reason why they are is that mistaken notion that HIV is a “gay disease.” Along with the other mistaken notions: that the only reason straight women are at risk is because of “men on the down-low,” that only naughty promiscuous people are at risk, and so forth.
Statistically, there are very few sexually active people who are also monogamous. Very, very few.
There are lots of people who are serially monogamous: they don’t have sex with anyone other than their current partner (but they have had previous relationships that didn’t work out). Similarly, there are lots of people who have not been entirely honest about their sexual history before meeting their current partner. And there are lots of people who are unaware that their partner is having sex with other people.
But there are very few truly monogamous people.
And that doesn’t even get into the other common mode of transmission: intravenous drug use.
It’s irresponsible, then, to be a person actively dating, without being minimally informed about the actual occurrence and risks of sexually transmitted diseases. And because the world is filled with people who thought they are in a monogamous relationship, who later are completely emotionally destroyed when they learned that their supposedly monogamous partner had fooled around with someone on the side, it is irresponsible for even monogamously-coupled people not to be minimally informed about the actual occurrence and risks of STDs.
I would go further and say that even if you are a totally asexual person who has no intention of ever having sex, but you are a voter who has ever expressed an opinion about tax dollars spent on either public health or sex education, then you are an irresponsible citizen if you aren’t at least more informed about this stuff than the people who jumped to the conclusion that the gay neighborhood was full-to-bursting with AIDS patients.
The “I don’t hate anyone!” claim is used by bigots all the time:
- “I don’t hate gay people, I just don’t want one working for me.”
- “I don’t hate women, I just think they ought to be at home taking care of their kids instead of working.”
- “I don’t hate muslims, I just think they should live somewhere else.”*
- “I don’t hate any one of any race, why do you think I employ so many wetbacks?”*
- “I don’t hate women! I tell the hot ones how much I would love to love them all the time. It’s only the frigid ones I can’t stand.”
- “I don’t hate gay people, I just think it should be okay to fire them.”
- “I don’t hate gay people, I just don’t want to have to see them holding hands in public.”
- “I don’t hate gay people, I pray daily that god will deliver them from satan so they will stop being purveyors of evil.”*
There is a difference between animus and indifference, yes. If you’re uninformed about this sort of thing simply because you think it doesn’t apply to you, that isn’t the same as someone who wants to bring back the laws that make it a crime for same sex couples to live together and so forth. However, such indifference represents a sin of omission: it may not seem as bad as the outright animus, but it is still morally suspect, and can still cause harm.
If, when you find out you are misinformed about something—such as the prevalence of HIV infections in different sub-populations of your community, or the percentage of people who are in monogamish rather than monogamous relationships—your first reaction is to defensively explain why it’s all right that you’re misinformed, that’s where the “obstinate” part of the definition of bigotry comes in.
* Actual quotes from people being interviewed in actual news stories within the last couple of years.