Sincerely (up) yours,
Oh, dear, not that old fallacy again!
It comes up all the time. People who consider themselves progressive and pro-gay rights, but who are themselves not queer, will turn a blind eye to homophobic statements and actions so long as the perpetrator refrains from employing obviously offensive language too frequently and claims they are doing it for religious reasons. As if, somehow, only when an oppressor is openly vicious are the actions actually oppressive…
I know that part of the misapprehension is a result of trying to be tolerant of differences of opinion. Those other guys have a right to believe as they wish, the thinking goes, therefore I have to respect those beliefs. Which is wrong in so many ways.
I grew up in Southern Baptist churches in the 1960s, and I remember when they (and several other denominations) were still citing certain parts of the Bible to object to the Voting Rights Act and to oppose racial integration of public schools. Alabama Governor George Wallace’s famous “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever” pledge was followed with a quotation from the Bible. And I’m sure there were plenty of moderates and liberals who rationalized that it wasn’t really racism, it was merely a religious objection. Yet, today when white supremacists cite the exact same Bible verses to justify their prejudiced beliefs, no one says that it’s not racism. People justifiably say that the white supremacist is a bigot (and usually assert that they are misusing the Bible to rationalize their bigotry).
So why do otherwise pro-equality people give religious folks a pass on homophobia?
Some people answer that question by saying that the battle for gay rights isn’t as far along as that for racially equality, and we have to make allowances for people who haven’t had as long to think about it. More enlightened people can allow them to hang onto their mostly harmless antiquated beliefs for a while until they come around. I have a really big problem with that: bullied and dying children.
In 1989, during the elder George Bush administration, the Department of Health and Human Services produced a “Report on the Secretary’s Task Force on Youth Suicide.” It wasn’t published right away, it was actively suppressed. The Task Force had been set up with a mission to make recommendations to reduce teen suicide (which was then resulting in about 5000 deaths each year). The problem was that the study concluded that the number one cause of teen suicide was homophobia.
Gay, lesbian, bi, and gender-nonconforming kids made up about one third of those teens who attempted suicide each year, and the task force showed statistically that this high rate was “linked to growing up in a society that teaches them to hide and to hate themselves.” It recommended the swiftest means to reduce teen suicide was “mental health and youth service agencies can provide acceptance and support for young homosexuals, train their
personnel on gay issues, and provide appropriate gay adult role models; schools can protect gay youth from abuse from their peers and provide accurate information about homosexuality in health curricula; families should accept their child and work toward educating themselves about the development and nature of homosexuality”
Republicans in Congress went ballistic when they learned of the report’s conclusions. One congressman called on the president to fire everyone associated with the report. Someone leaked portions of the report to the press, and finally it was published. The study actually establishes a statistical causal link between the teachings that being gay is a sin and the resulting bullying and teen suicide attempts. There have been numerous follow-up studies in the years since, by agencies ranging from the National Institutes of Health to the Association of State Attorneys General that have all come to the same conclusions: excusing anti-gay attitudes and perpetuating them in public policy, et cetera, is responsible for most bullying in schools and accounts for about a third of teen suicides.
Please read that again: there is statistical proof that these “sincerely held religious beliefs” cause one-third of all teen suicides. That’s 1500 children killed each year because of these “mostly harmless” beliefs.
We have known empirically for 26 years that these beliefs and the various cultural and societal attitudes and policies that result from them is killing 1500 children every year. That’s 39,000 kids since the report was first published. And we should give people a little more time to come around?
If you are willing to give the polite homophobes a pass so long as they cite their religious beliefs, then you’re saying that you are okay with 1500 kids being bullied into killing themselves every year.
Does this mean I think we should have laws against hate speech? Or that the law should punish people who believe that being gay is a sin and that gay people are all bound for hell? No, not at all.
What I’m saying is that we treat these people the same way we treat the white supremacists. We call their bigotry out for what it is. We declare that, just as we don’t believe the white supremacist who insists he doesn’t hate anyone, we don’t accept their self-deception that it is out of “christian” love that they are publicly opposing gay rights measures. We call out their donations to anti-gay politicians as acts of oppression. We point out that their opposition to transgender bathroom policies and anti-bullying programs in schools is motivated by narrow-minded bias. We let it be known that prejudice is unacceptable in polite society, even when it is the product of “sincerely held religious belief.”
You have to be willing to call a bigot a bigot. And you have to be willing to say, “I prefer not to associate with people who have such backward and intolerant attitudes toward their fellow human beings.” You have to be willing to stop implicitly endorsing prejudice by letting them spew their factually incorrect beliefs (sorry, the medical consensus is that sexual orientation is not a choice, so a religious belief otherwise is as factually incorrect as insisting that the earth is flat) without challenging them.
Yes, that means in some cases we wind up no longer being friends with some people. But this isn’t a disagreement about a favorite color or a sports team. Those “sincerely held religious beliefs” cause actual harm to real people. Those beliefs dismiss the lived experiences of lesbian, gay, bi, and trans people. Those beliefs deny the humanity, dignity, and personhood of entire classes of people.
And there is no acceptable excuse for that.