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Homophobia = Racism = Sexism

05/31/2011

It’s all the same. And it all sucks. Every bit of it.

Everyone on this planet has a moral responsibility to fight against bigotry. But people who’ve been its victims have a rather intense personal interest in the battle. A climate of intolerance breeds more intolerance – and that can affect our lives and safety on a day-to-day basis.

So, especially now that I’m out, I really hate it when I hear gay men make racist, sexist or homophobic remarks.

A little background on why this is top of mind …

A few days ago, I joined several friends to watch a DVD of Stonewall Uprising, a wonderful documentary about the 1969 riots ignited by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. This event was the gay community’s Rosa Parks moment – when the long push for full and equal rights more-or-less officially began.

The film starts out with a grim picture of how tough life was for gays – even in a cosmopolitan city like New York – 40 years ago. How homosexuality was considered a mental illness, even by psychiatrists and academics. How gays were sometimes given shock treatments or lobotomies or were castrated. How gay people were chased down and beaten on the streets. About constant police harassment and raids on gay bars.

It continues with archival footage and photography of the uprising, interspersed with interviews with a group of men and women who were there when it happened. Their testimonies are inspiring. At times my eyes filled up. Like Rosa Parks, these people had suffered enough, and they simply refused to take it any more. They fought back. They were brave and steadfast. We owe them a great deal.

Clearly, America like most of the developed world, has come a long way toward the light since then –  and yet, the progress is still fragile.

Last year, here in Tennessee, Republicans took over both houses of the legislature and the governorship for the first time since Reconstruction. As a result, we seem to be racing back into the dark as fast as this bunch of clowns can legislate.

In recent weeks two totally obnoxious anti-gay bills advanced. One, passed by both houses and signed into law by the Governor, overturns Nashville’s (and any other Tennessee municipality’s) anti-discrimination ordinance protecting gay and trans people. So far, only the Senate has passed the other – the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – which would bar K-8 school teachers from mentioning homosexuality in class.  And there are ongoing rumblings about outlawing adoption by gay couples. Thank God this gang of bigots has adjourned for the year!

Against this backdrop of fragile gains and ever-possible setbacks, it makes me absolutely crazy to hear gay people being intolerant of others who are different.

A number of gay men I know, including one of the guys I watched the documentary with, frequently make hostile remarks about lesbians. These aren’t bad guys at core, and they’d say the comments are all in jest, but this sort of thing isn’t okay. It fosters division – a sense of us vs. them – and by extension damages our whole community.

I also sometimes hear snide remarks about women in general. The use of the c-word is surprisingly frequent, and – to me, at least – offensive.

Recently, at a small dinner party, several sly, sort of coded, racist comments drifted into the conversation. Amazing! And appalling. I finally asked for it to stop. My companions are not bad men, and not a bunch of rednecks either. All are educated, affluent, generous and shoulder adult responsibilities. And they would tell you it’s all a joke and that they have African American friends. Sorry. That doesn’t wash with me. There’s no excuse for this behavior.

And, like the comments about women in general and lesbians in particular, it shocks me how often I hear this sort of thing from gay men. Much more often, by the way, than I ever used to hear it among straight people.

So what do I do with all this?

One thing is to take it as a lesson, recognize that no one is entirely free of prejudice, and work on my own prejudices. I can’t make other people change, but I can change myself. And, I can lead by example. I can refuse to join in this kind of behavior, and, when I have the opening to do so, challenge it – while maintaining respect for the person I’m challenging.

Another is to try to understand where this comes from. I’ve thought about it, and I’m going with this theory until something better comes along: Most gay people have grown up aware of their status as a part of an “undesirable”  minority. And it seems that persecuted people often feel they need someone else to put down. It reminds me of the civil rights era 50 years ago, when some of the most intense racism came from poor white people who had no one else below them on the ladder.

Another is to always, always, remember that in coming out, I have chosen to stand and identify myself publicly with a frequently persecuted minority. If you’re newly out, or thinking about coming out, you need to remember this too.

Coming out in the urbanized and relatively progressive environment of a city like Nashville has been comparatively easy. I haven’t been threatened, or even put down – not to my face anyway – and I’m able to be open about who I am pretty much anywhere I go. But it’s not that easy for everyone.

While things are easier for gay people these days than they have been in eons, we have to remember that things may swing back – witness the Tennessee legislature – and stand up for ourselves and our gay brothers.

And here’s the critical point: Standing up for yourself also means standing with all who have borne the weight of bigotry – male, female, black, white, whatever.

Division and stratification among minority communities hurts all of us, and, like I’ve said before, we’re all in this together.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristy permalink
    05/31/2011 7:48 AM

    Thanks for another wonderful, insightful piece, David.
    You’re like a hot knife thru room-temperature butter.
    I love ya, man….X,O…me

  2. Patrick Mizelle permalink
    05/31/2011 11:01 AM

    Volkswagen ran a billboard ad campaign in the late 60’s or so in wherein the famous beetle was surrounded by a diverse group of obvious minorities. The slogan was about daring to be different and loving that difference. The object was to broaden the VW market beyond its then narrow demographic. It was a dismal failure at selling cars: it turned out that each of the various minorities HATED being in the same ad as the others and transferred that hatred to the VW. Meanwhile, the white, european oriented academics that loved the VW felt they were tainted by association with all those losers: they were a minority, but to their mind a superior minority. So it goes. We all have prejudices–it’s unavoidable–but we CAN become conscious of them and actively counteract them. And bit by bit, things do get better.

    • 05/31/2011 11:09 AM

      Didn’t know about that ad. Somehow I must have missed that one in the New Yorker. But It’s not too surprising. We have come a long way from there, but aren’t to nirvana yet, obviously.

      Bit by bit and painfully slowly in my case, I’m afraid. I’ve offended a friend with this post, and that was far from my intention. So I will have to work to make things better on that front.

  3. 08/01/2011 1:20 PM

    It really is all the same and it’s sad. Why can’t we just all get along?

    • 08/01/2011 2:24 PM

      Worth trying, certainly. But easier said than done.

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