I had the opportunity last weekend of speaking with several members of the LGBT Nation’s upcoming generation of leaders. They are some truly amazing kids already doing astounding work in the LGBT community, some from within the confines of oppressive religious high schools. They not only inspired me to work harder but also helped me see things in a new light.
It was no surprise that one of the group discussions revolved around hate. Most of us trip over blind hatred for LGBTs on a regular basis online. As an activist, I see it literally every day. They hate us. We hate them back. The days of batting a hand at the trolls, telling them to “be nice” and going on with our lives belongs to the 1980’s. For better or worse, we have a voice now and we’re using it.
Today an anti-gay statement lights a match and both sides go up with the intensity of an exploding gas station. They say they’re being good Christians. We say they’re being bigots and the screaming continues until something highlights part of the issue neither side saw in the beginning…like how the inciting incident was a hoax perpetrated by someone looking for their fifteen minutes of internet fame.
That, my friends, is the problem and I’ve been just as guilty of it as everyone else has. We scream but we don’t listen. There is no attempt to reach a point of understanding or have a moment of education to sweep away some of the stereotypes. We just hate, each waving our logic around like a protest sign without taking the time to consider where the other side is coming from.
I’ll admit it’s easy to get swept up in the drama because some of us bear the scars of past battles from our quest to be who we are. Every negative statement about LGBTs is a trigger that turns a general condemnation into a personal attack. It doesn't matter that the person doing the screaming doesn't actually possess the authority to banish anyone to hell. We lash out from a place of unhealed pain without considering the source of the vitriol.
Who are these people insisting we don't deserve love or respect? Most of them have spent their lives being told gay is evil and it's possible they’ve never had a reason to question it until now. Forty years (or more) of misinformation is a lot to overcome. They feel they’re on a holy crusade to save the country from this evil thing called “gay” or “transgender” or a bucket of other terms they don’t understand.
Some of us grew up in harsh, fundamentalist religions that taught “gay is evil” and know exactly where our opponents are coming from even if we don’t agree with them. We had to fight our way out of that tangle of deception to get where we are. For some it’s a continuing struggle to lay that theology aside but we have a compelling reason to do so. They don’t and that’s why one-third of adults in the U.S. honestly believe gay is curable. They’ve been told by con men that it’s possible, much like the good old days when peddlers traveled town-to-town selling elixirs guaranteed to “cure what ails ya!”
Reparative therapy is a billion-dollar industry full of spokespeople who are paid a salary to tell the world they’ve been cured and people believe it because it’s easy. It allows them to reconcile gay with their theology and avoid that disturbing moment where they realize their religion is wrong about some very vital things. It also allows gays who desperately do not want to be gay a few years of false hope before the truth sets in. It allows devout parents of gay children to exorcise the guilt of raising a “defective” child by dragging them to a person who claims to be able to fix them like a faith healer in a roadside tent revival.
I’ll admit, it’s difficult to find compassion for people who insist LGBTs don’t need rights as much as they need medication and electroshock therapy but the truth is we can’t expect compassion from them when we refuse to give it. They’re poor misled bastards who believe the lies they’ve been told because they don’t know any better.
I’m not talking about the ones screaming in the news or running over to Russia and Uganda exporting hate to other countries. Those guys are only in this battle for the publicity. They don’t care that their rhetoric is killing people. I'm talking about the ones more concerned with the state of someone's soul than their mental and emotional well being as a human, the ones comparing gays to pedophiles without comprehending how that makes their closeted friends and children feel. From our perspective they seem cold and harsh. What is it like from their side?
The book “Prayers for Bobby” gives a brief glimpse. If you haven't read it you should. It’s an eye opening and heartbreaking story about one of those devout families. They were convinced God could cure gay and spent years trying to pray and preach their son straight without realizing the cost until he committed suicide leaving behind a diary full of self-loathing. The mother’s feelings of confusion and betrayal are startlingly palpable as she realizes her church lied to her and cost her the life of her child.
That’s reality for many anti-gay people. They simply don’t understand because they tune out everything but the sound of their pastor’s voice. It takes a life-shattering slap to get their attention. Even then, some cling to denial rather than admit the church they devoted their life to might be wrong.
Just like being gay, there is no miracle cure for this current climate of hate. It’s a normal phase of changing the status quo (‘because the status is NOT quo…’. Sorry, couldn’t resist) and we have to slog through it. If we can do so without damaging our own image as much as the conservatives have damaged theirs that would be ideal.
The conversations that finally bring about real understanding and mutual respect won’t happen until we figure out how to walk away from the hate fest. Until then, the less hostility we pour into the mix the better. Canada is a decade ahead of the U.S. in this and they are still fighting pockets of ignorance, anti-gay politicians, and bullying in schools. We’re going to be at this a while. We should probably pace ourselves.