The past year has been a watershed for LGBT rights. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was phased out; Illinois started civil unions last June; and not to be outdone, New York legalized same-sex marriage a month later. Just a few weeks ago, Barack Obama became the first president in U.S. history to voice his support for marriage equality. There is clearly much to celebrate. But on Wednesday, a dubious sign that the fight for equality is far from over surfaced in the form of a (poorly written) letter from leaders of three anti-gay organizations to Illinois legislators.
Titled “An Open Letter to the Legislature’s Gay Activists,” the piece detailed four main grievances that “family” groups have with gay activists—our demands for marriage equality; our community’s “troubling realities” regarding HIV/AIDS; that we put youth at risk; and that we jeopardize religious freedoms. It ends with some food for thought for gays: maybe we should quit demanding more rights and be grateful that we have anything at all.
“An Open Letter” was written by Peter LaBarbera of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, Wayne Lela of Heterosexuals Organize for a Moral Environment and John McCartney of Citizens Concerned About Media to Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and other legislators. It was then circulated among LGBT media outlets.
If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly suggest you do. It is nothing short of hate speech. After blaming the enormous costs associated with handling the AIDS crisis on the “gay lifestyle” and asserting that “Glee” influences teens to turn gay, it adds insult to injury by claiming to know the causes of homosexuality. That list includes molestation, peer rejection, betrayal, emotional abuse, deficient mothering (lesbians) and over-mothering (gays). According to these scholarly men, the American Psychiatric Association came to the wrong conclusion on homosexuality.
To all of you whose jaws are hanging down to the floor right now, take a few deep breaths before you condemn these bigots to Hell. Yes, this form of speech is deplorable, deeply insulting and far from factual. Yet we must remember that freedom of speech applies to everyone, not only those whom we agree with. The First Amendment protects even the most unpopular opinions. Don’t forget; support for LGBT rights used to resonate with only a small minority. But the marketplace of ideas allows for all voices—however disgusting—to be heard and let’s the public decide between right and wrong.
This is exactly how the gay community has made such progress. For the first time ever, polls have begun to show a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. Ten years ago, it was half that number. In a shrinking world with accelerating media dissemination, the public is exposed to far more information and differing views. Fear resonates when there is a lack of understanding. In the past decade, people who live outside large urban areas that weren’t previously exposed first hand to gay culture were able to learn about and understand the gay movement. This led to greater acceptance, which in turn led more gays and lesbians to feel comfortable enough to come out. As more people realized that their seemingly normal friends, relatives, co-workers and professors were in fact gay, acceptance continued to grow, and so on. The virtuous cycle continues today.
Instead, we should view this letter not only with pity for these bigots but also as an opportunity. Most moderates who oppose same-sex marriage do not share the views of these extremists—and are actually turned off by such insanity. The fringes of both the left-and right-wing ends of the political spectrum are perfect poster children for getting public opinion behind reasonable positions, such as marriage equality. LeBarbera and his pals are actually doing the LGBT community a favor by making the argument against gays and lesbians so ridiculous.
And depending on how many legislators received the letter, the anti-bullying bill in the state Senate should pass unanimously this time.
As in other struggles for equality before us, we should not fight hatred with more hatred. It would be wrong to even justify this letter with an angry response. The Internet provides a great opportunity to spread these extreme opinions so the public can see exactly how backward the conservative view on marriage is. If you want to fight for equality, post this on Facebook, Twitter or Reddit. When all ideas are presented openly, people tend to choose to believe what’s right.