Indiana Backlash: The Fight to Protect Labels, Not People

Due to a recent law protecting the rights of Indiana's business owners, in what has got to be the bravest political move in Seattle history, our mayor has finally decided to stop funding the extremely large number of city employee trips to Indiana.  This has left us wondering what he's going to do next.  If he's going to equal the heroism of this current measure, will he stop all our city-funded flights to Pakistan, in support of women's rights?  Or maybe to Egypt, in support of the Coptic Christians suffering there?  Like the size of our mayor's heart and cojones, the limits are endless. 

Admittedly, this has been a difficult time for sensible people of all colors, religions, and sexual orientations.  It seems strange, on the one hand, to imagine that anyone would really be rude enough to kick someone out of a business just for being gay.  On the other hand, it seems stranger that any gay person would be able to force any business owner (other than a hospital employee) to do anything for him.  The overwhelming majority of us know some gay person who's earned our respect; the overwhelming majority of us can think of a gay person we know and love dearly.  But most of us (especially in areas with high concentrations of gay people) have also met the man who shows up to work wearing dangly flashing-light Christmas-tree earrings, and threatens to sue his own employer if he isn't allowed to wear a dress to work.  And so we want to kick the man who throws a rock at our dear friend and calls him a queer (if indeed this ever happens), and at the same time, we want the business owner to be able to get away with throwing out a complete putz.  And the most sensible among us have been wondering, for a long time now, if there was ever a middle road in which we could have both. 

If one thing is certain, it is that protecting a label like gay is the sloppiest way of going about any kind of civil rights movement.  Like protecting a label like black, it affords great powers to a certain kind of person – most usually the worst kind.  It ensures that everyone who isn't gay and everyone who isn't black, who has the slightest interest in self-preservation, begins to consider the protected minority as a potential threat; it elevates everyone possessing the negative stereotypes into power, and it does nearly nothing to advance the ones who were already virtuous and loveable enough to merit advancement.  The man who wears a thong and talks about his belly-dancing classes openly suddenly becomes protected, not because he's attracted to men, but because he's disgusting; just like the man who wears a hood at night complains about his being persecuted, not because he's actually black, but because he's chosen to dress exactly like a criminal.

If this ensures a gay or black man's uncomfortable employment, it will impede his growing estimation in the public eye.  The truth of the matter is that, like the Christians being thrown to lions in the Roman arenas, the greatest weapon gay people have ever had is well-behaved gay people – not the lewd freaks in parades, not the glitter-bombing nutcases at Republican political conventions.  The Christian, like every budding new cultist, was up against a slew of haters who confused his novelty for his villainy.  And like every new group that begins to gain ascendancy, there is always someone out there to unfairly hate him – someone out there who fears the worst he can suffer from an outsider who's just gotten inside.  Christians fought a long, hard battle to prove they were good citizens and neighbors, that they weren't cannibals and political separatists under the banner of the new king named Jesus.  But Christians won.  Not by the sword of the state, not by creating an ability to sue the pants off everyone who showed an inkling of disagreement, but by the sheer magnitude of kindness and virtue and otherworldly generosity.  If I remember correctly, they constituted at least half the population of Rome before they got a Christian king – and immediately forgot how they'd won people's hearts by the power of persuasion.   

To be gay in America may be difficult, but nothing nearly as difficult as being Christian in Rome in the first century, and nothing nearly as difficult as being Christian outside the Western Hemisphere in the current century.  And yet here we stand today, with Christianity being as normal in the Americas as wearing blue jeans.  The great difficulty of gays in America will not be avoiding prisons and lions and crucifixions; it will be proving, to Christians and others, that people with same-sex attractions are equally good neighbors, equally chaste lovers, and equally good workers.  It will be proved by showing that a man can be gay without being a threat or a nuisance.  If these can be proved, then all fault lies with those who say that gays can't.  If they can't be proved, then all fault lies with gays who won't prove it.  But our daily experience, in which people of all walks act in various ways, insists that some gay men will win our approval, and others will disgust us – because they are humans.  It must be up to us to decide for ourselves what quality of humans they are.

But if we believe that we can avoid one kind of victimhood by creating another, and if we believe that by creating fear in the majority of already tolerant Christians, we will have advanced gay and Christian relations, and if we believe that the dangers of liberty, in which every man may be accepted or rejected upon the basis of his behavior, are more obnoxious than having the state choose our associates for us, then we have taken a wrong turn, and we need with every ounce of our energy to oppose it.  Not because good gay men and lesbians aren't worthy of our business, employment, and friendship, but because we know that they are – and especially because the bad ones aren't.

Jeremy Egerer is the editor of the troublesome philosophical website known as Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.