I’d like you, dear reader, to picture a series of hypothetical events. Imagine that something gallingly anti-gay happens; for example, voters in Chattanooga repeal a non-discrimination ordinance, or a lesbian Catholic schoolteacher gets fired after coming out of the closet, or a Florida pastor cancels a man’s funeral after finding out he was gay and married to another man. Disgusted, people take to blogs and social media to vent their frustration and (rightfully) condemn the perpetrators for harassing, abusing or discriminating against LGBT people. Before long though, some contrarian invariably chimes in with “What did you expect?” or “Is anyone really surprised this happened?”
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably watched similar conversations play out dozens of times or even participated in them yourself. Now, if you’re one of those people who publicly shame the bigots in situations like these, I say to you, “Carry on.” But if you find yourself playing the role of the unimpressed know-it-all, my message to you is this: Knock it the hell off; your cynicism is not helpful.
Why? First of all, it’s a matter of principle: It doesn’t matter whether it happens just once or it happens every single day; bigotry is wrong and worthy of condemnation. Period.
“Okay, it’s wrong,” the cynic will, sometimes, admit. “But with all the evil our community has experienced, should we really be shocked by this?” My answer to this question is always an unequivocal yes. I hope I never become so jaded and beaten down by life that I am no longer shocked by bigotry, regardless of whether or not it comes from an expected source.
Sometimes the cynic’s argument is a personal one: “I’m so sick of hearing about these people” or “I’m so tired of dealing with haters.” That’s a fair point—calling out bigotry is tiring but frankly, that doesn’t matter. This is about far more than just us. It’s about building a better world for the gay teen whose parents kicked him to the curb when he came out, the trans woman of color who walks home at night with her keys between her fingers because she’s afraid of being assaulted again, the elderly lesbian who goes back into the closet when she enters a nursing home. That’s why we call out the haters, for them. With so many LGBT people suffering and dying every day, tiredness is not a luxury any of us can afford to have in the battle against homophobia
“Why bother calling this person out at all?” cynics will sometimes ask. “You’re not going to change their mind, and you’ll only be giving them unnecessary attention. Their inhumanity is self-evident.” This is perhaps the most dangerous response of all, because it lets our oppressors off easy. Here’s the cold, hard truth: Right now, in many parts of this country and in many segments of society, treating LGBT people hatefully is not self-evidently inhumane. In fact, many times it’s perfectly acceptable.
In places and social situations where the inhumanity of homophobic bigotry is self-evident, it’s only a result of LGBT advocates continually calling out and condemning acts of prejudice, hatred and violence against our community for decades. And we haven’t just insisted on the inhumanity of these acts, we’ve established it. Never forget that less than a generation ago, a pastor shutting down a gay man’s funeral would have been routine, not self-evidently inhumane.
In calling out bigotry, we’re not just defending our loved ones and ourselves, we’re also training the culture that homophobia must always be met with disgust, shame and condemnation. If we respond instead with a resigned shrug (“Is anyone surprised?”), we’re teaching the rest of the world to expect this kind of hatred rather than to resist it.
So the next time you find yourself confronted by anti-LGBT bigotry, drop the cynicism and choose a more productive response instead. Be a part of the solution!