HOSTILE CLIMATE: Report on anti-gay activity

“HOSTILE CLIMATE: Report on anti-gay activity, 1999 edition,” produced by People For the American Way

“HOSTILE CLIMATE: Report on anti-gay activity, 1999 edition,” produced by People For the American Way (http://www.pfaw.org) is an overwhelming document, a 250-page book briefly chronicling 292 incidents of discrimination against homosexuals in the United States during 1998.
Excluded from this list are hate crimes. Included are only legislative actions, court rulings, discriminatory practices, and some of the more egregious and influential public displays of bigotry during that one year. The list is far from exhaustive even in the areas it covers, concentrating on lawsuits and incidents covered in major newspapers. Workplace incidents resolved through grievance procedures and arbitration, for example, do not appear. Many of the incidents that do appear are clearly examples of nationwide problems too numerous to record. And some of the incidents document the fact that many homosexuals do not report abuse against them because they fear repercussions for their reputations or worse.

This book is the sixth annual report on this topic by PFAW, and the organization reports that the number of incidents has increased dramatically in that time, due either to increased reporting or increased discrimination (possibly as a backlash to increased gay activism) or both.

“Hostile Climate” is a good source of information on organizations and publications on both sides of this issue.

In all but 11 states, the District of Columbia and certain cities in other states, the report tells us, it is legal to fire or refuse to hire someone because he or she is gay. Although President Clinton issued an order banning such discrimination for federal government employees, a Colorado congressman proposed a bill to ban funding enforcement of the order.

In 1998, 17 bills were introduced in the U.S. to ban same-sex marriages. Thirty states, as of 1999, have such laws, all of them passed within the previous five years, with the exception of Louisiana’s, which was passed in 1803.

“Hostile Climate” contains essays by 14 individuals who have experienced discrimination. In one of these, Sheila James Kuehl, a member of the California State Assembly, writes, “Most of the people who have come forward to testify about their experiences really are lesbian or gay. But a substantial number are not. They are heterosexual young people whose appearance or behavior does not conform to someone’s idea of what proper heterosexuality looks like.”

Another essay describes discrimination at Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children, a religious organization not covered by employment laws for government employees even though 80 to 90 percent of its money comes from government grants. This sort of situation takes on extra meaning now that we are considering electing a U.S. president who plans to have many government functions performed by “faith-based” organizations.

A Hate Crimes Prevention Act, proposed in Congress by Sen. Edward Kennedy, was stalled for months by the overriding importance of the Monica issue, and was not voted on in the 105th Congress.

Arkansas, in 1998, became the second state to prohibit gays and lesbians from becoming foster parents.

The Republican Congress went so far in its opposition to equal rights for homosexuals as to oppose its professed desire to give more power to local governments. The House of Representatives in July, 1998, passed a bill denying federal housing money to San Francisco because the city was offering equal benefits to domestic partners and spouses. The Senate’s version of the bill did not contain this element, and it did not make it into law.

“Hostile Climate” contains a spectrum of incidents ranging from violence to heated discussion. Shortly after Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence and murdered for being gay, a sorority and fraternity float in a parade in Colorado featured a scarecrow tied to a fence with the words “I’m Gay” painted across its face and “Up My Ass” painted on its back.

“If [the guard] wasn’t there, I’m sure somebody would come by and smash it with a baseball bat,” said a student in a California school of a gay-pride exhibit in a hallway. A guard had been put there because students had vandalized the display. The exhibit was taken down ahead of schedule.

In Washington, D.C., a pre-operative transsexual in women’s clothing was involved in a car accident. Rescue workers immediately began helping her. But when firefighter Adrian Williams cut the leg off her pants and discovered she had male genitalia, he exclaimed, “This bitch ain’t no girl. It’s a nigger. He’s got a dick,” and allegedly halted his rescue work until his supervisor arrived five to seven minutes later. One witness said she had watched the woman “turn blue” while the rescue crew stood by, laughing and joking. The woman died an hour later at D.C. General Hospital when a doctor failed to perform routine medical procedures.

“Hostile Climate” is too much to take, and I have not read the whole thing. Gays are treated like hated nonhumans by many in this country. One group advocated quarantining people with AIDS. Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses can be “disfellowshipped” for being gay, which means that they are out of the church and their friends and family in the church cannot communicate with them.

Gays who “openly display affection” in the presence of children are repeatedly accused of “child abuse.”

One campaign, straight out of Orwell, expresses hatred for homosexuals as “Truth in Love.”

The common thread through most or all of the incidents in this book is Christianity. All or most of the groups campaigning for discrimination against or criminalization of homosexuality do so in the name of the religion of love, the teachings of the man who told his followers to love enemies and see humanity in those unlike ourselves, such as the Samaritans who were unlike the Jews. Businesses, business groups, and health organizations are not a significant part of this crusade. Often, in fact, they are on the other side of it.

Some religious groups are on the other side of it to. And many religious groups moderate their views, claiming that they want to help homosexuals “recover.” In some cases this attitude barely disguises seething hatred and is about as believable as the idea that preventing those convicted of felonies from voting for life is intended to prevent crime and is not motivated by racism or sadism. In other cases, good intentions are mixed with ignorance and a longing for the supernatural. Anti-gay crusaders of this sort are unaware or unwilling to recognize that homosexuality is much more a matter of nature than nurture, and are intent on finding some eternal truth in certain passages of an ancient book.

But while religious groups may be leading anti-gay crusades and waving “God hates fags!” banners, many other people accept some degree of discrimination against homosexuals. Some prominent members of the religious right have moderated their views. Some churches have attempted some half-way steps toward full equality for gays and lesbians. But most Americans do not yet support gay marriage, gay parenthood, gay teachers, or the notion that being gay is exactly as good as not being gay.

When I was in high school in Northern Virginia from 1983 to 1987, I knew people who would go gay-bashing for fun. They would go to a park near Washington, D.C., flirt with a gay man, and then beat him up. These kids were not, that I know of, religious. They were not, that I know of, closet homosexuals. They were definitely not devoted community volunteers devoting their energies to improving society. They WERE angry and neglected. This was the way they chose to express their anger. It was, and remains, to some degree acceptable in our culture.

Whether public acceptance of homosexuality encourages young people to become homosexual is a question that needs to be addressed. My impression is that it only encourages people not to hide in a closet. But this question is a red herring. Until we have accepted the idea that a society with more homosexuals is as good as one with fewer, we are ourselves continuing to condemn homosexuality.

One point not addressed prominently in “Hostile Climate” is the belief that homosexuals are promiscuous and pedophilic. Although I do not want to condemn promiscuity (though I do oppose sex with children), it is necessary to distinguish between homosexuality and various behaviors of homosexuals, and to recognize the effects of ostracism on behavior. If heterosexuals were not permitted to openly show affection, much less get married, would we not also be a bit less monogamous?

Another point that could be addressed more in the book is that working class young white males see homosexuals as one more potential protected class that might soon have the right to sue over any mistreatment, while they themselves cannot. This jealousy would not be nearly so pronounced were it not for anger over shrinking wages, increasing hours, and diminishing rights for all workers and the unions that should be able to protect them all equally. The gay-rights movement should be walking hand-in-hand with the movement for labor rights.

“Hostile Climate” could be well supplemented with an account of successes and acts of kindness. Many are mentioned in passing, but only as they relate to reactionary opposition and discrimination. Still, this book provides reason for encouragement. Opponents of equal treatment for gays, as described here, repeatedly disguise their positions as neutrality and “normality,” and pretend to be opposing not equal rights but “special privileges.”

The chief enemy in an effort for decent treatment of gays and lesbians appears to be certain passages of the Bible and those who want to believe that these passages are magical commandments to be obeyed for all time by everyone. Of course, many Christians do not have any truck with this position, just as they ignore, for example, the Bible passages that were once used to defend slavery or the passages advising various animal sacrifices.

While it would be nice to see Biblical literalism or even the longing for a divine authority slip away along with homophobism, these things have survived Darwin and the Civil Rights Movement, and will survive to impede many future cultural changes. Fortunately, the same religion being used to promote hatred provides within itself one of the most remarkable and wise advocations of love and tolerance. Christians should be asked to read the words of Christ and apply them to this situation. If they fail to heed his message, they should be denounced for hypocrisy – something Christ himself famously denounced.

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