Friday, May 9, 2008

Sally Kern, "Truth," and the Culture Wars

I'm going to jump right into this article with a statement of the obvious: The recent threatening and name-calling emails that Sally Kern has received in response to her recent "gays are worse than terrorists" rant are wrong. Assuming the emails are legitimate (Kern reported them as "death threats," but investigators reported that they were not), they are wrong on a personal level with respect to Sally Kern's humanity and they are problematic with respect to the struggle for equal rights.

1. The Sympathy Factor

To begin, as much as a we disagree with other people, it is not acceptable to wish them physical harm or death. What was particularly troubling about some of the comments were the gendered nature of the attacks whereby Kern was called a "cunt," "bitch," or "dyke." Reading those slurs, as a woman who has been on the receiving end of such words, I couldn't help feeling sympathetic towards Kern in spite of her lies and hateful message. How many Americans who are not as engaged in the "culture wars" as I will read those attacks and feel similar feelings of sympathy? How many people who don't know any gay people will read those emails and come to believe that gay people are hateful, bitter people who attack women?

Sally Kern said horrible, unwarranted things about us, but let's face it, many Americans believe those lies and they don't understand our outrage. Even in the face of the Sally Kern's of the world, our job is not to attack but to fight ignorance with knowledge. The right-wing feeds on and perpetuates a culture of hate and untruths. Those who wrote the hateful emails to Sally Kern have fed right into that culture.

2. A Culture of Misinformation

Sally Kern is a public figure who has used her position of leadership and authority to hyperbolically state that people like little old me, gay people, are worse than the terrorists who crashed into the World Trade Center. Every time so-called religious people and "leaders" spread misinformation about gay people, I'm pretty sure that an angel loses its wings and the baby Jesus cries cold tears of sorrow.

What Sally Kern said is not right because it was full of lies, whether Kern knows that or not. That fact is something she and her supporters are missing. What "American for Truth" Peter LaBarbera says and prints about gay people is not right. What "Concerned Woman for America" Matt Barber says and prints about gay people is not right. It's not that I disagree with these people that makes what they say "not okay," it's that these people lie, spread anti-gay propaganda, and foster a culture of hate that makes this speech "not okay."

We are all entitled to disagree. But is it too much to ask for those on the other side to play fair and in accordance with the fundamental principle of morality that is honesty?

3. The "Truth"

So, when you combine the poor-Sally-Kern sympathy factor with the conservative culture of misinformation we sort of end up with a clusterfuck of a play on people's emotions.
And predictably, the anti-gay industry is having a field day with it with their I-simply-don't-understand-why-homos-hate-us victimized attitude.

As I've said, and it bears repeating in case any comes here and misquotes me, the death threats and personal attacks against Kern are very unfortunate. Those on all sides of a debate should accord to another fundamental principle of morality: The right to state your opinion without the threat of physical retaliation and violence. We do receive our share of attacks too, you know. But I wouldn't say that all Christians are hateful just because some Christians are.

Yet, what is also unfortunate about the situation is that the usual suspects are responding to these threats with the expected propaganda. Of the thousands of emails and messages Kern has received, anti-gay groups have cherry-picked the violent ones in order to imply or outright state that gay people are not, after all, very loving. In fact, just as everyone knew all along, gay people are violent anti-social creatures. I guarantee not one party within the anti-gay industry would link to or acknowledge me, or any other gay person, acknowledging that threats to Sally Kern are not okay.

These groups neither seek nor present truth. When facts come up to counter their version of how the world is, it's more convenient to ignore it, suppress it, or tout it as somehow flawed. Acknowledging peaceful responses to Sally Kern conflicts with the message that their industry depends on: Gay People Are Bad and Hateful.

And, any criticism of the anti-gay industry's tactics or messages is automatically (mis)labeled as "fascism" or a "homosexual smear campaign." Apparently, it's okay to smear the queer. The queers, you know, are just supposed to silently take it offering no rebuttal lest they be involved in a "smear campaign" or defamation.

What does this all lead to?

In the eyes of those who know no real gay people, gay people (and they're almost always conceived of as men) aren't neutered little queens like Jack from Will and Grace. They're faceless, vicious, and sinister members of the Gay Agenda who molest innocent children. The "masses" hear that message, that lie, despite the fact that most of us are law-abiding, peaceful, and loving citizens. But you'll never hear that "truth" from Americans for Truth [sic] About Homosexuality which has an entire section on its website devoted to "Homosexual Hate".
(For those unfamiliar with this "truth" organization, it is a propagandistic "single-issue group" dedicated solely to negating the lives and rights of gay people)

As far as organizing goes, as far as contributing to society goes, as far as advocacy work goes, as far as writing goes.... I can't think of many things more sinister, more disingenuous, and more divisive to our society than a group doing what this group is doing. They're doing it in your name, my name, and in the good name of everything that America stands for, including using the misappropriated image of the Statue of Liberty in its logo. By magically turning non-"homosexuals" into the victims of hateful aggressive homasexuls, they are redefining basic concepts like freedom, equality, and oppression.

At some point, I hope that people will find better, more useful ways to contribute to society than to dedicate themselves to "single-issue" causes like negating the lives of entire groups of people. But as long as they are around exercising their rights, we will be around exercising our rights to oppose them and trying to set the record straight, so to speak.

Fortunately, to many who actually know real-life gay people, these anti-gay groups and characters come off as sort of a joke. I just don't think enough heterosexuals care enough right now to call these groups out on their bullshit. I don't know if they get that many people don't know gay people and so they believe the lies of Sally Kern and the like.

What do I think? I think it's time we start, um, recruiting more people to join our cause.


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