Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Villains," Words, and Violence

This post is the second part of my short series on New Year's thoughts, contemplations, and reflections.

As I wrote about yesterday, I read many blogs and newsources that could accurately be described as anti-gay, extremely conservative, anti-feminist, and/or opposed to equal rights for LGBT folks and women. While doing so often angers me, this trend of reading what the "opposition" was saying began for me many years ago in college when I'd read the "conservative" version of the student newspaper. While it can be reassuring to only read articles with which one already agrees, doing so offers little insight into the minds of those with whom one disagrees. Unfortunately, in order to get to the opposition's valid point one often has to filter out numerous arguments that are highly offensive, inaccurate, and/or illogical. It can be pretty depressing, really.

Oftentimes, arguments against LGBT rights are predicated upon discomfort with same-sex sexual behavior, AIDS panic, and stereotypes about gay men and (sometimes) lesbians. Usually, arguments against feminism reveal little more than male rage and a misunderstanding of what feminism is. For instance, anti-feminists will take the most extreme radical feminist statement and mistakenly believe that all feminists think that "all men are rapists." The running theme among both types of arguments is that LGBT rights advocates and feminists are Very Bad Villains. Reading such arguments requires continually reminding myself that these arguments come from a place of fear, misunderstanding, and/or ignorance and not from a place of objective observation. But honestly, as a lesbian feminist, it can be hard not to take these things personally sometimes.

For, many of those who vilify LGBT rights advocates and feminists, I believe, truly do see us as less human, or at least very different, than they themselves are.

Two days before Christmas, I saw on the news that a woman in California was gang-raped by a group of men reportedly because she is a lesbian. It is not conceivable to me how others can justify degrading another person's humanity in this way. I believe that acts like rape and murder require perpetrators to de-humanize and objectify their victims. It is easier, after all, to hurt someone who you perceive as much different than oneself or, perhaps, as an object for your use. The four men in this news story, I believe, were for some reason able to see this lesbian woman as a sub-human type of person. And, I can't help but to wonder where this de-humanizing came from.

Many, if not most, "marriage defenders" and others opposed to equal rights for gay people would undoubtedly oppose such brutal behavior. Although they rarely publicly condemn such hate crimes against our community, I have enough faith in humanity to recognize that people would not wish bodily harm even on those whom they disagree with and/or believe to be immoral. Further, I don't believe that the recent denial of marriage equality in California has led to this hate crime as some are trying to suggest. Yet, it remains my fear and belief that campaigns of vilification can and do lead to violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community because these campaigns reinforce the message that LGBT folks are not human in the same way that "normal" people are.

Recently, "marriage defenders" and their like-minded organizations have orchestrated campaigns touting the message that LGBT rights advocates who engage in peaceful, lawful, and non-violent protesting and boycotts are actually intolerant, hateful, McCarthyist, terrorist, mobs. While some members of our community may be these things, it is a mistake to imply that we are all like this. These characteristics are not the LGBT community that many of us know. I believe that it's a dangerous mistake to use such hyperbole when describing every action that those in our community take. National Organization for Marriage and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty made vague exaggerations indicting all of us, plain and simple, and for that I believe these organizations to be reckless with their words. I think there are rational people out there who would prefer to see society ridded of the dangerous elements that "marriage defenders" describe.

It's sort of ironic. Even though many "marriage defenders" themselves bristle at the faintest hint of being called a "bigot," some of their latest tactics rely on the erroneous assumption that LGBT people and their allies are Very Bad Extremist Enemies Who Hate the Family. It is frightening to me how those claiming to be on the moral Christian high ground can so utterly fail to demonstrate compassion, kindness, and understanding towards those with whom they disagree. I have yet to see them to try to understand or care about why some of us are angry about Prop 8. I only see them characterizing our anger as wrong and exaggerating it. On both sides, I mostly see people talking to like-minded folks and, when they bother to debate the issue with others I mostly see people talking past one another.

Here's my deal. I can accept that not all of those opposed to same-sex marriage are bigots. My challenge to "marriage defenders" is to render critiques of our arguments and to stop characterizing us as sub-human threats to the foundations of society.

Since we've been deadlocked for years in a "war" over the word marriage, I think we can all agree that words are important and we should be careful with them.

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