Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Straight Guy: Gays Not Owed Apology

Writing in the Huffington Post, Earl Ofari Hutchinson has explained to us that Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser in the Obama Administration, does not owe the gay community an apology for refering to the "lifestyle choice" of a gay teen who committed suicide.

He begins:

"Geneticists, scientists and behaviorists have waged passionate debate over whether sexual preference is a choice or genetically endowed. The hard truth--at least so far-- is that it's both."

Ah yes. Homosexuality is both a Choice and Not A Choice. He continues:

"Researchers with no religious or ideological ax to grind agree that there are several genes that interact with non genetic factors, including psychological and social influences, to determine sexual orientation. In other words, some men and women chose same sexual preference [sic?] solely because this is their preference whether there's a genetic predisposition or not."

In other words, some men and women choose same-sex sexual attraction because some men and women choose same-sex sexual attraction. Apparently, circularity is the new gay.

In all seriousness, a more accurate way for Hutchinson to have paraphrased the relevant research would be to note that genetic, hormonal, and/or environmental influences work together to determine whether a person is attracted to members of the same sex, the other sex, both, or neither and then a person chooses whether to act according to that innate orientation. I like to think of my homosexuality as being sort of like how people who are born left-handed "choose" to write, throw, and eat with their left hands, despite the fact that most of society is set up for right-handers.

Instead, Hutchinson uses his logically-iffy framing of homosexuality's etiology to argue that "[t]o pillory Jarrett for this characterization goes way off the deep end." Now yes, many in the LGBT community do have a strong knee-jerk reaction to the phrase "lifestyle choice." Unfortunately, nowhere within his article does Hutchinson explore the etiology of that reaction. So intent is he on explaining how the LGBT community has Gone Too Far and is not owed an apology, as if that's for him to decide, he utterly ignores gay people's lived experience of how those two notorious words, "lifestyle choice," are what the vast majority of professional LGBT-rights opponents use to pillory the LGBT community.

Because homosexuality is a "choice," they tell us, we should instead choose heterosexuality, the better option. Because homosexuality is a "choice," they say, it's okay to discriminate against us in housing, employment, parental status, the military, and marriage. Because homosexuality is a "choice," they say, it is nothing like race. Because homosexuality is a "choice," the entire LGBT rights movement is a joke.

And so, only by overlooking how the phrase "lifestyle choice" is so often used as a weapon against LGBT people, Hutchinson is able to claim, with no evidence, that the LGBT community is actually only criticizing Jarrett because we are just pissed off at Obama and the black community for not sufficiently supporting LGBT rights. Jarret, you see, is black and a part of the Obama Administration, which apparently means that if she uses an unfortunate word choice to describe gay people, the LGBT community's anger is really about Obama and race.

He writes:

"Jarrett was not dumped on the hot seat solely for her use of the words 'lifestyle choice' to describe Aaberg. She was there in part because of whom she is and what she represents. The whom and the what is the White House. And some gay groups have been ticked at President Obama for a while because of his less than full throttle push to dump DADT, and his still deep ambivalence about gay marriage. This is just as much a pity as plopping Jarrett on the hot set for her words....

The one other stumbling block that the gay rights activists that pound Obama must come to grips with and that is that a majority of blacks still bristle at the notion that the fight to legalize gay marriage is in any way comparable to the fight for black rights."

Perhaps. Many in the white-dominated LGBT community are indeed bitter and angry about Obama's failure to be a fierce and courageous leader for LGBT rights and about the fact that many blacks do not support LGBT rights. I know that many LGBT people find this lack of support hypocritical. I know that some LGBT people say reprehensible things about the black community because of that. I know that the face of the mainstream LGBT movement is white, gay, and male as are many of the movement's voices that get the most recognition, attention, and airtime. I'm looking at you Dan Savage.

Despite all of this, is there not room for members of the LGBT community to be legitimately angered by how the prominent Jarrett's framing of homosexuxality as a "lifestyle choice" might fuel the anti-gay movement? By framing criticism of Jarrett as being about race and Obama, Hutchinson gives Jarrett a pass on uttering a phrase that contributes to the marginalization of the LGBT community and to the sentiment that the LGBT movement is not as authentic as the black civil rights movement.

Anti-gay bigot Ken Hutcherson (not to be confused with Hutchinson) sums this sentiment up pretty well:

"You tell me what I went through as an African-American, when they talk about discrimination, compared to what gays go through with discrimination - it's the difference between night and day, not even close. I even get upset when people say, 'Well, you got to understand what they go through.' Not when they've chosen to do what they do. They can stop choosing what to do what they do, and they can hide it anytime they want. They can hide their homosexuality. Could I take a 'don't ask don't tell' policy as an African-American? I could try even to pretend I was Puerto Rican, but I'm still going to get blasted for my skin color."

Instead of acknowledging the context of the "lifestyle choice" phrase, or conceding that black heterosexuals can be anti-gay bigots for reasons other than the white-dominated LGBT community's failure to make them less bigoted toward LGBT people, Hutchinson's HuffPo article summarily concludes that Jarrett owes the gay community no apology.

Well I have news for Hutchinson. Unless he's ready to take up a new "lifestyle choice" of his own, that isn't for him to say. When a person is hurt, a good first step for someone who isn't so afflicted is usually to try to understand why the person is hurt, not to start telling them how they're not really hurt. It's also not for Hutchinson to say that:

"Obama is by far the best friend that gays could have in the White House."

I was actually thinking that I'd prefer Rachel Maddow, but now that I think about it, a straight dude probably knows who's best for us gays.

Anyway, I voted for President Obama in part because he pandered to the LGBT community. Although I knew before he was elected that he claimed to not support marriage equality (before he did support it, that is), he did promise to work to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

After he was elected, Obama immediately took the wind out of many of our sails by choosing Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration in a symbolic gesture of goodwill to a faith community that does incredible harm to LGBT people. Although he later admirably signed a federal hate crimes expansion into law to include sexual orientation and gender identity, we are still waiting for him to fulfill his promises on the DADT, DOMA, and ENDA fronts.

Most recently, his Department of Justice has appealed a ruling that banned enforcement of DADT and two cases that ruled DOMA unconstitutional. Further, he has failed to use his presidential "bully pulpit" as he promised, to urge states to treat same-sex families equally, despite numerous chances to do so.

I would ask Hutchinson to forgive me for being let down, but let me guess. Obama owes me no apology for not supporting my full equality.

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