My existence is not a violation of your rights
November 3rd, 2010
I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the notion of “balance” that some in the anti-gay industry are espousing.
I support the right of those who believe that homosexual acts are sinful and wish to encourage abstinence to have their voices heard. And those who think that the social acceptance of same-sex couples in society reduces public morality and will lead to social ills should be given the space to present their case.
But the false equivalencies that have been presented lately do not speak to an exchange of ideas, but rather to the assumptions of entitlement to which anti-gay activists think they are due.
The counterbalance to “I wish to advocate for gay rights” is not “you must be kept silent.” And there is no moral equivalency between “I wish to live unharmed” and “I wish to beat you to submission.” Yet these are not greatly exaggerated from that which we see presented.
Take, for example, Russian gay rights protesters who sued their country in the European Court after being denied the right to assemble. The court found last month that their rights had been violated and ordered that Russia allow for future gay rights demonstrations and assigned compensation.
The response to this decision by the Russian Orthodox Church is astonishing. (Interfax Religion)
“The decision made in Strasbourg essentially constitutes violence against the feelings and morals of the majority of [Russian] society. That will hardly help achieve the stated purpose to cultivate tolerance and achieve accord, mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence,” Father Filaret said in an interview with Interfax-Religion.
Peaceful assembly is depicted by the church as “violence against the morals and feelings of society.” The real violence enacted against the physical bodies of gay people in Russia was given less concern by the church than the “violence” against anti-gays feelings.
Or take note of the equivalencies assigned by the school board in Howell, Michigan. (Livingston Daily)
- On October 20, Jay McDowell wore a purple shirt to class to express solidarity with students who are bullied for being (or being perceived as) gay or lesbian. This led to a discussion about bullying and why it should be opposed.
- One student, who had come to class with a Confederate Flag belt buckle was asked by McDowell to remove the item (she did).
- In response, a male student declared that he opposes rainbow flags because, “I don’t accept Gays. It is against my religion. I am Catholic.”
- McDowell attempted to explain how “I don’t accept” followed by any group was disruptive and when the student refused to back down, suspended him and another student from the class for the day.
As the Michigan Messenger describes it:
That student … and another student, were kicked out of McDowell’s Economic class after debating with the teacher about a third student’s Confederate flag belt buckle. The student questioned why it was OK for students to wear clothing to support LGBT issues, but not for a student to wear a Confederate flag.
In other words, why isn’t “I support” equivalent to “I don’t accept”? Shouldn’t both positions be given the same prominence and legal and moral weight?
No. Perhaps in some settings, but not this one.
Because the context of the debate was over the bullying of children. And in that context, “I don’t accept gays” is an implicit endorsement of bullying of school children. When speaking of bullying, “I don’t accept” is a justification for bullying.
Yet the school board found that McDowell violated the rights of these two boys to their free expression and reprimanded him. And in doing so, they made the following comparison:
You also state you routinely do not allow [the Confederate Flag] in your classroom because it offends you, and you personally connect this symbol to a list of oppressions and atrocities. You do, however, allow the display of the rainbow flag, to which some of your students have voiced opposition.
McDowell actually does not display the rainbow flag. (And, indeed, if McDowell did use his class space to advocate for specific (or even general) political positions to the exclusion of other positions, I would agree that this was unfair.) But irrespective of that inaccuracy, consider what it means that the school board administration compared the two:
On one hand the Confederate Flag has a traceable history and an identifiable connection with acts of violence and advocacy of discrimination and intolerance towards people based on their racial and religious identity. In fact, in this particular high school it was linked to a Facebook Hate Group which, in 2009, used the flag as its profile picture and students have been required to remove the symbol from their cars. The Confederate Flag at Howell High was directly connected to a threat against some students.
On the other hand, the rainbow flag is linked with a set of social positions with which some students disagree. At most, it exists as a challenge to the beliefs of some students. But in the minds of this school board administration, a challenge to their beliefs is equivalent to – or worse than – a physical threat against others.
And so they accused McDowell of bullying the students, of denying their right to “not accept” their fellow students. In response to his defense of gay students from being bullied (or “not accepted”), they order him to “cease from engaging in the promotion of your personal social issues.”
For refusing to accept statements of intolerance in his classroom, the board accused McDowell of being intolerant.
Nonsense. Contrary to what anti-gay activists claim, tolerance is not defined by the extent to which it allows intolerance to prevail.
But perhaps most troubling is this instruction to McDowell: “Where controversial issues arise, be sure all sides of the controversial issue be explored without emotion and bias.” Think back to the originating situation, the reason for McDowell’s decision to wear purple: the suicide deaths of a number of gay and presumed-gay children.
What, I wonder, are “all sides” of the “controversial issue” that gay students should not be bullied to death?