Thoughts on how my words have consequences
August 16th, 2012
I cringed when I first heard about the shooting at the extremist anti-gay group Family Research Council. I’d like to say that it was out of concern for those who work there, and I was concerned, but truthfully I was more afraid of the political fallout of the situation and desperately hoped it wasn’t someone gay who was the culprit.
By the time we learned that Floyd Corkins was not only gay but also a volunteer at an LGBT center, I’d calmed down enough to realize that while this event was jarring, it didn’t exactly come as a surprise to me. Nor would I have been shocking if it had been, as it so often has, an attack on a LGBT person or organization by a deranged person on the far right.
A suicide bomb. A place of worship defaced. An innocent kid shot in a drive-by. A racist epithet hurled at a politician. A shooting at FRC.
These things get attention and news space. They get public outcry and denunciation. As they should. And I am proud that my community spoke with one voice in denouncing the violence yesterday. It was the only appropriate response.
But these are not events that occur in a vacuum. No one wakes up one day and decides – purely on whim – to shoot up a Sikh temple because it was the first building they happened upon. No one steps aboard an airport bus full of Israelis with a bomb because he thought it had the best air conditioning.
And it was not purely out of happenstance that Floyd Corkins walked into the lobby of the Family Research Council.
I don’t know Corkins’ intentions yesterday. Perhaps he left the house thinking that he would confront someone at FRC and tell them off or throw a chicken sandwich at them. Or perhaps he thought that he would go make a brave act of political assassination and be hailed as a hero who took out someone who doesn’t deserve to live. Perhaps we will eventually know, perhaps not.
But we do know that Corkins took a gun with him and we can surmise that his intentions were to do harm. And if not, I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t Corkins, it would have eventually been someone, some gay person who believed that violence against the Family Research Council was justified.
And that is what Corkins believed. Because that is the message that Corkins heard.
Oh, I doubt anyone ever said to him, “Tony Perkins should be shot!” But I’m certain that during his volunteer work at the center he heard plenty about how Perkins was a H8ter and a ReTHUGlican and a Christer. I’m sure that he learned that the Family Research Council consisted of people who hate him and who would see every gay person dead if they could get away with it.
Cartoon villains. Single faceted characters without any redeeming qualities. Evil personified.
The world would be better off without them.
How do I know Corkins heard that message? Because I’ve heard it; you have too. And sometimes I’ve used language about our political opponents that failed to recognize their humanity. I’ve allowed my contempt of someone’s beliefs and advocacy result in contempt of them as a person.
Of course I feel no hesitation about opposing bigotry and discrimination. I believe that it is not only justified but necessary to call the Family Research Council what it is: a hate group. Nor will I wrap Tony Perkin’s efforts to diminish our lives in the false piety of “love” and “religious opinion”. Lies are lies and Perkins is a liar.
I’m comfortable with that. I know that most people who read here would never ever see anything that might cause them to think that violence towards Perkins, or any of our adversaries, is in anyway encouraged or acceptable. Most people know that “it goes without saying” that such a response would condemned without exception.
But for some people, it doesn’t go without saying. For some people, it has to be said. Some people have to be told that we will not see them as heroes if they take – or even threaten – the life of someone else.
Do I say it enough?
In our culture, in which one half of the population seems to be engaged in war with the other half, a lot is said. A lot is insinuated. A lot is claimed. And a lot of it has basis in nothing more that the dehumanization of people with whom we disagree.
We see it so often that we don’t even hesitate. Today I read that only a “privileged white lady” would call and ask police to base their actions on her religion. And that because of Republican victories in 2010 that it wouldn’t be surprising if someone called for a constitutional amendment declaring women as property. And I shrugged. It’s just hyperbole.
Of course it comes from the other direction as well. And in our community we document and expose the crazy rantings of Bill Donahue and Bryan Fischer. As we should.
And we decry the failure of those who claim that they are only trying to protect the family and love the homosexual but look away when their allies call us child molesters who shake our fists in God’s face. And yes, it absolutely is odious that NOM’s Brian Brown would dare to self-righteously claim to have “condemned all violence and vilification” when he’s often their number one cheerleader.
But I think that – more often than I care for – I allow their attitude to dictate my own. Because NOM says heinous things, I can say them back. Because they are H8TERS, I’m justified in hating them.
But does it really matter “who started it”? Is my own sense of morality so unstable that the words or behavior of someone else should justify doing or saying something that I know to be wrong?
And every bit as important, can I let stand outrageous things that others say? I know that if I too aggressively chastise “my side” for extreme language then I become an aider and abettor, a kapo, a quisling, and lose any power to impact the conversation.
But do I go far enough? Or do I look away while those who disagree with me are depicted as fascists, racists, and misogynists?
And I know that writing this commentary runs risks. Some readers will see this only in terms of whether I’m blaming our community for Corkins’ actions. I’m not. Some who advocate for anti-gay political positions and are cynically capitalizing on this tragedy might claim that I’m validating their outrageous assertions. Of course I’m not.
But does that mean it shouldn’t be said? Should I wait for someone else who can better articulate or who will be better received?
And I also know that I can too quickly make this about “them”, the ones on the right or left, gay or anti-gay who “go too far” and leave the wrong impression. I can get lectury and lay out a sermon about what “we” could have done when I really mean what “you” could have done. Because it’s a lot easier to see others’ errors than one’s own.
Do I really own this problem to the extent that I think I do? Or am I being all self-congratulatory and better?
I don’t have answers. I’m not even sure I have the right questions. But I do know that I will try and pay more attention. I’ll try to to be aware that that which “goes without saying” doesn’t. And I’ll try to remember that my words – not just those of Tony Perkins and Linda Harvey and Brian Brown – have consequences.