The Ethical Spectacle March 1995 (

Stop Bashing Gay People

When I was in the fourth grade, I became friendly with two other boys who, like me, enjoyed reading but not sports. One was an accomplished musician, one enjoyed tinkering with electronics and I wanted to be a writer or natural scientist or both.

We stayed close friends and when adolescence came, I became interested in girls, while the other two became interested in each other. I drifted out of touch with one of them--last I heard, he was at an Ivy school, and involved with gay rights organizations--but remained friends with the other through high school, as he explored his identity with a series of boyfriends and girlfriends.

Later on, in the early eighties, my first law clients, a married couple in the video business, introduced me to a social circle where about half the people we socialized with were gay. They worked in banking, advertising and public relations. Later, I had gay clients and employees.

Whatever you do in life, and whatever your personal beliefs are, there are gay people around you. If you don't think there are, you probably live or work in a forbidding environment where they don't want anyone to know they are; or you yourself radiate bias and deflect people from revealing who they are. In any event, the world is full of gay people, in every industry, in every city, living lives not very different from anyone else's and doing the same work.

Sexual preference is about as relevant to the issues and demands of everyday life as owning border collies. What I mean by this is that if someone otherwise has what it takes to be your friend, your lawyer, or your employee, realizing that he or she is gay should have no more impact on your choices than learning that the person raises collies, likes to sail, or collects trains.

The two friends I mentioned, and other people I have known or talked to, discovered at adolescence that they were gay, rather than choosing to be. But what difference would it make if they chose to be? Choices can only be faulted if they result in bad behavior--and homosexuality doesn't hurt anyone any more than heterosexuality does.

With the conservative victory in November, gay bashing is beginning to return to American life, overtly, and at the highest levels. There is a move on in Congress to prevent gay federal employees from using the cafeteria to hold a meeting, or electronic mail or the bulletin board to announce one, although every other kind of group can. Congressman Dick Armey, the number two man in the House, called his colleague Barney Frank "Barney Fag" in a press conference. Frank is one of several openly gay members of Congress. (Armey later apologized and claimed a slip of the tongue.) The new Attorney General of New York State rescinded some regulations protecting gay people in his office from discrimination, though other groups continue to receive such protection.

Why is this happening? There is a pat psychological answer--gays are threatening to us because of homosexual tendencies built into the human psyche, which frighten us and which we must put away from us. There is realpolitik--at any time, in any culture, in any political climate, it seems to be convenient to have a group of people who can be demonized and excluded; it is a way of organizing support and creating solidarity by cutting someone else out of the pack. This is one of the most negative sides of human behavior, and exists across a spectrum from Armey's "Barney Fag" remark to Auschwitz (Nazi Germany deported homosexuals to the camps, where they were forced to wear pink triangles on their uniforms, the same pink triangle that has been adopted as a badge of pride and defiance by some gay rights movements today.) And there is bible-thumping--blind old arrogant moralizing, where the choices we make today must hew the line exactly to what was written thousands of years ago, with no self-examination or opportunity for change. (They also stoned adulterers in Old Testament times.)

In politics, as in sports, there is a home court advantage; as in war, he who chooses the battlefield is likely to win the battle. Part of the insidiousness of the self-righteous moral discourse dominating our air-waves today is that it is designed to set up, and knock down, a series of straw-men. Discussion of gays and preferential treatment is a false issue. Gay people in general want to be treated like anyone else; allowed to live their public lives and left alone to live their private lives. They want to be able to hold jobs in government or in the New York AG's office without being vilified or fired because they are gay. They want to be able to meet in the cafeteria, the same way the Young Republicans can. They don't want to be addressed as Barney Fag, any more than I want to be called Jonathan Kike by someone who doesn't agree with me.

Wanting to live like anyone else, and be left alone to live your private life as you choose, seems like a very simple, unassuming and fair request. Lets state the obvious here and analyze the reasons why legislative and executive branch gay bashers don't agree:

  1. Homosexual sex is evil. This won't float any more. We can't just label anything as "good" or "evil"; we must know why. In general, acts are evil if they injure others or the actor himself, or work some other result that is against the common good. Homosexual sex, considered by itself, doesn't hurt anyone. To tar it as evil we must attach some other stigma to it, that it is promiscuous, or performed without the other's consent (rape), or performed upon impressionable minors incapable of making their own choices. But heterosexuals also perform all these wrong acts (personally, I have known a higher percentage of promiscuous heterosexuals; the gay people I have known since adolescence tended to be very conservative in their behavior.) So to demonize gay people, we must say that such bad acts are inextricable from their character as homosexuals-- which is a lie on the same level as saying that to be Jewish is to be a clever, malicious manipulator or to be black is to be a criminal.

  2. Homosexuals can't integrate with us socially because they will make passes at us and do other undesirable things. This is related very closely to the concept that "if you socialize with Jews/blacks they will marry your sister" (one thing you don't have to worry about with gay men.) I remember deflecting one gay pass when I was a teenager; none of the gay people I have known since then has ever raised the issue. Gay people probably most often select other people who they believe are available to them, other gay people; by contrast, women in the work world are still constantly subjected to undesired advances and sexual abuse from--yes--heterosexual males.

  3. Homosexuals transmit AIDS. Although AIDS was originally identified in gay males-- due admittedly to the promiscuity of a segment of that community--it is an equal opportunity killer today. In Africa, the majority of AIDS cases have always involved heterosexual transmission; AIDS has become the primary cause of death of young women today in the United States. And AIDS is not transmitted, anyway, by sharing the workspace or the cafeteria. This is a real, visceral, low level mute hatred issue, like Hitler identifying Jews with syphilis.

At a time when bashing black people, Jewish people or other minorities is no longer acceptable in American public discourse (whatever hatred lurks at the dinner table), reintroducing gay hatred into public life is a major step back. There is no practical or ethical difference between gay people and any other group of people who are "different" because of their skin, ethnic origins or beliefs. Let's slap down this resurgent prejudice before it begins and let gay people get on with their lives like anyone else.

As a last word, here is Bob Bauman, a gay Republican and former member of Congress, writing in the New York Times op ed page for February 4:

I wish I could convey to my fellow Republicans the depth of despair and suffering that society inflicts on gays in a thousand subtle and, as Mr. Armey has demonstrated, not so subtle ways... Too many Republicans are now embracing the tactics that Democrats used throughout their long domination of Congress: trying to impose their personal values through government action. If the G.O.P. is to achieve a lasting allegiance among a majority of Americans, it must stop trying to piece together angry, frustrated constituencies with appeals to prejudice.