“Prejudice against Gays and Lesbians”
by Daniel O’Rourke
The Observer, Dunkirk, NY 09/25/08
by Daniel O’Rourke
The Observer, Dunkirk, NY 09/25/08
“Guns, Gays and God” are hot button issues again. They are the preferred distraction of the political right. For the common good you’d think today they’d be rallying instead for peace, energy diversity, health care and sanity in the stock market, but they prefer simplistic slogans about “values.”
I’ve written on homosexuality before and received anonymous hate mail because of it, but after hearing a talk by Judy Shepard, mother of a gay son murdered because of his sexual orientation, I am writing again. There are some things we need to hear over and over. This is one such topic.
Some readers will recall Judy Shepard’s son Matthew, a 21 year-old gay student who in 1998 was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming, tortured, pistol-whipped by gay bashers and left for dead in near freezing temperatures
Ten years after his death, Judy Miller admits that society has grown and that things are getting better. No longer would any politician refer publicly to homosexuals as “fruits and queers” as, God help us, the Mayor of Buffalo, NY did in 1983. The support given by Vice President Cheney and former Congressman Gephardt and their wives toward their lesbian daughters are positive examples of progress. The enthusiastic welcome Miller received on the university campus and the success of Matthew Shepard Foundation are also proof of the improved climate, but as Miller reminded us we have a long way to go.
Why are things improving? I think a quick answer is openness and longevity. The young are more comfortable speaking of sexual orientation and coming out – although still it is often painful. At the same time their parents and grandparents are living longer. They had always loved their children and grandchildren and when confronted with their gayness they are forced to reconsider their generation’s prejudices. Then they come to the inevitable conclusion that sexual orientation is not really that important and continue to love their gay children. The issue now is no longer abstract; it has a human face – a young man or woman whom they cherish.
But as Miller reminded us, on homosexuality our society is too often SIC (pronounced “sick”): silent, indifferent and complacent. The straight community needs to show concern and speak out against this mindless prejudice whenever it lifts its ugly head. We should speak up at the family supper table, when chatting with neighbors, and always voice disapproval of demeaning jokes and hateful words. “No words, no jokes, no laughter,” Miller told us.
In his little gem of a book, “The Four Agreements,” Don Miguel Ruiz tells us that the most important agreement with ourselves is “to be impeccable with your word.” A word can heal or hurt, reject or welcome, give life or bring death. The old childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is wrong. Words often hurt deeply -- and sometimes irreparably. Many a gay child has learned self-loathing because of an insensitive adult’s hurtful put-downs or mean-spirited remarks. We should always speak kindly and gently about all people.
There are two major political and legal issues concerning homosexuals. They are gay marriage and homosexuals in the military. Same-sex marriage is an attempt by many to provide official recognition and all its attendant legal rights to gay and lesbian couples. Many countries such as Belgium, Canada, Norway, South Africa and Spain already do this. Some in this country have suggested that the word “marriage” be confined to a religious context and prefer the term “civil unions” for the legal contract. Religious communities then according to their own beliefs, rules and degree of openness can, if they choose, perform same sex marriages as do Spiritus Christi in Rochester, New York and Unitarian Universalist Congregations.
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz argues that a clear distinction between a religious marriage and a civil union (even though a couple could certainly have both) would “strengthen the wall of separation between church and state by placing a sacred institution entirely in the hands of the church while placing a secular institution under state control.” Many disagree, however, claiming that equating marriage with a legal agreement would diminish heterosexual marriage. Politicians playing to the prejudice of voters like to say that same sex unions would threaten the sanctity of the traditional marriage of a man and woman. That hasn’t happened in Belgium or Norway, but if politicians are so anxious to preserve the sanctity of marriage why not sponsor legislation to allow divorce only after a waiting period and mandatory marital counseling? Don’t hold your breath. Such legislation would not fare well in focus groups.
Another practical issue is prejudice against gays in the military. President Clinton attempted to change it. He couldn’t. His “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was no change at all. Miller said it was a bad policy with disastrous consequences. It forced homosexuals and bisexuals in the military farther back in the closet. Unlike the United States most western militaries accept gays. Of the twenty-six countries with armed forces in NATO, more than twenty permit homosexuals to serve openly. Canada after an extensive study has dropped its military ban on gays. Israel allows gays and lesbians to serve openly. None of these armed forces have experienced the lack of cohesion and demoralization that our military brass claim would happen if we allowed gays to openly serve. Ironically, as recruitment for the military becomes more difficult, the army is accepting recruits with less education and more with criminal records -- but not gays and lesbians if they are out of the closet.
Judy Miler has made her son Matt's crucifixion redemptive. The entire world has repudiated the hate crime that murdered him. His mother has channeled her grief into an educational crusade to replace hate with understanding, compassion and justice. She has established the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Visit its Website at www.matthewshepard.org.
Daniel O'Rourke is a married Catholic priest. Retired from the administration at SUNY Fredonia, he lives in Cassadaga, NY. His column appears in the Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month. He has published "The Spirit at Your Back," a book of previous columns. You may purchased it or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
8002 Frisbee Road
Cassadaga, NY 14718