Saturday, December 16, 2006

Preach it, Leonard!

Why defense of gays matters

This is for a reader who demands to know why I write about gay issues. His conclusion is that I must secretly be gay myself.

Actually, he doesn't express himself quite that civilly. To the contrary, his e-mails -- which, until recently, were arriving at the rate of about one a week -- evince a juvenility that would embarrass a reasonably intelligent fifth-grader. The most recent one, for example, carried a salutation reading, "Hi Mrs. Pitts."

We're talking about the kind of thing for which delete buttons were invented. So you may wonder why I bring it to your attention, especially since acknowledging a person like this only encourages him. It's simple, actually: He raises an interesting question that deserves an answer.

If from that you conclude (or fear) you're about to read a stirring defense of my manly male masculinity, no. The guy is free to believe what he wishes; I really don't care. And here, let me digress to confess that, though I refer to him using masculine pronouns, I actually don't know if he's a he because his notes have been anonymous. Still, I assume it's a guy because the level of sexual insecurity the e-mails suggest strikes me as -- boy, am I going to get in trouble for this -- rather guy-specific.

Anyway, to get back to the point, I'm not here to argue sexuality. I just find myself intrigued by the idea that if you're not gay, you shouldn't care about gay rights.

The most concise answer I can give is cribbed from what a white kid said 40 or so years ago, as white college students were risking their lives to travel South and register black people to vote. Somebody asked why. He said he acted from an understanding that his freedom was bound up with the freedom of every other man.

I know it sounds cornier than Kellogg's, but that's pretty much how I feel.

I know also that some folks are touchy about anything seeming to equate the black civil rights movement with the gay one. And no, gay people were not kidnapped from Gay Land and sold into slavery, nor lynched by the thousands. On the other hand, they do know something about housing discrimination, they do know job discrimination, they do know murder for the sin of existence, they do know the denial of civil rights and they do know what it is like to be used as scapegoat and bogeyman by demagogues and political opportunists.

They know enough of what I know that I can't ignore it. See, I have yet to learn how to segregate my moral concerns. It seems to me if I abhor intolerance, discrimination and hatred when they affect people who look like me, I must also abhor them when they affect people who do not. For that matter, I must abhor them even when they benefit me. Otherwise, what I claim as moral authority is really just self-interest in disguise.

Among the things we seem to have lost in the years since that white kid made his stand is the ability, the imagination, the willingness to put ourselves into the skin of those who are not like us. I find it telling that Vice President Dick Cheney hews to the hard conservative line on virtually every social issue, except gay marriage. It is, of course, no coincidence that Cheney has a daughter who is a lesbian. Which tells me his position is based not on principle but, rather, on loving his daughter.

It is a fine thing to love your daughter. I would argue, however, that it is also a fine thing and in some ways, a finer thing, to love your neighbor's daughter, no matter her sexual orientation, religion, race, creed or economic status -- and to want her freedom as eagerly as you want your own.

I believe in moral coherence. And Rule No. 1 is, you cannot assert your own humanity, then turn right around and deny someone else's.

If that makes me gay, fine.

As my anonymous correspondent ably demonstrates, there are worse things to be.

LEONARD PITTS JR. is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Write to him here


W said...

Desmond Tutu explaining the concept of ubuntu:
"[it] speaks of the very essence of being human … you are generous, you are hospitable, you are friendly and caring and compassionate. You share what you have. It is to say ‘My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours.’ We belong in a bundle of life. We say: ‘A person is a person through other persons’. It is not ‘I think therefore I am’. It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.’"

In an individualistic culture like ours, that concept is a little hard to wrap one's head around. But it seems that Mr Pitts somehow gets it.

Suzer said...

I was involved (only in a small way) in a conversation on a board I read and post to with a conservative Christian whose argument (a familiar one to me) is basically: "if you give gay people equal rights, you are infringing on my rights to hold my Christian beliefs." It reminds me of the arguments made by white racists during the civil rights movement, as if granting equality to all would somehow take their rights (their white privilege, really) away.

Despite all logical arguments, our conservative friend held to his belief that something was being taken away from him if gays achieve equality, that he won't be allowed to hold his "Christian" beliefs anymore if gays are accepted in our society. He seemed to feel he would lose the right to denounce homosexuality (shout it from every street corner if he wanted to) and therefore would lose his religious beliefs if gays could not be discriminated against.

How does one argue with such nonsense? I can feel for him in that he has been taught fear and ignorance, but it seems no amount of discussion will convince some people. They hold tightly to their prejudices as a safety blanket. It astounds and saddens me.

This was a wonderful letter by Mr. Pitts. Thank you for sharing it.

Jared Cramer said...

that is an excellent essay, thanks for sharing it. it helps to have someone else articulate why, as a straight man, i believe strongly in gay rights.