Homophobia: Alive and Well in 2011

Newt Gingrich's recent remarks show that hatred towards gays still remains strangely acceptable

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Left; Jeff Haynes / Reuters: Everett

When Newt Gingrich, the leader of the GOP presidential nomination race in some polls on some days, was recently asked if gay Americans should support his candidacy, he said they should vote for Obama. The hate transmitted there runs deep: he’s saying not only do I not want your support, but I don’t even want you to take your vote to my partymate Mitt Romney or another GOPer because even though beating Obama is the most important job, your support is so unwanted, so dangerous, so unctuous that I’d rather you vote for my enemy. I don’t want you in the GOP constituency. Take your immoral, besmirched body and go away.

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It’s baffling that this has not become a bigger deal. If Newt had let blacks or women or Jews know he’d rather they vote for Obama it would be a massive talker. But we in the media have not attacked him for this partly because hatred toward gays remains strangely acceptable in America in 2011. Sure in some ways gays have made progress like winning the right to marry in a handful of states and breaking down Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but in so many ways hatred toward gays is expressed casually and openly, as if it’s acceptable.

Many Americans hate or fear blacks or Jews but most know enough to keep their prejudice hidden as best they can. But homophobia and gay hatred walks in the sun without shame or embarrassment. It moves with pride in itself. Perhaps because gay haters use the Bible to prop themselves up or because they feel they can rest on the idea that homosexuality is a choice. Even if it were, how that makes it OK to hate gays or be violent toward them is beyond my sphere of comprehension. But much of how America treats gays is a relic of another era. Gay Americans are living through a period that’s sort of akin to America’s racial segregation era: public figures can demean them in public with no blowback and they are often forced in de jure or de facto ways to hide who they are from others in the workplace in order to hold on to their job or from passersby on the street in order to maintain their safety. (Yes, some are courageous enough to be publicly gay, but until all are able to be, we have not reached justice or equality.) And our country’s reluctance to allow marriage equality, which Newt called an aberration, is evidence of true segregation. We are sending a clear message that gays are second class citizens and gay relationships and gay love are of lesser value and not deserving of the right to marriage. That gays cannot create children from scratch is no reason to bar them from making their relationships official. I know many gay parents who are as good or better at parenting as straight couples. The romantic segregation must stop.

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Surely the argument that gays will challenge the sanctity of marriage is made into an hysterical joke by people like Newt who has been married three times, two of them ending because of adultery. But I think for many people there are all sorts of smokescreen arguments that mask the truth: to them homosexuality is icky. Well, to me, Newt’s politics are icky but I would never think of constraining his constitutional rights.

One day we will look back at this era and many will be embarrassed that when it came to homosexuality, they were like a new age Archie Bunker. And many in the media will have to look in the mirror and ask themselves why we didn’t critique Newt for attacking gays and didn’t stand up for the afflicted the way we would have if he’d spewed hate at any other group of Americans.