Sunday, June 28, 2009

America and homosexuals

The Guardian (in the UK) published an editorial by a homosexual activist decrying the terrible situation for homosexuals in the US. Here's my response:

Is America heaven or hell for homosexuals? For this editorial writer the glass appears to be more than half empty. The commentors are all over the map.

Perhaps I can shed some light on this issue. I'm a native-born Californian who's lived in homosexuals' Mecca--the San Francisco Bay Area--for 40 years. I've also traveled widely, from Indonesia to the Netherlands and many parts of America.

To start working on an answer you have to realize the sheer scale of the nation we're talking about. The United States has 97% of the land mass of Continental Europe, and about the same population as Germany, the UK, France, Italy, Poland and Estonia combined.

The American South alone has a larger population than any but the biggest four EU countries.

This makes generalizations about America about as shaky as generalizations about the entire EU.

But you can be sure of some things.

1. It's possible to be murdered for being homosexual if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with the wrong people. This is especially true in areas with low education, low income, limited contact with people who are "different" in any way--especially in the deep South.

2. It's possible to live your entire live as a homosexual openly, without fear of discrimination or reprisal, in nearly every way, in nearly every college town and major metropolitan area in the country, outside the deep South (which I regard as a foreign country myself).

3. So a homosexual who's residentially mobile--and America certainly supports residential mobility--can live or move somewhere where it would be hard to find a more accepting environment on Earth. And these areas aren't tiny enclaves. Anywhere from Miami to Boston to Seattle to San Diego will work.

4. Acceptance of homosexuals has, overall, become the defacto norm in urban areas--less so in Black and Hispanic communities, which tend to be more culturally conservative. Hence the interesting phenomenon of American Anglican churches that reject having homosexual priests joining African Anglican organizations.

5. California--in many ways a leading indicator of social trends--has had several referenda on homosexual rights. The latest one, prohibiting homosexual marriage, passed by 53%. The preceding one, a decade or so earlier, passed by over 2/3 as I recall. This is in line with my own observations. It seems reasonable to conclude that another referendum in, say, five or ten years, will tip in favor of homosexuals. And even the current one explicitly upheld homosexual domestic partner rights, while denying them the marriage right per se.

6. Homosexual rights activists have in some ways been their own worst enemies. During the recent campaign in Calfornia there were widespread incidents of homosexual activists denying the right of free political expression to those who opposed homosexual marriage. Many thousands of lawn signs were stolen, cars with pro-Prop 8 bumper stickers vandalized, and Prop 8 proponents harassed and intimidated in significant numbers.

Today we're having a Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco. Most likely, as in past years, participants will succeed in replicating every conservative's worst nightmare of Sodom and Gomorroh, engaging in PDAs (Public Displays of Affection) that are considered unacceptable among heterosexuals in public by society at large, up to and including oral copulation. These parades provide fodder for conservative campaigns and figured prominently in Prop 8 marketing. I was listening to a liberal radio station talk show this morning that had a number of homosexuals calling in to state how much they thought these parades harmed their cause. They are truly the gifts that keep on giving for conservative anti-homosexual activists, along with the documented vandalism and harassment I cited.

So is the glass half full or half empty? Let me put it this way: if I were homosexual, living somewhere on the planet, I'd certainly consider moving to America. Probably not to a small town in Mississippi! But compared to most other nations (remember Ahmadinejad saying "We have no homosexuals" ?) this is a great place to be homosexual.

Homosexuals have yet to be formally accepted in the military. Some states deny them all domestic partner rights, while others confer all rights to them, while most are somewhere in between. If a homosexual couple moved into my neighborhood their homosexuality would be irrelevant to their neighbors--the concerns would be more like do their keep their lawn moved and not have parties that keep up neighbors who have to go to work the next day. In other words, exactly the same concerns people would have with heterosexual neighbors. And if they had children, their kids would be free to play with other families' children and vice versa. When they applied for a job the concerns would be can they do the job. Period. And I speak from personal experience.

I hope this gives folks in the UK a balanced perspective on this issue.


Anonymous said...

I read (and recommended) your comment at WaPo. As you began your list of people/groups who suffer "discrimination" in 2009 with "Dwarves, ugly people, short people..." I had to smile. Not because it's funny but because it's so obviously true and yet just as obviously accepted as a simple fact of life. People are different and all of us have our prejudices, biases, hang-ups, opinions, etc.

A quick perusal of your blog revealed yours in short order.

"...outside the deep South (which I regard as a foreign country myself)."

Even more telling is your belief:

“It's possible to be murdered for being homosexual if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with the wrong people. This is especially true in areas with low education, low income, limited contact with people who are "different" in any way--especially in the deep South.”

I’m fairly certain my hometown, a very small town in Texas would fit your vision of a foreign country. Many of the people definitely meet some of your criteria, “low education, low income.” But trust me, you don’t know us.

In one of your posts, I thought you placed too much importance on the ability to “debate.” It may just be semantics but I think to suggest we all must be great debaters is like saying we all must be great athletes or mathematicians. It’s a talent, a gift and not many people are really that good at it. On the other hand, we can all discuss things and learn.

If you’d like to actually get to know something about the hicks, rednecks, country folk (whatever you call us) that you find so alien, I’d be happy to offer facts, true stories about the people you have so completely and mistakenly stereotyped. I would be interested in knowing where, how you came to be so sure we are all …. what? … homophobic, racist, narrow-minded, stupid?

I could be wrong but I suspect I have had more substantive contact with people who are “different” than you ever have. If not me, then my daughter for sure.


Ehkzu said...

Actually I grew up in Redneck America. My dad was a 7th grade dropout from a little hamlet so far south in Georgia that they thought of Atlantans as Yankees, and we all lived in blue collar suburbs of Los Angeles where precious few of the kids were college-bound--and they treated me like an alien from Mars. Anyone "different" was persecuted, up to and including physical assault.

It's understandable to think that people who write the entries I wrute are scions of educated parents (it's true that my mom did go to college, but she dropped out after her first year) who went to school in college towns and had no contact with the lower classes outside of the housecleaners who come in once a week.

But as you can see, my contact lasted for 18 years and was pretty much in my face the whole of that time. BTW I think I was also the first kid at my all-white high school (except for two Asian students) to take a black girl to a dance there.

And I was raised by two alcoholics and a deadbeat.

All this made me pretty hostile to lower-class people, because they were pretty hostile to me. I've worked hard to overcome that feeling--I want to be fair--but old resentments do die hard.

As for debating skill--I'm a naturally skilled debater, and I concede that this skill isn't in everyone's DNA. My real issue is that whatever skill people are born with, our educational system does little to develop that, outside debate clubs.

Even there you're taught to debate to win, not to seek truth. I'd love to see debates where the "winner" wasn't the person deemed more skilled at defeating an opponent, but rather the person who advanced the discussion the most. Wouldn't that be different?

Public school should teach people how to discuss issues--to sort out their own fears and desires from considering the facts and logic without fear or favor--to see when the playing field has been tilted by using words that bias the discussion in favor of one side or another, or when fallacies like appear to authority or attempts to trigger atavistic fear and anger have been used.

That can be taught. Think of it as inoculating people against demagoguery and clever marketing.

We all agree that that would be a good idea, yes?

As for seeing the deep South as a foreign country...doesn't the deep South regard itself as a distinct country? I know we Californians do. I get the feeling they're the same.