25 June 2016

Overcoming homophobia

The mass shooting at Orlando two weekends ago hit me pretty hard. For a few days I was frequently on the verge of tears. I don't know any of the victims personally. Moreover, I don't have any friends who know any of the victims, so the sadness was not because of a specific personal connection. Rather it existed largely because a community important to me had been horribly attacked. Other gay people I know were mourning in the days following the attack. It was a tragedy for all of America, but it was also a tragedy specific to the gay community.

For a few days I did a fair amount of reading on-line and listening. Perhaps I engaged too much with the dialogue surrounding the tragedy, because in addition to news about the lives of the victims and expressions of support and sympathy for the LGBT community, there were also vile things said about gay people. For example, a pastor who doesn't live more than a few dozen miles from where I live, wished that evenmore gay people had been killed in the tragedy, citing God’s will for retribution for gays.

Picketing of funerals by extremists, hate speech, internal hatred - these are reminders that homophobia is frequently not very far away. It may be a minority of extremists that publicly vocalize or act on their deep intolerance, but how many in silent America sympathize with their views at least to some extent? How many have decided that the stereotypes they learned long ago about LGBT people are true and won’t bother to challenge those assumptions? How many put more faith in a modern interpretation of a few lines of text in an ancient holy book than in science, sociology, and common sense?

Marriage equality didn't erase the deep antipathy some people hold for sexual minorities. However, we live in an unmistakably different world than I grew up in a few decades ago. Many LGBT people are no longer in the shadows. Coming out, though always difficult, is generally met with more supportive friends and families. Straight allies are willing to publicly show their support for LGBT equality and mourn when gay people suffer injustice. Despite the tragedy at Orlando, and some of the hate speech that ensued, there were some beautiful expressions of love and solidarity too:

Like a powerful speech given by a conservative Utah politician.

Like prayers and acts of solidarity offered by American Muslims and Orthodox Jews.

Like the giant angelic wings built to shield mourners from anti-gay protesters at Orlando funerals.

And like this moving musical tribute to the Pulse victims by two gay singer songwriters.

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