The Very Real Consequences of Prejudice
We live in a society poisoned by an often-vicious denigration of lesbians and gay men.
Examples abound. When students at a Provo, Utah middle school articulated their hopes for the world, one 13-year-old boy helpfully suggested that "gay men be crucified on Main Street and lesbians be burned at the stake."
When Billy Johnston, a Boston police officer, went undercover posing as a gay man, he discovered that many Americans saw "no sin, no crime, no shame" in harming gays. The price of his lesson? Two lost teeth and permanent eye damage.
When forensic psychologist Karen Franklin questioned 500 community college students in the San Francisco area, she found that "assaults on gay men and lesbians were so socially acceptable that respondents often advocated or defended such behaviors out loud in the classrooms, while I was administering my survey."
Anti-gay prejudice is reinforced in innumerable ways in our society. Each time a legislature prescribes an inferior legal status for gay men and lesbians, anti-gay antipathy is affirmed. Whenever a religious leader condemns gay people as inherently sinful, intolerance of gay Americans is sanctified. Every time a school board refuses to include sexual orientation in an anti-harassment policy, gay students are labeled unworthy of protection.
Each of these actions communicates the message that gays and lesbians are intrinsically less valuable than other human beings, perhaps even less than fully human. This in turn perpetuates society's denigration of its lesbian and gay members. And that denigration can lead to violence.
In his award-winning film "Licensed to Kill," Arthur Dong interviewed seven men convicted of murdering gay males. As the title suggests, these killers believed that the community condoned--or at least understood--their horrors.
One, Jay Johnson, had killed two gay men and tried to kill another. "I would think to myself, he told the filmmaker chillingly, "'this is a constructive, moral thing to be doing.' I certainly didn't just come up with that idea. I watched The 700 Club sometimes with Pat Robertson -- they're constantly talking about gays."
In a much lesser crime, 19-year-old Brendan McGarity ripped down dozens of rainbow flags, signifying gay pride, flying in downtown Orlando. Family members say he had become angry about the flags after he heard Robertson warn that the city would be punished by God for allowing the banners to fly.
Robertson and others disclaim all responsibility for the repercussions of their anti-gay invective. Yet a reasonable person can easily foresee that exhortations condemning gays and lesbians could increase the risk of anti-gay violence by appearing to validate the contempt for gays and lesbians held by persons capable of acting violently. Those uttering such exhortations stand in the same moral posture as those who would incite a riot.
Conduct likely to lead to injurious results is moral, it seems to me, only if the benefits flowing from the conduct outweigh the harm to which the conduct contributes.
What good, then, accrues from a televangelist's diatribe against gay people? What advantage results from legislation excluding gay Americans from service in the military, or the institution of marriage, or the protection of anti-discrimination laws?
There is no societal benefit. The intended result is simply the exaltation of heterosexuality and the marking of homosexuality as inferior, if not wholly impermissible. Rather than nurtured, society is harmed by the fracturing of our body politic, the loosening of our community's bindings, the separation of gay from straight.
Consequently, the only moral course of action--for all of us--is to disavow conduct conveying the notion that gays and lesbians are less than equal to other Americans. That conduct bears only noxious fruit.
1. Hilary Groutage, "Provo teen's 'wish': Crucify gay men and burn lesbians," Salt Lake Tribune, October 16, 1998. Followup story: Hilary Groutage, "Mother questions school's actions," Salt Lake Tribune, October 20, 1998.
2. Bernice Paglia, "Ex-cop urges tolerance in Westfield talk; Stresses importance of fighting prejudice," Courier-News [Union County, NJ edition], April 28, 1999.
3. Carol Ness, "Survey: Alarming rate of anti-gay violence," San Francisco Examiner, August 16, 1998.
4. See the filmmaker's website Deep Focus Productions.
5. Sherri Owens, "Gay flags torn down; A teen who said he was heeding televangelist Pat Robertson's warning was arrested," Orlando Sentinel, June 12, 1998.