Friday, December 17, 2010

Strong Words

One of the tragic realities of modern American politics is that name-calling has largely replaced dialogue. When something does get accomplished in the current political climate it's more because one side had enough power to ram it through than because any worthwhile debate took place.

Name-calling may sometimes seem like the only way to be heard above the din, but it's also the quickest way to make your opponents tune you out entirely. At the same time, avoiding strong terms altogether isn't always feasible - take, for instance, the Southern Poverty Law Center's addition of five new religious right groups (some of them very prominent) to its list of anti-gay hate groups.

"Hate" is a strong term that shouldn't be hurled lightly, and predictably, the groups that have earned that label are playing the persecution card to rile up their supporters. Any objective observer can easily see, however, that the SPLC's criteria for designating an organization as a hate group are quite reasonable and even fairly conservative. Only a handful of anti-gay groups have earned this designation; merely being opposed to gay rights is not enough, regardless of the motivation (and regardless of what the Family Research Council disingenuously claims).

Indeed, a group must actively and repeatedly spread lies about LGBT individuals (or another minority group) to be labeled a hate group - and the organizations on the SPLC's list do so on an almost daily basis. In this case withholding the term "hate" for the sake of civility would be a disservice, given the bile that Tony Perkins, Bryan Fischer and their fellow-travelers spit at the gay community nearly every time they open their mouths. We still need to take care to avoid overusing the word, but when dealing with those who very clearly do hate us, there's no substitute for telling it like it is.

An even stronger word that I've recently heard used in association with anti-gay activism is genocide. If a word like 'hate' needs to be used selectively, a word like 'genocide' can quickly become an even larger liability. It isn't without merit, when one considers that most conservative Christians would view the eradication of homosexuality as a good thing, but the second activists begin shouting "genocide" at rallies, we begin pushing away many of our more moderate opponents who might have been movable.

It also needs to be noted that the majority of those on the religious right envision a world free of homosexuality in terms of converting gay individuals back to their allegedly natural heterosexual state, rather than killing them. However blind their faith in the possibility of such conversion, and however superficial an understanding of sexuality that one must hold to believe that homosexuals are merely damaged heterosexuals, only the most extreme would actually endorse carrying out the mass executions that would be required to truly eradicate homosexuality (at least in the current generation).

That said, as we are able to educate such individuals about the immutability of sexual orientation (at least for the vast majority), there can be great value in helping them to recognize the parallels that exist between the religious right's treatment of LGBT individuals and historical acts of genocide. It's best done calmly and dispassionately, and without resorting to hyperbole, lest we validate the notion that we're the real haters.

The facts are on our side - the more we stick to them and reserve the use of strong labels for those that have truly earned them, the better equipped we are to help our opponents come to understand that we are not the enemies they've been conditioned to view us as.

No comments: