Author Andrew Sullivan of The Dish appeared on The Colbert Report yesterday evening, where he brought up an interesting point with respect to the growing phenomena of automatically labeling conservatives as “bigots.” In light of the recent resignation of Mozilla CEO, Brendan Eich, due to his participation in Proposition 8, Sullivan argues that someone being fired from a job for a belief or political view (at least in California) would be illegal. Back in 2008, Eich donated $1000.00 to support California’s Proposition 8 which of course was designed to ban gay marriage in the state. Earlier this week, Eich’s role in Prop 8 resurfaced, and following surmounting pressure from Mozilla employees, gay rights activists, and developers, he decided to resign. While he wasn’t fired, the growing adversity left him little choice but to leave his post. Some activists call it a victory, but Sullivan asserts that we stormed the castle with pitchforks and torches; I concur with Sullivan. This is not to say that I agree with Eich’s actions or credence, rather, that our casual application of the word bigot to anyone who opposes the LGBTQ community with their own beliefs, is itself an act of bigotry.
I typically avoid arguing from definition, but in the case of bigotry I have decided to break that rule. A few months ago I was having a conversation with my partner on the way to work and I remember telling him I was growing tired of the GLBTQ community casually tossing around the word bigot anytime we run into opposition. I argue that such a rebuttal lacks the level of maturity required for a healthy and productive conversation, and serves no purpose other than to drive a wider wedge between opposing sides. By using such a sweeping generalization of conservatives, we are guilty of the very thing we brand them with. If bigotry is an intolerance of creed, and homophobia is motivated by belief, then by definition assigning such a label is itself bigotry. Mind you I am not speaking from a pedestal, but rather from experience; I too am quick to rush to judgement when it comes to religious conservatives.
We continuously demand rational conversation with conservatives, and are often met with a paucity of reasoning. We accuse them of appealing to fear on which they base their homophobic arguments. However, we too often ignore reason, and are driven by emotion. Religious conservatives may be bigots, but our need to continually remind them of their intolerance does nothing to gain their favor. In fact I would argue that it does nothing to further our goal. Ironically in doing so, we don’t look so different to them as they do to us; not only are we are working against each other, we are also working against ourselves. I can hear the rebuttal now – “We’ve tried to reason with them, and it doesn’t work. They are set in their ways.” This may be true in many cases. At some point we have to realize that it’s best to simply walk away.
Years ago while working for a hotel, a co-worker commented that she was perfectly tolerant of my “life choice.” 45 minutes later we were still engaged in a conversation in which I did my best to rationally explain to her that it was not a choice at all. She happens to be African-American and I told her, “Could you choose your skin color?” She, like many rebuttals I have heard, replied “Being black and being gay are not the same thing – I can’t change my skin color.” “That,” I replied, “is exactly what it’s like for me.” Try as I might, I could not get her to see reason. At that point, I realized, it was best to simply let it go. I saw that there was no way for me to change her mind, and it’s not up to me to do that. It’s up to her. Now there are certainly more extreme cases than this personal anecdote, but the fundamental principle remains the same in that we expend much of our energy into explaining ourselves to other people when the truth is, we don’t have to.
We devote so much of our time and energy into facing off with people who we believe should accept us as we are. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. We simply cannot change other people’s minds or even get them to listen, by badgering them with irrational and fear-filled responses. There will be those who are obstinate who will not budge; it is at this point that we simply walk away. Does that mean we cease all efforts to achieve equality? Let them walk all over us? Hell no. I am suggesting that to proceed in a fashion that mirrors our opposition is not productive. There is a momentum that has accrued behind us now that shows no sign of dissipating, but that does mean that it cannot happen. We keep that momentum going, but in a healthy, mature, and rational manner. Labeling someone a bigot and then expecting their ear or their acceptance is both self-defeating and hypocritical. Will I ever make sweeping generalizations again? Absolutely – I am not a saint. While labeling those who oppose my being gay a bigot, is invigorating and empowering, it grants me only a temporary reprieve. Does labeling someone a bigot set us back? Perhaps. It certainly does not help us at all. At the very least, I know that when someone refers to me as a faggot, or any other term that carries negative implications about my character, I tend to stop listening.