By Abby Dees
I’ve always had a sort-of wincing reaction to the word “hate” in LGBT rights messaging. Like those bumper stickers that say, “Hate is not a family value.” Or the newest iteration, “No H8,” admittedly a clever spin on the ridiculous Prop 8. It’s not that I don’t think people hate us – I know all too well that lots do. The problem is that I’ve heard the word “hate” used to describe everything from gathering signatures against gay marriage to committing torture and rape. Surely there’s some nuance missing here.
I understand the argument that all homophobia, from the most violent to the mildly annoying, is rooted in fear and ignorance. I get that, but I’m not so convinced that every act of homophobia must come from a hateful place. Quite simply, hate isn’t the only manifestation of fear and ignorance. If you ask a reformed homophobe what was going on before they saw the light, you’ll hear things like, “I didn’t understand,” or, “I thought the Bible said so,” or, “I was afraid.” But you’ll rarely hear, “I just hated those gays – couldn’t stand ’em.” I’ll even go out on a limb and say that those good people, those reformed allies-come-lately, were also good people back when they thought there was a gay agenda. They were ignorant, perhaps afraid, but probably not hateful. (Come to think of it, I was a pretty idiotic homophobe before I came out.)
I think it’s hard to hold these competing ideas in our consciousness without feeling a bit queasy. How can we wrap our head around the idea that we are in a life-and-death battle for human rights, and yet our opponents might actually be fair-minded, decent folk? It’s much easier to draw a clear line in the sand and then declare everyone over there a hate-filled bigot.
This is human nature, of course, but it’s also bad P.R. For one reason, telling people who are uninformed or locked into intolerant thinking that they are in fact hateful isn’t going to bring about introspection. They will, at the very least, simply disagree; perhaps rightly. For another, it makes us look as reactive and unsubtle as the people campaigning against us.
I’m reminded of all the times I’ve heard people compare our presidents to Hitler. (I’ve seen countless images of both Bush II and Obama with a caterpillar moustache scribbled on.) Sure, always call out injustice, but be accurate about it. We are not in fact living under a fascist genocidal regime, and to claim otherwise is to minimize the experience of those who are (Kim Jong Il, anybody?).
Similarly, let’s be clear about what’s really happening in our community that is incontrovertibly driven by hatred: gay bashing, for example; Fred Phelps and his many clones; bullying; hatred formed of fear, ignorance and the unique insecurity of adolescence; and hate speech, purpose-built to cause us real harm. There’s plenty more.
And let’s be clear about what is not driven by hatred, but by all the other human frailties that allow injustice to persist. I’m not suggesting that one kind of intolerance is less destructive than another. As Dr. King said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance.” However, once we’ve stamped the word “hate” on every offense against us, then we’ve reinforced the whole us-versus-them ideology that’s been used against us for eons. If we are trying to change minds, we can’t be so sloppy about our message even if it feels satisfying at the time. We’ve only put another barrier between us and the people who might one day be allies.