By Crystal Proxmire
Author Signs And Speaks In Royal Oak June 25
ROYAL OAK – How do you explain to someone who thinks you’re the devil incarnate, that you’re really not? I mean, anything you say is likely to draw the retort, “That’s exactly what a Deceiver would say!”
That is the fundamental problem John Corvino faces as he travels the country teaching people about LGBT rights and debating right-wing speakers on the subject. His newest book What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? Looks at the arguments he faces over and over again on the road, and the best ways he’s found to overcome them.
The chapters touch on the main reasons why people are unaccepting of LGBT people. With titles like We Shouldn’t Even be Having this Discussion, God Said it – I Believe It – That Settles It, A Risky Lifestyle, It’s Not Natural, and Man on Man – Man on Dog, Corvino gives patient and poignant responses to the common misconceptions.
His response to the vocal opposition is simple, don’t focus on them. He writes about the experience of having a women compare him to Satan, and goes on to explain, “In such situations, I have to remind myself that the challenger is not my real audience (“audience” comes from the Latin word for “listeners,” and this woman wasn’t about listening). The real audience is everyone else in the room.”
There are a great many people in the “movable middle,” those who are willing to listen to reason and consider it. When that reason is mixed with charming stories and a personal touch, such as in What’s Wrong with Homosexuality?, it can make a difference in the change of public opinion.
Corvino does book signings, speaking engagements and debates to do his part in creating change. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, and this is my contribution to that work. Yes, we’ve seen tremendous progress in both legal recognition of same-sex relationships and social support for them, but we have a long way to go. Michigan, with its amendment prohibiting same sex marriage ‘or similar unions for any purpose,’ is a good example of that,” he said. “I like doing debates because, in addition to keeping me on my toes and sharpening my position, they give me access to an audience that wouldn’t normally come and listen to an openly gay man speak.”
The efforts of all to be more open have been working. From a personal standpoint, Corvino knows this. “I get email all the time from people who have attended the debates or watched clips on YouTube. Some of them are LGBT people who have heard the other side’s arguments many times and appreciate my taking the time to offer thoughtful, rational responses to them. And some of them are people from the other side who say, ‘You’ve given me something new to think about.’ It’s a long-term process, but if I can at least plant a seed, I have hope that things will get better.”
Corvino was born in Brooklyn, and grew up mostly on Long Island. He attended grad school at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy. Fifteen years ago he was offered a job at Wayne State and has been in Detroit ever since. He’s now the Chair of the Philosophy Department and loves working with young philosophers and teaching an ethics class. The public speaking bug bit him back when he was still in college.
“I started in the early 90s when I was a grad student in Texas, and I was asked to give a talk on moral arguments for our Lesbian and Gay Awareness week. This was before YouTube, of course, but someone videotaped the lecture, and that videotape, which I still have, started getting passed around – which led to people inviting me to other campuses. It then took off through word of mouth.”
He is known for sharing the stage with other folks like Maggie Gallagher and Glenn Stanton. Gallagher is the former President of National Organization for Marriage, a group that lobbies against same-sex relationship equality. Stanton is the Director for Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family.
Often Corvino gets flack for being so cordial or for engaging with people who are so vehemently opposed to equality. “There are people who call me a traitor simply because I’m nice to people like Maggie Gallagher and Glenn Stanton, who are actively fighting against our rights. I understand where the negative response comes from, and I don’t blame people for their anger at the religious right. Our community has been wronged in many ways. But I suppose you could say that I take a ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ attitude toward the religious right – I try to understand and respect them as people even as I sharply criticize their actions.”
There have been risky situations as well. “Once, when I was speaking in rural Michigan, I was having a back-and-forth with an audience member during Q&A. During the course of our discussion, it became clear that he was not only a homophobe, but also a white supremacist. That was a shock. It was the only time I ever asked security to escort me to my car after a talk,” he recalled.
What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? is Corvino’s most complete work, collecting the crux of his knowledge in one volume. After dozens of talks on the same subject, his mind is beginning to wander down a path that many people take as they mature – the contemplation of family-making.
“Right now I’m thinking a lot about what’s next for me in terms of my research. I’ve become interested in the ethics of having children – not just the usual questions about ‘special cases’ (reproductive technology, disability risks, same-sex parents and so on), but the plain old, old-fashioned case. The creation of new life is one of the most morally weighty things people can do, and yet most don’t think of it as a moral issue at all – it’s just ‘doin’ what comes naturally.’ That’s fascinating to me,” he said.
Corvino will be speaking and signing books at 7:00 p.m. June 25 at Main Place of Royal Oak, 500 South Main St. To learn more about Corvino and his work, visit his website at http://johncorvino.com/.