In the 12th century, King Henry II of England was locked in a political clash with Thomas Aÿ Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury. According to tradition, the frustrated king cried out, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Shortly after, without the king's knowledge, four of his knights murdered the archbishop.
The king was shocked, but really, he shouldn't have been. His knights had simply taken his words to their logical conclusion. Nearly a thousand years later, this hypocrisy has resurfaced in the religious right.
During the past several weeks there have been six suicides of gay teens in response to relentless bullying; the brutal torture of three gay men by a Bronx street gang; and the outing of 100 gay Ugandans by a local newspaper, complete with the exhortation, “Hang Them!” What has been the response of the Pat Robertsons of the country, normally so quick with an opinion on homosexuality no one asked for? Why, a combination of insincere “yes-but” condolences and callous self-absolution.
Consider an opinion piece from Anthony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which appeared in The Washington Post in October. Perkins, who once allegedly purchased a mailing list from Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, writes: “Some homosexuals may recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal — yet they have been told by the homosexual movement, and their allies in the media and the educational establishment, that they are ‘born gay' and can never change. This — and not society's disapproval — may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.” He also links to an American Psychologist magazine article to point out an apparent link between homosexuality and mental illness, ignoring that the same article finds a strong relationship between those mental health issues and bullying or discrimination.
In other words, Perkins is responding to these tragic deaths by claiming that gay teens commit suicide not because of bullying, but from a combination of people telling them that they are who they are and that they're just inherently crazy, and one of our nation's most respected newspapers gave him the space to do it.
He was nearly topped by American Family Association Director Bryan Fischer, who has called homosexuality “domestic terrorism” and bizarrely claimed that Adolf Hitler and the entire military wing of the Nazi Party all were gay. Fischer specifically addressed the death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who leaped from the George Washington Bridge after his sexual encounter with another man was streamed over the Internet by his roommate, writing: “Mr. Clementi … was not only embarrassed but apparently deeply ashamed and consequently took his own life. There's no evidence that I've seen that indicates that he was being bullied or harassed by others for his sexual preference. In some profound way, what he did was contrary to his own deep sense of what is right and what is wrong. He likely died full of guilt and shame, which is a terrible way to die.” Fischer apparently believes that the shame and guilt many outed gay teens experience occurs in a vacuum and has nothing to do with, say, his own demonizing statements: “There is an overwhelming correlation between homosexual preference and pedophilia. This is further evidence that homosexuality is in fact sexual deviancy.”
Neither Fischer nor Perkins, both enormously influential in their circles, can bring themselves to condemn the bullying that led to the end of a life, or even acknowledge that it took place. This is hardly an isolated phenomenon, given the recent right-wing freakout over a Montana anti-bullying school curriculum that was deemed too pro-gay, and its witch hunt against Kevin Jennings, Barack Obama's openly gay appointee to the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, spelled out explicitly last September with Fox News' Sean Hannity decrying, “I want him fired!”
And then there was the disturbing candor of Arkansas school board member Clint McCance, who wrote on his Facebook page, “The only way [I'm] wearin [purple] for them is if they all commit suicide” and “I enjoy the fact that [homosexuals] often give each other AIDS and die.”
Every time someone suggests that words have consequences, someone is going to cry censorship, so let's be clear: You have the legal right to hate gay people. Short of openly inciting violence, you have the right to verbally express that hatred. But you don't have the right, morally, to tell frightened, marginalized young people that they're disgusting and immoral and worthless and then wash your hands of it when they take those sentiments to such tragic, illogical conclusions. It seems somewhat contradictory for people who are supposed to be emulating Christ to insist instead on emulating Pilate.
Zack Budryk is an intern for Style Weekly.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.