Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hating Hate

I am apparently out of the gay loop, because I was unaware of the rainbow flag controversy stirring up trouble in Meade, Kansas until I read this article in the Wichita Eagle. It seems some California transplants to Meade County flew a rainbow flag in front of the inn they've owned for the past two years. They claim it wasn't about gay pride, but rather about being in Kansas - a reminder of The Wizard of Oz and everybody's favorite (admittedly gay) anthem, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Townspeople boycotted their restaurant, bricks were thrown through windows, the flag was even cut down. I'm quite sure that there's a movement afoot in the great state of Kansas to ban all references to rainbows, and to stone anyone who breaks the ban.

I'm having trouble understanding why a symbol of gayness (or support for gay folks) inspires such vitriol, but I can understand Bob Mabery's response:

Meade, he said, was a "respectful little town, but this has practically destroyed it..." For a while he was so upset he quit going to the Chuck Wagon Restaurant for his coffee. "No one's going to go around that place," Mabery said of the Lakeway. But he doesn't hate gay people, he quickly added. "I guess I'm just one who thinks it belongs in the closet."

I don't necessarily agree with the attitude that homosexuality should be hidden, but I can relate to it. Sometimes when I see a straight couple making out in front of my house, or in the Castro, I feel the same way about heterosexuality - I'm fine with it, as long as it's not in my face. It is interesting to me, though, that it is not the folks who are responding with such hatred who get blamed for the disruption in an otherwise peaceful town - it is the flag flyers.

What Mr. Mabery (what a great name for a smalltown guy) seems not to realize, is that whether gays are closeted or not, we are vulnerable to those bricks through our windows, to loss of livelihood, and worse. Silence leads to a risk of being found out, and then the repercussions from that discovery. At what point do you speak up? The hatred that paints profanity on a brick and throws it through someone's window for merely flying a rainbow flag (perhaps one not even intentionally imbued with queer meaning) gets closeted, too - but it exists, under the surface, whether it's openly discussed or not.

If we remain silent, the bigotry is allowed to continue. A gay man is found out and loses his job, and the silence continues. A lesbian gives herself away somehow and has no recourse when she's kicked out of her apartment. The police beat patrons of a bar merely for being different. When the silence is broken, what you find is that the haters are in the minority (a rather vocal minority, mind you) and that most other people don't care that much because it doesn't impact them. What the majority does seem to dislike, though, is the upsetting of the norm: 'If only those gays would stay in the closet where they belong, we could go back to the nice way things were, without all those bricks and insults flying through the air.' It is the not the brick throwers who get blamed in this equation, but rather the people who are "causing" the throwing of the bricks - the ones who were subjected to bricks, proverbial and otherwise, while everyone else got to live their nice lives under the old paradigm of silence.

The majority, of course, is not comfortable with homosexuality, but they're not throwing bricks. The brick throwers are the ones that confound me. Where does all that hate come from? What fear is it that my form of differentness inspires that cause some to so hate me without even knowing me?

After the November 2004 elections, I drove home from work listening to reports that exit polls indicated Bush had won because of so-called "values." I wept at the thought that I was more scary to Americans than terrorism and an ongoing war without an exit strategy and an economy in the doldrums. Those exit polls have been debunked, but that disbelief and heartbreak I felt stays with me.

When I read stories like the one about Meade County in Kansas, I have to remind myself that this is a long process, and that part of progress is backlash. We are no longer silent, I am free to live my life openly (at least in San Francisco), and it is the haters who are getting outed. I wonder to myself if those throwing bricks are descendents of Irish immigrants, or Italian immigrants, and if they know that not that long ago, their families were the targets of hate, told to go back to where they came from. I wonder, too, whether someday, after the gays and lesbians have fully assimilated into greater society, we will turn our backs and wish the rising voice of a previously silent minority would just be quiet so we can go back to living in our "respectful little" towns. Will we get our piece of the pie and then do our best to ensure we don't have to share it with anyone else? The cycle repeats itself, and history shows that eventually we will prevail - and more than likely, we will desperately hang onto the status quo once it's inclusive of us.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am always confounded by the haters as well. I wonder why we can't seem to remember - or learn from - hating blacks 25 years ago, or Japanese Americans 50 years ago, or women 75 years ago, or Native Americans 150 years ago. And the hate does come from fear, but of what? Differentness? Loss of control? And, by the way, brinks don't kill people, people throwing bricks at other people kill people. Let's not criminalize bricks.

I think the real sign of human progress will be the spread of confidence, rather than democracy. When more and more people in more and more places are confident enough to not hate each other, to not take up arms against each other, to not go to war, to not let hunger and desease consume entire continents. I think that it's all tied together and the missing ingredient is confidence. Does that make the Swiss supremely confident?

2:21 PM  

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