My Turn: Behind the wall of hate
Recently, some NBA player came out and announced he was gay. My response was, “So what? Good for you.” In other words, why is this still a big deal?
However, I then had a conversation with a young woman I will call Amy who told me a tale that answered that question for me. She was attending medical school and, as an adjunct to her training, had spent the previous summer in Uganda, working at a local clinic. Before heading out for her first day, however, she and her peers were given an unusual lecture by their supervisor which went as follows.
They were warned that if by chance they were gay, they would be wise to keep that fact to themselves. They should not tell each other, their co-workers at the clinic, even the supervisor herself. This admonition was for their own protection. The Ugandan government was considering passing laws stripping its gay citizens of basic civil rights and there was ominous talk about making their lifestyle a capital offense. In view of these developments, their lives could be in danger. Better to keep one’s identity a private matter. Not a soul could be told, not even a friend. Amy was rattled by this and although she stayed on throughout the summer, it was an understandably stressful experience.
Hearing this, I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in a country where the government could legally murder you for being who you are. It only took a few seconds for an answer to form. Being gay in Uganda was no different than being a Jew in Nazi Germany.
I was glad that I lived in western Massachusetts where such barbarous thinking was unknown. Or so I thought. I remembered an article in this paper regarding Scott Lively, a native of Shelburne Falls and now a minister in Springfield. Lively was being sued by a group called Sexual Minorities of Uganda for inciting anti-gay hate speech in their country. This is a new trend among conservative fundamentalists who are exporting homophobia to Africa, Eastern Europe and Central America as well as wanting to re-criminalize homosexuality here in the U.S. Lively had already achieved notoriety for assaulting a woman and as co-author of “The Pink Swastika,” which claims that gays both invented Nazism and were the masterminds of the Holocaust.
This kind of demented thinking is nothing new in the twisted world of anti-gay extremism. Recently, talk show incendiary Alex Jones warned that the federal government was putting chemicals in juice box drinks in order to turn American children into homosexuals. And, of course, there is the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, an organization that gives insanity a bad name.
Over the years, I noticed several things that gave me insight into why some people react so virulently to the gay community. It also explains the tragedy of men and women I know who had to keep their true identities hidden not only from others but often from themselves while they were growing up in an unkind world. Gay people are indeed born that way and you don’t need a Ph.D. in psychology to comprehend that those who vehemently hate gays are probably terrified of being likewise themselves. God only knows what kind of temptations Rev. Phelps of the Westboro Church underwent in his high school locker room. One also wonders what kind of unspeakable abuses occur behind the closed walls of his hate-drenched community.
Ironically, one of the toughest warrior societies in the world was also one that not only tolerated gay men but gave them special status as well. Among the Lakota Sioux, a fighting bunch that defeated the U.S. Army numerous times, there existed men called “Winkte” or those who chose to live like women. According to tradition, Winktes not only enjoyed the gift of prophecy but were sought after to give secret, powerful names to newborn children. The noted chiefs Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were recipients of such, which did nothing to lessen their martial abilities. Similar individuals were also found among the Cheyenne, another warrior culture. Perhaps in a world where men didn’t entertain doubts about their own masculinity, they could find room for those who chose a different path.
Despite the reaction from misguided souls who propose to hate their fellow men and women in the name of God, both gay people and the rights they desire are becoming more mainstream in our nation. This is not the over-hyped “Culture War” but merely facing reality. President Obama gets points for being the first American president to acknowledge both publicly. Although, he was originally against gay marriage, he changed his mind by listening to his wise daughters for whom friends or kids with parents who live such realities are a natural part of their landscape. Obama was willing to change. It appears that the nation as a whole is finally following suit.
Daniel A. Brown has lived in Franklin County since 1970 as an artist, writer, amateur historian, and photographer. He is a frequent contributor to The Recorder and welcomes feedback at email@example.com.