I like to save “lighter” work tasks for Friday afternoons. By that time in the week, my mind is usually toast, and I have only so much cognitive power to invest in a project. And, thus, today, I decided to spend some of my Friday afternoon watching a mandatory diversity training video concerning gay people. As a gay person, I felt pretty confident I wouldn’t need to pay too close attention.
The video turned out fine. I learned what “in the closet” and “coming out” mean, and I aced the in-video quizzes that tested whether I was paying attention. And I was paying attention; I know that because a statement at the beginning of the video crawled inside my head and bounced around the rest of the afternoon.
The video began with a strong statement from the agency head about her commitment to diversity inside the agency, as well as a commitment to serving the entire public, including those in the LGBT community. Nice. Great. After waxing eloquently about the benefits of diversity and her rock-solid commitment to inclusion, she dropped the Golden Caveat that I’ve come to know and not love. She softened her tone and explained that she understood that many people have “strong feelings” about the subject, and she proceeded to reassure the audience that the goal of the video was not to “change anyone’s mind.” She then added that diversity includes diversity of opinion. It’s the sort of rhetorical move that, at first blush, sounds nice and fair and reasonable, but, upon further reflection, undercuts any proclaimed commitment to equality.
The truth is, if you do not believe gay and lesbian people are entitled to full and equal legal treatment under the law, you are wrong. Full stop. You are a bigot. And your “opinion,” “view,” or “belief” should not be respected in any way. In fact, you should be ridiculed relentlessly, not placated.
Imagine a diversity training video concerning race where the speaker announced that she understood that some people genuinely believed that African-Americans were sub-humans and that the training video was not intended to change their minds because, after all, diversity includes diversity of opinion. For certain, there are racists out there, but the vast majority of people rightfully reject any notion that such an idea must be tolerated or respected. And when affirming our commitment to racial equality, we rightfully see no need to inform the backward racists in the audience that it’s okay for them to hang on to their vile prejudice.
I spent the first twenty years of my adult life listening to politicians, ministers, talking heads, and everyone else (for that matter) discussing whether I had the right to marry the person I love, adopt a child, serve in the military, or even just hold a job because of who I am. It’s difficult to articulate how dehumanizing it is for your ability to make the most intimate, fundamental decisions one can make (or even just the desire to hold a job and be honest about who you are) to be treated as a joke, a political football, an oddity, a threat to children, and/or a destroyer of civilization as we know it. If you’re lucky, you can intellectualize the debate, maintain faith that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, and find strength in those that support you, but it cannot completely take away the sense that you are different and second class. Luckily, we’ve made huge strides on many fronts for the LGBT community, and, for those, I am sincerely thankful. Still, though, as I sit listening to a video, discussing how deserving of equality I am, placate those that would see me as fundamentally flawed, second class, and/or sub-human, it is a reminder that we have a long way to go.
Maybe it’s a matter of time. Just as kowtowing to racists no longer occurs, maybe in a few decades homophobes will join their ranks as undeserving of recognition. I must begrudgingly accept that reality. But, maybe too we can all speed that process along by agreeing that, when you hear stupidity, feeling a little more freedom to call people on it. It’s fine to respect someone’s religious beliefs, but it’s equally fine to say that their belief is cruel, unkind, divisive, scientifically unsound, morally indefensible, and just plain stupid. For example, “Oh Mildred, I don’t hate you, I just hate your intolerant bigotry that is completely untethered to reality in any discernible way, shape, or form and threatens the bedrock value of equality our country was founded upon.” As you walk away, you can just mutter “you bitter old bag” under your breath.