In response to my Chick-Fil-A essay, I got a lot of letters kind of like this one.
“Thought I’d humbly give you some of my conservative Christian perspectives. My support of Chickfila [sic]…would have been based on the idea of supporting a…company with a founder who speaks for what seems to be the minority these days.
“In other words, I specifically feel BASHED by the general media and liberal establishment and gay activists for simply being a Bible-believing Christian. From TV shows, movies, mainstream news and music, so much is Intolerance of my conservative beliefs. I am labeled a HOMOPHOBIC and a HATER. Jumping to extreme language and extreme conclusions…serves only to stir up more irrationality around our disagreements.
“I neither fear nor hate homosexuals. I am trying to understand what it is to see life from your perspective. America is (was) a great place for liberty to speak our beliefs. It’s the dialogue that balances us and keeps one group from becoming a tyrant.
“I do not support the gay activist agenda which seeks to silence people like me.” – [Name Withheld]
The answer you must normally get from LGBT supporters like me—and it’s an answer that I normally give—is that trying to get our equality is not the same as trying to silence you. Tolerance is a two-way street and it doesn’t work if you’re passing laws that block one whole lane.
I said in my initial post that I don’t mind Cathy saying what he has to say. What I mind is him giving to harmful groups that contribute to inequality and to an atmosphere of violence against gays. This article should make that connection clear.
But I have a feeling that this answer won’t satisfy you. I must honor that you legitimately do feel like a silenced minority, and that you do feel persecuted by the mainstream of society. Your views have been called homophobic and hateful, and I believe you feel truly wounded by this.
You are not alone. Your letter expresses a sentiment I’ve read from many respondents over the past few days, and one shared by such notables as Bristol Palin, who said yesterday, while discussing whether she’d mind a gay dance partner on Dancing with the Stars:
“I like gays. I’m not a homophobic and I’m so sick of people saying that. Just because I’m for traditional marriage doesn’t really mean I’m scared or anything of anyone else, and I don’t hate anybody.”
Later, in a blog post, she continued:
“If I can’t dance with Mark [Ballas], I’d love to dance with a gay partner, a straight partner, or anything in between.
“But the media can’t seem to figure this out. In their simplistic minds, the fact that I’m a Christian, that I believe in God’s plan for marriage, means that I must hate gays and must hate to even be in their presence.”
Bristol Palin’s words seem to echo the sentiment you express. I’m going to address those feelings today, but it’s not going to be easy.
This is an emotional topic that’s difficult for anyone to face, and the loaded vocabulary that surrounds this issue makes things even worse. I have to admit I’m afraid of alienating you by even talking about it.
But I don’t think we can talk about what you’ve said here without recognizing something that’s fundamental to the issue yet so hard to see or explain. I’m a storyteller, so the easiest way for me to approach this is with a story. It’s the only way I know to address some of these things without resorting to words that hurt or offend, or shut down discussion.
The Lion and the Mouse II: This Time, It’s Personal
Remember Aesop’s fable of the Lion and the mouse?
The Lion caught the Mouse, but the Mouse pleaded for his life, so the Lion let him go. Later, the grateful Mouse saved the Lion’s life by gnawing through a hunter’s net.
But the story didn’t end there.
After the incident that they jokingly called “Net Equality”, the Lion and the Mouse became fast friends.
The Lion enjoyed the Mouse’s antics, sense of humor, and crazy stories about his exciting life in the Jungle’s underbrush—a world the Lion could never really explore.
The Mouse enjoyed the Lion’s regal nature and comparatively calm existence, and it was fun telling his fellow mice that he was friends with the King of the Jungle.
Every eleven years, the time came around for the Kingdom’s Ball. And, as King, it was the Lion’s job to host it.
He invited everyone, even the animals that always ruined the party (the Rhinoceros always trampled up the floors, the Salmon drank like a fish, and the Kangaroo always slipped some of the good silver into her pouch)–everyone, that is, except the Mouse.
The Mouse was understandably confused. “Why am I not invited?” he asked the Lion.
“Mice are never invited to these things. It’s a rule,” explained the Lion.
“But you’re King of the Jungle. You can change the rules,” the Mouse replied.
“I can’t make an exception for you just because you’re my friend.”
“But you are making an exception of me. I’m the only one not invited!”
“Listen,” the Lion said. “Let’s just let this go. I’m not as popular a king as I used to be, and I need this to go well.”
“I want to know why I can’t come. Tell me! Tell me!”
“Because you disgust them!” roared the Lion.
“…Oh,” squeaked the Mouse.
The Lion’s demeanor softened. “Some of them. But you don’t disgust me. Listen, it’s just some dumb party. Why do you even want to go?
“It’s not just that I want to go; it’s that you don’t want me there. Why are you going if I can’t go?”
“Because I’m a lion and you are a mouse. I’m sorry, little friend. Good talk. I’ll see you after the party.”
And, with that, the Lion turned and walked away.
The story continues, but let’s stop and notice some things. The way I see it, in terms of power in this country, conservative Christians are the Lion; we LGBT folks are the Mouse.
I know you may not feel this way, but remember:
- It’s not illegal to be a conservative Christian in any state, never was, and never will be, thanks to the Constitution. Until a Supreme Court ruling 2003, gay sex was actually illegal in many states.
- Conservative Christians enjoy the full equality and protection of the law, including marriage and employment protections. You can’t be fired for being a Christian. I can be fired for being gay. Here’s a breakdown of the legal struggles that LGBT people face in every state.
- Conservative Christians may get “bashed” in the media. LGBT people get actually, literally bashed, sometimes to death. It’s an epidemic and it’s on the rise. Here are some hate crime statistics for you to peruse.
- Conservative Christians form a powerful, organized, well-funded voting bloc that has helped to keep marriage equality and other equal rights provisions off the table for LGBT people in many states.
As a person who identifies as both gay and Christian, I do understand that Christians can sometimes face social sanction. I will recognize that being a Christian isn’t always easy and that it hurts when municipalities level consequences at people who speak their minds. I certainly understand.
Did you know that Tennessee introduced a bill making it illegal even say the word “gay” in public schools? Yes. I understand.
But it’s important for you to recognize that there is a vast difference between facing ridicule or even occasional civic rejection, and facing systematic social and political inequality. There is a vast difference between being told you’re superstitious or old-fashioned and being told you’re an abomination that doesn’t deserve to live. There’s a vast difference between being told you’re acting hateful and being told God hates you.
I’ve been gay and Christian all my life. Trust me: Christian is easier. It’s not even close.
I’m the Mouse.
You’re the Lion.
So let’s continue:
The Mouse has three grievances with the Lion.
1. Despite his claim that the other animals are the ones with the problem, the Lion’s failure to act on behalf of his friend makes him functionally identical to the other animals.
Worse, the Lion fails to see or admit the basic power inequality in their friendship and, therefore, in their debate. The friendship and the debate allow the Lion to feel generous and open-minded without having to actually do anything.
2. The Lion ultimately has no rationale for excluding the Mouse other than tradition, visceral disgust, and appeal to his own fundamental difference from the mouse (“I am a lion and you are a mouse”).
3. The Lion is so blind to his own privilege that he can’t see why the Mouse even wants to attend. “It’s just a party,” says the Lion, “why do you even want to go?” But it’s not just the party but the fact of his having to vainly plea for inclusion that is so hurtful to the Mouse.
But what about the Lion? Does he have grievances? Surely he’s annoyed that the Mouse keeps asking to go where he’s not wanted. The Mouse is awfully prideful to try to get the Lion to change the rules just for him. And he put the Lion in the awkward position of having to explain to the Mouse that some animals find him icky.
But does the Lion hate the mouse? Is the Lion afraid of the mouse?
What I want to recognize here is that Bristol Palin is probably right, and so are you.
I don’t think you hate me. I certainly don’t think you’re afraid of me. Neither is Bristol Palin. She probably even has LGBT people she calls friends. She just disagrees with them about whether they should be invited to the party (the party, in this case, being marriage).
But here’s the problem: the basis of that disagreement is her belief that her relationships are intrinsically better than ours.
There’s a word for this type of statement: supremacist.
Bear with me here.
I know that the word “supremacist” makes you think of “White Supremacists,” which makes you think of the KKK and cross-burning and lynching. We think of supremacist as a Southern thing, a rural thing, a racial thing, a militia thing, a hate thing.
Here, maybe this will help:
I’ve had supremacist habits too.
I grew up in the rural South. I never hated African-Americans. I never knowingly said or did or voted in any way that hurt African-American people. I even had African-American friends. But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t admit that some white supremacy seeped into my thinking at a very young age.
This is a painful thing to admit. Even now, I find I can’t go into specifics, from sheer shame. Fortunately I have been able to break those habits, but it has taken a while.
Supremacy is the habit of believing or acting as if your life, your love, your culture, your self has more intrinsic worth than those of people who differ from you.
Supremacy can be about race, but it doesn’t have to be.
Supremacy and hate aren’t identical, but they often go together.
Some people turn supremacy into an over-arching philosophy. For most, it’s just a habit of mind. As a habit of mind, supremacist ideas can spring up in anyone. Being liberal doesn’t make you immune. Being gay doesn’t make you immune. Being a minority doesn’t make you immune.
You don’t have to hate people to feel innately superior to them. After all, what kind of threat are your inferiors to you? You may be annoyed by them, from time to time, or you may even like them. You can even have so much affection for them that you might call that affection love.
Because they don’t have to be said in anger, supremacist statements aren’t only the purview of the “God Hates Fags” crowd. The dangerous thing about a supremacist point of view is that it can accompany even warm affection.
Now understand: I’m not saying you’re a supremacist, but your letter, polite as it is, does betray a somewhat a supremacist point of view.
Your letter shows:
1) An sense of comfort with yourself as an appropriate judge of my choices, ideas, or behaviors. You think you have to see my point of view or agree with me in order to support my equality. The fact is, you can support my equality under the law even if you disagree with me completely.
2) An unwillingness to appreciate the inherent inequality in a debate where I have to ask you for equality. To you, even entertaining the idea of my equality is a gesture for which I should be grateful. To me, it’s an indignity that I even have to ask.
3) An unwillingness to acknowledge the stake that you have have in your feeling of superiority rather than blame it on God. To be fair, I’m really addressing Bristol Palin, right now, not you, since you didn’t talk about God or scripture in your letter. Rather than simply say “I prefer to think of myself as superior to gays”, Ms. Palin selectively employed her interpretation of Christian religious teachings to disguise her motivations.
For example, despite her claims, there simply is no Biblical basis for “god’s plan for marriage” as it exists today. Almost nothing about marriage today is Biblical. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this.
Truthfully, among all the condemning letters I received, no one even tried to make a coherent Biblical case for marriage as it is practiced today. No one tried because no one thought they had to.
Bristol Palin finds it self-evident that she’s better than me, and uses a vague appeal to “God’s plan” to strengthen that bias.
That’s hetero-supremacy. It’s the belief, unsupported by science or scripture, that heterosexual people are inherently better than LGBT people.
But don’t feel singled out.
Hetero-supremacy is all over the place. It’s all over the LGBT community. It’s all over TV, books, and magazines, even LGBT-centered ones. It affects what we find attractive and what we find repulsive. It affects how we behave toward people, how we feel about them, and how much we respect them.
And, of course, it’s all over the news:
- American Family Association spokesperson Bryan Fischer yesterday endorsed kidnapping children from their Gay or Lesbian parents, on the grounds that LGBT people are unfit parents. This has no basis in fact. Since no credible science supports his claim, his belief must come from his own feeling of innate superiority. That’s hetero-supremacy.
- The Chick-Fil-A COO’s statement that we’re arrogant to define marriage for ourselves was hetero-supremacist, since the heterosexual project of defining marriage for the last 5,000 years doesn’t seem to have bothered him much. Only LGBT people are excluded from the marriage-defining party.
The Kingdom’s Ball had been a smashing success so far.
The Peacock strutted about in his finery. The Moose let the Chimpanzees swing from his horns. The Elephant was just remarking that he would never forget the evening, when he suddenly leapt into the air, letting out a mighty trumpet, as a single tuxedoed Mouse strode confidently into the ballroom.
The party screeched to a halt. The Octopi stopped playing their instruments. The Bears stopped dancing. The Elephant hung quietly from the chandelier. Everyone watched silently as the Mouse walked up to the buffet table, crawled up the tablecloth, and plucked the choicest grape.
Enraged, the Lion leapt to confront the Mouse. ”Why did you ruin my party?” he demanded.
“I didn’t ruin it, I just…showed up.” The Mouse looked around at the transfixed partygoers. “And it’s a good thing, too! This place is dead!” The Mouse winked at the Lion, then popped the succulent grape into his mouth and let the juice run down his face.
“How could you do this to me?” roared the Lion, taking Mouse’s familiarity for insubordination. “You’ve ruined my party!”
“I have as much right to be here as anyone else,” replied the Mouse
“I have a right to decide who comes to my ball!”
“I thought it was the Kingdom’s Ball.”
“Yes, and I’m the King! The party’s mine! The castle’s mine! The kingdom is mine! Everything is mine!”
The Lion’s statement statement stunned the room into gasping.
The Lion plucked his friend from the table by his tail and stood holding him in the air. Then, with a flick of his paw, the King hurled the mouse out the window into the jungle underbrush.
Sensing the party was over, the animals filed out awkwardly, leaving the Lion alone.
Supremacy turns to hate when the feeling of innate superiority is openly challenged.
That outraged feeling you have of being oppressed or silenced just because pop culture doesn’t like you, and Rahm Emmanuel threatened to keep Chick-Fil-A out of Chicago? That’s the feeling a supremacist gets when her cultural superiority is being eroded.
Supremacy is why you and Bristol Palin have more outrage at your own inconvenience than at the legitimate oppression of others.
Supremacy is what causes you to believe that whatever status or privilege you enjoy is the will of God, so that the very act of fighting you politically is an ungodly act.
Supremacy is what allows you to think it only natural that your mere belief should be favored over my clear argument, or that your firmly-held opinion should be favored over my impassioned plea.
Like many habits, supremacy can be unconscious. Sometimes you don’t know you’re doing it until someone points it out.
And, when someone finally does point it out, it can be very tempting to hurl them out a window.
But don’t do that. You’d be hurling the wrong thing.
I’m 43 years old now, and I’ve had time to change my supremacist habits of mind. I did it by knowing more African-American people, by listening instead of talking, by humbling myself and not demanding that I must agree with everyone in order to support them, and, most importantly, by admitting that other people’s real lives were more important than my mere beliefs.
It should go without saying, but never does, that this is the essence of Jesus’s teaching. He taught that belief without compassion was corrupt, and that a teaching should be judged on the fruit that it bears—the amount of love it brings into the world.
If I’d picked up some “fact” from someone in a position of authority—a teacher, a relative, a preacher, a book—that promoted a supremacist habit of mind (and, believe me, there were plenty in both church and in school), I asked myself whether that bit of dogma increased or decreased the love in the world.
If it decreased the love in the world, that is what I picked up by the tail and threw out the window.
If there are things in your faith or philosophy that are holding together your supremacist stance on LGBT equality, it’s time to recognize that they they bear poison fruit.
You can still be Christian and support equality. Many do!
“[Being a] real Christian is not about accepting or condemning a person’s lifestyle, it’s not our job. It is about loving and accepting that person. We are all made in the image of God; why hate anything made in His image. I am so glad I read your article, Wayne. I live in the South, and the majority of folks are very homophobic. I may not totally agree with your choices, BUT I am happy you have someone in your life that loves you, and I pray that God keep you both safe from people who would want to do you harm.” – [Name Withheld]
Pick up that supremacist dogma and hurl it out the window. Let us stay at the party. Most of the other animals don’t seem to mind.
If you can’t, then maybe it’s time you heard the moral of our little fable:
Indulge thinking you’re better than someone and that habit will grow. Pretty soon, you’ll think you’re better than everyone, and people don’t put up with that forever.
- Wayne Self
NOTE: If you send me feedback, you are agreeing that anything you send via email or Facebook may be quoted by me in future blog posts! I will withhold your name unless you indicate that you don’t mind it being used.
Illustrations by Joe Parrie.
Wayne Self is a playwright and composer whose current project is a musical tribute to the 32 LGBT and allied victims of the 1973 arson fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans, LA. Considered by many to be the largest hate crime against LGBT people in U.S. history, the fire is sometimes seen as a lesson in the perils of silence. ”Upstairs” will give voice to the victims of the fire–many of whom self-identified as Christian–and is scheduled to premier next year, in time for the 40th anniversary of the tragedy. For more information about the Upstairs fire, please visit http://tinyurl.com/8g6lr8j. For booking or production information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.