Allies, Assholes and Morgan Freeman

 

This has appeared time and again in my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the last few days. Like everyone else, when I read this in Morgan Freeman’s voice it’s spoken with a world-weary wisdom. However, when I read it in my voice, I’m not sure I support the sentiment.

In our society, in many ways, homosexuality is scary.

Those brought up in religious homes have a lifetime of association of homosexuality with sin, hell and disgust.

All of us have been raised within stringent gender roles, and very often criticised if we veered outside them.

Many of us went to schools where ‘gay’ was the catch-all term for anything bad or distasteful.

Irresponsible voices in the media still conflate homosexuality and AIDS.

Most governments still send a message that homosexuality is regrettable through their failure to legislate for marriage equality, adoption and protection of ‘gay families’.

Coming out is an achievement because it’s really frightening. It’s reasonable to be afraid of rejection by family or friends, judgement from co-workers or acquaintances, of verbal or physical attacks if you express your sexuality in public, of losing access to the social ideal of marriage and family.

For a parent, the prospect of these challenges for one’s child is frightening.

Obviously, I don’t think there’s any excuse for aggressive behaviour or denial of rights based on this fear. Those who engage in overt acts of homophobia and incite others to do the same are monstrous and their actions are unforgivable.

However, there’s a reason that so often LGBT equality campaigns focus on the personal stories of gay people, and depend on their advocates to come out and put a face on homosexuality. Overcoming the messages that have been forced on you for your entire life is difficult. Yet vast numbers of parents who initially struggle with a child’s sexuality go on to becoming entirely and defiantly supportive. I think they should be commended for that.

It hurts like hell anytime some homophobia happens to you, I know that. But many of those we call homophobes live with discomfort with gay family or friends, never get the opportunity to befriend and fully interact with gay people or, at worst, live repressed and unhappy lives unable to acknowledge their own sexuality. They are also victims of the hateful legacy of homophobia. I think that we all benefit if before condemning them we create an opportunity for them to jump on the enlightened, gay-friendly bandwagon and become allies.

Sadly, people are less likely to be your allies if you’ve previously called them assholes.

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6 thoughts on “Allies, Assholes and Morgan Freeman

  1. I agree with Morgan on this one, first of all I think its great that people as well loved and respected as Freeman are coming out and saying that Homophobia is wrong.

    I have never really liked that it’s been described as a Phobia is generally defined along the lines of ‘an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something’ I don’t think that’s what homophobia is. For many you are right it is a fear of the unknown or the different and that while unfortunate is understandable and we should work to bring those people round, but for the most extreme cases and those people who are most anti gay I don’t think they are powered by extreme fear I think people who fill themselves with hate and dedicate large portions of their time trying to reduce the freedoms of others for no really logical reason are in fact assholes.

    And you’re right that may not be the best way to win them over, but certainly Morgan Freeman calling me an asshole would make me question the legitimacy of my stance, I think we spend too long not trying to insult people when really we should be saying that its completely wrong to discriminate against gay people and not shying away from strong statements for fear of insulting people, its when it became completely unacceptable to be racist or use certain words against black people that racism really ended not when black people started to become well known and liked in the mainstream media (While possibly more important it wasn’t what stopped the critical mass of people being racist). I agree that it may not make sense from a practical point of view for LGBT groups to say this, but having a well respected outsider do it is different.

    I also just agree with him that at the very least militant ‘homophobs’ are assholes, and think they deserve to be branded as such.

    • I take your point that having a famous, respected person take a strong stance on this could be positive. However, I still don’t think that overall this kind of barby aggression among the LGBTA community is beneficial. Particularly because the number of people who have dramatically changed their attitudes to homosexuality over time suggests that their lack of acceptance did come from fear and social pressure rather than malice. I obviously agree that the peddlers of hatred are terrible people, but I think it’s more valuable to consider the middle-ground people who’s attitudes we can change.

      I don’t agree with your characterization of what ended racism either (if nothing else because racism is alive and well.) In the US context, the most influential movements I would say were the peaceful ones of the sixties, when MLK and others like him recognised that both communities were suffering from the divisions and hatreds of rascism, which is why the dream included both: “I have a dream that…one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

      But even if you’re right, race is different to homosexuality because in most instances its unquestionable and irrepressible. A black person is always an ‘out’ black person and those closest to him or her will always know and accept that. The same is not true of homosexuality and as such I think that overcoming homophobia requires more delicacy.

  2. Couldn’t agree more! I think a good example is Lucinda Creighton, who is almost public enemey #1 in the gay community, and is the subject of ridicule and many insults among gays. She’s a person who spoke passionately in favor of the civil unions bill and obviously has no personal problem with gay people, she’s just not there on marriage equality yet. I think the unwillingness of LGBTs to acknowledge and understand the problems some people have when coming to terms to full legal equality for gays and lesbians is regrettable because it shuts off any possibility of dialogue. Calling her an asshole doesn’t do anything to further the aims of the LGBT movement. I find it hard to believe that she could ever become an ally now that she’s been humilated and insulted by the community. There is a difference between entrenched homophobes (like David Quinn, who is an asshole) and people who just aren’t there yet and you’re right, we’d all do well to remember that.

  3. I suppose it depends what he meant by homophobia, it seems we all agree that entrenched ‘homophobes’ are assholes and are more open to those unsure of what they think about homosexuality and fear it because of lack of understanding. On Lucinda you may be right about her not turning, I don’t have a lot of time for the stance she took, I think it wasn’t lack of understanding that led to her making those comments, and she certainly lost any worthy preference from me because of them. I’m not sure where I stand on the reaction she got, but it does discourage other prominent politicians from coming out against marriage equality,

  4. I guess the big problem with making statements like this on Twitter is that you only have 140 characters to clarify exactly what you mean. I’m sure Morgan Freeman’s a reasonable person and would agree with that many people who may previously have been homophobic could change their views as time goes on and they perhaps interact with gay people more. Condensing this into a 140 character tweet, however, is understandably quite challenging!
    What Freeman was aiming to do, I’d assume, was send a message to those blatantly overt militant homophobes whose opinions quite simply will never change, while at the same time offering some comfort and reassurance to vulnerable LGBT people who are struggling with discrimination and lack of acceptance based on their sexuality. I doubt his intention was to harshly condemn anyone who is genuinely trying to overcome their prejudice and accept LGBT people for who they are.

    Also Freeman’s message is (presumably) aimed mainly at his fellow Americans. While it’d be ridiculous to suggest homophobia doesn’t exist in Ireland/Western Europe, I think it’s fair to say that it is not as prevalent as in some parts of the U.S., particularly the more-conservative southern states. In that atmosphere, perhaps it’s necessary to strike a harsher tone with words like “asshole” rather than take a gentler approach which might, sadly, just fall on deaf ears.

    As regards Lucinda Creighton, I think the main reason she was vilified so much for her anti-equality stance was because she held the FG brief for Equality at the time (I don’t know if she still holds this position or not.) Had she held any other brief I think her comments, while regrettable, wouldn’t have received quite as much attention as they did. Personally I can’t stand the woman but I’ll admit that the personal attacks on her from some quarters are a bit much.

  5. That’s an interesting point about Twitter, and I suppose it is a platform for making punchy statements that will grab lots of attention – which this one obviously has.

    I think what prompted my response wasn’t only the tweet itself, but the frequency with which I saw it shared, including by Irish people who don’t face the same virulent homophobia that you mention in the states. We’re all agreed on aggressive homophobia, but I think that “the community” often fails to distinguish between that and the genuine confusion and discomfort that I’m talking about here. I understand that it’s easy to be self-righteous when you’re right, which those arguing for LGBT equality are. But if nothing else, if a gay person responds to every sexuality-related slight by getting angry and hurt, he or she is going to be severely hurt, embittered and lose an awful lot of friends.

    I absolutely hate the statement “oh, you’re pretty for a lesbian” or any of it’s variations. I know though that people generally mean it as a compliment, and haven’t thought about the implications any more deeply because they’ve never had reason to. I think there are lots of equivalent situations, where we’re better off explaining why it’s upsetting rather than heading straight for fury-land.

    I can see where Anthony is coming from, and understand the temptation to send a strong message by shaming a few people. It’s an unfair burden to place on gay people to expect them to calmly explain why insults are insults, or to put up with varying levels of rejection from family in the hopes that they come around. But as David says, to shut them out is to shut down possibilities of dialogue and slow progress in the long term. So I think we just have to grit our teeth and deal.

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