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.