Newt Gingrich isn’t happy.
He says gay rights supporters are intolerant because we’re refusing to tolerate anti-gay comments made about Michael Sam’s recent and historic signing to the St Louis Rams — this made Sam the first openly gay active player in the NFL. There’s been lots of praise, but unfortunately also lots of homophobia, including the suspension and fining of Miami Dolphins linebacker Don Jones who, on seeing Michael Sam kiss his partner after getting the phone-call telling him he’d been picked, tweeted “omg” and “horrible.”
While Jones has since issued a full and unreserved apology, even seeming to admit that he’d failed his team (because let’s not forget this isn’t private speech but on social media), religious conservatives began crowing that he’d been censored.
Gingrich, appearing on CNN’s Crossfire as a co-host with Van Jones and former NFL player Jamal Anderson, sounded off saying:
Gingrich: “You guys talk about how you want to be inclusive, except of course, if somebody tweets this, then having a death threat or ‘let’s send them off to sensitivity training.’ It strikes me, that’s repression, that’s not inclusive.”
Anderson: “Is it repression to try to teach them to be understanding and open to other people, especially when you talk about people they have not been exposed to?”
Gingrich: “Shouldn’t you also be teaching people who are gay to be open and understanding of people?”
A quick note: death threats are never okay, but as people who profess to be religious conservative have also thrown around their fair share, we’ll move on knowing where we stand on that issue.
Newt’s wider comments, though, represent an exercise in false equivalence. It assumes that the prejudice that people face for being gay, the taboo in fact that until this month had kept openly gay players out of the NFL, is the same as people condemning others for their homophobia. It tries to harp that these were religious objections (there’s actually no clear evidence of that from Don Jones’ particular tweets) but it’s also speaking to the wider battle where religious conservatives are contending they are victims of discrimination because people are refusing to tolerate their hostile opinions about LGBTs.
Another example comes to us in the form of twin brothers David and Jason Benham who recently were on course to have a show on HGTV, until it was pointed out to the popular channel that the brothers have a history of making claims about gay people like that they have a gay agenda and, essentially, are out to destroy Christians because they are inspired to do the Devil’s work.
I could cite examples from their past as their comments have been exposed in extensive detail, including how they tried to have a Charlotte, North Carolina Pride event banned (how’s that for free speech?), but they actually confirmed their anti-gay stance to Glenn Beck just last week, so clearly they’re not shying away from their “Biblical principles.”
The most telling comment, though, came when Jason Benham told CNN: “We don’t feel wronged at all. This isn’t HG versus us, or us against the gay community. This is an agenda, and we’re getting to witness it right now. … It’s only going to get worse because there is an agenda that wants to silence the beliefs that we have.”
They insist that they aren’t meaning to implicate gay people with this comment, but anyone who is “silencing” the religious — so probably those who advocate for gay rights against religious objections to, say, gay marriage. We’ve detailed before the massive amounts of privilege the United States gives religion despite being a secular state. Yet it seems that the Religious Right is continuing to trade on the notion that they are being oppressed. That, essentially, gay rights have now gone too far (in much the same way we’ve heard of the eye-roll inducing “reverse racism” argument). That’s not true, though.
In both cases, and in several others such as the Duck Dynasty fiasco, all of those involved were allowed to speak about their beliefs. No one stopped them or attempted to silence them. Instead, they then had to face the consequences of not their beliefs but the way they had interpreted their beliefs to attack another group of people, whether in Duck Dynasty’s case, which ultimately ended in the tanking of their show, the Benham brothers having their show stopped in development, or in the NFL player’s case, being censured by his team (which, incidentally, has a nondiscrimination clause in its code of conduct which he signed).
What the Religious Right actually seems to want is a way of speaking with an added privilege: of never being criticized or challenged on anything it says. What’s more, they seem to believe that their opinions about gay people should be given even weight with opinions that are positive toward gay people. Again, this is misleading. It suggests that what underpins those opinions are of equivalent factual worth.
There are facts to support why we should accept LGBT rights and affirm that LGBTs can be valued members of society deserving of the opportunities others take for granted, like being able to advance to the top of your given profession. These things are grounded in scientific evidence, like the fact that there is no reason to believe homosexuality or trans identity are detrimental in any way to either a person’s character or to wider society itself, as well as general ethical concerns about freedom and not involving ourselves in the private lives of others because to do so restricts them and harms them.
The Religious Right’s homophobia, however, is based on private belief. As must necessarily be the case therefore, that private belief is not evidence. It is faith and not fact. No matter how sincerely held, it also cannot claim to be advancing a kind of good when there are many religious people who choose to interpret their religion differently and in an LGBT-affirming manner.
We can all agree those on the Religious Right must have the opportunity to speak out about their beliefs and, make no mistake, in America today they not only have the power to do have that but they also have the freedom to do so in a manner that is actually openly antagonistic, for instance in the case of the Westboro Baptists, who are allowed to picket the funerals of gay people, dead soldiers and gun crime victims.
What the Religious Right does not have — what none of us has — is the right to use our freedom of speech free of consequence. What they are feeling now is the push-back against their unpopular speech. As a society we’re no longer tolerating homophobia, not in our sports, not in our media, and not in our social lives — and that’s a good thing.
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