This Is Why We’re Angry

There’s been a lot written about Rick Warren in the past day or so, and much of it is predictable if you know the general opinions of the blogger you’re reading. Pro-gay or are gay themselves? Expect anger and bitter disappointment over Warren’s invitation. Anti-gay or simply not overly interested in gay rights? Expect reactions ranging from derisive accusations of hypocrisy to confusion. I usually hate the kind of special pleading that I’m about to engage in, but it seems as if a sizeable portion of the internet just doesn’t ‘get’ why GLBTs are so enraged at Obama’s decision. Hopefully I can shed some light on things, following in the footsteps of others who have tried to do the same.

Before I do that, however, I’d like to quote Mildred Loving, one of the plaintiffs in the historic Loving v. Virginia court case (and yes, I’m about to compare homophobia to racism).

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about. (Source)

When Loving said this, she was more or less directly comparing the situation she and her husband found themselves in with the situation that thousands of same-sex couples are in today. Yes, there were some major differences, greatest of all the fact that Loving and her husband were actually arrested for their ‘crime’, but she still feels that the comparison is valid. I’m not going to get into a debate over whether the plight of GLBT Americans can or should be compared to the Civil Rights movement, but I will say that, right or wrong, it feels the same to many of us. Plenty of commentators have expressed confusion over the overwhelmingly negative reaction that Warren’s invitation had received, and this is because they can’t seem to put themselves in our shoes.

The great majority of people today agree that racism is wrong. They would also agree that an avowed racist would be absolutely unworthy of being invited to pray at the inauguration of the next president of the United States – particularly at Obama’s inauguration, of course, but that’s beside the point. It is almost universally recognised that racial prejudice is unacceptable. To us, there is no difference between racial prejudice and prejudice based on sexual orientation – they are one and the same. They are both equally unfounded, equally cruel and equally backwards, which is why it’s simply baffling to us when people come out with sentiments like this. These same people would never consider for a moment that it could be appropriate for a racist to be given such a high honour – the phrase ‘self-evident’ springs to mind. They ask why we’re angry, and my reply is this: how could we not be angry, when to be prejudiced against us is still seen as a legitimate, even reasonable stance to take?

Consider how it looks from our point of view: here we have a president who is himself a shining example of the modernity of American society, faced with a choice of speakers at the inauguration of his presidency. It could be unthinkable for him to invite a racist or someone who believes that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote – those are both unreasonable prejudices – yet Warren’s opinions on homosexuality are no impediment at all. In other words, prejudice against us is, at most, the kind of thing that can be swept under the rug and treated as a mere divergence of opinion. It is seen as legitimate and deserving of a level of respect that almost nobody will now grant to other forms of bigotry.

That’s why Warren has drawn such heated criticism – not because we’re collectively moving as a group to sieze political power or because we see an oppurtunity for ‘shrill overreaction‘, but because his presence at Obama’s inauguration will be a sobering reminder of the inequality we still face.

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