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Homophobia cannot be treated with dispassion

In recent issues of The Tech, columnist Bill Jackson '93 ["GAMIT confuses academic debate with hostility," March 16] and letter-writer Gregory S. Richardson '91 ["GAMIT should accept the views of anti-homosexuals," March 6] have criticized Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Friends at MIT (GAMIT) for their pro-gay activism. The crux of the matter seems to be that the gay community condemns as "homophobic" a view which Jackson and Richardson consider to be simply a difference of opinion -- namely their belief that homosexuality is not morally acceptable. Furthermore, Jackson and Richardson claim that they are oppressed by this opposition from the gay community. I think we need to clarify a few points about exactly what is opinion and what constitutes oppression.

My father grew up poor and white long before the civil rights movement. Transcending his early socialization, he treats black people with great respect and friendship and has welcomed them to his neighborhood. He would never dream of giving someone a lower grade or denying them a scholarship or job because of their race. But he is vehemently opposed to the idea that one of his daughters might even consider dating a black man. Is he racist? I say yes, and I think most people (at least in my generation) would join me in opposing his view. Is he "oppressed" because others condemn his opinion as racist? Definitely not. Sure, he has a "right" to believe whatever he wants, but when he expresses opinions that are generally considered to be racist, he has to expect to be criticized for it.

So, I can hear Jackson and Richardson saying now, gays and lesbians should expect to be criticized for their "opinion" that homosexuality is a valid way of life. These gentlemen claim that they are not condemning "homosexuals themselves, only homosexuality." But that would be like saying that my father is not opposed to black people, only to having black skin. What Jackson and Richardson need to understand is that this is not just an "opinion," this is who we are.

In the interest of education, let us discuss a fact. It is a fact that I personally do not feel should matter, but it seems to be the only way to convince some people that this is our identity and not just some sort of meaningless behavior pattern. Fact: most homosexuals and bisexuals do not choose their sexual orientation. It is generally agreed that sexual orientation -- homo, hetero, or anywhere in between -- is at least broadly determined by age five or earlier, by what motley assortment of physiological and social factors we may never know.

Now I always hate to bring up this particular fact, in part because I don't want to sound apologetic. It's not, "I can't help being this way so please forgive me and accept me." I'm very happy with my lesbian identity and can't imagine why I should ever consider changing it, even if that were possible. It's more like, "This is who I am and I deserve to be respected as a complete, healthy human being." My sexual orientation is simply one of the natural variations among people. In the same way, I didn't choose to have green eyes, or to be athletically or musically inclined, but I like all these parts of my identity. And if someone tried to tell me that any of these were morally wrong -- not just a way in which our inclinations differ, but morally wrong -- I would not say we had a simple difference of opinion. I would say that they were making an unjustifiable attack on a part of me of which -- whether chosen or not -- I have no reason to be ashamed.

Richardson and Jackson seem to believe that because they are not trying to "force" anyone else to agree with them, their opinion is harmless. In fact, the condemnation of homosexuality as morally wrong has caused great damage that I cannot even begin to describe here. But just for starters, let's point out that whether they like it or not, their view very easily does lead to discrimination against lesbians, gays and bisexuals. For instance, how about housing? "We don't want those people living next door." And it is used to justify violence against gays, as in a letter of the Catholic Church that stated that "people should not be surprised when a morally offensive lifestyle is physically attacked."

But I doubt that Richardson and Jackson want their views translated into public policy, so let's look at things on a more personal level. How can I describe the pain I experienced -- and still experience -- upon hearing my own sister articulate this very same "opinion"? I sure hope my parents aren't still subscribing to The Tech, because, though they wouldn't disown me like some do, I don't like to imagine the looks on their faces, or how it would make me feel to know that they think I'm sick and immoral -- morally inferior, unable to make the right choices -- because of this very fundamental part of my identity. Knowing that a friend disapproved of me in this way would put a strain on our friendship which would hurt us both even if it wasn't insurmountable.

But worst of all is the way that too many lesbians and gays manage to internalize this moral condemnation. The message to gay people is loud and clear: you are sick, you are perverted, you are morally wrong. It's easy to develop a debilitating self-hatred -- especially when first discovering your own identity, discovering that when people say "queer" or "sinner" they mean you. Any book of "coming out" stories can provide ample detail about this sort of pain and confusion.

Too many lesbians, gays, and bisexuals learn to hate themselves; they learn to fear their feelings of love for the same sex. This fear and self-hatred can destroy relationships and careers and even lead to suicide. It's no joke: people have died because of this -- because they believed those around them who told them their "lifestyle" -- their identity -- was not valid. And this is being passed off as not a homophobic attack but simply a difference of opinion. How many people would kill themselves over a difference of opinion?

When I think about all this pain, all this needless suffering I can't help but ask myself: why? Precisely what is wrong with loving someone of the same sex? Why should ways of expressing love for the same sex be any different than for the opposite sex? Who are we hurting? Jackson claims that "there are legitimate reasons to disagree with homosexuality," but neither he nor Richardson has come up with any. All they have done is attempt to label gay activists as bigots because we denounce bigotry. An anti-bigotry bigot, what a concept. Are civil rights activists bigoted because they would call opposition to interracial dating racist? Do we perhaps need a group to protect bigots from the oppression of those who want to raise their awareness? I'm afraid that line of reasoning (to borrow a phrase) just doesn't wash.

Much as Richardson, Jackson, and others with similar views may deny it, their opinions are an attack on homosexuals -- "homophobic." We of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community hope that these people will take the time to educate themselves, to re-examine their reasons for their views, and hopefully to overcome their prejudices.

Niki Pantelias '89->