Waymon Hudson

Words Matter: Hate and Bigotry

Filed By Waymon Hudson | December 23, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: bigotry, language, Obama and Rick Warren, Obama Inauguration, Phelps, Rick Warren

The intense discussion about the Rick Warren choice for the inauguration here and in the media has really been both enlightening and surprising. I've been overjoyed to see the concerns of our community get national attention (which is always a battle), but a bit shocked by some people's response- especially those in our own community.

It seems that some in our community think that words like "hate" and "bigotry" should be used more sparingly. One of the comments on this blog even said that those words should be saved for people like the Phelps clan- you know, "real" bigots. If we use those words for people like Warren, some say, then what do we have left to call the Phelps of the world?

My answer to that is that we use the same words. Hate is hate. Bigotry is Bigotry, whether you hold up a sign that says "God Hates Fags" or call us pedophiles and incestuous on national TV.

The tactics of the bigots may be different, but the message is the same.

Polite Hate is Still Hate

So when did we buy into the fact that polite hate is okay? As long as you hate us with a smile and a nice cardigan sweater, we have to accept it?

Maybe that's the real problem with our movement.

It seems that some think that by calling polite haters out, we somehow weaken our cause. I would argue that it is just the opposite. By allowing polite bigotry, hate with a smile, to pass unchallenged, we make it more acceptable and palatable to society as a whole.

Yes, the Phelps Clan represents outrageous, pure hatred in its most heightened form. But that very over the top nature has made them largely irrelevant and easy to write off as nutty extremists. I doubt they move many opinions to their point of view.

The same cannot be said, however, for the Rick Warren's of the world. His smiling, affable brand of hate (the fact that he can laugh as he compares us to pedophiles and then offers us doughnuts) is far more insidious and damaging to our cause.

He seems, on the outside, to be reasonable.

That makes it easier for people to say that his extreme views have a valid place at the table. That he should be included in the big tent of ideas and views. But if you look at what he is saying, is it really any different from the Phelps of the world?

His hate is just packaged nicer.

Hate in word and action

And let's be clear- just because he gives Melissa Etheridge a hug and says he loves gay people doesn't make it so. His actions (and a lot of his words) show what he really thinks about us:

* He compares our relationships to pedophilia, incest, and polygamy.
* He supports "ex-gay" ministries.
* He actively fought to strip away marriage rights
* He says that the only difference between him and James Dobson is tone.

Why should we sit by and allow someone to say deplorable things about us, our families, and our relationships? Because he seems nice? Hardly.

By saying he doesn't hate us, we somehow are buying in to the old "love the sinner, hate the sin" line that has been used as an excuse for bigotry for years. Who I am, who I love, my relationship, my family- those things are me. They are who I am. By attacking those things, Warren is attacking me, not just some vague idea. He is calling me the hateful names, saying my relationship is comparable to a sexual deviants, and saying my family isn't as good as his. That is hate, no matter how flowery his language is or how much he claims otherwise.

Aristotle described hate as "the desire for the annihilation of an object that is incurable by time." That pretty much describes Warren and his ilk. They want to pray us away, be it through ex-gay ministries or by taking away so many rights that it shoves us all back in the closet, and he has said these views are "non-negotiable." That's a big yes to Aristotle's definition- they seek to get rid of us and nothing is making it going away.

Words Matter

Warren is a bigot. He spews hate about LGBT people.

Those statements, while strong, are not false. There may be a debate to be had about the importance of Obama giving him a international platform and legitimizing his message by making him the new Billy Graham (you can tell which way I lean on that discussion), but the fact that the man, for all his smiling and laughing, is a bigot isn't really a debatable point in my eyes.

Words do matter. They have power. By calling attention to Warren's message, we can help people see past the smiles and best-selling books and at his real words.

Hate, in whatever its form, should never go unchallenged.

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That's so true. A few years ago, in my university's gay student union, I wondered aloud why we waste so much energy on the Westboro Baptist Church. Yeah, they say terrible things about us, but what can they actually do to us?

By contrast, groups like the Family Research Council and people like Warren come across as all nice and friendly and polite, but they have and take advantage of a real capacity to hurt us.

I saw a few people nodding in agreement, but the group leader just tried to shut me up by saying that WBC's Web site had received so many tens of thousands of hits or whatever (as if they can't fake that...).

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | December 23, 2008 4:28 PM

Waymon, since your piece includes reference to my own comments when you began another thread, let me just say that I continue to respectfully disagree with you. Yes, words DO matter. They matter so much that over-use of them can have the effect of causing a significant number of hearts and minds that we desire to reach (those on the other side aren't listening, and those on this side are already among the converted).

I don't have a perfect solution to when one ought to apply a term and when not to. I simply know that in the past few days I've run into a number of people, LTBG and straight, that I know are reasonable and open-minded, who say to me: "What's with all this knee-jerk hate stuff coming from part of the GLBT commmunity?"

I will grant that there have been some successes in terms of the media paying attention perhaps more than they have in the past. To that extent I can't realistically say that every-other-sentence use of the "H-bomb" has had no effect. But like all things it has a shelf life, and it can have the effect of coarsening those who with the best of intentions uphold it.

You are obviously predisposed on continuing full speed ahead on the usage, and like anyone who things that being a bit older makes him or her just a tiner bit wiser, I would simply say: be careful.

Now I'll sit back and wath Bil Browning relish all the hits that this topic seems to generate. It's quite good as a potential revenue generator, and I'm enough of a capitalist that I don't think that's such a bad thing.

And we can respectfully disagree, Don. There is more than one way to go at an issue. In fact, I think having people who go full scale (like me) and people who are more measured and cautious (like your approach) are what make a successful movement. Too much of one or the other makes for little getting accomplished.

I will say, and we've had this discussion before, that your constant need to bring age into the equation ("chiding" me in earlier posts and being "older and wiser" in this one) can come off as a bit demeaning and dismissive. If we disagree, that's fine, but it's not because of age. It's because of outlook and strategy. Let's talk about ideas, not shut down discussion by throwing around ageism as a trump card.

And I wrote this because it's what I think- not to drive traffic. This is a forum to discuss ideas and views.

But besides all that, I understand your point that there may be those that see the intense reaction by some of us as "those angry gays are at it a again", but it is making Warren defend his views, change his website, and making his behavior be discussed in public- where every voice, included more measured ones like yours, can be heard. I find it doubtful that a cautious, more polite response would have done that.

I do think that allowing polite, insidious bigotry and hate like Warren's to go unchallenged is more dangerous for our community in the long run.

Warren is one of the new CEO-clergy that use popular corporation-building methods and popular themes and memes to create mega-churches. These guys have appeared since the Reaganoids first took power nearly 40 years ago. Warren's PR spin-machine is in high gear with revisions to his church's website, removing language that indicates gay people may not be members, although the church still discriminates against gay people. He is simply a smiling, polite, and popular replacement for Fred Phelps, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, etc. Warren's worldview is firmly rooted in pre-Dark Ages ideas of human sexuality and his voice is an uneducated and uninformed one, when it comes to a contemporary understanding of humanity. More of these hypocrites will surface, as the fundamentalists/evangelicals are learning that Americans are more concerned with the economy and global climate change than they are with Calvinist Christian dogma. Progressive Americans must be wary of these people, as they are definitely not our friends and definitely do not have our interests in mind, no matter how polite and smiling. We must remain vigilant, for there are monsters in our midst and they do not want us to achieve full equality and, like Warren, will use deception and propaganda to maintain their purpose and agenda.

Regarding the removal of the anti-gay comments from Warren's Web site, the church just put out a video with its associate pastor saying that their views haven't changed, and that gays still can't become members. Furthermore, in that video that Warren himself did to "clarify" his earlier remarks, he didn't exactly disavow them or the views behind them.

But I agree that we need to be very wary of these people. As I wrote before, forget about crazies like WBC, no matter how offensive they are. It's the Rick Warrens, Tony Perkinses and James Dobsons we should be worried about.

At the same time, the coming economic problems are every reason to be worried about them. Economic turmoil tends to bread anger and frustration, and those tend to breed intolerance and bigotry. No doubt the fundamentalist preachers will ramp up their efforts to blame economic problems on gays and those who tolerate us.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | December 23, 2008 5:22 PM

I don't really take issue with anything you've said in that reply, Waymon. There is certainly room for different levls of approach in any movement as important as our is; striving for the proper balance remains a never-ending challange, and we aren't going to get there except in the sense that two parallel lines ultimately meet at infinity.

If I seem to come across as thowing age into the mix as demeaning and dismissive, that wasn't my intention; recognizing the potential for that I've often backed off of words I think can come across that way, but maybe didn't quite succeed in this exchange. I seem to have the peculiar "good fortune or misfortune", take your choice, of thinking many in my peer group as stodgy and "acting their age", and hence tend to like to interact with folks younger than myself. Chronological age is really irrelevant to our respective viewpoints. The only thing I claim to "trump" you is that I've had a few more decades of opportunity to have various experiences come my way, to deal with them, see how they've played out, and hopefully gained something of value for having been through the exercise. It's very possible, of course, that the efficiency of that process has not been as good as I may want to think, leading to a conclusion that in the lesser time you've had, you're become wiser than I (whatever "wise" really means........did Aristotle have a definition for that? (:

As to the comment about "driving traffic", I know absolutely that wasn't your intention....I was just being a bit light in joshing Bil.

It's doing a freezing rain think in Indianapolis as I close this, and I absolutely HATE the thought of having to go out into it this evening. Oooops.......I mean that Fred Phelps is down at the end of my driveway with a sign that says "God Hates Fag Outdoor Light Displays".

Or is it Dobson?

No worries, my friend. I think that while our tactics may differ, we have the same end point. And I always take others views seriously. that's the great thing about a forum like this. You can debate back and forth and come away with much more to think about.

And if you need someone to warm you up, I hear that Mr. Polite himself, Rick Warren, is handing out hugs, coffee, and doughnuts to all of his gay friends. ;)

Thank you for your blog.
As a straight couple we feel you have every right to be angry. You're right on the money when you say; "I do think that allowing polite, insidious bigotry and hate like Warren's to go unchallenged is more dangerous for our community in the long run."
And not just in, as you say; "our community." This is an all encompasing issue.
Polite hatred, masked as kindness, dished out to a willing flock who grazes on every word will feed the fire of bigotry.
All who believe in civil rights must take a firm, unified stand on this now.
Hate and bigotry can not be justified and have no place in America.
Mariah & Byron Edgington

turning away unrepentant gay folks?
Not very Christlike, eh?
I'm hoping for a teachable moment for Warren and his clan. Not holding out too much hope on that tho.
Yea, those of us who are gay saw right through the "love the sinner, hate the sin" thing. It might have been well intentioned by some, but it was the last straw for me. I divorced my church when that came out. Had to be one of the most painful days of my life.
My question is how to we work this situation to the best outcome. I guess at the end of the day, what is right or what is loving is my standard. And I think we are right to call out the BS.

I am a 59 year old Gay male who is in a loving
long term relationship. When I came out in May
of 1973, I was told to remember that Gays are
second class citizens and I should stay in my place.

My Partner and I retired to Tucson, Arizona.
For four years we were subjected to extreme
Gay harassment and Gay hate. We tried legal
means for our own protection. Things simply got worse. Neighbors attempted to suggest that we
were child molesters. Finally we got a veiled death threat.

We simply wanted to live in peace and were tired
of fighting. In August, we sold our home and moved to Florida.

It has been thirty five years since I came out;
we are still second class, at best.

aurelio montemayor | December 25, 2008 11:46 AM

Hate and bigotry are all the more harmful when covered with a thin veneer of civility. Uncover the ugly and dangerous reality that is present. The appointment of a bigot to a major, public position is cause for banging the drum and raising high the multicolored flag of equity and justice.
To be comfortable with the slowly rising heat of the water in the pot is to get cooked when it boils.
Silence is death.
Powerful phrases cannot be allowed to become cliches.

The Phelps clan isn't hate. That's a circus.

Let's keep the focus on people who aren't completely ridiculous. The Religious Right wants us to keep the term "hate" on the Phelps clan precisely because it lets them off the hook. I remember once on a certain Indiana homophobe org's webpage, I left some comment calling someone they posted about homophobic, and the swift reply was that he wasn't, the Phelps clan was.

Mm-hmm. Haters don't want to think they're haters, and they'll always have someone out there who's worse to point to. We can't let them off the hook, but I also wonder about the effectiveness of calling them hateful, if it really does anything. I think these folks secretly revel in being called that by queers.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 27, 2008 11:50 PM

Waymon, you point of view on this is valuable, understandable, and justifiable. OK, words matter, and polite haters might have stumbled on to something that can sustain hatred.

On January 20th I am going to watch the whole inauguration. I think that despite "saddleback Warren's" presence we are going to find a lot in the message given by Obama. In fact, the presence of Warren and controversy around it insures that we will. Obama has been honest. He never supported marriage and we knew it. Now we must cut the best deal we can, remembering that politics is compromise...always.

Politicians want to be loved by everyone. They just can't help themselves. The message of "change" will be heard by more people who need to hear it because of the presence of their polite, hating "hero" all the better.