Daniel T. Zanoza, director of a group called Republicans for Fair Media, has written a breathlessly overwrought column about the upcoming Day of Silence to protest anti-gay discrimination. The absurdity begins from the very first sentence:
On April 18th, a number of public schools across the country will hold a so-called “Day of Silence.”
Bzzzt. False. Public schools do not hold or sponsor the Day of Silence; students in public schools do. It is student-organized and student-led and is not, in any way, an official school event. Some schools may have teachers and administrators who approve of the event, others may disapprove of it, but the Day of Silence is organized and led by the students themselves. The same is true of the “Day of Truth” that has been organized by religious right groups as a response to the Day of Silence.
The day was originally promoted by an adult homosexual advocacy group, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) with the intent of ending discrimination against students who were allegedly harassed because of alternative sexual lifestyles.
I like that. They were “allegedly” harassed. Because if you admit what anyone who has spent any time in a high school in, oh, the last 50 years, knows – that harassment of anyone perceived to be gay, much less those actually gay, is extraordinarily common in secondary schools – then they might have to recognize that there is a legitimate reason for the Day of Silence and that it has to do with raising awareness of harassment and bullying, not with trying to turn people gay.
Though I do not support special rights for homosexuals, I do believe the concept of silence in our schools concerning the subject of homosexuality is appropriate. In fact, I feel there should be silence 365 days a year–when it comes to the discussion of how individuals have sex. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if school children were not bombarded with propaganda from special interest groups, like GLSEN, which promote unhealthy and, some times, deadly lifestyles.
See, there’s that problem that the anti-gay right has: mention gay people and the only thing they can think about is sex. The Day of Silence has nothing to do with how anyone has sex; it has to do with how people like Zanoza treat people based solely on with whom they have sex (or at least to whom they are sexually attracted). It has to do with people being mistreated, discriminated against, dehumanized and often beaten and abused, and all because a group of bronze age nomads claimed that their god didn’t like people like that.
When someone speaks to a student who is observing the Day of Silence, they are handed a card that says the following:
Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies in schools. My deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. I believe that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting these injustices. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What are you going to do to end the silence?
Notice that nowhere does it mention anything about who is having sex with whom or in what manner. It’s about harassment, prejudice and discrimination. A whole lot of teenagers have been the victims of such harassment, or they’ve seen their friends victimized by it, and they’re trying to take a positive step to end it. No one in their right mind could possibly deny that such harassment and prejudice exists and is damaging and destructive to a great many young people.
To any reasonable person, even one who thinks that homosexuality is sinful, young people standing up for their friends against harassment and bullying is a very good thing. Even if you believe that homosexuality is a bad thing, no decent human being would be in favor of seeing them bullied, mistreated and beaten up, as so many are every day. But people like Zanoza would rather not think about that, so they have built up this cognitive filter – anal sex colored glasses.
Mention the word ‘gay’ and the only thing they can think about is anal sex. Say anything at all about the need to protect kids who are bullied and abused on the basis of their sexual orientation, perceived or real, and the only thing they can think is “you’re telling kids to go have anal sex.” The translation is automatic and pre-cognitive; they simply don’t hear anything about the real problem of harassment and prejudice because it is automatically transformed into “we should tell kids to screw people of the same sex” before it ever reaches their brains.
Some say we are living in a changing world, but who is doing the changing and for what reason? Children’s lives should not be complicated as they try to understand why Johnny has two “mommies.” It is sad when children are subjected to such psychological trauma. Our nation’s young people should not be forced to share the collective guilt created by adults who put sex above the welfare of their children.
I’ve got news for you, Daniel; our nation’s young people are way ahead of the curve on this one and they’re teaching their parents a thing or two about tolerance. And they know from personal experience with people they care about that there is no “psychological trauma” to finding out that hundreds of thousands of other young people around this nation are already being raised by gay parents. They know, because they’ve seen it for themselves, that their friends who are gay or who have gay parents are just like them.
They know that their gay friends have all the same problems they have. They get crushes and they get their hearts broken, they’re awkward and insecure just like every other teenager, they struggle or they excel at their schoolwork. But they’ve also seen those friends have to struggle not only with their own identity but with how others respond to it. They’ve seen those friends deal with the sometimes paralyzing fear of being honest about who they are in the face of rampant bullying and prejudice, and often in the face of parents who will disown them if they don’t pretend to be something they’re not.
And a lot of those kids have, to their great credit, begun to rally around their friends. They’ve begun to speak up for their friends and support their friends so they can feel strong enough to speak up for themselves. This is a very healthy thing and it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with who is having sex with whom or how. It has to do with kids learning the importance of friendship, equality and basic decency.
The only ones in this situation who are “putting sex above the welfare of children” are those, like Zanoza, who look at a gay teenager and think of them only as someone who has sex in unapproved ways. They are putting their own twisted sexual insecurities and outdated moral judgments ahead of the welfare of the untold number of young people who are daily victimized as a result of the attitudes of people like Zanoza, people who see only the emotional trigger of ‘sex’ when they should be seeing a human being with the same needs we all have.
And there’s a simple reason why Zanoza and those like him are in such a full freakout mode over things like this – because deep inside they know that they’ve already lost. Survey after survey shows it and they know it. Young people today simply don’t carry around the bigotry of their parents and grandparents. They grew up in a culture where it’s increasingly okay to be an openly gay person. They know gay people. They’ve made friends with them. And they know they’re no different from the rest of us.
The same thing happened on our previous racial divides. In the wake of the movement to integrate the schools, young people actually got to know people of other races and they became friends with them. And once they got to know them as something more than Rorschach tests upon which to project their insecurities, they understood that racial divisions were artificial. Kids just aren’t bigoted by nature; bigotry has to be taught. When you’re in the sandbox, all that matters is that you’ve got a pail and the other kid has a shovel and together you can build something; what color the other kid just doesn’t matter.
That same dynamic is now going on with respect to sexual orientation. Gay people have always been around us, but in previous generations we didn’t know they were gay because it was so unsafe to be open about it. But now that’s changing and when someone finds out that someone they already know and like is gay, they go from being that abstraction onto which one can project their fears to being real people, with real fears, real dreams, real problems – just like us. And bigotry fades.
You can deny it all you want, Daniel, but deep down you know it; you’ve lost. It’s all over but the shouting. To paraphrase Dick Cheney, the anti-gay insurgency is in its last throes (and this time, it happens to be true). That’s why they’re reacting with such zealous fervor, because the ideological hegemony their bigotry once enjoyed is on the way out. Once again, the promises of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are being extended where they were previously denied. And there’s nothing they can do to stop it.