Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Silence is Propaganda!

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Robert
    April 5, 2007

    How anyone can rail against the Day of Silence from a platform of “moral superiority” and not see the terrible hypocrisy that is immediately apparent is beyond me.

    I do agree that we should have 365 days of silence over how people have sex. How people have consentual sex and with who is no one’s business but their own. We should be judging people on the strength of their character, not who they share their bed with. So yes, let there be silence, and let it start with Zanoza.

  2. #2 Skip Evans
    April 5, 2007

    Nicely said, Ed.

    I read a poll not long ago that showed a majority of kids raised in conservative Christian households did not share their parent’s views on homosexuality, and many did not object to gay marriage.

    That must have fundies quaking in their boots, since they share at least one thing with Homer Simpson, the belief that one of the great things about raising kids is that you “get to teach them to hate the things you hate,” which in the case of people like Zanoza is gay people.

  3. #3 khan
    April 5, 2007

    so they have built up this cognitive filter – anal sex colored glasses.

    You do have a way with words.

  4. #4 the Ticktockman
    April 5, 2007

    “It is sad when children are subjected to such psychological trauma.”

    How about the trauma, psychological and physical, of having the crap beat out of you because you’re gay?

    -TTm

  5. #5 Kevin W. Parker
    April 5, 2007

    Most of the young people I’ve communicated with on this issue don’t see the whole gay-straight thing as any big deal. “Some people are gay – so what?” It’s a shame that it’s apparently going to take another 20 years for that view to be the dominant one.

  6. #6 Christophe Thill
    April 5, 2007

    “Children’s lives should not be complicated as they try to understand why Johnny has two “mommies.” ”

    Children’s lives shouldn’t be complicated with trying to understand things like differences between people ; the fact that some people do things that are obviously bad for them, like taking drugs ; the existence of rich and poor, of very poor and homeless people ; war between nations ; disease ; death ; the fact that people marry and divorce ; and also art, culture, science…

    Children’s lives should’nt be complicated with all those things that are part of life. They should stick to a fairy tale-like world, where nothing changes and nothing happens.

  7. #7 Stuart Coleman
    April 5, 2007

    Wow, how breathtakingly stupid. It’s a wonder that he manages to put his pants on in the morning.

  8. #8 ZacharySmith
    April 5, 2007

    I love the comment about “deadly” lifestyles.

    Yup. Heterosexuals NEVER catch STD’s.

    Must be the 100% effectiveness of abstinence only sex ed.

  9. #9 ZacharySmith
    April 5, 2007

    By the way, just read an article about some 5th graders that got busted for having HETEROSEXUAL sex in an unsupervised classroom.

    I wonder what propaganda these kids were exposed to?

  10. #10 Dono
    April 5, 2007

    Ed, you’ve had some damn fine posts since I started reading your blog, but this one is a standout.

    It’s actually fun to watch the phobes losing this battle.

  11. #11 JohnA
    April 5, 2007

    Ed, the sad fact is that the pre-cognitive filter you mention is entirely deliberate. It’s not that they don’t care that young gays are bullied…they are implicitly endorsing such bullying. Once this barrier comes crashing down, they will have lost one of the strongest weapons they have against what they see as the evil spread of homosexuality. Peer pressure outweighs almost any other factor in developing young adults, and if you can’t threaten the gay out of them, how else will they hold them down? The schools are part of the church-school-work paradigm that they have mostly had locked down until just a few years ago.

  12. #12 ed
    April 5, 2007

    Okay to borrow a word?….AMEN!

  13. #13 steve s
    April 5, 2007

    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.

    I’ve spent the last 7 years around young people in college towns, conservative and liberal, republican and democrat, and this is exactly true. Enough gay people have come out that everybody knows a gay person. They have gay friends. They know that gay people are just like them, with one detail slightly different. Older people who hate or fear gay people have lost. It’s over. It’s just a matter of time as the demographics catch up. Gay people will have equality within a matter of years, without a doubt. I’m happy for america. It’s getting a little more equal as time goes by.

  14. #14 beibanjin
    April 6, 2007

    Nice work, Ed.

    The only point I take issue with is the idea that bigotry has to be taught. Doesn’t that idea–given that different societies down through history have taught their members different things–make the depressing persistence of bigotry everywhere difficult to account for?

    I’m politically fairly middle-of-the-road, but until my mid-twenties I was pretty strongly anti-homosexual. Sorry to focus this on the sex act, as Ed was saying one ought not, but thinking about copulation brings up lots of pre-cognitive reactions and instinctual feelings, and I (perhaps like this conservative pundit) sort of thought “Oh gross!” and went no further. I still don’t particularly like thinking about homosexual sex, to be honest. But I finally got around to thinking about it as a human-rights issue, and suddenly my (or anyone’s) personal squeamishness about the way other consenting adults have sex looked pretty flimsy as a foundation for public policy. So flimsy, in fact, that it’s a wonder this societal sea change didn’t happen a long time ago.

  15. #15 Alan Kellogg
    April 6, 2007

    Ponder this; in future generations our descendents will cease to see sexual orientation in terms of absolutes, and people’s esxual behavior will be seen as a continuum from predominantly heterosexual to predominantly homosexual. Thus no-one will think it remarkable when a young man has a sexual encounter with another young man after going out with a number of young women.

  16. #16 Jeffrey Shallit
    April 6, 2007

    Great post, Ed. Thanks for standing up, once again, for the rights of all people and against unthinking bigotry.

  17. #17 Raging Bee
    April 6, 2007

    I was discouraged from being straight — grownups frowned upon me for looking at girlie magazines.

    Let’s see…same lack of concern for the original subject of the post, same lack of a handle, same bizarre-beyond-ridiculous implication of nefarious reverse PC discrimination against ordinary people…why do I get the feeling this is Larry the Confederate Information Minister?

  18. #18 Maarten
    June 11, 2007

    Ed,

    This bit almost made me cry with the warmth of it. It’s all very easy to read about these shenanigans in the USA (for me that’s a quarter of the planet away) and snigger about the sheer stupidity.

    I feel for them anyway, and for all the other victims or zealotry and bigotry. It breaks my heart. You however wrote about the better times to come with such conviction that it really made me hope again.

    Maarten