As we await the SCOTUS decision on whether a cake artiste may, for First-Amendment purposes, violate an anti-discrimination law in his state by refusing to design a “gay cake,” I’ve been reflecting on the cowardice and destructiveness of bigotry.
First the cowardice. Many of us would have far more respect for bigots of every stripe if they’d just own it. If you hate black people, stop prattling on about states’rights. If you hate Muslim people, just say so; enough already about national security and terrorism. If you hate Mexicans, don’t couch your hatred in rants about border security and drug trafficking. And if you hate LGBTQ Americans, for God’s sake, get out from behind the Book of Leviticus and just say it.
The cowardice of homophobes cost them the same-sex-marriage cases in court. Judges kept pressing for answers: Why don’t you like gay people? What dangers do they pose? Are they incapable of loving relationships? Are they incapable of raising kids? And what about those kids—why do you want to hurt their kids? “Oh no no no,” the bigots argued, “you misunderstand us, Your Honor. We’re not saying any of those terrible things; this isn’t even about gay people at all. This is about the political philosophy of Edmond Burke.”
This was transparently weak and disingenuous, and it turned out that courts were not inclined to make bigots’ arguments for them. So their cowardice came back to haunt them: same-sex marriage is now legal everywhere in the United States. (And lo, the sun still rises in the east.)
And now the destructiveness. There are obvious examples of bigotry’s deadly outcomes: genocide, lynchings, rape and domestic violence, the Orlando night club, to name some. But bigotry is also violent and deadly in more subtle ways.
The message from bigots to their targets is usually this: you are lesser than, and in fact, you are the worst thing a person can be. The predictable result, especially when victims experience this trauma during childhood, is shame. For many, there is no hiding—one wears one’s skin color, for example, wherever one goes. But for those who can hide, like gay people, many of course will, and have throughout history. Why not? When I was growing up, I was taught in no uncertain terms that gay was the worst thing a person could be—the ultimate source of shame that one might bring on an entire family, especially his or her parents.
When I was a budding lawyer in Lansing, Michigan, a buzz ran through the criminal defense bar about sting operations going on at a nearby rest area, where closeted gay men, many of them married and prominent in their communities, were being rounded up for lewd conduct—namely, propositioning undercover male officers or engaging in sex acts in the restrooms or the woods behind them. The morals police—the puritans and the Pharisees and the stone throwers—were out in force, having a field day, condemning these men with a gusto that only the corrupted of mind could muster.
And I thought to myself, what an absolute travesty. These men were driven into dark and secret places by the bigotry of the very people now seeking to round them up and destroy them publicly. Destroy them for what? For being what they were in the only place they could find where they thought they might express their sexuality without bringing notoriety and reprobation on themselves and their families—a public shitter. The public shitter is where our society sent these men for the fulfillment of their basest needs, and now society was condemning them for being there.
You can draw a straight line from bigotry to death—death from suicide; death from disease; the death of families and careers; and, most of all, the death of the human spirit.