The day before yesterday, Carl Paladino — New York’s Republican, Tea-Party-endorsed gubernatorial — gave a group of Hasidic Jews a homophobic earful in Brooklyn. Being gay is “not the example that we should be showing our children,” he declared. “And I don’t want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option. It isn’t.” In the mind of a man who could run New York state, “there is nothing to be proud of in being a dysfunctional homosexual.”
These remarks would disgust us in any context. But given that this past month has seen six young men who had been tortured by anti-gay bullying take their lives, our patience is at a low. Perhaps Paladino forgot that last Sunday, just a few miles from where he boasted about avoiding New York City’s gay pride parade, three young men were abducted, tortured and sodomized in the Bronx — allegedly for being gay.
These tragedies and jibes should only embolden our political resolve, especially after yesterday’s observance of National Coming Out Day. We are a community that, by and large, supports marriage equality and opposes the military’s discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. We at the News agree.
But as we condemn homophobic extremism, we must distinguish our villains from our opponents. It rightly worries us that the same essential anti-gay sentiment can inspire both the schoolyard bully and the violent assailant. But we must be careful not to conflate our political adversaries with the inherently intolerant perpetrators of the attacks, or the mouthpieces of hate.
From the schoolyard taunt to the hate crime, anti-gay action is symptomatic of a broader public discomfort with homosexuality that, fortunately, seldom touches Yale’s campus. We boast a healthy and active gay community and a relatively welcoming environment for those ready to come out as LGBTQ. But being surrounded by so many who agree with us has made it harder for us to understand all the rest who do not. As we angrily condemn homophobia in all forms, we must not overstep by applying the label to fellow citizens of different political stripes.
Many of these opponents are rarely given voice on this campus. So we are quick to stereotype them as redneck homophobes, or to condescendingly attribute their arguments to ignorance or closed-mindedness. This will not ultimately convince anyone, nor will it stand.
Stung by recent tragedies, we are tempted to grow angry and militant: to close debate. But the person who opposes gay marriage for religious reasons does not merit our hatred. Neither does the traditionalist who wants to keep marriage’s definition constant. They, and the politicians that represent them, are wrong; but they are not villains.
When it comes to gay rights, from marriage to the military, many of us are not willing to compromise. But this does not mean we are not ready to discuss. To give ourselves over to anger, and conflate the other side of the aisle with abusers, attackers and Paladinos is to pick entirely the wrong fight. With a levelheaded response, we can and will move forward from this month’s tragedies, emboldened and impassioned, ready to confront and convince the opposition. But if we fight vitriol with vitriol, tragedy with misdirected name-calling, we will get nowhere.