I Am … Was … Speechless

For the first time in a long time, I am speechless. I have been for awhile, that’s why I haven’t written anything here since March 29th. I have been absolutely drained, indignant, and exhausted. I was feeling like my work as an advocate was irrelevant and ineffective. It’s not that I became weary of writing, I still love it very much, but I was torn that there was so much going on in my own movement that I disagree with, and I was particularly torn over what I will discuss in a moment. It’s hard to criticize both sides, it makes you feel alone. Then last week, I received a message from a former schoolmate and friend who reminded me that what I’m doing as an advocate is important. With that being said, let’s talk about the more troubling reason I have been speechless … the mind-numbing absurdity of the religious right.

It’s very easy for those of us who engage in pop culture, as progressives, to become blind to the dirty religious underbelly that still permeates our culture. We see progress, laws passed to protect us, backlash and swift consequences for laws that harm us, and our world continues to get better. But behind it all, behind every “religious freedom” bill, and in response to every celebrity who speaks out for us (thank you Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and others), there sits the brooding and plotting bitterness of the religious right. Every day, the most outspoken evangelicals take to their radio and television shows, their websites, and the publications who print their material, to spew more misinformation and hatred about us … and they have become so comical, so cartoonish, yet so dangerous, that I was left speechless.

By now, everybody knows about North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” HB2. For those who don’t you can Google it, I will not give it anymore credence by posting a link. In a nutshell, this bill keeps all counties and cities in North Carolina from enacting anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ+ people. It actually prohibits municipal governments from extending non-discrimination ordinances to LGBTQ+ people! HB2 is the result of the irrational fears and panicked reactions of those furious over their loss of privilege, as they take to the streets screaming about “religious freedom.” Arguments for the bill were (are) few, focusing mainly on the debunked “allowing Trans people to use the restroom that best matches their gender identity will make way for pedophiles and other perverts to just say ‘I’m a woman;’ and get access to our wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters.” Never mind the fact that sex crimes have not gone up in places where Trans people are protected while they pee. Never mind the fact that nearly everybody in North America who goes out in public regularly, has most likely shared a restroom with a Trans person and didn’t know it. Never mind the fact that most in favour of the legislation are getting their information from a book that is very obviously not an authority on LGBTQ+ issues, and its evangelical messengers who are just as ignorant as their congregants.

As soon as there were consequences from companies like PayPal … as soon as celebrities like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr started cancelling shows in North Carolina … as soon as politicians decided to veto discriminatory legislation in their own states … the loud and proud religious opponents of equality absolutely lost it. And they continue to lose it! Their anger is manifesting in more and more outrageous claims. Some of these claims are getting so outrageous that I have personally spoken with fans of these people who are starting to raise their eyebrows and question what is being said. This is unprecedented. In my experience, it’s very rare for a follower of any popular evangelist to question what that evangelist has to say. This is a good thing, but at the same time, we have to stay on guard. There are, after all, still many who believe it, and more fear means more risk of violence.

I wonder what it’s like. What is it like to live everyday in fear of what you have never encountered, a fear that only exists because of what a minister told you, or what you think you read in the Bible? Even when I was an evangelical Christian, I wasn’t as out of touch and afraid as these people are. It has really begun to reach a different level. America is boiling over, and it’s causing turmoil beyond her borders as well. Angry evangelicals, the ones who seem to have forgotten how to form a coherent thought or argument, are influencing the impressionable, and violence toward gay, lesbian, and transgender people the world over is going up at the very time it was starting to go down. This is a particularly scary time for Transgender people, who are being subjected to such an obscene level of misinformation that walking out the door can cause an anxiety attack. And all of this is happening because extreme conservatism is in its death throes, and Christian extremists are scrambling to ruin as many lives as they can before the ship goes down.

I have had two reactions to the comical, yet dangerous behaviour of these people over the past few weeks. The first is to laugh. When I hear a full grown adult crying about how they can no longer exercise their religious freedom to oppress others, I find that so pathetic that it’s funny. The second is to become altogether angry and sad. Their rhetoric, as cartoonish and silly as it is, is doing real damage. My fellow Trans people are being killed in droves, my fellow LGBTQ+ people hunted down and murdered all over the world, and all because of the lies of people who use religion to gain dominance. That’s what this is all about, after all. Christians in the west have had the upper hand for so long, that the thought of losing it scares the hell out of them (pardon the pun). So many of them say “I do not condone violence. I am not a hater. I do this out of love.” These are the same people who support Uganda’s laws that punish homosexuality with jail time, and Russia’s reluctance to act in any way respectable. They say nothing of the “corrective rape” of lesbian women going on in so many countries, and some have even gone so far as to praise the actions of ISIS when they throw gay men from rooftops. At the very least, they stay silent on all of the harm, preferring instead to use their voices to say we’re wrong. If this is love, I don’t want it.

If you think you don’t support violence, think long and hard about what initiatives you do support. Learn about the beliefs of those who do support direct violence against me and people like me. Anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs and rhetoric is standard everywhere. It’s all in the same pot, and if you go around condemning me, I am going to see you as just as dangerous as the gun-wielding psycho hunting people like me in Russia. My desire to live, my instinct toward self-preservation, keeps me from differentiating between you and the predator in Africa waiting for the opportune moment to rape an LGBTQ+ person. I know you don’t want to be lumped in with those people, but your rhetoric is the same. And I know it’s the same, I have spent the last three years learning that it’s the same. I know very well the minds of those who wish me harm, either directly or indirectly. Don’t you dare tell me this is out of love.

So I was speechless, I have been speechless, but I guess I’m not anymore. As a matter of fact, I’m more pissed off now. It’s still not safe for me to be myself in some places, and that is unacceptable.

Religious Freedom And Education

I feel like I’ve written about religious freedom ad nauseam, and with all of the information out there – the articles, the discussions, the actual laws available for the public to read – the lack of understanding of this topic is truly astonishing. It’s a well defined idea, but it bears repeating given the outlandish statements I keep hearing from people who just don’t get it.

Every time religious privilege is taken away, people get their backs up in a panic. By religious privilege, and my perspective is culturally conditioned for North America in particular, I mean preference for Christianity in various institutions – namely schools. So for example, when prayer was taken out of schools, the churches lost their minds. Every time the teaching of Intelligent Design is denied by the courts, social media blows up. The uttering of “Happy Holidays” actually spurs outrage. People are taking their children out of school and putting them into Christian schools (or homeschooling), to keep them sheltered from exposure to the fact that LGBTQ+ people exist; and are not disordered or sinful, but just perfect the way they are. Some even go so far as to claim that us fighting against this is tantamount to a hate crime. (*As a disclaimer here, I am NOT saying that homeschooling is bad. I am saying that homeschooling for religious purposes is not a good idea.*)

People removing their children from public schools for biblical reasons is increasing in popularity in the area I live in, and often when it’s talked about, the issue of religious freedom comes up. I’ve broken the argument down into two parts. The first goes something like this: the public schools are “denying Christ,” teaching a “false morality,” and exposing our kids to “those sinful gays.” The solution: Put our kids in the basement of a church and teach them about the world from a biblical perspective. The result: We know from research into the ‘Bible Belt’ areas of the U.S. that strictly Christian teaching results in many social problems, including increased teen pregnancy, higher than usual porn use, domestic violence, drug use, and family discord within the evangelical community. It’s not even hard-to-find information; a quick Google search reveals this, and yet more and more people are doing it. It’s an exercise in futility. These negative effects are not true for every individual, but the mass social effects can’t be denied.

The second part of the argument sounds something like this: the examples above are the method for taking away religious freedom. You have to respect everybody’s beliefs, but now we have a society where anything goes. In addition, you’re committing a hate crime by trying to advise people against this. So, the removal of privilege does not equal the removal of freedom, and respect for one’s beliefs is NOT required. As I’ve said time and again, beliefs do not deserve respect just because they are held. If you believe that “the gays should burn in hell,” I am free to disrespect that belief, and because I feel very strongly about it, I’m going to tell you so. We do NOT have a society in which everything goes, nor do we want it. There are restrictions on our behaviour, laws that we have to follow, so that those who do harm to others are held accountable. Is it a perfect system? No, but we have it and it’s worth improving upon; and that’s what we fight for. If you mean anything goes morally, well that’s an interesting conversation. The moral decay argument is one that I wouldn’t dare to tread if I were in the anti-gay camp, and as far as hate crimes are concerned … the idea that I am committing a hate crime by fighting to stop religiously fuelled discrimination and social division is just wrong.

Religious freedom IS worth fighting for … but only when it’s actually in danger. Legalizing same-sex marriage, banning hate speech, and taking God out of schools, moves us toward equality. Fighting for those things does not qualify as a hate crime, nor does it qualify as the removal or denial of freedom. Christians are not being persecuted against here in North America. They are losing their privilege, and that has to happen for equality to be possible. If the government tries to deny religious freedom, I will march against that. Religious freedom is vitally important. I will not, however, stand idly by and say nothing when a community considers their desire to persecute and misinform a matter of that freedom. If your religion requires you to reject other human beings and keep your kids away from “those sinful gays,” perhaps you should question whether or not it’s worth following in the first place. In truth, the Christian religion does NOT require that, at least not scripturally anyway, but sadly people are being taught otherwise.

 

Same-Sex Marriage Will Pave The Way For …

With the U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage to be released very soon, the social arguments and debates are again ramping up in the familiar venues – Fox News, social media, you know the circuit. Now, a common argument against marriage equality that hasn’t been addressed to my satisfaction is that same-sex marriage will “pave the way for polygamy, marrying children, and bestiality.” This objection is not new of course, it’s been around for quite some time, but I’m pretty tired of hearing it. Its popularity is due, in part, to its simplicity. On its face, to a person who is against LGBTQ+ rights to begin with, it doesn’t sound unreasonable. Redefine the institution of marriage, and the door opens for other non-traditional family arrangements … right? Well, no actually. It’s a non-sensical argument for a couple of reasons. 

Polygamy
My bias toward polygamy, and polygyny, is that I don’t understand it. Jealousy and other factors would plague me, I just couldn’t do it. That being said, any first-year Anthropology student can tell you that polygamy is practiced in many parts of the world, and it appears to work just fine when all parties are consenting adults of similar minds, and nobody is getting hurt.

The existence of polygamy as a taboo subject in the evangelical community appears somewhat contradictory given the disconnect between what many self-professed Christians say vs what they do. Studies consistently show unusually high numbers of infidelity and porn consumption within the most religious regions of North America, and the same goes for the multitude of bar-hoppers who can be seen on any given Friday night – throwing around slurs like “faggot” while hooking up with whoever will sleep with them, and sitting tight in their pews on Sunday morning. Polygamy and polygyny, committing to multiple partners within the confines of matrimony, may be something that some of us find distasteful … but it’s a more stable and healthy way to live than running around sleeping with multiple strangers. Now, I’m well aware of the Christian arguments against those who cheat and sleep around, I’m not suggesting that all Christians are sex-crazed fiends. My point is that as a community fighting “moral decay,” evangelicals live in a big glass barn. If you’re going to condemn, get your own house in order first.

Polygamous marriage isn’t for the majority of people, but it’s been practiced within humanity for millennia (even in the Bible). It’s not new, and if consenting adults want to do it, and nobody is getting hurt, I have no moral objection.

Marrying Children
This could take two forms. (1) Children marrying children, or (2) adults marrying children. Both forms are wrong, and here’s why: Consent. Adult opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples have the capacity for consent. Children do not. Children marrying children cannot be allowed because there is a fundamental issue concerning brain development and the ability to make rational decisions with foresight and maturity. Adults marrying children, practiced in India and some other countries, is a disgusting example of adults using their power to dehumanize and degrade helpless youngsters. A young girl of 12 cannot consent to marrying the 54-year-old pedophile who has paid her parents a dowry. It’s slavery, it’s child rape, it’s dehumanizing, demoralizing, and demeaning. Same-sex marriage is none of these things, it is the union of two consenting adults who commit to one another for the long term. Same-sex marriage and marrying children do not belong in the same category – they just aren’t comparable.

Bestiality
What a disgusting thing to say that marriage between two loving human beings is akin to a person marrying a dog or a horse. The consent issue is blatantly obvious in the case of bestiality, but how about the fact that the very suggestion that same-sex marriage could pave the way for this is beyond insulting? How hateful do you have to be to suggest that two men or two women getting married is no different from a marriage between a person and their family pet? People come up with this, and then have the nerve to say that gay people are immoral and disgusting.

And so …
If same-sex marriage paved the way for polygamy, so what? Polygamy is kind of a non-starter, or at least it should be. Where there is consent, and nobody is getting hurt, I really don’t know that we have any right to deny what comes naturally to those involved. We may disagree on that, but ultimately I don’t think polygamy is an issue.

Same-sex marriage could not pave the way for children marrying children or adults marrying children, since children do not have the capacity or maturity to give consent to such a thing. I might add, just because I think it’s noteworthy, that I haven’t yet seen any Christians holding signs against pedophiles taking child brides.

Same-sex marriage could not pave the way for bestiality because animals cannot give consent, and humans marrying humans is not comparable to humans marrying animals. Again, those making this argument have no authority to call anybody immoral.

“Same-sex marriage will pave the way for …” is the height of ignorance and desperation. It’s what people resort to when they’ve lost every other argument. Those who believe it are either ignorant of consent, not to mention human decency, or just don’t care. The goal is to put down and stop legal love between people they disapprove of, and the fallacies in the argument don’t matter to them in the least. What same-sex marriage will pave the way for is more people in loving relationships entering into the institution of marriage; just like the rest of us. All that changes is that a state-sanctioned loving commitment becomes available to more people. It doesn’t pave the way for polygamy, child marriage, or bestiality – it paves the way for inclusion and equality.

Anti-Gay Activists, Why Do You Persist?

Understanding the religious foundations of hate is what makes Outspoken Ally’s message relevant to the discussion. From experience having been there, to studying theology and culture, to keeping up with current events, this entire project continues from the love of standing up on issues that need to be understood. Outspoken Ally’s persistence is due to a genuine empathy for humanity. A strong desire to stop the hurt and drive the discussion toward acceptance, and ultimately social equality, is what keeps us going. This persistence is easily justified because it’s necessary. Despite the experience and knowledge, however, there is one thing not quite understood. The persistence of anti-gay activists.

I was a homophobe for years, and I’ve always been outspoken. In High School, I spoke loudly and often about the “depraved sinful shame of homosexuality.” There were people around me who didn’t feel safe coming out until years later because of the hate I displayed. There were allies around me who disagreed, but I was intentionally arrogant and closed my mind to their objections. I was persistent, but then something happened. As I went through life’s experiences, I paid attention to what could be learned from them. I went to sea for five years and learned a lot. I went to university for four years and learned even more. I embraced the importance of family and learned about the joy of life. In short, I grew up. I became an adult.

I don’t understand the persistence of anti-gay activists. People like Ted Cruz go around making up lies and ridiculous reasons for their bigotry, but why? I understand the strong convictions involved, really I do, but why the persistence? Why not just look at the facts you’re standing against? Why must you insist on the authority of writings from a different time and culture? Where is the justification? What do you stand to gain from this? Do you think your salvation depends on it? Do you think your marriage will somehow means less if everybody gets to make those vows? Think of the money you’re spending on campaigns against equality, and imagine what it could do if used for good!

To be fair, I understand that the Bible is absolutely insistent on the importance of bearing witness. Almost every book talks about it somewhere. The book of Acts alone talks about it several times. The thing is, though, it’s not right to loudly condemn everyone who doesn’t fit into your own cookie-cutter mould of morality. I know that Jesus said to judge righteously in John 7:24, but I doubt he was condoning the denial of equality. Lay down your arms and grow up. We need peace.

A couple of questions for my theist readers. Why persist? Why is it that some of you felt it necessary to scream “God has cursed your genitals with STD’s” at the Supreme Court protest just days ago? What is it about LGBTQ+ issues that stir you up so much that you just can’t give up this resistance to fair and equal treatment?

Being “Macho” Is Nothing To Be Proud Of

*Potentially Severe Trigger Warning*

Today I’m going to talk about knuckle-dragging ‘macho men.’ You know the type, the arrogant jerks who use the date rape drug and film their abusive exploits, calling it “fun.” I make no apologies for using the term “knuckle-dragger,” and I’ll get to that in the final paragraph, but I first want to address two notions that exist in the social consciousness of these people. The two ideas at issue today are: two women together = hot, two men together = gross. These two notions have big implications, too big for one post, so let’s scratch the surface.

Two women together = hot. This, of course, is an opinion held by the majority of heterosexual males who fantasize about being with two women at the same time. It’s a common fantasy pushed by advertisers, sitcom characters, and the adult film industry, and it’s problematic for many reasons. Aside from the obvious objectification issues, the heterosexual male attraction to two women together becomes particularly troublesome in cases where the two women happen to be gay. The average young knuckle-dragger will picture himself in between the two women, completely missing the point that they don’t want him there; regardless of how much he thinks he deserves to be. So long as he doesn’t act on these fantasies and cause harm, ‘two women together = hot‘ is merely an ideological issue, although ideologies admittedly do a lot of damage as they permeate social norms.

Two men together = gross. This notion causes a lot of social disruption. ‘Macho men,’ often feeling they have to prove their ‘manhood,’ use slurs and hateful actions designed to humiliate gay men in public. Unable to fathom two men together, unable to see it as anything less than threatening, they go out of their way to comment, point, and laugh … yet drool like complete idiots at the lesbian couple who just walked in to the room. If you ask them about this, which I have, you usually get a response in which they reveal their disagreement with homosexuality. Oh, the irony, and there’s the big problem.

Drooling over a lesbian and condemning a gay man demonstrates an aversion to homosexuality, and a failure to realize that women can truly be gay. This is dangerous. Thanks to the patriarchal foundations of misogyny, we see this idea play out all the time. A lot of you won’t like this, but here’s what it boils down to: “women are different from men. They’re weaker, submissive, and as such can be objectified, because we have that right. There is no such thing as a true lesbian, lesbians are just women who haven’t met a man who could satisfy them. I am that man. Since there are two of them, and since that pleases me, I will take them both and show them what a real man can do. As for that gay couple over there in the corner, that’s disgusting, and those filthy fags should be dragged out into the street and shot.” Like it or not, and hard as it may be to get anybody to admit it, this is the mindset (as an entirely different issue for another post, let’s not forget that justifications for rape result from this mindset as well). 

This is the attitude of ‘macho’ culture. It’s a misogynistic entitlement of a patriarchal culture obsessed with gratification. It’s a dangerous failure to understand homosexuality, and a waste of human intelligence, resulting in gay men and women being further dehumanized and reduced to mere objects. A lot has to change for this problem to disappear. It’s not just a matter of education on LGBTQ+ issues, the patriarchy and all of it’s components have to be taken down on this one. 

This interconnectedness of minority issues is what the fight for equality is all about, and the misogynistic ‘macho men’ who espouse their views in nightclubs and online forums for “The Men’s Rights Movement” have to be called out. It’s not a joke or a bunch of guys having a good time, it’s an idiotic display of extreme ignorance and entitlement, being seen in recent years with increasing frequency. 

There is, among many people, a reluctance to confront these guys. I understand that. They often travel in packs and do their level best to appear intimidating. In the town where I went to university, a lot of them were military personnel. In this case it’s unwise to start anything, since they often go out for the express purpose of ganging up on people, and act tough when they win a 7-on-1 fight. If you get a lot of these people sober, however, you find that they’re just like most bullies – they back down when confronted. Don’t be afraid to stand up and say “this isn’t right.” These guys are a big problem. They are hurting people, and they think they have the right to do it.

I make no apologies for using the term “knuckle-dragger.” When you willingly and without regret go out and hurt people for your own gratification, you deserve to be labelled for what you are – primitive and savage. When you start acting like a civilized human being, and treating people with equal consideration and dignity, you will earn the proper respect. Being ‘macho’ is nothing to be proud of.         

                 

“My Gay Friend”: Hidden Homophobia

Note: the word “straight” will be cast in quotation marks throughout this piece. I have chosen to do this because the word “straight” suggests that gay men, in comparison to “straight” men, are somehow bent or broken. The only reason I use “straight” at all is because it’s a common term that everybody knows.

Attention fellow heterosexual men: this is for you. We have to start thinking before we speak.

When men find out that I am an advocate for LGBTQ rights, they quite often bring up their “gay friend” (always a male friend in my experience, hence the pronoun “he” throughout this piece). I have lost count of how many times I have heard the story of a person going to lunch with their “gay friend” and engaging in everyday conversation. “We didn’t talk about sex, it never even came up.” “We were just two friends, it didn’t matter that he was gay.” “I don’t bring up women, he doesn’t bring up guys, it’s great!” “He was very respectful, he didn’t even check out any guys in front of me!” Now, I understand the sentiment behind this. I know that these guys are trying to tell me that they are not the enemy. They want me to know that they accept LGBTQ people, and I believe them. The problem is that in voicing their acceptance, they are actually espousing a number of stereotypes and offensive ideas that they may be entirely unaware of. It is not my intent to shame or discourage anybody with what I am about to say. The people who make these mistakes are genuine in their acceptance of LGBTQ people. The reason for pointing out the ways in which these statements misrepresent their true sentiments is that we must be aware of the hidden bigotry ingrained within us. Until we can identify that, we are powerless against it.

“My gay friend.” The very term smacks of absurdity, doesn’t it? By even identifying your friend as “gay,” you are defining him as different. For some reason, we feel the need to qualify the story of our friend by making sure everyone knows he’s gay. Now I know, “he calls himself gay, I’m not insulting him by repeating it.” Well, actually you are. You see, even though he identifies as gay, I’m sure your friend doesn’t introduce himself to strangers with “Hi, my name is Gay Fred, how are you?” I’ve never heard people say “my black friend” or “my straight friend.” Why “my gay friend?”

“We didn’t talk about sex, it never even came up.” Most of us are oblivious to the fact that social stigmas and paradigms have us trained to assume that all gay men are sex-crazed maniacs. We say things like “men are hardwired to spread their seed (crass, I know). Men think about sex every few seconds. Can you imagine how much sex gay men have?” The idea that gay men are aways on the prowl is almost inescapable in our society, and influences us to the point where we are amazed when a man who is gay can carry a conversation without mentioning it. Of course the topic of sex didn’t come up in conversation with your “gay friend.” Why would such a topic arise unless it was broached? People who are homosexual are people first and foremost. They live lives exactly like heterosexual people do. Why would the topics of their conversations be any different from those of everybody else? As for the crass idea that men are hardwired to “spread their seed” and think about sex every few seconds … as a man, I am offended when I am defined in this way. Those of us who can’t have a conversation without talking about sex, or make it a point to comment on every woman who walks into view, are idiots. Some of us have too much to live for, we don’t have time to sit down and think like depraved frat boys. Sex is great, but thinking about it every few seconds is a colossal waste of our precious time.

“We were just two friends, it didn’t matter that he was gay.” Still insisting on defining your friend by his sexual orientation, this statement suggests that it does matter to you that he is gay, but you’re willing to look past it. Instead of making you look like a model of acceptance, this statement makes you look self-righteous; a gross misrepresentation of what you’re actually trying to get across. The unspoken message is “my friend is not as socially accepted as I am because he’s not normal. I am such a good person for accepting him despite his obvious abnormality.” If you think I’ve gone too far in my criticism of this one, I assure you that the analysis is entirely realistic. It’s not your fault necessarily, this is a socially constructed problem, but it’s precisely what is ingrained within our ideology and words.

“I don’t bring up women, he doesn’t bring up guys, it great!” Congratulations, you have an unspoken agreement to not talk about sex. Answer these questions: when you sit down with your heterosexual male friends, do you talk about women? Do you talk about your relationships? Do you talk about sex? Of course you do, and if pressed, you would have to admit that the only reason not talking about sex with your “gay friend” is great is because you find gay sex icky; and chances are, the reason he doesn’t bring it up is because he knows you find it icky. Moreover, the existence of this unspoken accord begs the question of whether or not it is, in fact, a real friendship. This statement, like all the others, defines your friend as “gay.” I have many friends who happen to be gay, and others who happen to not be gay … when I talk about them, it’s not necessary to point that out.

“He was very respectful, he didn’t even check out any guys in front of me!” This statement isn’t as common as the others, but it bothers me more than them for two primary reasons. (1) There is an assumed entitlement to respect on the part of the “straight” friend. You do not deserve respect by virtue of being “straight,” and it is a double standard to allow sexual attraction to be acknowledged by some friends and not others. (2). Why would his checking out guys bother you in the first place? If your friend brings it up out of concern for your feelings, it’s your job to make him feel comfortable, to understand that it doesn’t bother you, and that he is free to be himself. The point is that friends put each other at ease, they don’t have agreements that restrict self-expression when in each other’s presence. I don’t want to be friends with someone who enjoys hanging around with me as long as my personal life remains unspoken, and I’m pretty sure a lot of people feel the same way.

The stigmas and stereotypes hidden in our everyday vernacular are so well ingrained that most of us never see them. Had somebody pointed out what I just wrote to me 10 years ago, I would have thought they were over-analyzing it, but it’s all there. As I said before, I’m not trying to shame anybody here. I used to say these things, and I know people who still do. It’s extremely important that we understand what we’re saying. As long as we continue to talk like this, the social stigmas will continue to infect the minds of generation after generation, and that will stall progress. The only thing holding a person who talks about their “gay friend” back from being a true Ally is their inability to see the hidden messages in their words. That is an easy problem to fix. There is nothing wrong with identifying our differences, but we must not define each other by them.

When Our Teachers Fail: An Uneducated Educator In Sackville, N.B.

Very recently in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, a statement made in a classroom gained widespread media attention. A school teacher stood in front of her grade 7 health class and asked who believed that homosexuality was a naturally occurring thing (“who thinks you’re born gay?”). Most of the class raised their hands. The teacher then proceeded to address the students who did not raise their hands by stating that she agreed with them in that she believed homosexuality to be a choice people make (CBC Maritime Noon interview, June 20, 2014). As soon as this became publicly known, the backlash was swift. Now, I don’t involve myself in vicious or vitriolic attacks as I once did, but I did have the opportunity to make my feelings known in an email to the Maritime Noon show on CBC Radio One. The host graciously thanked me for my email, and then informed me of an upcoming interview with the Executive Director of Égale Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating society on issues surrounding the LGBTQ community (http://egale.ca/). The interview was wonderful, and I was later in contact with the Director to thank her for her words. I have three particular concerns of my own, and I would like to take a moment to share them with you.

“Homosexuality is a choice.” I wrote about this in a post called “‘Being Gay Is A Choice’: A New Twist On The Old Adage” on February 24, 2014. I’m not going to re-hash the argument I made, you can read the piece, but it’s clear that the message against this statement is not being addressed as often as it should be. What disturbs me most in the Sackville case is that it was an educator who made the statement, and there are three issues here that strike me as particularly problematic. These are the issue of education, the unspoken message being delivered, and the general lack of screening in the teaching profession.

Education. When we send our children to public school, we send them with the expectation that the educators who will be directing their learning are, themselves, educated. For the most part, that is the case. In order to be contracted to teach in a Canadian public school, you must have a Bachelor of Education degree (BEd). Most of the time, this degree can only be obtained after you first earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc). This means that by the time you earn a teaching contract, you have undergone 5 – 7 years of post-secondary education. Once contracted, you are required to attend “professional development” days, as a way to keep current on a variety of topics surrounding your profession – best practices, developing methods, initiatives, social issues, policy, etc. With so much education, and with LGBTQ issues now recognized as vitally important and sensitive in the teaching profession, how is it that this person can possibly hold this view? Opinions like hers are inexcusable in an age when research, information, and up-to-date statistics are readily available. Thanks to high speed wifi and search engines, we have this information at our fingertips. Furthermore, how can she justify voicing her misinformed opinion in the classroom of a PUBLIC school? Personal opinions, particularly harmful ones, have no place in an institution that is funded by the taxpayers. LGBTQ issues have a very important place in public education, and discussion among the student body should be encouraged. The teacher, however, must come to the discussion armed with the facts, and as a presumably honest academic, his/her opinions on the issue must be in line with those facts. To hold opinions contrary to what is known about a given population is intellectually dishonest, and completely unacceptable in the public service.

The Unspoken Message. An educator is in a position of authority, and everything they say and do has an impact on the students. In lower grades, children often look to their teachers as leaders and role models. Once in high school, students may not display the same respect, but many of them still have it; and the educator is still responsible for the academic development, safety, and general best interests of the child. The spoken message in this case was “homosexuality is a choice.” The unspoken message was much worse. In one foul swoop, this woman invalidated the views of over half the class (those with their hands up), made any LGBTQ students in the class feel hurt and isolated, and gave the impression that her opinion was actually relevant. If in the future these students happen to figure out the underlying principles behind homophobia (and if I do my job right, they will), they may think back to this incident and assume that the teacher holds many other hurtful views. She may very well have put her entire reputation on the line with one thoughtless and damaging comment. Looking back to the matter of education, it is highly unlikely that a contracted teacher would be unaware of the unspoken messages contained in her words and actions as an authority figure. The unspoken messages we convey are quite often more damaging than the ones we actually say out loud. It doesn’t take an educated person to know this.

The Lack Of Screening In The Teaching Profession. Unlike in the United States, teachers in Canada are paid very well, and receive great pensions. This often attracts people who will make terrible teachers, but are drawn to the income. Universities are for-profit businesses that will accept anybody as long as they meet the academic and financial requirements of admission. It is my opinion that they are doing a disservice to the future of public education in this country. By not administering aptitude evaluations as a further admission requirement into the Bachelor of Education program, they are putting children in harm’s way. I have seen teachers who speak to their students as if they were medieval landowners talking down to the peasantry. There are teachers who flaunt their years of experience to bolster their harsh criticisms of public education, when anybody can see that they’re bitter and have either lost their passion; or never had it in the first place. There are others who do the bare minimum in regard to curriculum requirements because they couldn’t be bothered to care. These people are arguably the worst, as they just want their money as free as they can get it. On the flip side, I know teachers who went in with a passionate desire to make a positive change in the world. I know one who wasn’t even aware of the pay and benefits until she was already in the program. There are teachers who go in every day with a positive attitude and a desire to create change. Aptitude evaluations would ensure that the good teachers get in and the bad ones don’t. Good teachers will exercise their love of learning in all respects. Good teachers will speak only about what they know. Good teachers will offer only properly informed opinions. Despite what you have been told, your opinion CAN be wrong. That has been demonstrated in Sackville, by a teacher who may want to consider a career change to something better suited to her abilities.

“Homosexuality is a choice” is one of the most damaging things we can tell our children. Like a cancer, the message spreads through society and infects our culture. It causes isolation, depression, death, and sorrow. It is not an opinion, it is a false statement. To the teacher at the centre of this controversy, shame on you. You should know better. You are a professional educator, and you have failed your students. More to that fact, you have brought shame to your profession and to the academic community that educated you. I sincerely hope that you do the right thing and seek out the information that you have so far not considered important. We are trying to change the system so that our children can live in a more loving and accepting world. It would be wonderful if you would join us.