Emboldened Bigotry

Homophobia and transphobia thrive in the current political climate

The war on bullies is on. That’s a good thing. Bullying is bad.

Sadly, it’s not that simple. We’re competitive, violent creatures. We pet our puppies while eating pigs’ flesh. We may call our sharp teeth ”canines,” but fangs they remain. Conflict is our nature.

The midterm elections, occurring as I write this, remind me of that. Though I can’t imagine a political system preferable to democracy, with its never-ending series of contests. And it appears that by the time this column is in print, this latest election will have returned Republicans to control of the House of Representatives. So be it: The GOP has done a stellar job of blocking progress while in control of no branch of government, so I don’t imagine this will be much different.

What I do worry about goes back to that predatory nature of ours, and studies of human behavior. First, when we win – or conquer, or kill – we like to follow that up with more. Victory doesn’t sate a need; rather it opens the taps to gluttony. I’m looking at a study out of Cardiff University in Wales that found rugby fans experienced increased aggression when their teams won, not when they lost.

Another study, this from the University of Michigan, added a wrinkle I’d not considered: Reading violent scriptures can increase aggression, more so than reading about violence in a secular source. In other words, when people read about apparently God-sanctioned violence, they feel particularly emboldened.

What set my mind on this was not the midterms themselves, but recent episodes of puffed-up prejudice that genuinely shocked me.

First it was Carl Paladino, the GOP gubernatorial candidate for the great state of New York telling a campaign audience that children shouldn’t be ”brainwashed” into accepting equality for LGBT Americans. He may have made a mighty backpedal, but this is still New York, not Missouri. And a Republican, not a Constitution Party candidate. That he – or anybody – might think such a thing didn’t surprise me. That a mainstream candidate in a powerful state would utter it in a public forum did.

Then there’s Clint McCance’s Facebook vitriol. You know, the one where he’s grateful for gay kids killing themselves? Again, if he was just some guy spouting off in a remote Arkansas bar, it’s nothing out of the norm. But when it comes from a guy who sits on an Arkansas school board, writing on his Facebook page, there is no single word to aptly describe that extreme of chutzpah.

The kicker came from San Francisco – precisely because it is San Francisco. That’s supposed to be our ”culture war” capital. But for Amber Yust, a transgender woman simply jumping through routine bureaucratic hoops at a San Francisco DMV, she got bit by transphobic hate where she may least have expected it. According to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, the employee who should’ve been helping Yust with her name change instead copied her information in order to send a letter calling her an ”abomination” and arguing for the death penalty for gays.

These thoughts are always there. What troubles me is the apparent bigotry that is coming out of the darkened corners where it usually dwells, seeming to gain momentum. Perhaps it’s the expected backlash for recent court wins. Midterm wins – particularly of the ”we don’t care about social issues, but polling shows we’re pretty homophobic” Tea Party variety – only fan the flames.

But whatever defeats we face, we do not have the luxury of heading back to our corner of the ring for breather. We may be in the minority, but our fangs are awfully sharp. And now is the time to bare them.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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