In the history of moral panics, “think of the children” has been the most prominent cry used to quell changes in the social order. It’s a brilliant tactic, as we are instinctually motivated to guard our youngest and most vulnerable in society.
It is also deceptive and thrives on ignorance in the worst case scenarios, such as with the latest conflict over institutionalized homophobia in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).
For those who have not heard, the group is reconsidering the ban on gay members in their fold. The decision was recently delayed until May, giving more time for people on both sides of the issue to bring the rhetoric to a fever pitch.
One proponent for lifting the ban is Zach Wahls, an up-and-coming straight ally as well as an Eagle Scout. He was raised by two lesbian mothers and has gone on to participate in many pro-gay causes. There is a YouTube video of him speaking during the winter of 2011 to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in a public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Iowa.
The clip has gone viral and reached more than a million hits.
It’s one of the best examples of peaceful and articulate arguments for the gay cause in recent times. Wahls has a unique perspective and a voice that doesn’t bow to any hateful outbursts. Instead, as he speaks, his voice gains a calm power.
“My family really isn’t so different from yours. After all, your family doesn’t derive its sense of worth from being told by the state, ‘You’re married, congratulations.’ No. The sense of family comes from the commitment we make to each other. To work through the hard times so we can enjoy the good ones. It comes from the love that binds us. That’s what makes a family. So what you’re voting here isn’t to change us. It’s not to change our families, it’s to change how the law views us, how the law treats us,” said Wahls.
The speech received a thunderous applause, and rightfully so.
Wahls acknowledges there would be testimonies that day about how gay parents damage their children, among other hateful and misleading assertions, but does not aim any vitriol at them. All he does is point out how his upbringing said nothing about the content of his character.
This brings me to acknowledge the vital difference between a great activist and a typical outraged citizen. One thrives on knowledge and the golden current of justice to take them through their days while the other engages in the hypocrisy of hatred that is poisonous to the advancement of gay rights.
I can’t say that violence never accomplished anything in the favor of gay people. The White Night Riots, which occurred after Harvey Milk’s killer, Dan White, got off from his crime easy, asserted a new reign of power for the gay community over San Francisco politics. This only came after two assassinations and countless conflicts between the city’s police and the gay crowd.
This was progress at a deep price.
They were the earlier days of the movement, which presented fewer options for us to stand up and fight in a civilized manner. Now that we have new tools and protections, we must use them wisely. It takes more than a righteous cause to fight righteously. Gay rights leaders must lead the charge in continuing a tradition that judges us not just on what we fight for, but how we fight for it.
When we say we hate the ones who hate us, can that be considered a step above what we abhor? There has to be a firm line in the sand between ourselves and our opponents that no emotional current can wipe away. This way, we are as pure as the cause we fight for, as tireless as the pursuit of justice and as embracing as the love we aim to preserve in the face of bigotry.