Who’s to blame for homophobia?

29 Mar

In “The county where no one’s gay,” CNN columnist John Sutter visits Franklin County, Mississippi, which, “statistically speaking… should be straighter than John Wayne eating Chick-fil-A. The middle-of-nowhere rectangle in southwest Mississippi–known for its pine forests, hog hunting and an infamous hate crime–is home to exactly zero same-sex couples, according to an analysis of census data” (http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/24/opinion/sutter-franklin-county-mississippi-lgbt/index.html?iid=article_sidebar).

Sutter does, in fact find gay residents of Franklin, who are candid about their experiences and how they live their daily lives in a place where, as one man states, “We don’t exist–you didn’t know that? We’re zero. We’re nothing.”

I recommend reading the article. And I’ll give away the ending. (Go to the article now if you don’t want me to spoil your read. It is worth reading in its entirety.)

As Sutter considers the stories he has heard and his own experience as a gay man passing through Franklin, he reflects:

At first, it was easy to blame people in Franklin County for perpetuating anti-gay sentiments. Preachers tell their congregations that gay people are on a path to hell. Parents hear these messages and pass them down to kids who, if they so happen to be gay, are more likely to commit suicide or become homeless than their straight peers. Our society’s hesitancy to wrestle with sexual orientation results in real consequences. Forty percent of homeless youth in America identify as LGBT.

But the longer I stayed in Franklin County, the more I realized we’re all to blame for this — gay and straight, religious and secular. We’re not quick enough to call out anti-gay hate speech, too ready to tolerate people who are different, to hold them at a comfortable distance, rather than understanding and embracing them. And, in the gay community, we’re too shy about being who we are, especially if we find ourselves in seemingly hostile or unwelcoming territory.

I agree: this is not just about those homophobes in Franklin. This is, start to finish, about us, too. And while I also agree with Sutter that we each have the terrifying responsibility to be who we are in our communities and lives, I don’t equate fear for one’s safety with being “too shy.” I think he’s exploring the line between being uncomfortable and being unsafe. And ultimately, nothing changes if we’re not each willing to make ourselves and our loved ones uncomfortable by challenging conventional ideas, language and behaviors that perpetuate fear and alienation.

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