A great deal of ink and energy has gone into discussing the recent drunk-driving arrest—and subsequent forced coming out—of state Sen. Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield. Ashburn, a Republican, has a perfect voting record on issues relating to gay people, if you think “perfect” means “keep them in their place—out of sight and out of mind.” His voting record, no matter what excuse he makes for it, is a perfect example of homophobia in action.
We can note for the record the hypocrisy of a man voting and speaking out against gay rights when he is himself gay. And there’s no doubt the Ashburn matter is a sad reminder that there are still many people—straight and gay—who cling to the mistaken idea that there’s something shameful about being gay. But let’s think about what it all says about homophobia in the larger culture.
Those who have been following the federal court case over Proposition 8, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, have read some intriguing testimony about the persistent power of homophobia: how accepted it is in our society despite the lack of any factual basis for the fear, dislike and devaluation of gay people. Testimony from experts has shown that many gays and lesbians are so affected by the cultural stigma attached to homophobia that they would rather lie, hide, repress—and yes, die—than publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation. These scholars made clear that gay people who dare to challenge social prejudice about what it means to be gay risk heavy consequences.
Gay people are not the problem. Instead, any “problem” associated with homosexuality is the result of a culture that remains so stubbornly bound to its prejudices that it cannot accept gay people as simply another facet of humanity. This prejudice destroys lives, both gay and straight; it leads to dishonesty, self-delusion, broken families, substance abuse and suicide.
It’s time—past time—to stop acting on prejudice and start treating gay people as people first.