First published at 365gay.com on March 17, 2008
When Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern gave her now-infamous homophobic rant before a group of fellow Republicans, she remarked that “The very fact that I’m talking to you like this here today puts me in jeopardy.” It may have been the truest thing she said that day.
Normally, I would dismiss this particular remark as a pathetic religious-right sympathy ploy. It’s hard to take seriously the persecution complex of a group that wields so much power, especially in places like Kern’s home state. In jeopardy for making homophobic comments in front of Oklahoma Republicans? Please.
Thanks to the marvel of YouTube, however, Kern’s rant received a much wider audience than she anticipated. Listeners all over the country heard Kern claim that “the homosexual agenda is destroying this nation,” that gays are indoctrinating our children, and that homosexuality poses a bigger threat to America “than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat.”
Kern later claimed, rather implausibly, that her comments were taken out of context, and that she was talking about gays around the country who were contributing money to pro-gay candidates in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
I look forward to joining that group of gays. More precisely, I look forward to sending a big fat check to whatever decent candidate aims to unseat Kern in the next election cycle. I’m sure I’m not alone in that plan. So Kern’s remark about her speech putting her in jeopardy may have been surprisingly prescient. One can hope.
Unfortunately, Kern’s speech offered little else in the way of insight, unless we’re talking about insight into the fears, lies and stereotypes that dominate the religious right’s thinking about gays. Kern claimed that “studies show no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted, you know, more than a few decades.”
I don’t know what “studies” Kern is referring to, but the claim is nonsense on its face. Can you name a now-extinct society that “totally embraced” homosexuality? Me neither. (While there have been societies in history that permitted particular homosexual practices, those practices were narrowly circumscribed.)
Kern added that “This stuff is deadly and it’s spreading and it will destroy our young people; it will destroy this nation.”
I share Kern’s concern for our young people, which is one reason I’m eager to unseat her. I remember what it was like to hear such stereotypes as a teenager and to think, “No, no, no—that can’t be me.” I remember how ugly myths about homosexuality exacerbated my coming-out struggle. I don’t want other youths to suffer that.
Kern also claimed that homosexuality “has deadly consequences for those people involved in it; they have more suicides, they’re more discouraged, there’s more illness [and] their lifespans are shorter.”
Again we have unsubstantiated myths and outright falsehoods, this time mixed with a grain of truth. Who wouldn’t be “discouraged” in the face of attacks like Kern’s? Should anyone be surprised that in Kern’s world, gay people—and especially, gay youth—find that their lives are more difficult than others’?
In this respect, Kern behaves like a bully who punches a kid on the playground and then justifies his attack by saying that he’s troubled by his victim’s bleeding. Yes, Rep. Kern, gay youth are at a higher risk for suicide. But their problem is not homosexuality. Their problem is people like you.
I realize that such accusations of “bloody hands” don’t do much to promote dialogue. I have no doubt that Sally Kern is sincere in her beliefs. What’s more, some of those beliefs may even stem from virtuous motives—respect for tradition, concern for future generations, love of country and so on. But virtuous motives don’t make such beliefs any less false, ugly, or dangerous.
I’m particularly irritated—though by no means surprised—by Kern’s attempt to cloak her homophobia in religion. At one point in her original screed she opines that “Not everybody’s lifestyle is equal—just like not all religions are equal.” She’s right about that, too. I’d say that any religion that permits spreading lies or demonizing people because of whom they love is scarcely worthy of respect.
In the wake of this fiasco, Kern has complained that her critics want to deny her free speech. “Obviously, you have the right as an American to choose that lifestyle,” she said, “but I also have the right to express my views.”
Yes, Rep. Kern, you do. But free speech doesn’t give anyone a free pass to say stupid things without repercussions.