June 25, 2013

Those Who Abandon Bigotry Only When It Affects Their Children

Official portrait of United States Senator (R-OH).
Official portrait of United States Senator (R-OH). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We have watched the scenario play out too many times to track: a religious person with a reputation for anti-gay bigotry learns that one of his or her children is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered. This leads to the eventual realization that the sort of bigotry to which he or she has been contributing is a problem. The rest of us have known that bigotry was problematic all along, and we cannot help seeing something hypocritical in the behavior of this person. Evidently, anti-gay hatred was perfectly fine right up until it involved his or her own child. On one hand, I suppose we can be glad that such a person finally came to his or her senses. On the other hand, what are we to make of someone who abandoned hate only when it affected his or her family? What about all the other families struggling to cope with the hate such a person has spread?

Terry Firma (Friendly Atheist) brings us the story of a Mormon anti-gay activist, Wendy Williams Montgomery, who said some truly vile things about LGBT individuals along with her husband. When the couple learned that their own son was gay (and suffering from depression), they began to recognize that their crusade of bigotry was wrong. Firma makes an excellent point with the following:
In too many other cases, the next sentence of an article like this would mention a suicide, a funeral service, and a circle of devastated friends and family. Gay teenagers are four times as likely to make a “medically serious” suicide attempt as their straight counterparts for reasons that certainly include widespread Christian condemnation.
Yes, things turned out far better for Montgomery's son. His parents have realized the error of the ways. In fact, the family is not the subject of a short film which recently premiered at the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.

Firma makes the connection from the Montgomery family to Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who gradually abandoned his anti-gay bigotry after his son came out. I find Firma's summary of these situations to be a near-perfect reflection of my own feelings:
I’m of two minds when it comes to people like Portman and the Montgomerys. Their change of heart is, of course, a wonderful thing — it protects family bonds, lets others know that there’s no shame in being gay, and possibly saves the lives of suicidal LGBT kids. But the selfish way in which these transformations come about does verge on grating. It’s only after their own brood turns out to be gay that the parents begin to see the wisdom of acceptance. Prior to that, they happily contributed to oceans of silent misery, to turning other people’s kids into bundles of doubt, depression, and self-loathing.
Yes, that's exactly it. If I was gay and had been tormented for years because of it, I'm not sure how eager I would be to forgive people like Ms. Montgomery or Sen. Portman. If I was the parent of an LGBT child who committed suicide in response to this sort of hate, I'm not sure how forgiving I'd be. Even now when neither of the above apply, I'm just not sure.