By Louise Brooks, Integrity Director of Communications and Board Member
On the same day marriage equality was voted down in the state of New York, Tiger Woods issued a statement admitting “transgressions” in his marriage. How ironic that as some NY state senators voted to uphold “traditional marriage between a man and a woman” as the benchmark for sanctioned partnerships, the greatest golfer in history admitted he has not been true to the “values” of his own traditional marriage. An admission, by the way, that came embarrassingly late, as women were coming out of the woodwork to claim having affairs with Woods.
Yesterday produced another interesting irony: Just as beloved actress and sitcom star, Meredith Baxter, came out as a lesbian on the Today show, openly gay film star, Rupert Everett, was advising his fellow gay actors to remain in the closet because coming out in Hollywood will hurt their careers.
There is a link between the marriage equality loss in New York and Rupert Everett’s warning to young Hollywood. The connection is homophobia.
There is a deep seated homophobia in our culture and in the world. Homophobia is an irrational fear of, an aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals. It is far more widespread in America than any of us, gay or straight, realize. It is a very real part of every gay person's life, just like racism is a very real part of every African American’s life. Unless and until were are able to mobilize messages and talking points to counter the homophobic agenda, we will continue to lose the struggle for marriage equality.
Some of the same ads and messages that prevailed in California and Maine were used in NY. These messages that dominated the airwaves promoted a fear of homosexuals. Yet, the polls tell us that more and more Americans are supporting marriage equality. So, the question is, why did they resonate? Simple. Marriage equality is a threat. Not just to a voter’s own traditional marriage but to his or her worldview.
When a person has been taught and staunchly advocated homophobia all of his life and suddenly someone else comes along who says that lifelong view is now wrong, that’s very threatening . As more and more gay families tell their stories and are seen as couples who have the same values as the straight couple next door, this threatens those who believed all their lives that gay people are perverted.
Then there’s the idea of granting equal rights. The imagined fear there is, that in the process, someone must lose rights. If a homosexual gets rights, somehow a heterosexual will lose some. Opponents of marriage equality have successfully tapped into that fear in their ad campaigns. Their messages have perpetuated fear over the loss of heterosexual parental rights to determine what’s taught in schools and fear of being forced to marry homosexual couples that their faith tradition does not sanction.
As we move forward in the marriage equality struggles, we must find ways to abate fear of homosexuality, no matter how irrational. We have to defeat the homophobic agenda. No longer can the “I don’t hate gays but” ads go unaddressed. No longer can we let the other side dominate the message and spread homophobia.
Integrity is committed to the eradication of homophobia everywhere but there clearly is a lot of work to do. Here’s the first talking point moving forward: As long as Americans are complicit in keeping gays in a second class status, they are perpetuating homophobia. Is that the way you would want to be treated if you were gay?
Louise Brooks is a Media Consultant who works with the Human Rights Campaign and California Faith for Equality. She has created messages and written talking points for marriage equality campaigns.