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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Prejudice And Propaganda

The tortured logic of the political and religious right-wing, especially when they use it to justify an unjustifiable issue, alternately annoys and amuses me.

One of the most recent examples that has stuck in my memory bank is an
article written by Charley Reese, a syndicated columnist based in Florida. It appeared in my home town paper under the headline, “Prejudice Not the Same as Pure Hatred.” Reese begins his case with the statement, “In this age of propaganda, it’s useful now and then to review some of the techniques a propagandist used to further his or her political agenda.”

This was enough to reel me into the article. Based on what I’ve read in the past, Reese is a master propagandist for conservative politicians, secular and religious. He’s an authority on twisting an issue to suit his purposes, so the column already sounded like one of those Fox network shows where the magicians reveal how the magic is done. “One of the most prevalent ploys these days is to equate prejudice, criticism or moral disapproval with hatred,” Reese wrote. “The reasons for doing this are obvious. One, it attacks the critic. Who, after all,likes a hater? Secondly, it avoids answering the criticism or dealing with the moral issue.”

How true, how true, I thought. How many times have I read a reactionary article by a conservative politician, such as Reese, and been frustrated with the way they change the subject by equating disagreement with prejudice against themselves. If they would just stop all that obfuscation and stick to the point, it would create less frustration and less strife in the world.

Reese goes on to say “Prejudice is a belief about a group (usually a generalization) that is fallacious. For example, the belief that all Chinese are natural-born math wizards or that all blacks are natural-born blacks is a prejudice ... these are what might be called harmless prejudices and provide no evidence of hatred ...”
Ah, “harmless prejudices.” Holding a prejudice as long as it’s IN FAVOUR of some group of people is OK. It’s perfectly all right to pre-judge someone based on their ethnic or racial background if there is no harm done. By that token, it would be OK to assume that all gay men are limp-wristed, lisping hairdressers, all lesbians are overweight, face-twitching matrons in women’s prisons, their mothers all high-strung and smothering and their fathers all distant and cold, as long as no harm is meant by the assumption.

Here’s some more from Reese:
“True haters are pathological individuals, and fortunately, they are relatively rare in our society, much rarer than you would think, given all the people who make a living practicing divisiveness,” Reese continued. “Even dislike is not hate. For heaven’s sakes, we can’t all like everybody else ... For dislike to become hatred, it must be so intense that it creates a desire to cause harm or death.”
Somehow, I can’t help but think that when a group is singled out and called an “abomination” from a preacher’s pulpit, a Third Reich balcony or underneath a Klansman’s sheeted hood, it sure seems pretty hateful to me. Trying to pretty it up with a lovely word like “prejudice” doesn’t make it any better.

“There are some who do hate homosexuals (often latent homosexuals
themselves), but they have nothing to do with ordinary Christianity. I think that most homosexuals know this. As a group, they are certainly among the most prosperous of the minorities in America.”

Here is something that many propagandists, including Reese, use very well. Blaming the victims for their problems. Apparently Reese believes that the real “haters” are “often” homosexuals themselves. And as for them having nothing to do with ordinary Christianity, I think many of us — homosexual people, their families and friends — can recite far too many stories of people who have killed or attempted to kill themselves because of hounding and condemnation by “ordinary Christian” churches andchurchfolk for admitting to a homosexual orientation. And by the way, Charley Reese should know that as long as we’re defining things, “homosexual” is properly used as an adjective, not a noun. It should be used with a noun, like “homosexual people” or “gay men” or “bisexual women,” and so on.
Of course, it’s easier to carry out a subtle negative stereotype of a group of people by not referring to them as humans. As for gay people being among the “most prosperous” — first of all, I think there are quite a few gay folks, especially those whose openness about their sexual orientation has led them to lose jobs or stop being promoted, who would disagree with that as they open their checks on pay days. But is Reese trying to enforce one of his “harmless stereotypes” by passing on this piece of dubious information?

“Whether it’s divinely inspired or not, diseases transmitted by sexual activity tend to be those that are particularly nasty and lethal. It might not be fair, but since Eve ate the apple, life hasn’t been fair.”                                             Excuse me? I thought Adam had a bite, too? At least that’s what my bible said when I was growing up. But since Reese already has admitted to his bigotry against gay folks, a little bit of sexism against women shows that one form of hatred, uh, prejudice, doesn’t fall far from the old apple tree.

“The main thing is to remember that no one has a right to be liked or approved of. We only have a right to be left alone or treated with common courtesy. In more enlightened times in the South, people knew how to be polite even to people they intended to kill.”
Ah, those more enlightened times: “Excuse me, sir. I hope you all don’t mind if I make use of your grandmammy’s weeping willow tree so’s I can attach this here rope that I intend to lynch you with.” And if people have a right to be left alone, how come Charley Reese and other defenders of conservative Christian politics are not actively condemning that radical reverend, Fred Phelps and his gang of bigots who picket gay men’s funerals and preach a message of “God hates fags?” Doesn’t sound much like“loving the sinner” to me.

“The homosexual lobby always equates moral disapproval of homosexuality with hatred, though that is simply not true. Christians who believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God have no choice in the matter, since the religion itself condemns homosexual behavior along with a number of other behaviors like adultery and fornication. Christians are admonished to hate the sin but love the sinner." 
I agree with Reese that there are levels of prejudice. There are those who hate gay people but do nothing overt other than to agree silently when someone else makes a homophobic remark. There are those who make their statements at the polls by allowing their prejudices — fueled by misunderstandings and sometimes purposeful misinterpretations of a bible that was mistranslated from Latin from Greek from Hebrew from Aramaic from word of mouth accounts several generations after the described events supposedly occurred — to guide their votes.

Whether they believe they are doing so or not, in the end they still give aid and comfort to someone like Phelps or the murderers of Matthew Shepard. Hate is hate is hate, no matter how pretty you dress it up.
What many people object to about those who based their biases on biblical scripture is their selectivity. How come so many Christian groups “forgave” televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker when they fooled around with women outside their marriages, but the same groups were quick to condemn Bill Clinton for doing the same thing? Is it because Clinton espouses different POLITICAL beliefs — including support for gay rights?
And why not get all bent out of shape and shame adulterers, corporate thieves, alcoholics and prescription drug misusers and politicians who bear false witness, among all the other sinners in the world they perceive? Is it because if they really followed through on sticking it to everyone who breaks their rules there wouldn’t be anyone left to point a finger?

I can’t help but feel someone should quote that part of the bible where it says, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Except then, someone like Charley Reese would come along and say, “You see how they are? They’re always changing the subject and trying to put the blame on us.”

If that happens, I think someone should quote that part of the bible — the one that got lost in one of the translation — where Jesus said, “Oh, shut up!”

Published 8th August 2000


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