Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Homophobia (or “Warning – Label May Be Misleading”)

October 3, 2012

A couple years ago I took a class called “Lifetime and Human Development”. Fascinating class that reaffirmed that not only were my kids normal and right on track, but my husband and I weren’t so bad off, either – or so I thought. Well, he’s okay. I’m the one who got into trouble.

As part of the course, we talked for a time about sexuality. Of course, sexual preferences were part of the discussion. Since the beginning of the class, our instructor made it clear that all opinions/pov’s/etc were to be accepted and no one was to be ostracized for being different. In a class such as this, that reminder is hugely important. That being said, there was a particular PowerPoint presentation that discussed statistics regarding sexuality. According to this PPt, around 10% of the people we encounter are likely to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. What caught my attention was one particular slide that talked about points of view. In describing people who disagree with the gay perspective, this slide used the word “homophobic”.

Let me say one thing before we continue. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has the right to live without fear, without harassment and without feeling less valuable because of their beliefs, lifestyle, faith, or other intensely personal character traits. There is NO excuse for bullying, discrimination, degradation or any other disrespect of another person, no matter the age, no matter the setting. This piece is not about homosexuality. It is about language, communication, and censorship. There is a difference. So, on with the story…

Being the quiet, demure student that I am (uh, well…) during the discussion following the presentation I raised my hand. I said that I had a problem with that particular word (“homophobia”) because it correlated disagreement with a given ideology with being “phobic”, or unreasonably fearful of gays or of homosexuality. I said, in what I had thought at the time were very carefully selected words, that while I may disagree with a certain ideology, that doesn’t make me “afraid” of it.

With only a minimal comment from our instructor, we moved on. A couple days later, I received an email from my instructor stating her concern that my words had offended some of the other students, two of whom had approached her after class and complained. One of those was a gay who had suffered years of abuse and derision from others and was quite understandably concerned that I was going to cause him/her more problems. The other was from another student – I assume hetero – who was simply offended by my view point.

I, of course, responded as soon as I could after taking some time to think about it all. First, I had no intention of causing anyone undue alarm. I didn’t realize that I had given this first student cause for fear for his/her own safety, and I was very sorry for doing so. There was no opportunity to make amends directly. I hoped that the teacher had been able to assure this student that I had never meant to cause him/her distress. From what the teacher said, I think she did. On the other hand, I thought the second student was being as intolerant as she/he viewed me to be. I had voiced an opinion in a class where all opinions were supposed to be considered important. I had not spoken against homosexuality, only the misuse of a specific word.

That’s where that episode ended. But I haven’t been able to completely stop thinking about it, and here’s why:

First – “Homophobia” and “homophobic” are words that, thanks to a very liberal main stream media, are sprayed around the United States like Weed-Be-Gone. Anyone who doesn’t openly support homosexuality and all related variations is immediately labeled as hostile, closed-minded, bigoted, and otherwise intolerant.

I can accept that the media are going to use specific words to push their agendas. But to find that same bias in a class that is all about tolerance and acceptance is very disturbing and disappointing to me. My instructor, of all people, should have been aware of the actual definition of such wording and the implicit connotations. The label of “homophobic” should never have been allowed in that classroom, especially when we were discussing the effects of some teachers’ seemingly harmless words/actions/jokes/etc on their more vulnerable students.

Second – by very definition, “homophobia” and “homophobic” are demeaning and prejudicial, even inflammatory. A phobia is, according to another teacher, an “unreasonable fear of something.” From medicalexicon.com,
phobia
Type: Term
Pronunciation: fō′bē-ă
Definitions:
1. Any objectively unfounded morbid dread or fear that arouses a state of panic.

We’re all familiar with arachnaphobia – the “unfounded morbid dread” of spiders – and agoraphobia – the “unreasonable fear” of public or open places. Since when does simple disagreement with an ideology equate with unreasonable fear? Because I disagree about sports teams or the way my son eats spaghetti, does that make me fearful of them? I may have serious disagreements with policies of the current presidential administration, but I’m not at all afraid of them, and I’m certainly not unreasonable in my disagreement.

That applies equally here. I – or anyone else – may have our own reasons for having our own thoughts and opinions about the ideology and/or practice of homosexuality without being fearful of such and certainly without being unreasonable or without foundation. To label someone who disagrees as “unreasonable” or “unfounded” is inherently biased, intolerant and even censoring. If I can’t voice my opinion – taking into account better than I did at that time the likely effect on those who have a very painful history of dealing with intolerance – then I am being censored in the very manner our class was supposed to prevent. In this country, where our core values are based on our right to speak our minds without fear of retribution or censorship – as long as we respect the rights of others – how can such labeling be a good thing?

We have seen this homophobia label so often we actually are starting to believe it. But it’s a lie, plain and simple. Repeating a lie to the point of acceptance doesn’t change it to the truth. It is still a lie. To allow such censoring labels to be perpetuated is damaging to all of us. Such crimes against our basic rights of speech and print are even crimes against our thoughts. They will spread from this area to others as surely as a cancer metastasizes until the whole being is consumed.

To my friends and acquaintances whose views differ from my own – Keep them! Speak them! And be prepared to defend them. As Evelyn Beatrice Hall badly paraphrased Voltaire, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it!”

Searching for Eleanor Roosevelt

April 1, 2010

Again, my favorite class intrigued me with a tidbit to pursue. In American History, Dr. Robert Rydell closed class by bringing the McCarthy era home to us. He told our class about a gentleman who used to be part of the MSU staff, Robert Dunbar, and his invitation to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to come speak here at the (then) Montana State College.

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt

Even Eleanor Roosevelt was accused of communism for her support and activity with the UN.

For those who didn’t know, Mrs. Roosevelt had been a signer in the formation of the United Nations. She worked feverishly to alleviate hunger and suffering across the world in the aftermath of World War II. But since, in the eyes of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the UN weakened America, anyone supporting it, especially those who were instrumental in creating it, were seeking the destruction of America and must therefore be Communist.

At the time, then MSC President Roland Renne had some political ambitions and was seeking the office of Governor of Montana. He had grave concerns regarding Mrs. Roosevelt’s pending visit and how it would reflect on him. Fearing association with a suspected Communist sympathizer, Mr. Renne had the audacity to deny Mrs. Roosevelt a place on campus to speak. She was only able to take her plans into downtown Bozeman and speak at another venue (Dr. Rydell wasn’t sure which. If I’m able to find out, I’ll update this.)  Dr. Dunbar was flabbergasted, of course, but powerless to do anything about it.  Mrs. Roosevelt stepped up to speak on a stage completely draped in red – the carpet, the podium cover, the curtains, all of it. The implication was obvious. Still, she went on to deliver her message to a packed house.

Dr. Dunbar, in the meantime, was accused of communism by the Bozeman community. He received numerous death threats, kidnapping threats aimed at his children and other persecution. Like Mrs. Roosevelt, Dunbar wasn’t deterred. He went on to form the school’s first Peace Corps chapter – a group that in 2008 received recognition from the parent organization for high volunteerism and service.

What I found most perplexing was the near complete lack of information available about this episode with Mrs. Roosevelt. There is a very brief mention on the University’s website (historical page) and, so far as I have found, nothing else. Why? Perhaps it wasn’t (isn’t?) considered noteworthy. That may be, but looking at the utter nonesense that otherwise finds its way into historical documents, this seems at least as memorable or significant. Perhaps it’s a splotch of mud on our shining coat. No one today likes to be remembered as reactionary or worse, duped.

Most likely, I’m just not looking in the right place. That’s what I’m hoping. If true, then once more, I’ll update this when more facts are known. In the mean time, here’s looking forward to more of Dr. Robert Rydell’s classes. May they all be as thought provoking as this series have been!

History of the Pledge of Allegiance

February 13, 2010

We had a rather interesting class in American History this week. My professor, Dr. Robert Rydell, gave us a brief history of the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve always known it had been changed a time or two over the years, like adding the words “under God” in the 1950s. But I had no idea the evolution the Pledge has gone through!

First, a little background. The pledge was the effort of Francis Bellamy in August, 1892. According to Dr. Rydell, the Pledge was written for children in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the New World. It would be published in the Boston magazine, “The Youth’s Companion”. The words to the Pledge were sent to school children all over the country. The original Pledge holds only limited resemblance to the words we recite today:

From 1892: I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands; one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Dr. Rydell showed us the differences in how people saluted the flag in that day. First, the salute – known as Bellamy’s Salute – began the same as a military salute, at the eyebrow. That would be held as people said the words, “I pledge allegiance to”. As they then said, “my flag…” the right hand was extended from the salute to a reach toward the flag, hand still open with fingers together. It was held there until the pledge was finished.

Changes were not long in coming. First of all, the word “to” was added before “the republic” almost immediately. Larger changes took a bit longer.

This was a time in the US when immigration was becoming vastly unpopular, the economy was in turmoil due to over-production, a series of labor strikes and subsequent economic “panics”, as well as an influx of European and Asian immigrants. Concern grew among some groups, including some national leaders, that those immigrants would be pointing to the US flag, while privately intending their “pledge of allegiance” to their own flag back home. Thus, in 1923 at a National Flag Conference in Washington, DC, “my flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States of America”.

In the 1940s when the US was at war with Nazi Germany, the dreaded “Heil, Hitler” salute was all too close to the part of our salute raised to the flag. The American salute to the flag was changed to the “hand over heart” that we do today.

In 1942, the Pledge was made an official part of displaying the American flag, as part of an effort “to codify and emphasize the existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America,” Congress enacted a Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.” [H.R. Rep. No. 2047, 77th Cong., 2d Sess. 1 (1942)]

The final big change came in 1954 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved adding the words, “under God”. He said, “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.”

In 2002, Michael Newdow, an atheist and attorney, filed suit in the 9th District Court seeking to ban the Pledge because it purported to teach monotheism to his daughter. With various decisions, overturnings, and refilings for different plaintiffs, the Eastern District Court of California declared mandatory teacher-led recitation of the Pledge to be unconstitutional. Since then, other states have taken their own paths, some allowing voluntary recitation, others dropping it all together. Some, including New York, require it to be read each day. The United States Congress, Supreme Court and other organizations recite the Pledge at session openings.

Resources:

“Francis Bellamy”, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Bellamy
Lectures: Dr. Robert Rydell, American History 102, Montana State University, Bozeman
Newdow v The Congress of the United States, et al (NO. CIV. S-05-17 LKK/DAD)
“The Pledge of Allegiance”, John W. Baer, http://oldtimeislands.org/pledge/pledge.htm