liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
So Gerv posted a call for people to sign the petition to keep marriage restricted to one man and one woman. This offended lots of people, and appears to have turned into one of those internet imbroglios. I didn't realize just how far it had spread until I was idly browsing Geek Feminism, of all things, and stumbled across some commentary.

In some ways this has played out exactly like every other internet imbroglio where a fairly high profile person makes inept or offensive comments about members of a minority group, and there is a rush to condemnation and links get passed round and the argument reaches a much wider audience than the people who were involved in the original discussion, and it all turns ugly. You've got people trying to make completely irrelevant arguments about free speech and censorship, ridiculous attempts to quantify just how offensive the original comment was, lots of posturing about who is the most righteous, tone arguments and arguments about the tone argument. (I'm not convinced Addie's analysis is entirely correct, but it at least has the advantage of being charitable towards the people on the "wrong", ie harmful to members of a minority, side of the argument.)

The difference is that this time, the person at the centre of the controversy is a friend of mine. I've known Gerv since first year chemistry lectures in 1997; that's pretty much all my adult life, and a lot of history. I'm pretty sure he's not "homophobic" in any obvious sense of the word. But of course, entering the discussion to say that would be thoroughly unhelpful, it's what everybody always says: he's my friend, he can't possibly be a bad person! What he is is a committed, active member of a religious group, as an Evangelical Christian, whose leadership can be quite homophobic. This means that his reasonably balanced, sincere remarks about gay issues pick up the connotations of frothing homophobia from players in the US culture wars who take a similar position, but much less reasonably.

It's incredibly difficult to break with your religious leadership on a matter of conscience, because people are naturally strongly influenced by the accepted position within their communities, and that's even more intensely the case if you are actually a sincere believer in the key tenets of your religion. I belong to a religion that doesn't have much of a centralized hierarchy, and a denomination within that which is even more decentralized than most, but I definitely do still experience conflicts between my commitment to redressing social inequalities, and my religion's official positions. In my case I have bigger problems with the treatment of converts and with anti-Muslim / anti-Arab prejudice than with homophobia (not that Reform Judaism is perfect on that score, but it's reasonably good), but I feel that it's more individuals not living up to our shared religious ideals, rather than the leadership trying to drag its membership socially backwards.

It's a bad idea for me to come out in support of a non-homophobic person because he's coming from a religious context with harmful views about homosexuality. That just contributes to the further marginalization of QuILTBAG folk. It's basically irrelevant that Gerv is a decent person; even though he meant well, his words still contributed to harm, and people have the right to push back strongly against that. The issues are muddled because that's what happens with internet discussions, but the main problem here is that his blog post can be interpreted as a official statement on the part of Mozilla, and this could be said to contribute to creating an unsafe environment for volunteers and employees of Mozilla who aren't straight. I don't know how Mozilla should address this; I'm not part of that company or that community, but I do know that attempts to address the problem should not automatically be dismissed as "bullying" or "censoring" the poor widdle homophobes.

I am a little concerned that Gerv's call to sign the gender-specific marriage petition is being regarded as hate speech; it seems a bit much that anything at all except the party line of completely equal legal status for same sex marriage is in the category of homophobic hate speech. Last I checked, there were divisions even within the QuILTBAG activist community about whether marriage equality is the best outcome we should be fighting for. What happened to the assimilationist versus separatist debate? What happened to the faction who think the best solution is to get rid of state-sanctioned marriage altogether? Is it homophobic hate speech now to question whether marriage in its current form is an institution worth supporting?

And on a personal level, you know, Gerv is still my friend whom I disagree with about lots of stuff. I am forever grateful that university brought me into contact from people of all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of views. I argued with him a bit on his original post, but I know I'm not going to change his basic opinion all sex is sinful except within a highly gendered marriage between a man and a woman. There are some opinions I might consider disowning a friend for, but I don't think this should be one. But it's always tricky to balance loyalty to a friend with loyalty to principles, and my deep commitment to pluralism and diversity with my commitment to ending oppression.

One thing I do find encouraging is that it seems like even the political voices most strongly against marriage equality are falling back on the argument that civil partnerships are good enough, not that gay people are sick and disgusting and perverts and deserve to be cast out of society. So at least in the UK, it seems like the battle is very close to being won.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 10:42 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
The friend between us had some interesting things to say about the experience of learning about the atrocity his friend committed.

Oh my, that's really awful :(

Having read through some of the thread about when to cut someone off, I'm still very unsure. I will take your example of someone who does something really awful. I think one failure mode (that I was previously forgetting) is that if everyone goes "tut tut" but then forgets about it and no-one withdraws from them, there'll be no pressure against doing that sort of thing. So we definitely want to avoid that.

But conversely, is it still worth hoping that someone who's done some number of bad things, may still be a worthwhile human being later? Sometimes there really is no realistic hope of that being plausible. But if there is, it probably only comes if you have some friends left, else there's no pressure not to withdraw completely from society...

I think people arguing opposite opinions are implicitly thinking "if no-one else is withdrawing from them, we need to do so to make a stand that what they think is wrong" or "if everyone else is withdrawing from them, I needn't as well".

Although of course, that's about a comparatively isolated incident. If the thing you want to reject is something that half of people -- or 90% of people -- do, I'm not sure if the dynamics are different. If 90% of us think X, then however abhorent X is, one person in ten refusing to associate with us will probably have little impact, only by constantly bringing it up are they likely to have any impact (and even that can be counterproductive).

And I'm not sure where the tipping point is: if 30% of people go on with a political point of view I find abhorent, can I successfully bully them out of holding it? 20%? 10%?...

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