No one asked for my opinion, but as usual, I don’t care.
I just read a story in the Norman Transcript about Zach Harrington, a gay teen who killed himself shortly after attending a Norman City Council meeting where the council adopted a motion to recognize Gay History Month over the strenuous objections of dozens of brainwashed townies. Obviously no one goes out and kills themselves after attending a city council meeting unless something else is up, but it seems utterly predictable to me that a climate of unhinged bigotry and barely focused rage (which you can witness in all it’s disgusting glory in the video of the proceedings) might be enough to put someone over the edge.
I’m not gay, but I am a confirmed weirdo; I was a spacey kid, fat and un-athletic, more interested in art and music than football. I know what it’s like to grow up here not fitting the culturally prescribed norm. I was bullied and tormented basically non stop from about second grade until high school. Being a little different is really all it takes to get a first hand look at how cruel kids can be. (Those cuts run deep; If any of you are reading this, I still remember you, and I haven’t forgiven you). I can’t even imagine how much worse it would have been if I were gay. If, as a teenager, I had walked into a room in a supposedly progressive college town only to hear a crowd of my neighbors expound with all the subtlety of a lynch mob on what a horrible, worthless deviant I am, that might well have made me want to see how deep the “Oklahoma River” really is. I doubt that any of those upright citizens thought they were terrorizing an insecure teenager into suicide, but, as a famous conservative once said, “ideas have consequences”.
The real issue here is that there is something very wrong with our political culture, not just here in Oklahoma but all over the country. Unless we can regard each other as human beings and engage each other on those terms, we are heading to a dangerous impasse. Since I want to be a solution guy, here is some free advice to my fellow citizens. A Swedish theologian (whose name I currently forget) once wrote that he has three rules for dealing with cultures or faiths that he doesn’t understand. They are:
1. Let members of the group explain themselves to you, not their detractors. (i.e. don’t go to Sean Hannity or Fred Phelps to learn about gay people, go find some gay people and talk to them)
2. Don’t compare the best in your culture or group to the worst in theirs (i.e. you can only compare coke snorting, pill popping gay dudes to coke snorting, pill popping straight dudes)
3. Find something in their beliefs or culture that you like or feel is missing in your culture or group. (I dunno, maybe you want to actually go to the gym someday)
Easy, right? Maybe it’s a little hippie-ish and naive of me to think that what we need is a little more open-minded dialogue and a little less frantic shouting and heckling, but I guess I’ve always been a little naive.
The most maddening response to this tragedy has perhaps been from some of my friends on this side of the political spectrum: “Why didn’t he just move?”. To ask that question is to concede that those of us who are out of step with the prevailing political or religious mood have less of a right to live here than anyone else. No one should be chased away from their home and their family for failure to conform. This is a big state, there’s plenty of room for everyone. I’m not going anywhere, and I urge all of the rest of you misfits, weirdos, radicals and generally strange people to stay also, because that’s how change happens.