02/01/2012 04:57 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

The Problem with Understanding Hate

I always listen to the news on my way home from work. It's alone time (precious to any parent), and I like to at least pretend to keep up with national and world events. Lately, the news has been full of stories about GOP political primaries. It never seems to take long before an elected official is quoted saying something horribly anti-gay, which pisses me off. One time that this happened, instead of sitting in the car and fuming in silence, I called my brother Harold.

Harold is a great person to call when I feel like screaming about someone I have never and will never meet. He runs a residential facility for people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia and always has some unique way of looking at all the things that infuriate me. He listened to me rage about the ignorant, close-minded, and just plain dangerous nature of hate speech. "I just don't understand how people can do this," I yelled at him. After I had ranted myself out, Harold was quiet for a moment then he said, "Whenever one of my residents is doing something that looks crazy, I always tell my staff to get in their shoes and try to figure out why. But with those people... I don't want to be in their shoes. I have no interest in knowing what can make someone hate that much."

From time to time I get a message that goes a little like this (and yes, I am broadly paraphrasing): It is unfair of you to say that people who do not support gay rights and gay marriage hate all gay people. I don't hate gay people. They are sinners and perverts, and none of my children will be gay because I raise them right... but I don't hate gays.

And when I get one of these messages, my initial gut response is always the same: who do they think they are kidding? Unfortunately, these kind of hypocritical statements are common, and some prime examples come directly from elected officials making news lately.

Representative Michele Bachmann stated, "If you're involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it's bondage. It is personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement." But in another interview earlier that year she stated, "This is not about hating homosexuals. I don't. I love homosexuals."

Former Senator Rick Santorum said, "Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, where it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family." And in the same interview he said, "I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who's homosexual. If that's their orientation, then I accept that."

It is as if some people think that just because they are not personally going out every day and waving signs with the Westboro Baptist Church, or shouting vicious slurs at a two gay men and their children in the grocery store, then they are not hating anyone.

But they are.

Denying basic civil rights is hate. Characterizing an entire group of people as sick is hate. Damning that same group to hell is hate, as well, no matter how it might be dressed it up. When people express these beliefs or vote for those who expound on these views on television, radio, etc. over and over again, they are doing nothing more than encouraging those who waves signs, throw slurs, and worse.

And on top of that, they are killing children.

The knife, gun, pills, or noose may not be in their actual hands, but they are directly responsible for the deaths of every gay child who thought there was no way out. These kids don't want to be gay. The children who write to me often talk about how much they wish they could change, for themselves, for their parents, or just to make life easier. But they know better. They know despite what right-wing politicians assert, being gay is not a choice they made. Is it any wonder, then, that when faced with a life destined to be filled with nothing but sickness, anguish, and depravity, with no chance of happiness or real family, they choose to take their own lives? Those who think their own hate speech and the deaths of countless children are not connected are only kidding themselves.

Anti-gay hate can be fought through the message of real love, affirmation, and truth. These children need to be shown examples in their own lives and in the media of who they can become. They need to be taught that the very makeup of their nature is not wrong. And they need a government that does not discriminate against them at every turn. Anti-gay hate can only be fought when those who truly love these children and believe in equal rights speak up, speak loud, and then follow those words with action. Children need to see as many adults as possible defending their rights to live, thrive, and be happy.

We all need to work so that this message is not only loud enough to hear and bold enough to see but overwhelming enough to overshadow the message of hate, to give these children and ourselves a chance at a better future. And we need to hold those people who spread hate accountable for the consequences of their words and actions, as well as those who choose to stay silent and indifferent.

So, I think I'll take my brother's advice: I don't want to walk in the shoes of hate; I don't want to understand it. But I do want to fight it, by calling it what it is and never dressing it up as anything else.