Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern's now-infamous anti-gay speech published on YouTube last Friday has garnered worldwide attention, and 1 million people have now viewed the video. Moved by the egregious level of homophobia coming from the elected official, Ellen DeGeneres took an uncharacteristic step of playing Kern's comments on her show, then attempted to call the Representative on-air. Margaret Cho has also lent her support to a growing chorus of well-known voices calling for Kern to apologize -- among them Judy Shepard whose son Matthew's murder in a brutal hate-crime in Laramie, Wyoming, galvanized national attention a decade ago. But those celebrity voices and YouTube numbers don't begin to tell the story of the outrage her comments have generated, nor the impact they are having in her own backyard.
In recent days, Rep. Kern and her supporters have defended her freedom of speech, as though that's what millions of people, gay and straight alike, are objecting to. We are not. Rep. Kern has every right to her opinion and to express it. But she is also a public servant and an elected community leader whose public speeches have an impact beyond her own small sphere. If she had offered similar hateful views about African Americans, Native Americans or Jewish people, the calls for her resignation would have been swift and deafening, and from both sides of aisle in the State House. We wouldn't even be debating her speech. We'd be saying goodbye.
Rep. Kern's remarks were not Christian. They were meant to dehumanize gays and lesbians in the most humiliating way. We are like cancer. We are worse than terrorists. We are the biggest threat to America, she said. Who knows how many confused, angry young men who heard those words from a public official are even now dreaming of acting on them? Has she fed the darkness in their hearts with the hatred that fills her own?
The thousands of messages we have received since the release of our video have expressed a range of emotions including shock, anger, outrage and, most prominently, sadness. There was a deep sense of sadness among those who have gay children, grandchildren, siblings, friends and parents. And among those who are themselves gay, there is a sinking feeling that they are a little less free than they thought they were. They are not naïve; they know these ideas exist. But they are alarmed that their expression by someone like Rep. Kern was met with applause and a standing ovation by many of her colleagues.
Rep. Kern may not have realized the effect her ugly words would have, but she now has an opportunity to say to her constituents and to gays and lesbians and their families across Oklahoma, that she regrets the language she used. The damage is done, but her apology can begin the healing.
Chuck Wolfe is the President and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. For more information, please visit www.victoryfund.org.