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Jessica Gerson

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Dear Opponents of Equality: No More Mr. Nice Girl

Posted: 04/10/2013 2:42 pm

Last week I wrote a letter explaining to opponents of marriage equality why I used the word "bigot" to describe them. The letter seems to have resonated with many who were struggling to express similar sentiments. However, I noticed that the comments were rife with people -- including many LGBTQ people and their allies -- admonishing me for using the word "bigot." They suggested that it isn't productive and won't help change hearts and minds.

No doubt they are right. If we're seeking to gently coax some of the holdouts into supporting equality, it's probably best not to name-call, even if the name one is using is accurate.

But I am tired. I am so tired. I am tired of being expected to sit up straight, smile pretty and guard my words so that I don't offend the delicate sensibilities of the people who are trying to keep me crushed under their boot heels. I am tired of catching flies with honey. I am tired of being expected to politely "agree to disagree" with those who are actively fighting to deny me full citizenship in my own country.

As a social worker, I have engaged in considerable schooling that supports the notion that attacking someone is not the best way to convince them that your point is valid. I acknowledge the truth in this. I accept it. But I am not the one doing the attacking. I am defending myself, and I shouldn't have to -- I won't -- coddle my attackers. I refuse to let anyone tell me that my argument is somehow invalid because I didn't deliver it in a prettily wrapped package designed to offend nobody.

I can't help but think that maybe, on some level, this isn't a bad thing. Maybe it's time to stop being nice. In the end, after everyone who is on the fence has come over to the side of equality (and I believe they will), there are still going to be plenty of folks on the other side of that fence. And they don't deserve my kindness. They don't deserve my empathy. They deserve to have the label "bigot" affixed to their chests like a scarlet "A," so that the rest of us can pick them out of a crowd and avoid them. Everyone is entitled to have and express an opinion, but we are equally entitled to criticize those opinions, particularly when they are bigoted.

Bigots weren't born that way. Bigotry is not an inborn characteristic. Unlike being gay, it's a decision. It's a behavior. It's not just a conscious choice but a conscious choice to believe and treat other human beings as "less than" yourself.

Certainly, we need people out there who are able to engage the opponents of equality in a gentle, empathic and nonthreatening manner. I hope to come back to a place where I can relate kindly and compassionately one day. I just can't do it right now, because this is my country too. I pay taxes. I go to work every day. I support myself. I donate to charities. I am a productive, contributing member of society. And I do not owe those who oppose equal rights a damn thing.

So, yes, it might be "more productive" if I stopped telling bigots that they are bigots. But I'm not going to. If you still have some honey left with which to catch flies, good for you, and carry on! As for me, in this moment, all I've got left is vinegar.

 
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