No one who ends a sentence "...but I have homosexual friends" actually does.
So why do certain politicians keep saying it? Because they're using the line to cloak something deeply dangerous, using the same tactic employed by the Ku Klux Klan. Yes, really, the KKK.
Usually, the "I have homosexual friends" claim follows some insanely homophobic remark, such as last week when Oklahoma State Senator Joseph Silk said that businesses ought to be able to refuse service to gay customers, segregating their stores like lunch counters of the 1950s.
"They don't have a right to be served in every single store," he protested, echoing the wrong side of the civil rights movement.
Of course, he also said, "And I say that sensitively, because I have homosexual friends." Yeah. Sure you do. And they must love it when you refer to them like that.
Look, gay people know a thing or two about friendship, in part because our culture has made such a zealous study of Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia. We can tell when someone's being a friend, and when someone's lying through their teeth like Stanley Zbornak.
And you, Joseph Silk, are not a good friend. Just like Rick Santorum is not a good friend, or Mike Huckabee, or Roy Moore. Would you consider someone a friend if they talked about you like this?
- Friendly: "I have homosexual friends."
- Not Friendly: "They are a threat to our freedoms and liberties."
- Friendly: Gays "can be my friends."
- Not Friendly: "I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle."
- Friendly: "I've had many friends who are homosexual."
- Not Friendly: "Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature."
- Friendly: "They know I love them because they're my friends."
- Not Friendly: "The definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality... man on child, man on dog, or whatever..."
If that's what these guys consider friendship, no thanks.
So why are they so insistent that they have gay friends, if they're obviously so unfriendly? Because they hope that claiming gay friends will cloak their true motivation: maintaining heterosexual supremacy.
They believe that straight people are superior to gays and lesbians. And they used to have the law on their side, with laws that criminalized homosexuality, banned marriage, and permitted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
But times have changed, and now laws are treating LGBTs more equally every day. And that's intolerable to a Silk or a Huckabee -- that is, a person who believes that they're better than queers. And so they're creating new laws that discriminate against LGBTs. In states across the country, they're making nondiscrimination against the law, or requiring government employees to turn away gay citizens.
For example, Silk is sponsoring a bill that would allow businesses to turn away LGBT customers. He says gays and lesbians are the enemy, that "they have zero tolerance or consideration," and that straight people are "forced to violate their religious convictions."
Politicians like Silk have only one reason for creating these new laws: maintaining straight superiority over the LGBTs whom they consider inferior. But they're hiding that hate behind a friendly face. They're hoping that if they can claim gay friends, they won't look like heterosexual supremacists.
It's comparable to what another hateful group has been up to lately: the Ku Klux Klan.
Speaking to reporters last week, Frank Anacona, the head of the KKK, tried to put a friendly face on his organization. "We don't hate people because of their race," he said, but then added, "it's not a hateful thing to want to maintain white supremacy."
Oh, but it is. Segregation and supremacy mean that someone else is going to have to be treated as inferior. And treating someone as inferior means thinking of them as a lesser class of people. "I'm normal," the thinking goes, "they're unnatural. I'm traditional. They're disorderly. I can be trusted. They're just sneaky." And that's the origin of the terrible power imbalance that has led to all of the suffering that bigotry and intolerance and oppression create.
And by the same token, politicians like Silk may say that they have gay friends, but their heterosexual supremacy bills are still rooted in the same perilous thought process: Normal heterosexuality versus unnatural LGBTs. Traditional marriage versus disordered gay couples. Trustworthy straight business owners versus sneaky queers.
This "us versus them" exists purely in the imagination. We're really more alike than we are different -- we all just want to live the lives of our choosing. But some people see difference wherever they look, and think that "different" means "enemy."
The KKK may say they don't hate, and Joseph Silk may say he has gay friends, but creating rules that hold people down is bigotry no matter how friendly you are about it.
When a politician's rhetoric is cut from the same cloth as that of the Imperial Wizard of the KKK, their friendship is something we can do without.