Unless SCOTUS ruins things, marriage equality is pretty much a done deal. Many people across the United States moved at incredible speeds to make sure those rights are cemented. Though there have been setbacks, it is clear that the arch of rights-based gay movements is bending toward justice.
Now for the troubling news. Part of conservative thinking for some, as we have seen in the news and on social media outlets, is a language that places those who victimize members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities in the position of the victim.
It is an irritating thing to see happen.
Take for example Michigan's own Brian Klawiter. Klawiter made national news when he announced on his company's Facebook page that he would refuse service to openly gay individuals. In no uncertain terms, Klawiter writes,
I would not hesitate to refuse service to an openly gay person or persons. Homosexuality is wrong, period. If you want to argue this fact with me then I will put your vehicle together with all bolts and no nuts and you can see how that works.
Klawiter's dog whistle is easy to hear. Be gay, but don't be openly gay. But talking to people like Klawiter about the fact that he has unknowingly served countless lesbians and gay men throughout the history of his business misses the point. Klawiter can easily default to the all-to-easy defensive position of "I just don't want to see gays and lesbians be that way."
What troubles me more about Klawiter's argument and those who silently or not-so-silently agree with him is the language of victimization and weakness that animate his thinking about LGBTQA rights. It's appalling that those who are in the position of power to deny goods and services to others think and feel like those who resist their oppressive actions are oppressing the oppressor. It's a twist of logic that boggles the mind and those who are awe struck must develop ways of responding to it that are both rational, emotional, and unapologetic. So what's a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, ally, or gender non-conforming individual to do?
I would argue that Yvone Sifer of Equality Michigan's response to Klawiter's post is necessary but insufficient. Sifer writes,
Klawiter's post is emblematic of too many businesses in this state where LGBTQ people's lives are constantly at risk for simply being who they are. This is why we call for our representatives in Lansing to step up and modernize ELCRA to include sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. Klawiter's statement goes beyond the denial of service to LGBTQ people and our allies, and includes a threat to our lives. That is contrary to our common values as Americans.
Yes, call such thinking out as contrary to a more inclusive value system, but such call-outs do nothing to limit the defensiveness that is central to Klawiter's argument.
Klawiter's post has made his actions about who he is. This curious move is actually a sophisticated trick that is not unique to conservatives. His post reads,
Apparently if you are white (or close to it), you have a job, go to church, and own a gun... That translates into racist, privileged, bigot...
Well, no, it doesn't. Actually denying services to those who you perceive to be gay is bigoted. Rather than account for its bigotry, however, conservative language like Klawiter's blames others for not accepting discriminatory behavior. Jay Smooth speaks to the point I'm making here. When we talk about who a person is we take our focus off the consequences of that person's action(s).
Suggestions like Smooth's only take us half way though. Keeping our response to the negative consequences of words themselves do not respond to the feeling of victimization that conservative Klawiter's have. Klawiter feels real animosity toward people whom he calls "liberals".
Liberals, THEY are the ones that need to learn to 'co-exist', THEY are the ones who need to WORK to be 'equal'.
This is not simply a straight/gay issue, it is an emotional response to the feeling of not getting one's way. What Klawiter's Facebook post represents is an individual who is unwilling to demonstrate an openness toward understanding other worldviews. On another Facebook post, Klawiter doubles down saying,
I will stand firm on my views and will not back down, however, because of the ridiculous backlash I am requesting any supporters of ours that would be willing to stand with us to help secure my home and business.
Those who would respond to such closed perspective will make little headway if critique is all they offer.
How do we call folks like Klawiter in to our way of thinking? How do we create responses that open people, like Klawiter, up to hearing what we have to say? We might begin by listening to the anger that motivates such texts. We might try to understand the anger animating such language before we critique. What new ways of cross-cultural communication are possible when we try to understand how such anger works? How do we respond to that anger in ways that move us beyond critique and toward accountability? These are questions I would like our communities to consider in light of yet another speech animated by twisted logics of victimization from those who are anything but victims.