"The Civil Rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He's helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln." — John F. Kennedy
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” — Louis Brandeis
These two quotes came to mind during the past week, especially when listening to my workday companions, Matt Spiegel and Dan Bernstein got into a discussion about how to handle the news of Jason Collin’s announcement earlier in the week of being a gay active NBA player.
I enjoy both of their respective shows and gravitate toward them more than their on-air partners, Dan McNeil with Spiegel and Terry Boers with Bernstein. What really caught my ear was how Spiegel openly questioned the efficacy of Boers and Bernstein taking so many anti-gay calls during their show. He maintained that it wasn’t going to change anyone’s mind and that confrontation with these people wasn’t the way to go.
Bernstein countered that he wasn’t going to stop. He felt that it was important to keep the story up front and to expose the bigots for what they are, much like Brandeis’s quote above. As a matter of fact, Bernstein has said the quote in regard to any number of issues, but he didn’t in this particular case.
The idea still works, however. Letting these people take the stage, if even for a moment, exposes them for what they are: intolerant bigots. What makes it more effective is that Boers and Bernstein rarely let them stand behind the double speak and canards thrown into the discussion.
I don’t know if the yelling is absolutely necessary, but I think the confrontation is. No, I don’t think the people who hold such strong anti-gay feelings are going to change overnight, but someone who is wrestling with the idea is being convinced. Maybe the yelling turns them off, but I don’t think so. I think more people who are still working out homosexuality in their own lives are affected by the argument.
This leads me to JFK’s quote about Bull Connor and his role in the Alabama civil rights movement. For those of you who don’t know who Bull Connor was, he was the Director of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama when Martin Luther King brought the Civil Rights Movement to Connor’s city.
Instead of broaching any kind of compromise and really, human decency, Connor decided to turn fire hoses and attack dogs on the activists, many of them children. The television coverage and still photos of the violence are the most enduring images of the struggle for civil rights. While the phrase, “the whole world is watching” wouldn’t be chanted at large until 1968, the truth is that the whole world was watching and was appalled.
I think it is the same today when homophobes are given voice and allowed to say their incredibly stupid beliefs out loud. While the people saying such things will never be convinced of their error, there are still people listening who hear them and decide they don’t want to stand with that kind of barbarous hatred. As the acceptance of homosexuals continues to grow those who oppose such things will become louder and louder.
We need to let them talk, to let them say all of their idiotic and toxic thoughts, engage in their first amendment rights. It isn’t so much a chance to engage in a debate, there is no debate, just as there is no debate about racial equality and women’s equality. It is a chance for them to declare their own foolishness and allow others to see where these people really stand.
Jesus once said, “The poor will always be with you” and it was said in the context of those of lesser economic means. Taken another way, however, it can be viewed as people with poor ideas as well. Just like those with no money, those with ignorant and bigoted, poor ideas will always be with us. That doesn’t mean we ignore either of them. We need to recognize them, and do our best to help all those who are poor, in all of its forms.