Opinion » Bill Cope

Straight-Man's Burden

An opportunity for even the Right to be right


I would hope that Boise Weekly readers understand by now that I am a supporter of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in their struggle to claim a full share of whatever it is we American citizens assume is ours—be it rights, opportunities, dignity, a sense of relative safety, freedom from being perpetually judged and condemned and discriminated against and assaulted and treated like crap... whatever it is.

However, in the process of writing something about the eruption of outrage over the attempt by Indiana Republicans to make life for LGBT people measurably more miserable, I got to wondering what I might have written about LGBT issues in the past. That's nothing new. On occasion, I have to go back over past columns, to make sure I'm not writing the same thing over again. (And if you think that's funny, you try turning out more than a thousand of these bastards, then remember exactly what you said in all of them.)

I knew I hadn't written anything specifically on LGBT concerns for at least a year, so I started there, moving backwards until I found what I was looking for—the last one I'd done dealing specifically with matters gay.

December, 2008. Yeah... 345 columns ago was the last time I used this platform solely to express my solidarity with the LGBT community. Even then, it was less a statement of support, and more of a condemnation of the Mormon Church for using its enormous clout to get Prop. 8 passed in California—seven years ago.

I'm sorry for that. While same-sex marriage may not be as urgent an issue in my mind as, say, global warming or voter suppression, it is nevertheless important to me, and something that I hold at the gut level to be right.

Frankly, though, it doesn't appear LGBT activists have any pressing need for me to continually add my negligible weight behind their cause. As reflected against the background of where their concerns stood 40 years ago, 20 years ago, even 10 years ago, it is remarkable how rapidly this has flipped. We can only wish other serious issues were turning around as quickly as same-sex marriage and LGBT civil rights in general.

I can't say whether it's a Hallmark-moment Welcome to the family with open arms shift, or if it's a matter of a resigned This is here to stay so we might as well get used to it. Either way, the attitudes of straight Americans have changed and continue to change. From here on, it's just a matter of putting out the lingering hot spots.

And lingering hot spots there will certainly be. There is no foreseeable end to politicians, preachers and other demagogues fanning the dying flames. The thing in Indiana and similar states, for instance, has been nothing but a maneuver to use the fears of straight people for political gain. Increasingly, it is a failed tactic.

There is something in the debate that goes to a place more visceral than religion and politics: sex. As long as there are people who are uncomfortable with the sexual aspects of homosexuality, there will be measurable resistance to full equality for LGBT people.

I understand that, I share some of that discomfort. In that way, I am certainly like multiple millions of other Americans.

I don't believe this is drawn between conservative and liberal, or even religious and secular. I suspect it is generational. Some of us have grown up and old with too many standard insults and ubiquitous curses, epithets and panics and whispers and crude stupid jokes as a cultural presence, to smoothly give the same consideration to LGBT sexuality as we do anyone else's—that being: it's none of our damn business.

Such an ingrained attitude might also explain why conservative religions are so unreasonably anti-gay, yet have no qualms about letting so many of those other Biblical injunctions slide into irrelevance. (After all, how many times have you called someone a rotten shellfish eater?)

Many of you will undoubtedly think that by admitting to what is seemingly an innate disposition, I am admitting to a prejudice, perhaps even bigotry. I would beg to differ. My understanding of bigotry and prejudice is that the damage they do comes more from action than attitude, and I have never—even decades before this column began—used my sexual identity against either an LGBT individual or the LGBT community.

Point of fact, I have supported LGBT equality even before we called it "LGBT equality," even before the words "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender" made their way into common usage. Long before I had this platform from which to lend that support.

And there is a good, and hopefully helpful, reason I'm getting all confessional at this time: To assure others like me that we don't have to like everything about people who have different habits than ours to accept them as true equals. The realities that make us human extend far beyond our sexuality, and that if we were to start legislating based on proclivities and practices we find disagreeable, we'd all be in trouble.

This is one of those all-too-rare moments in the narrative of our nation when the right thing is coming to pass. And I promise you, it feels good to be on the right side of it—even if it takes seven years to remember to say so.