Hatred and intolerance are very much a part of the culture here in Idaho.
On June 23, 2007, Kathy Ford wrote a letter to the Idaho Statesman condemning "gays" as sinners. On July 24, 2007, Brian Murphy reported in the same newspaper that Ian Johnson and Chrissy Popadics had received threatening phone calls and letters concerning their upcoming interracial marriage.
News of this nature does not shock me. When I moved here from Chicago, one of the first differences I noticed was how conservative, religious and white it is here. To think that anyone that does not fit that demographic would feel entirely comfortable here is naive. I am, however, slightly amazed that Brian Murphy and others were shocked that racial intolerance still exists here "even in 2007." I thought Don Imus kept the ball rolling on that one.
At any rate, what did pique my interest concerning these two events was the difference in the relative number of responses from the public and news media and the fervor in the tone of the writers' responses.
Four people responded to Kathy Ford's letter by writing that they were "disappointed" or that while they "[understood] where Kathy Ford was coming from" don't forget that "we are all God's children." One author actually wrote in support of Ms. Ford's opinion and thanked her. None of these responses were very forceful, and they now seem to be neatly tucked away and forgotten.
I stopped reading after the 14th article about Ian and Chrissy and it was reported that over 100 newspapers, Web sites and radio shows, across the nation, picked up this story. Their situation has received a lot more attention and the people that responded were angry—how could anyone threaten our star football player, love is more important than skin color, and "it is an individual's right whom they choose to share their life with."
Aren't some of those appropriate responses to Kathy Ford's letter as well? One writer for Ian and Chrissy even gave the location of his home, requesting that the threats be redirected toward him, so he could apparently handle the situation. How? Through violence, yelling, more threats? I don't think the writer intended to sit down with these people over a cup of coffee to discuss the issue.
Perhaps the disparate responses were due to the fact that Kathy Ford directed her comments to "gays" in general whereas the threatening letters and phone calls were directed to specific people. I can see this. Ian and Chrissy are very popular and well-liked by those who know them. I, too, would stand up in an instant for a friend or family member who was being poorly treated.
Perhaps the difference is due to the zealotry of football vs. faith. Does Bronco pride trump religious values? Kathy Ford's letter was written on the basis of her Christian views. Why didn't hundreds of Christians who believe in "loving thy neighbor" see her letter as an attack on their values and respond in defense of the un-loved. Every letter or news report that I read concerning Ian and Chrissy referenced the Broncos, the Fiesta Bowl and Ian's star football status. There's no denying that the Bronco Nation has a large membership and that their pride was bruised.
I think the difference in the way the public responds to events like these is based on our perception of community. Kathy Ford obviously views herself in a community of Christians who believe that homosexuality is wrong.
The majority of those who defended Ian and Chrissy are most likely residents of Boise and fans of the Broncos. But what if Ian was gay and Chrissy was Christopher? Would the flood of support still have come in? Or what if Ian didn't play football at all or decided to quit the team and work on a double major? How would the public have responded then?
In my opinion, racism, sexism, intolerance for homosexuality and religious intolerance will always continue until we expand our view of community. Until then, we should not be shocked when hatred and intolerance are displayed in public, and only when we broaden our view, will we stand up and respond equally to all forms of hatred and intolerance.