Articulate Responses to Lies & Rhetoric

By Robin Kane

Right-wing opponents to civil rights for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people use similar arguments and rhetoric around the country, whether they're in Prineville, Oregon; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Knoxville, Tennessee; or Anchorage, Alaska. These pages are tools for action. They include responses, ideas, and themes you can use to counter the right's erroneous allegations. Each topic begins with the rhetoric used by the conservative right, followed by some ideas on how to respond.

Rhetoric:
Homosexuals are already covered under the Constitution just like the rest of us. What they want are "special rights." We oppose "special rights" for homosexuals.

Response:
The right wing rhetoric of "special rights" skews the issue. The right to get and keep a job based on merit is not a special right. Equal access to housing is not a special right. Renting a hotel room and being served food in a restaurant are not special rights. The right to have and raise children without the state seizing them is not a special right. The right to walk down a street and not get attacked because of who you are and whom you love is not a special right. Gay and lesbian people want the same rights guaranteed to all American citizens. However, without civil rights laws which specifically ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, gay people can lose their jobs, their homes, and their families, and be refused service at public accommodations simply because they are gay--with no legal recourse. Right-wing zealots who speak of special rights want the very special right to discriminate against those they hate. They want "special righteousness."

Rhetoric:
Local ordinances for gay men and lesbians force the rest of us to live against our religious beliefs. We're entitled to our rights, too.

Response:
Extending civil rights to one sector of society does not withdraw rights from another. Most civil rights ordinances provide exemptions for religious institutions. In addition, many gay and lesbian members of various religious denominations are organizing within their faith so that religious institutions may become more accepting of the diversity of their following.

Rhetoric:
They want to be treated like a minority, like an ethnic minority. The Supreme Court says they're not. And we know they're not because they never rode in the back of the bus and they are not economically deprived. Studies show that gay men have more disposable income than the rest of Americans.

Response:
Gay men and lesbians are a numerical minority in American society. Like ethnic minorities, we do face job loss, eviction, non-service at public accommodations, and the loss of our children simply because of who we are. And like other minorities, gay people face harassment, physical assault, and murder based on an assailant's hatred against us as a group. A Department of Justice study reported that "homosexuals are the most frequent victims" of hate crime. "Minority status" affords no benefits to anyone; rather, it provides guidelines to attempt to redress the inequalities that impair the exercise of constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms, including equal protection under the law. Our Constitution says that all people are created equal--that must include gay and lesbian people as well.

Rhetoric:
Homosexuals lead an abominable lifestyle. People who care about traditional family values must not encourage the open expression of this sexual depravity.

Response: Discrimination is the abomination, not gay and lesbian people. The family values we uphold are support, love, understanding, and respect between family members. Discrimination and bigotry are not traditional family values.

Rhetoric:
You can't let gays be near children; since they can't reproduce, they recruit. And they are all pedophiles.

Response:
Statistics show that the vast majority of sexual abuse is committed by men against women, usually within the heterosexual family structure. Pedophiles are criminals who derive illicit pleasure from sexual abuse of children, and whose adult sexual attractions are almost always to members of the opposite sex. One 1992 study from Denver showed that children are 100 times more likely to be molested by a family member than by a gay person. Lies perpetuate stereotypes that are then used to deny gay people our rights. It is wrong to deny us our rights based on these myths.

Rhetoric:
Gay people want to force their lifestyle on us and take away our rights.

Response:
Civil rights laws that include lesbian and gay people do not limit the rights of others. Instead, they extend to gays and lesbians the same rights already enjoyed by most Americans--the right to obtain and keep employment based on ability to do the job; the right to equal access to housing; the right to raise their children; and the right to live free of violence. There is no so-called "gay lifestyle." Gay men and lesbians are members of every social class, religious faith, ethnic group, occupation, and political affiliation. Gay people are not interested in forcing anything on anyone--just the opposite. We demand the freedom to live our lives with the same freedoms and rights that are accorded to all citizens, without fear that our liberty will be usurped by far right bigots and religious intolerance.

Rhetoric:
What this is really leading to are marriage licenses for gay men and lesbians, joint benefits, child adoptions, formalized domestic relationships, and the destruction of the American family. This is wrong.

Response:
Civil rights laws including gays and lesbians do not automatically grant us the right to marry. While the Christian Right perpetuates the stereotype of all gay people as sexually promiscuous individuals, society denies us recognition of our committed unions. Gay people are struggling to gain basic employment benefits for spouses equivalent to our heterosexual co-workers in their committed relationships.

Rhetoric:
What about bisexuals? They sometimes pretend to be normal heterosexual people, but they engage in the same abnormal, unhealthy sexual practices as homosexuals. Bisexuals are getting AIDS from homosexual sex and then spreading it throughout the heterosexual community.

Response:
Bisexual men and women live, work, and organize within the gay and lesbian community and in the larger human rights community. Lesbians, gay men, and bi people are all targets of the same oppression, excused on the basis that we value sexual and affectional relationships with members of the same gender. The US Department of Defense "ban against gays in the military" also includes those acting or identifying as bisexual. Many right-wing initiatives, including Colorado's Amendment 2, target bisexuals along with gay men and lesbians in their petition language and in the effects of their discriminatory legislation. Lesbians, gay men, and bi people work together to oppose these attempts to legislate against our civil rights. AIDS is the cumulative effect of immuno-suppression exacerbated by the presence of a virus (HIV) that critically impairs the ability of the body to keep itself well. Viruses do not target specific people or discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or identity. The prevention of HIV/AIDS ultimately rests with each individual person's responsibility for her or his own actions, regardless of sexual orientation, class, race, gender, or sexual identity.

Rhetoric:
It's within our First Amendment rights to say what we think of homosexuals.

Response:
Right-wing organizations hide their homophobia behind the First Amendment. While the right wing demands the right to speak out against homosexuality, they are running well-financed campaigns to censor and squelch positive images of gay and lesbian people on television, in schools, and in the arts. The hatred and lies that right-wing organizations spew create a hostile environment for gay and lesbian people. Their rhetoric bolsters the hatred expressed by the bigots who physically attack gay men and lesbians. A national study conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) Policy Institute documented 1,898 anti-gay incidents in just five US cities in 1992, a 172 percent increase over the number of incidents in 1990.

Robin Kane is an experienced media specialist who has worked for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other human rights groups. This article previously appeared in the NGLTF publication, Fight the Right Action Kit. © 1995, Robin Kane.

 

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This article is adapted from:
Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash
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