As he so often does, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is once again the victimizer playing the victim. At a speech at Winona State University, controversial commentator and founder of the “It Gets Better” Project, Dan Savage, proclaimed that “every dead gay kid is a victory for the Family Research Council,” and that “Tony Perkins sits on a pile of dead gay kids every day when he goes to work.” Perkins is so upset that he is contemplating a lawsuit. So what exactly did Dan Savage mean? Savage’s explanation can be read here: (http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/10/03/im-dan-savage-and-i-approvedand-stand-bythis-message) But the two most compelling points he makes are:
- Perkins has publicly blamed the fact that gays have a higher suicide rate than heterosexuals on the fact that, in his mind, homosexuality itself causes emotional problems. I will explain later in the post why Perkins’ claim is ridiculous.
- The homophobia that Perkins promotes causes parents of gay children to reject their children’s sexual orientation and helps foster a climate that leads to bullying. This, of course, causes more gay teen suicides. In fact, Perkins bitterly denounced the “It Gets Better” Project.
Now, I should point out that I do not agree with Dan Savage on all subjects. I do not believe, as some have claimed, that he is racist. And I defended him several months ago for a comment he made about the Bible. Still, he has certainly said some things that I disagree with. In this specific case, I would perhaps have not phrased my point quite the way he did. However, I agree with what he said. I will get to that in a moment, but first, I want to make a point to people horrified by Dan Savage’s recent bombastic comment. Let me tell a story. I am lucky enough to be a member of Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation, a church that actively fights bigotry rather than promoting it. Last February, the church was able to bring in Reverend Joseph Lowery to speak. Lowery, for those who have not heard of him, is a ninety-year old veteran of the Civil Rights Movement. Lowery is not known for avoiding controversial statements, and this speech was no exception. At one point, he stated that white people owed him something. Did he phrase that sentiment in a good way? Probably not. But let us consider than Joseph Lowery is a black man who grew up in Alabama when Jim Crow was alive and well. He was a middle-aged man by the time black people in Alabama had equal rights. So to my mind, if he feels angry about what he went through and wants to vent when he has a public forum, I feel like that is his prerogative, even if I would use different words. Just like Dan Savage with heterosexual people, Lowery has never said that whites should be denied equal rights. He made a point of saying he knew that there were good white people and bad white people. Now think about Dan Savage. Every gay person in this country has been a second-class citizen since the day they were born with a sexual orientation different from the majority. Dan Savage has had it worse than many, however. He had to grow up in the late 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuality was illegal in many states, and America was overall far more homophobic even that it is today. I think most of us would be a little angry if we had grown up in those circumstances. As far as what Savage said, we have to consider things logically. Tony Perkins took evidence of the destructive effects of homophobia—the higher rate of suicide by gay teens—and tried to spin it to support a homophobic viewpoint. The reason that he did this is because he knows that every time a gay teen commits suicide because of homophobia, it brings negative attention to Perkins and the Family Research Council. Does anyone really believe that Perkins’ claim that homosexuality itself naturally causes emotional problems that lead to suicide? One of the points he used to back this absurd claim up is that the Netherlands, where gay people have equal rights, still has a high gay suicide rate. However, he ignores the fact that problems of bigotry can persist and continue to negatively impact people’s lives long after legal discrimination is abolished. After all, would anyone deny that racism is still a serious problem in the United States? It should also be noted that in a study conducted by Dr. Mark Hatzenbuehler, the rate of gay youth attempting suicide was significantly higher when they were in an environment in which their sexual orientation was not supported. Homophobic individuals seem to want to have it both ways on free speech. They say that they have a right to freedom of speech when it comes to spouting off homophobic propaganda. But when someone calls them bigoted, they whine and say the people making these statements are being mean. It reminds me of the child who pokes his brother or sister over and over again. After about the seventh poke, the disgruntled sibling slaps them. The one who was doing the poking then says, “Mommy, Tommy/Susie hit me!” Mr. Perkins, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.