As the mother of a lesbian daughter, living in a liberal community, sometimes I forget that the struggle for gay rights is far from over.
Witnessing the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, watching the inexorable move toward marriage equality in the U.S., it’s been easy for me to assume the war has been won and there are only a few local and regional battles yet to fight. Sure there’s still prejudice. After all, a couple of my daughter’s friends were attacked just a year ago, apparently for “looking gay.” Anti-LGBT violence continues, and there are plenty of places in this country in which it is not safe to hold hands with your beloved if that beloved is the same sex as you.
But the trends are clear. We can now envision a time when being gay will be no big deal, a time when anti-gay bigots will barely survive on the far fringes of American society. Unfortunately, things are not going in that direction in some other parts of the world.
I’d been so snugly placed in my happy little equality-encouraging community that I hadn’t paid much attention to the rest of the world until I got a wake-up call a couple of weeks ago watching the Rachel Maddow show. She talked about the recent convictions in Russia of people who had the temerity to do things like hold up a sign saying that it’s okay to be gay, and about the passage of anti-gay legislation in Uganda.
And then I read about the U.S. Methodist Church defrocking a minister who dared to officiate at the marriage of his son to another man. Apparently, the increasing size of the anti-gay vote within the United Methodist Church General Conference is related to the increasing percentage of African church membership in that body.
Rachel Maddow pointed out that both in Russia and in Uganda, the sparks that started off the anti-gay legislative activity were visits by American evangelists to those countries. Who better to stir up hatred and bigotry in the rest of the world than these self-proclaimed voices God, with their claims that the destruction of homosexuality is Bible-endorsed?
The truth is that these forces of backwardism have failed or are failing in this country. The majority of people, and an even bigger majority of younger people, now support gay marriage. Anti-gay legislation and activity in the U.S. is fading as people in my generation die off (or learn better). By 2012, even conservatives were openly acknowledging they had lost the marriage equality battle.
Interestingly, something similar happened with tobacco. As the evidence that tobacco causes cancer mounted, the tobacco companies were hit with lawsuits, were required to post warnings and were restricted in their advertising. Smoking in the U.S. was declining, and the tobacco companies worried that their nice high incomes from tobacco sales might be threatened.
Instead of accepting that maybe manufacturing something poisonous and addictive was not a great idea, the tobacco industry began to increase their exports. They moved into countries full of potential tobacco addicts – developing countries in which the governments were either too weak, too corrupt, or too concerned with basic survival to stop the tobacco companies from selling death to their citizens.
The anti-gay groups in this country have taken a similar tack – they are exporting the cancer of their hatred and intolerance to countries more (and still) susceptible to their lies. And politicians abroad are reaping the same rewards for homophobia that politicians here garnered for so many years.
We Americans have supplied to the world both the good and bad: wheat, democracy, free speech, weapons and tobacco. Now we can add homophobia to the list.