Why Gays and Lesbians Have So Far to Go



Gays and lesbians have made a lot of progress in the past decade in their long struggle for equality, but if the opinions of two Bay Area newspapers are any indication, then they still have a long way to go. Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, the hometown paper of one of the largest gay and lesbian communities in the world, preached “tolerance” for those who spend large sums of money to strip gays and lesbians of a basic human right.

And over the weekend, Oakland Tribune columnists Tammerlin Drummond and Bryon Williams essentially told the East Bay gay and lesbian community that the only way they’ll ever attain equality is to shut up, get back in line, and don’t dare challenge the status quo. It was akin to telling blacks and whites in the 1960s who fought to overturn anti-miscegenation laws that they would have gotten what they wanted more quickly if they were nicer, more polite, and were more “tolerant” of those who sought to deny them equality.

So why do the Chron’s editorial board and the Trib columnists sound as if they’re stuck in some 1950s time warp? It appears that part of it has to do with how they view the fight for civil rights, and their opinions provide insight into why it has been so difficult for gays and lesbians to win the right to marry. The Chron, Drummond, and Williams all maintain that they support gay marriage. And yet they strongly criticize gays and lesbians who are attempting to block the reappointment of Lorenzo Hoopes, one of the biggest backers of Prop. 8, to Oakland’s Paramount Theatre board of directors.

They argue that Hoopes has a right to his anti-gay views, and to spend $26,000 to illegalize gay marriage, and that opponents should just be good little gays and stay quiet about it. But if they truly believed in marriage equality and gay rights, then they would be applauding the efforts to block a bigot like Hoopes. As I said on Friday, if Ron Dellums had nominated someone who campaigned to outlaw interracial marriage, it’s unlikely that these same voices would be telling those who objected to shut up. In fact, their argument for silence in the face of discrimination is completely wrongheaded. Throughout history, bigotry has never been defeated by keeping one’s mouth shut, and equality has never been achieved by "tolerating" those who wish to discriminate. Don’t just take my word for it, read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” where he argues forcefully against doing nothing and remaining silent in the struggle for civil rights.

Secondly, it appears that they have a complete misunderstanding of the First Amendment. They essentially argue that Hoopes has a constitutional right to be a bigot, and to spend lots of money on a campaign for state-sanctioned discrimination, but that gays and lesbians have no right to challenge him. Of course, Hoopes has a constitutional right to his own political views. But so do gay and lesbian activists. They have every right to speak up and oppose Hoopes’ appointment to a public board and to mount a political campaign to stop him.

It’s called the marketplace of ideas, and it’s a cornerstone of free speech. Everyone has the right to their opinion, and that means both Hoopes and the gays and lesbians who fight against him. Sure, it can sometimes be a loud and messy process. But the whole premise behind the marketplace of ideas is that when all the shouting is done, the best ideas will rise to the top. And eventually, bigoted and discriminatory views will be seen just as they are and discarded on the scrap heap of history.