The San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Committee awarded Roy Ashburn its Pink Brick yesterday. Roy Ashburn is the California state senator with an anti-gay legislative record who was arrested for drunk driving leaving a Sacramento gay bar in March. The Pink Brick is an award given to enemies of the LGBT community. (Previous winners have been Carrie Prejean and Bill O'Reilly.)
Though I don't believe we should be overlooking this guy's long record of homophobia -- and it's certainly not the time for forgiveness yet; he did after all pledge to continue to support anti-gay legislation -- I think that singling him out for special censure from the LGBT community is exactly the wrong tactic. It sends the wrong message to Mr. Ashburn, to the community, and to anyone struggling with his or her sexuality, whether it's an elderly homophobic politician or a 12-year-old kid.
It's always a difficult critique to frame. Of course, I understand the impulse to castigate Ashburn. I don't want to say "hands off!" Of course this guy should be held accountable for opposing LGBT rights at every turn, but it's bizarre to me how we let loose a special kind of vitriol in these cases where someone with a history of homophobia is found out to be queer.
We label it hypocrisy, which is absolutely wrong. It's not hypocrisy, it's a deep, painful shame that I think all of us remember. Haven't we all been that 8th grader who joins in extra loud when the boys are shouting "faggot!" at someone else, for fear of being found out, or because we held some desperate notion that if we shouted loud enough maybe it wouldn't really be true that we were faggots, too?
And I would guess that no matter how out and proud we are now, no matter how long it's been since we threw open the proverbial closet door and marched in our first pride parade, vestiges of that shame linger somewhere deep in our hearts. Because we understand that shame, can't we find some room for compassion for someone like Roy Ashburn, whose life has been so distorted by it? Accountability, yes, but compassion too? Because when we hurl daggers at Roy Ashburn, how many others like him do we push further into the closet?
I know it's controversial to hold this point of view these days when the number one item on the gay agenda is to convince everyone that we're exactly the same as everyone else, but I happen to still believe that one of the great blessings of growing up queer is that our status as pariahs gives us a special understanding of the outcasts of society, because we know what it's like to be marginalized. It's a huge generalization I know, and obviously not all of us are uniquely bighearted, but isn't compassion a quality to be encouraged, to be cultivated?
Maybe I lost you with all the talk about feelings, but even if you look at this in cold political terms, Roy Ashburn's outing provide us with a perfect moment to score political points. We can say, "This is what persecuting sexual minorities results in: a kind of self-loathing that leads people like Roy Ashburn to devote his career to throwing obstacles in the way of fulfillment for himself and anyone like him. We understand how this happens, we understand how the crushing shame of homophobia in our society can so distort a person's sense of self. This is why it needs to stop."