LGBT Community: Please don’t vilify our friends, like Tom Hanks

entertainment, lgbt, media, religion Add comments (2)

tom_hanksThose who voted yes on Proposition 8 have been called many things in the aftermath of  the election. Haters. Bigots. Hypocrites. Christianists, and those are only a few of the more kind labels. But never have I heard anyone refer to them as un-American.

Tom Hanks has come under fire recently for retracting his statement from last week where he said voting for Proposition 8 was un-American. Unsurprisingly, some in the LGBT community are up in arms over the retraction, despite the infrequency of such a charge. 

The LGBT community is still smarting from the unhealed wound that is Prop 8, myself included. I married my partner in September of 2008, and there’s a reasonable chance that by the summer of 2009 it will be rendered invalid. (Catholics, Mormons can expect a bill if that happens).

There are multitude of reasons of why marriage equality lost in November. One I keep coming back to is a failure to cast the role of the villain in the battle against Prop 8. Unlike Prop 6 in 1978, there was no John Briggs to debate, and no Anita Bryant to galvanize  our base. Instead in 2008 we had the Catholic and Mormon church, two amorphous beasts that were nearly impossible to vilify in the minds of the public. 

Since the election, many in the LGBT community have been quick to accuse and eager to demonize, perhaps in an effort to finally cast the “villain” we never had the opportunity to confront. Unfortunately, we are not always right in this rush to judgement. Naiveté, retractions, misstatements and quotes taken-out-of-context can erase years of LGBT favor and support. Even members of the LGBT community are not immune. 

Among many, Reverend Rick Warren now fills the role of villain quite nicely, Prior to the election, Warren made a video supporting Prop 8, and later compared gay marriage to incest and pedophilia. But who was talking about Warren prior to the election? Where was the outrage then? Drowned out by the noise against the Mormon and Catholic church? Granted Warren himself leads a church (an unfortunate pattern), but at least we could have put a face to the hate, a person to focus on, and someone to discredit. 

Which brings us back to Tom Hanks. 

First his original statement (via Fox News):

“…and the truth is a lot of Mormons gave a lot of money to the church to make Prop-8 happen, there are a lot of people who feel that is un-American, and I am one of them. I do not like to see any discrimination codified on any piece of paper, any of the 50 states in America, but here’s what happens now. A little bit of light can be shed, and people can see who’s responsible, and that can motivate the next go around of our self correcting Constitution, and hopefully we can move forward instead of backwards. So let’s have faith in not only the American, but Californian, constitutional process.”

And now his retraction (via a publicist):

“I believe Proposition 8 is counter to the promise of our Constitution; it is codified discrimination. But everyone has a right to vote their conscience; nothing could be more American, To say members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who contributed to Proposition 8 are ‘un-American’ creates more division when the time calls for respectful disagreement. No one should use ‘un- American’ lightly or in haste. I did. I should not have.”

I anticipate the reaction in the LGBT community will be swift, viewing the retraction as cowtowing to the religious right. And considering the reaction already among some in the LGBT community, you’d think that Tom Hanks not only retracted his “un-American” comment, but whole-heartedly endorsed Prop 8 as well. Hanks only retracted the “un-American” label, which really seemed misapplied in the first place. Isn’t refusing to vote even more “un-American?” Regardless of what or who you are voting for?

Nor did the media or bloggers help by mischaracterizing the retraction as an apology, when the words “sorry”, “apologize” or “regret” appear nowhere in the statement.

What is important however is that “Discrimination should not be codified.” survived in the retraction. This says a lot more about Tom Hanks than any “giving in” does. Last time I checked Americans could still be bigots and hate mongers and racists. It doesn’t make them un-American. It makes them undesirable elements of society.

In such a toxic environment it’s easy to turn on friends, or those who been supportive of our cause. I too have been guilty of rushing to judgement (sorry Josh Brolin).  But these are the people we cannot afford to lose. Tom Hanks and Melissa Etheridge are not the villains. Barack Obama is not the villain. 

The LGBT community is still angry, and if that anger continues misdirected, we will lose more than friends and supporters, will lose our cause, and ourselves.

I… we… need to remember that hate, intolerance and ignorance are the villains, and those individuals who personify them. I don’t count Tom Hanks among them.

A reminder below of just how short our memories are…

Post by ILO on 01/24/09 at 2:01 pm