I know that in our instant communication society the notion of writing about something that happened as long as 10 days ago seems antiquated. And yet, I feel like I have to weigh in on the recent suspension of former NBA star Tim Hardaway for saying, in a live radio interview, that he “hates gay people.” Despite apologizing, Hardaway was immediately suspended by NBA Commissioner David Stern from representing the NBA at its All Star festivities.
Personally I’m not sorry that Hardaway was suspended. I know that free speech allows him to say whatever he wants, as it should. But the NBA also has the right to choose who represents it, and is well within its rights to choose not to be represented by somebody who is preaching hate towards any group.
But the more interesting thing to me is how we draw such a fine line between what is “hate mongering” and what is “expressing personal values.” The litany of critical statements towards Gays and Lesbians is prolific. Think, for a moment, about what you have heard about gay people: they cannot marry, like heterosexual people, because it would cause the destruction of the American family. In fact, we need a constitutional amendment to insure that they be denied the same rights as heterosexuals; they should not be able to serve in the armed forces, even though they are willing to give their lives fighting for their country; they should not be able to teach in schools, (even though virtually every study shows that there is more pedophilia and child abuse among heterosexuals then gays); they should not be able to adopt children (because, presumably, children are better left parentless then to be raised by two loving parents who happen to be of the same gender); they are sinners because Leviticus 18:22 states that "And with a male you shall not lay lyings of a woman" (though somehow the same people don’t seem to be at all bothered that the Leviticus 25:44-46 also states that people may practice slavery, and that Exodus 35:2 states that a neighbor who works on the Sabbath should be put to death, or any number of other Biblical references that are inappropriate in our current world view); they “deserved” AIDS (the “gay plague”) because it was God’s punishment for their sins; that they should not be allowed in sports locker rooms (even though we allow woman reporters, and sometimes groupies, in those same locker rooms); they are: “weird”, “strange”, “sick”, “mentally ill”, “an abomination,” etc. And, of course, they will go to Hell.
And yet none of this is “hate”?
Why is it that we are so obsessed with this issue? It would seem that, for most people, it would simply be a matter of “other people’s business.” I grew up in a religion that taught that one shouldn’t eat ham. My Hindu daughter-in-law, my Muslim and Buddhist friends, as well as a significant percentage of the world’s population, grew up with the same religious restriction. Yet, I hear no hewing cry for the eating of ham to be made illegal. Why then do people believe that their religious beliefs about sexual orientation should govern the law?
At its core the reason is simple. Being around gay people makes many people uncomfortable. It’s too different. It scares them. It turns them off. It seems weird. And, yes, sometimes, it makes them afraid that they might be seduced by it.
But we dare not say that aloud. It’s not “polite” any more to say it out loud. We “love our Gay brothers and sisters” while we “pray for their soul.” We are more “tolerant” then that. Seinfeld even jokes about it (“Do you think he’s gay…not that it would matter!”)
When I was a kid I loved the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. I’m sure you remember the story. The vain Emperor is tricked by some charlatans into believing that the clothes that they are selling him are so fine, so beautiful, that they are invisible to the normal human eye. The Emperor, so consumed with his vanity, buys into the story and goes naked in front of his kingdom where all of his subjects look on, thinking the obvious, but not saying anything because it is not polite, and maybe not safe, to say anything. Finally, a young child, unrestricted by the inhibitions and fears of the adults, shouts out, “The Emperor has no clothes on!”
And so that brings us back to Tim Hardaway, because ultimately his real offense, was that he said what so many others feel.
Except, he said it out loud.