In last month’s column, I wrote about an unexpected victory for equal rights—the defeat, or at least the temporary derailing, of a same-sex marriage ban in very red
But then there is the other side of the coin, the episodes that remind us that progress does not occur in a straight line, but in what my mother used to call “fits and starts.”
As I write this, there has not been confirmation that this was a hate crime, although it seems unlikely that the choice of victim was merely coincidental. And even in
Two steps forward, one step back. That’s the way humans progress. But we do progress. Over the nine years that I have taught university undergraduates, I have watched a sea change in their attitudes toward their gay classmaters. Most of today’s college students literally do not understand what the fuss is all about. In contrast to their parents’ generation, homosexuality—like sexuality in general—does not make them uncomfortable. Most have gay friends, watch “out” entertainers, and tend to attribute anti-gay bias to ignorance at best or emotional problems at worst.
Much of this attitude change can be directly traced to the “coming out” movement, and the familiarity with gay friends and neighbors that has ensued. One of the persistent mysteries of human behavior is our tendency to fear that which is different and unknown, despite ample evidence that such fears can be—and often are—pathological. In a healthy society, we would divert the energy and resources being expended to deprive gay people of their civil rights to an effort to identify and help the angry and dangerous who walk among us.
Of course, in a healthy society, we would also divert the resources being flushed down the toilet in a failed drug war to public health measures aimed at helping drug abusers quit. In a healthy society, we would not spend trillions of dollars and waste thousands of young lives fighting a war of choice in
Fits and starts. It would be nice if we were beginning to recover from the fits and ready to start addressing the genuinely important conditions of our common culture.