From UVA's Cavalier Daily

Imagine tolerance; effect change

Wednesday, October 21, 1998

Imagine a child sitting in front of the TV. On the screen are two men kissing. "Look at those fags," the boy says to his parents, laughing. His parents' faces turn purple with anger; the boy, surprised, immediately loses his smile. "You know, my sister is gay," his mother says, and his father sends him to bed without supper.

Imagine an elementary school classroom where a teacher talks about mothers and fathers. One girl raises her hand and says she has no father, but two mothers. The children titter with laughter. The teacher asks them why they're laughing and what the big deal is. "My child has two fathers," he explains.

Imagine a middle-school classroom where a boy gets a crush on another boy. He nervously tells two friends. One of them laughs his head off and calls him a sissy; the other friend glares at the first friend and asks him what his problem is. The nervous boy feels his chest muscles relax, and he exhales for the first time in an hour.

Imagine an ordinary church where every Sunday evening, a different family invites the pastor and his male partner over for dinner.

Imagine a high school hallway where a girl puts a rainbow sticker on her locker door. The next day, she finds the sticker torn down and the word "DYKE" spray painted across her locker. A big group of students washes it off that afternoon; the following morning, the girl comes to school to find that 10 students have put brand-new rainbow stickers on their own lockers.

Imagine a press conference where a U.S. senator stands up and says that gay people are like alcoholics and kleptomaniacs. His fellow senators call for his censure; in his home state, a grass-roots movement grows, calling for his resignation.

Imagine a town in Wyoming where a male college student goes up to another male and asks him out. The guy turns him down; minutes later, outside the bar with his friends, the guy seethes with anger. "Just relax," one friend tells him. "So he thought you were gay. What's the big deal?" He responds, "I wanna kick that queer's ass." Another friend says, "If you don't stop it, we're gonna kick your ass."

Imagine the same town in Wyoming where the same college student is beaten repeatedly with a pistol and then strung up on a fence. He is discovered the next day, and soon, in a hospital, he dies. But fundamentalist Christians condemn the attack. "I don't know what kind of people would do such a thing," a preacher in Topeka, Kansas says. "A man gets attacked just because he likes other men. Everyone knows that God doesn't tolerate such hatred. Why should we?"

Imagine a college fraternity bid night celebration. One brother puts his arm around a pledge's shoulder. "Get that off me, you fag," the guy responds. Suddenly the room is silent. The pledge finds 50 pairs of eyes glaring at him. "What?" he says. The next day he gets a call from the fraternity's president saying they've retracted their bid--they don't want people like him in their brotherhood.

Some of this sounds crazy, you might say. These are the thoughts of a dreamer. But why? Because it's just not the way the world is today, you say. Because people just don't think that way, you say.

Because my politicians don't think that way. Because my religious leaders don't think that way. Because my parents don't think that way. Because my friends don't think that way.

But do you think that way? Are you willing to stand up for something when people might laugh at you? Perhaps they'll laugh. But perhaps they secretly agreed with you all along.

It's hard for a young, straight person to stand up for gay tolerance. But imagine how hard it can be for a young gay person to stand up for himself.

Attitudes are not made of stone. They can change when people see change around them.

The events with the greatest capacity to change us are personal and concrete. A story is stronger than a statistic. All the speeches in the world won't have nearly as great an effect on your brother's attitudes towards gays as you will by coming out to him. A gay-rights rally will not humble a homophobe half as much as his friends' condemnation of him will.

People beat up gays because they think it's OK. People make fag jokes because they think nobody cares. Well, I care, and some of your friends care, and maybe you care, too. And if more of us would open our mouths--not just on television, but in kitchens, living rooms, classrooms and dorm rooms--then attitudes might slowly, ever so slowly, begin to change. And I bet the world wouldn't fall apart, either. Imagine a world like that.