February 25, 2005
By David Weintraub
President, Equality Loudoun
You would think from reading the local papers recently that there were no more important public policy questions facing Virginians than those having to do with the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. A remarkable number of bills addressing this topic were considered in this General Assembly session, most seemingly intended to strip us of the few means we still enjoy in the Commonwealth to protect our families .
In Loudoun, the content of a high school drama club production has captured headlines, while in neighboring Fairfax and Montgomery counties debate rages over the treatment of sexual orientation in the Family Life Education curriculum.
As these conversations continue to unfold, some members of our community have publicly expressed their disapproval of their gay and lesbian neighbors, and offered their opinions about what does and does not cause differences in sexual orientation. These citizens, and some elected officials, have used such terms as “perversity,” “abomination” “immorality,” “unnatural” and “deviant behavior” to refer to gay and lesbian people and our relationships. I have listened to complete strangers describe into a microphone what they assume to be my intimate behavior, and have had epithets for sex acts hissed in my face in hallways.
I imagine that the citizens who have said these things now expect me to respond in kind by calling them “bigoted,” “intolerant,” “hateful” and “homophobic.”
I am not going to do that.
The reason for this is simple: These individuals have the same right to their deeply held beliefs that I have to mine. If they choose to believe, and to teach their children, that gay and lesbian people choose their sexual orientation despite everything we say to the contrary, then that is their right. If they choose to believe that events that occur with great regularity in nature are unnatural because their religious tradition tells them so, that is their right. If they choose to believe that our partnerships are not the equivalent of their marriages, that is their right. I do not wish to take away that right or to change what they believe.
Don’t get me wrong – it would be wonderful if the people who believe these things would listen to those of us who are, after all, the most qualified authorities on our own identities and lives. But I can’t force them to do so, and even if I could it would be as wrong as the demand that I change who I am to conform to the beliefs of others.
Many of our gay and lesbian residents belong to faith communities that fully embrace us as we are and believe that God calls them to walk with those who have been unjustly vilified and cast out – and that doing so is an intensely moral act.
That belief, along with those of other faiths or no faith, is no more or less valid and deserving of respect then the ones expressed by those who insist that God’s plan does not include us.
Where we must draw the line is at the idea that the latter belief is endowed with a special moral status, and is therefore qualified to be the basis of public policy to the exclusion of all other information.
Our public policy cannot allow the beliefs of one group of citizens to mandate unequal treatment for another group of citizens. The belief that gay and lesbian people are deviant is a deeply held belief for some in our community, and they have every right to hold and express that belief. They do not have the right to demand that gay and lesbian people be treated differently under the law or that our public schools teach their belief to our children.
We must categorically reject any policy that would define the existence of any of our students or their families as inappropriate subject matter. By claiming that the global topic of homosexuality is by definition “a prurient subject,” at least one of our school board members has done just that.
The gay and lesbian residents of Loudoun are taxpayers, and many of us are also parents. We are liberal and conservative, Republican, Democrat, Independent and apolitical. Sexual orientation, whatever its source, is not a political position. It is a human characteristic.
Many of our straight neighbors are coming to understand that the nice young men next door who feed their cat while they’re away are a family, too. They don’t see how the two women down the road who welcomed them into the community and have cared for each other for thirty years could possibly be a threat to their children or their marriage. People who choose to believe otherwise are in no danger of having that right taken from them. However, it is not our responsibility to protect that belief from being challenged. The right to hold this belief can only exist alongside an equal right to reject it. It is the moral obligation of a democracy to defend both of these rights.