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08/12/2011

Who's exploiting the word 'hate', exactly?

by Jeremy Hooper

Over the past year, and particularly in the time since the Southern Poverty Law Center added a few more names to its anti-gay "hate groups" list, social conservative outlets and personalities have been in overdrive arguing against the notion of "hate" as it is sometimes represented within the LGBT "culture war" debate. Usually these social conservatives' push back involves a short-sighted assessment of a particular group's views, overlooking that which has earned them their most pointed criticisms. Other times the response involves silly canards that pull others into a certain group's organizational boat (from President Obama to the American public at large), as if simply opposing marriage equality is what typically earns a group a "hate" accusation. They also attempt to discredit the people who made the well-documented claims. But almost never do these "pro-family" groups take any responsibility for what they've actually said or done to earn the targeted scrutiny.

Though lately I've been noticing a new, almost more annoying phenomenon: One where the over-eager religious right figures argue against "hate" words and claims, even when such are not made. Latest case in point: This blip from Focus on the Family president Jim Daly:

Change.org called for a Starbucks boycott, calling Willow Creek “an anti-gay church” and saying that not denouncing conversion therapy “is tacit approval.”

A growing number of corporations working with churches and ministries on various projects have been targeted by homosexual activists deeming them “hate” groups recently; Schultz is the third to act on a petition by Change.org in particular.

“‘Hate’ is too big a word to be thrown around with so little discretion,” noted Focus on the Family President Jim Daly. “It is a damaging and dangerous thing to hang such an emotional epithet on a person or group because they think differently about some issues than you do. Believing what the Bible says about human sexuality is a personal conviction, not an act of persecution.”
Starbucks Founder Pulls Out of Willow Creek Event [Focus on the Family's Citizenlink]

Okay, but here's the thing: The Change.org petition in question (started by Asher Huey) does not use the word "hate" even once. Not once. Screen Shot 2011-08-12 At 9.11.04 Am-1The petition says Willow Creek has a "long anti-gay history." It also accurately notes the church's connection to "dangerous conversion therapy," pointing out the fact that such practices are rejected by credible science. But not once is the word "hate" used. The petition letter is 100% focused on the issues at hand, letting participants determine for themselves what is driving the action. Read it here.

The same goes for last month's petition against Focus on the Family's engagement with the TOMS shoe company. That Change.org petition ably noted some of the realities of FoTF's sociopolitical work (anti-gay anti-choice, etc.). But never once was the word "hate" used in the petition or its supplement docs, leaving those labels at participants' discretion.

But of course it's much easier for someone like Jim Daly to argue against a supposed instead of an actual. So rather than take on the actual "ex-gay" advocacy that led to this latest Willow Creek/Starbucks petition (the same sort of advocacy that Focus on the Family fully supports), Daly takes on that victim role that the religious right so dearly loves. He wants his readers to see the social conservatives as targets of ad hominem attack, so that once again the gays who stand for their lives and loves come across as the "radical militants." He wants the LGBT community to seem like the ones negligently abusing language, even as he and his organization continue to attach words like "particularly evil lie of Satan" to gay people's orientations!

This is something I take particular issue with, as I am someone who engages in this debate for around ten hours every weekday, yet virtually *never* do I toss around words like "hate" or "bigot" or whatnot. Though often times, my focus on the actions and words rather than the messenger's motivation matters not to the figures I challenge. I still get accused of reducing the opposition voices to "haters" or "homophobes," something that's offensive to me not only in its inaccuracy, but also in the intellectually lazy way such reactions tend to address (or not address) my stated concerns. For someone like myself, who wants to get to the heart of these political matters so that I can move on and write children's books or something equally soul-soothing, these personal asides are just a distraction that slows down the national conversation.

And it's also interesting to see Focus on the Family, in particular, resort to such convenience. I say interesting, because Focus on the Family was decidedly left off the SPLC's latest "hate groups" list. That may confuse or even annoy some who seek their inclusion on any roundup of America's most biased, but the fact of the matter is that SPLC saw Focus on the Family in a different light that separates that Colorado Springs entity from proudly animus-driven groups like the American Family Association or Family Research Council. If I had to guess, I would say it's because Focus truly does engage in a number of outreach efforts that have little-to-nothing to do with the "culture war," unlike groups like AFA and FRC who can hardly turn on their lights in the morning without first condemning a gay person. But whatever the reason, SPLC, using the organization's own criteria, did draw a distinction when it comes to Focus on the Family -- a distinction that Focus on the Family should recognize, honor, and ideally use to hone their focus away from the others rather than willingly recommit to that which has so sullied their reputation!

But unfortunately, the organized religious right, as a generalized block, has taken on this "hate" pushback as a movement strategy. So now, as these social conservatives purport to push back against the supposed monolith who cannot engage their work without using labels like "hate," they are ones who are unfairly exploiting these terms and attached sentiment. In order to accuse the pro-LGBT equality movement of affixing unfair tags, they are now routinely affixing sweeping accusations onto our work, brushing aside the compelling discussion on the table in order to get political mileage out of their supposed victimization.

God I hate that.

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