Celebrity Sightings In Los Angeles - August 30, 2011

Something has been chewing my bones lately, and as we haven’t talked for a while, I wanna get this straight. No matter who you are — be that the bare-chested president of an overcompensating nation, a duck-mimicking celebrity with a Bible and a gun, a legislator in a weirdly backwards desert state, or just some tax-paying, everyday Joe — being intolerant of someone because of who they are is indefensible nonsense. Conversely, being intolerant of intolerance is what we’re supposed to do in a democracy as a baseline social activity.


The Surly Bartender considers this to be hand-on-an-icy-beer obvious. Yet, somehow, I’ve ended up in half a dozen conflicts on this point in the past year alone. The position of those with whom I’ve engaged is that we (liberals, progressives, later-form hominids) are being hypocritical by demanding that they (religious conservatives, rednecks, Fox-News-watching troglodytes) be accepting of full human rights for all people. It is often phrased along these lines: “You can’t say that I have to tolerate the gays, unless you’re willing to tolerate my intolerance for the gays.”


This is stupidity from beyond the Earth’s curve.


Still, this belief hangs on. It has become a final redoubt, a Masada of dumb, to which intolerant folks have retreated to make their last stand. The job for the rest of us is to storm their fortress and run that foolishness off the planet, once and for all.


So let us begin.


First, though bigotries tend to run in packs through the fields of prejudiced thought, we are today largely concerned with intolerance directed at the queer community. I use that term queer advisedly. As with any descriptive meant to encompass a community, or several communities, or part of the overall community, some folks are going to get rankled by certain terminology. I choose queer as it encompasses — at least as I intend it — gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, the transgendered and anyone else I’m missing. No term is going to be perfect until we utterly smash the normative, but that’s the speech I’m giving down at the docks later this week, not the purpose of this column. So, for now, if I offend with the term, let me know how and I’ll make the proper amends.


Second, we are not at all concerned here with Constitutional or legal rights. Nowhere in this debate is anyone saying that people must be compelled by law to hold a particular view or limit themselves to a particular means of expression. People gotta find their own way towards enlightenment; we’re just suggesting you, as a thoughtful participant in the conversation, indicate the way towards a better world with the assurance of your own righteousness.


To break it down to a personal connection, what we’re talking about is a response you might want to have prepared when your uncle starts popping off about the faggots and the homosexual agenda next time you meet him at the bar. Our advice is this: If he’s being an asshole, tell him. If he so chooses, he can still be a jerk. He should just no longer expect the rest of us to let it pass in conversation without challenge.


Prejudiced is as prejudiced does, and if someone wants to stop being called out for their prejudice, then the easiest solution is for them to stop being prejudiced. That’s pretty much a definitional win-win.


Here, however, is where we run into the argumentative problem. Most folks who are biased against queers have worked out a reason for their bigotry. Nine times out of ten, that ends up being their religion. Occasionally, it is some vague notion of “tradition.”


This is always a tough one on a couple of levels. First, because it’s very hard to argue with someone whose defense is, “But this is the Word of God!” Second, religion is hammered so deeply into our reptilian brain from such a young age, that people often mistake their religious traditions for being of themselves, as much a permanent condition as race[1], sexual orientation or gender identity. It ain’t of course. In fact, it is probably worth a reflection that some of the greatest prophets and religious luminaries in the history of the world (Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha) all cast off the faith of their fathers. Also, as an aside, if your uncle still doubts that sexuality and gender identity are hard-wired, ask him if he chose to be straight before or after his first wet dream about the high school quarterback.


But let us address first things first.


Through lived experience, we can demonstrate that the so-called Word of God used to justify prejudice is just violent balderdash employed by folks who wish to kick the crap out of other folks they don’t like or whose stuff they want. Even the most Huckabeed of thinkers has to contort themselves to avoid this obvious truth. In reality, we’ve done the intolerance dance many times in history. This current battle is no different than those that have come before.


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To wit: Outside of the moonshine circles of a few crazy cross burners, it is not ever okay, even though it may be legally protected, to say something like, “Blacks shouldn’t be allowed to marry Whites! That just ain’t the way that God intended it.”


What national leader would expect to host the world at the Olympics after such a blatant expression of hate and racism? What celebrity could expect to keep his contract, or even show his face in public, if a recording of those sentiments were released to the press? And yet, for most of the past few thousand years, such horrible racism was part and parcel of a Judeo-Christian religious understanding of the world.


The Old Testament (the part of the Bible that Redneck patriarchs quote to  justify their intolerance of queers) is filled with such hateful nonsense. In many ways, that’s the whole point of the Old Testament. Suffused through its entirety is the understanding that God has one set of rules for His people. Those are the laws Moses brought down from the mountaintop. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife’s ass. Honor your mom and dad. Keep Holy the Sabbath. You have the right to remain silent. All that stuff. But, in the Bible, those rules explicitly do NOT apply to anyone else. What God says to do to everyone from a different tribe is bloody horrible.


Here is an example from the Book of Judges, though you can’t swing a dead cat through the pages of Exodus and Deuteronomy without knocking into the same nonsense repeated over and over and over. In Chapter 21 of Judges, God sends Saul’s army into the city of Jabeshgilead for a bit of the old ultraviolence that might have left Alex and the Droogs pale in the face. The sin of the people living in Jabeshgilead prior to the slaughter was not having been “chosen” by a God they didn’t worship, which seems a bit of a Catch-22, but what the hell. There have been attempts to spin the narrative over the interceding millennia, but, bottom line, the men, women and children of Jabeshgilead weren’t Jews and yet they lived on a piece of land the Jews considered theirs and theirs alone. Hence, they deserved to die.


God said so!


Following that reasoning, Saul sent twelve thousand soldiers into the city and they slaughtered “with the edge of the sword . . . the women and the children.” The soldiers were ordered to “utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man.”


Not everyone was killed in the end, as God/Saul ordered that if the army found any female virgins, they should be brought back to the army’s camp at Shiloh to be raped and then enslaved.


Now, anyone in the modern world would be hard pressed to use that passage in defense of public policy today. But only 500 years ago, it was de rigueur! In fact, the attack on Jabeshgilead tracks pretty well with what Christopher Columbus, a devout and Christian man, noted in his logbook shortly after arriving on the island of Santo Domingo.


Of the indigenous population, he wrote they “. . . do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They would make fine servants. With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”


On his second voyage, after having subdued them and making them do what he wanted, Columbus wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold” back to Spain and the good Christians of Europe.


In 2013, is there anyone who wants to cop to believing such vile horseshit in a GQ interview?


The tradition of using religion to justify race bigotry and abject evil continued long after the opening of the New World. The first book of the Old Testament (Genesis – 9:24) provided the religious underpinning for half a thousand years of African enslavement. In the passage, Noah gets drunk and passes out. His son Ham finds the old man shitwallered with his willie hanging out. Ham then tells his brothers, probably while giggling. Noah wakes up and finds out that Ham saw him drunk and naked and he is mightily pissed. So, being a bit of a jerk, he declares that forever more the children of Ham (the Canaanites) will be servants to all other men.


Originally the story was used in the Book of Jubilee to explain yet another slaughter and the enslavement of Ham’s descendants, but why stop there? All you need to do is suppose that Ham was black, and ipso-to-the-facto — it’s fine with God to enslave anyone with more melanin than thee!


The same stupidness reappears time and time again in our history. One particular tale that grinds the Surly Gears has to do with Sir Charles Trevelyan, the 19th-Century English nobleman put in charge of managing the effects of the potato famine in Ireland. Trevelyan said that the starvation of millions was caused not by the intentional mismanagement of the land by the English (recall that throughout the Great Famine, English landlords were exporting beef, grain and pork from Irish ports for a profit) but by “The judgment of God,” who “sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson.” Therefore, “that calamity must not be too much mitigated. The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the [Irish] people.”


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Another simply bizarre bit of history involving race, religion and freedom can be found in the public record of President William McKinley, who, upon winning the Philippines as a result of the Spanish-American War, said the United States was compelled to “. . . uplift and civilize and Christianize [the Filipinos], and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.”


What followed was a decade-long war of counter-insurgency and extermination of the Filipino revolutionary army and the people who sustained them. Moreover, all this balderdash ignored the fact that the Spanish had “Christianized” the Philippines thoroughly in the preceding five hundred years. Still, by McKinley’s logic, God wanted the savages ruled over for their own good.


If you know anything of history, religiously inspired racism and race war are hard to miss. I’m sure you could come up with a handful of other examples off the top of your head before I pour the next drink. Hopefully we’re nearing the end point in history when nations use their perverse notion of God to justify racism and conquest. Even if we aren’t nearing the end of war itself any time soon, it would somehow be a step forward if political leaders took responsibility for the shit they do upon themselves.


Putin_5But for our purposes here, we’ll have made a giant step forward if we can acknowledge that, as it is unacceptable for anyone to use God in defense of their own racism, so is it unacceptable to give them a pass for their anti-queer bigotry.


We don’t have to belabor this point much more. If we accept as a truth the fundamental equality of all people, regardless of race or tribe or ethnicity or religion, then one of three things is true. Either the God of the Bible was “misquoted,” he doesn’t exist, or He is a raging bigot. Either way, that should be taken into consideration when listening to angry Christians quote Leviticus (“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”) or Romans (“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature”) in defense of their own anti-queer bigotry.


When faced with this moral tuberculosis in argument, the Surly Bartender’s advice is to remind your argumentative partner that their God’s track record on civil rights is kinda shitty. As to Jesus, he never said “boo” about the buggers. So, to quote Ye Olde Internete adage: Your argument is invalid.


The legal history of anti-queer bigotry in Western cultures is equally as shameful and silly as has been our legal history with race. Consider just these few points before we wrap up this rodeo. In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned the ridiculously named Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Originally passed in 1996, DOMA allowed individual states to deny recognition of same-sex couples married in other states where such unions were legal. Though this law was in clear violation of the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section I), it abided for nearly two decades. It was able to do so because of wackadoodle sociological arguments about the state’s responsibility to foster healthy families. Research was cited claiming that children brought up in same-sex households were at a decided disadvantage compared to their peers from “traditional marriages.” It was supposed that a child needed to have a firm sense of gender roles to not become confused later in life. Others argued that their own marriages were somehow cheapened by allowing same-sex couples to marry, and, of course, there was the loudly trumpeted slippery slope argument that if the gays were allowed to marry, then soon men would be marrying their motorcycles or cows.


This all, of course, is very silly.


Most of us over here on the actual left found these arguments to be preposterous on their face when signed into law by a cowed Democratic President.


Such cowardice was unacceptable then, and is only more unacceptable now. But what is instructive here is to consider once again just how ridiculous this all seems when set side-by-side with the battle for racially integrated marriage equality in the very recent past.


In many of the United States it was illegal for interracial couples to marry from the early 1800s until 1967. Surprisingly or not, the states with anti-miscegenation laws were largely, though not entirely, confined to the states of the old Confederacy. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, this is where in America the duck calls against the queers are loudest today. Just sayin.’


In 1967, the Supreme Court finally heard a case challenging one of these laws, which it subsequently overturned, ending this abhorrent and racist practice in the entire United States. The case, Loving v. Virginia, was brought by an interracial couple who challenged Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which made their union a felony. That state’s case was nothing if not a preview of the ridiculous arguments that would be deployed decades later against marriage equality.


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Here is R.D. McIlwaine III, then the Commonwealth of Virginia’s assistant attorney general, speaking to the Supreme Court in defense of his state’s law:


“It is clear from the most recent available evidence on the psycho-sociological aspect of this question that intermarried families are subjected to much greater pressures and problems than those of the intramarried, and that the state’s prohibition of interracial marriage for this reason stands on the same footing as the prohibition of polygamous marriage, or incestuous marriage or the prescription of minimum ages at which people may marry and the prevention of the marriage of people who are mentally incompetent.”


He continued, “Now, if the state has an interest in marriage, if it has an interest in maximizing the number of stable marriages and in protecting the progeny of interracial marriages from these problems, then clearly there is scientific evidence available that [the state should do so.] It is not infrequent that the children of intermarried parents are referred to not merely as the children of intermarried parents but as the ‘victims’ of intermarried parents and as the ‘martyrs’ of intermarried parents.”


It was crap logic then. It is crap logic now. Opposition to interracial marriages a generation ago was based on bigotry. Opposition to marriage equality now is likewise based on bigotry. No matter how much the bigots want to cloak their prejudice in the Bible, tradition or pseudoscience, the truth will come out. The only real question is on what side of that divide you wish to stake your ground, knowing that history will rightly judge you as one who fought for justice or one who denied it out of convenience, cowardice or vindictiveness while claiming the will of God or the defense of bigoted tradition and prejudiced law. To the Surly Bartender, this is an easy call.


Folks have been using both God and their own institutionalized bigotries against both queers and those of other races for millennia now. We, happily, live in an age where we can draw that sad history to a close. In fact, we should look at what we have to do more as a clean-up patrol than the much harder work of the struggle thus far.


What we have left to do is the relatively easy lifting of telling our friends who don’t like queers (or Blacks, or Muslims, or Mexicans, or Martians or whatever — as once you scratch the surface of a bigot you tend to find more bigotries underneath) that they are going to have to defend their own bullshit.


It is long past time that we stopped tolerating intolerance as an expression of tradition, or the following of some heavenly diktat to save our immortal souls. It’s time to call people on such evil and to make fools like the President of Russia, the Patriarch of a Duck Dynasty, or Republicans in the Arizona legislature stand tall to the truth. They are prejudiced tools, and prejudiced tools should either shape up or ship out.


If they got a problem with that, send them down to Café No Sé, and the Surly Bartender will set them straight.


Or gay. Either one works for me.


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[1]              The Surly Bartender is not at all comfortable speaking of race in biological terms, as the concept is entirely sociological, but you get what I mean, right?



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About the Author

Michael Tallon, Editor-in-Chief, head writer and delivery boy, of La Cuadra Magazine, expatriated from the States 11 years ago. After spending a year in Antigua gasbagging about wanting to start an English Language magazine, he hit the road and wandered about South America, India and Nepal before finding himself sipping tea in Darjeeling and realizing that maybe it was time to head home and pick up the career path. That ill-fated adventure in New York lasted about 6 weeks before he headed back to Antigua, Guatemala, where John Rexer had actually started the magazine in his absence.

After a few months, Mike took over the magazine and has been going slowly broke since. On that note, Mike would like to invite advertisers, readers and potential patrons to send him free money.