On Courage and Coming Out

Robert George today, on his facebook page:

“But, honestly, in today’s culture what takes more courage, to go on TV and do what Bruce Jenner did, or to go on TV and do what Ryan Anderson does? The question, it seems to me, answers itself.”

That quote boggles my mind. I’m reading it and re-reading it in disbelief.

Again, I’m coming back to the example of William F. Buckley. Remember how he tried to frame his speech at the Cambridge Union as an act of courage? How he talked about the “special protections” Baldwin enjoyed as a black man, and how Baldwin was the toast of the town at every American university? Remember the mockery Buckley lavished on the  “unanimous concern” that liberal Americans felt for African Americans in the 1960s? And remember how Buckley egged on the objections of the Cambridge undergrads, how he relished when they got rowdy in response and broke debate protocol?

All because it flattered his image of himself as a lone voice striking against a wall of disagreement?

And he was. He was striking against a wall of disagreement. By 1965, most thinking Americans disagreed with Buckley. He was a brilliant man who nonetheless managed to get virtually all of intelligent society lined up against him. And, yes, with that came some non-intelligent elements of society, who no doubt said some very rude things about him.

Does that count as courage?

Today, Ryan T. Anderson has similarly aligned most of intelligent society against him. Like Buckley, he’s done it by (suavely, good-naturedly) making awful arguments. And, like Buckley, he’s facing some blowback from dumb opponents—blowback that, like Buckley, he and his supporters are trying to leverage to their rhetorical advantage.

Look, I’m sorry that Anderson’s high school decided not to promote his Washington Post profile on its facebook page. I really am. That has to be rough. And I largely agree with the writing from both sides of the aisle that has condemned the decision. And I recognize that, on top of that, Anderson has gotten some really ugly tweets and messages sent his way—messages that ought to make their senders ashamed, and that certainly embarrass those of us making the moral argument for marriage equality.

But let’s get some f-ing perspective.

While voices from the right and left were lining up to support Anderson and denounce his high school’s administration, this was happening in another American high school. A group of students, in response to an anti-bullying campaign by school administrators, decided to organize a campaign against their gay classmates, which involved—because, you know, Christ—Bible verses posted around the school and uploaded to Instagram and tagged with the names of out gay students. One picture from the day shows “anti-gay” written over a cross on a male student’s hand; another shows a group of eight male students posing in flannel shirts (chosen as the anti-gay uniform of the day) over the caption “Flannel anti-gay day only a few of many tomorrow is red day.”

[There are also allegations of explicit physical intimidation and epithets directed at LGBT students but, for the record, the school district emphasizes that those allegations have not been substantiated.]

The example is instructive: the “elites” at the school—the administration, the teachers—were supportive of LGBT students. “Both the superintendent and assistant superintendent shook my hand,” said one LGBT student. “It was very positive. You could tell whose side they were truly on.”

Even with that support, would you want to be an LGBT student at a school like that? Would you come out?

These are the facts on the ground. Yes, lots of good people support LGBT folks, because they believe that’s the decent thing to do. But coming out remains an act of courage, even for someone relatively privileged like Bruce Jenner. American society is a lot like that high school in Pennsylvania: it has way too many people who take pleasure in vehemently opposing any positivity whatsoever towards LGBT persons. The fact that Robert George can’t see that—the fact that he thinks that voicing a (discredited) political position makes him and Anderson more courageous than someone like Jenner—shows the extent of his self-centeredness and moral blindness.

One thought on “On Courage and Coming Out

  1. I have a pretty simple rule–the party that is in danger of physical violence is being more courageous than the one who is not. So, LGBT people are subject to physical violence and expulsion from home to live in life-threatening conditions on the streets. Mr. Anderson is subject to. . . people saying mean things to him on the Internet.

    Whatever one thinks of Bruce Jenner and his situation specifically, that’s the underlying calculus here.

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