Magazine article The New Yorker

Pride and Prejudice

Magazine article The New Yorker

Pride and Prejudice

Article excerpt

In the past few weeks, it has been easy to forget that Americans are becoming more accepting of gays and lesbians and of their rights to equal citizenship. This month, we heard about Tyler Clementi, an eighteen-year-old Rutgers University freshman who threw himself off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate used a Webcam to broadcast, live online, Clementi making out with a male date. His suicide followed those of Billy Lucas, aged fifteen, of Greensburg, Indiana, and Seth Walsh, thirteen, of Tehachapi, California, both in September, and preceded by a day that of Asher Brown, thirteen, of Houston, Texas. All three boys had reportedly been victims of anti-gay bullying. On Saturday, October 9th, readers of the Times woke up to a front-page story about the abduction of three men in the Bronx and their subsequent torture at the hands of members of a gang called the Latin King Goonies. The Goonies appear to have targeted the three, two of whom were seventeen, because they had pegged them for gay.

And then we had the remarks of Carl Paladino, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York, who said in a speech before Orthodox Jewish rabbis that children should not be "brainwashed" into thinking that homosexuality is "an equally valid and successful option." Given an opportunity to elaborate on "Good Morning America" and the "Today" show, Paladino described gay-pride parades as "disgusting"; denounced his rival, Andrew Cuomo, for taking his children, aged twelve and fifteen, to the gay-pride parade in New York City; and declared his hostility to same-sex marriage. You don't have to argue for any kind of equivalency between, say, the lynching of three gay men and the intemperate remarks of a politician to acknowledge that, in the use of a word like "disgusting," something ugly and fundamental is being revealed, the id in the ideology.

And yet there is plenty of evidence that Paladino-like sentiments are in eclipse. Partly, this is a function of generational replacement. People now in their teens and twenties are far more likely to endorse same-sex marriage than are older cohorts. And partly it's a function of the direction in which people tend to move on gay-rights issues: when they change their minds, they most often change them from opposition to support. A recent study conducted by Robert P. Jones, of the Public Religion Research Institute, shows that one in four Californians has become more supportive of gay rights in the past five years. (Only eight per cent have become more opposed.) A slim majority, fifty-one per cent, say that they would vote to allow gays and lesbians to marry. (In 2008, Proposition 8, the California referendum that banned gay marriage in the state, passed with fifty-two per cent of the vote.) Polls show that Americans have also become steadily more critical of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted earlier this year, seventy-five per cent of Americans think that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly. (The same poll showed sixty-two per cent in favor in 2001, and forty-four per cent in 1993.)

Sympathy for the right to marry and other civil rights tends to go along with a growing acceptance of the proposition that homosexuality is not a choice but something close to inborn, making it more like race or gender and less like the breezy life-style "option" that Paladino's remarks suggest. …

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