Persecuted for righteousness’ sake

Zach Wiita

Have you ever gone on a walk with someone you love? I think most of us have. It’s a wonderful way of bonding with a person you care about. I’ve enjoyed it, and so has my cousin Amanda. She has a problem that I’ve never had, though. When she goes on a walk with the person she loves, she worries about holding hands. If they do, you see, she has to worry about whether they’ll be harassed or attacked by random passers-by, because the person she loves is a woman named Julie.

Think about that. It’s easy to be dismissive of the concerns of LGBT Americans, but most of us who are heterosexual have never had to seriously consider the idea that we could be harassed or assaulted because of who we fall in love with.

Just imagine living in a society where holding hands with the person you love gives license to passing drivers to scream obscenities at you. Imagine walking down the street, behaving no differently than any other couple, yet being accused of behaving inappropriately. Imagine having to be afraid that someone might rape you if you love a woman (to “teach you what a real man feels like”). Imagine wondering if that car coming up behind you is going to try to run you over.

In our culture, taking a walk with your lover becomes, for LGBT individuals, a political act – you are literally risking your life in support of the idea that you should not have to hide your orientation. When Amanda shared this concern with me, my jaw fell to the floor. “Of course,” I thought, “why didn’t I realize that?”

Nor is that the only concern she has. Growing up, she was never a particularly political girl – back in the day, she was more interested in playing basketball or talking on the phone than getting in deep over whether Bill Clinton should be impeached. Today, she’s very aware of the politics of homosexuality in small-town America.

She and her partner are both attending college to become teachers and they are both wary of the prejudice they expect to encounter and of the double standards gays and lesbians are held to. They know innocent relationships with students that would be attributed to compassion for straight teachers are often falsely attributed to sexual predation for gay or lesbian teachers. They know full well that they will have to be far more careful than a heterosexual teacher to make sure no one will be able to accuse them of anything.

Yet they also refuse to live in the closet. Amanda described one lesbian couple that taught in our hometown’s school system. Though they had been living together for decades, each partner drove a separate car, traveled by separate routes, arrived at school and community events separately and never interacted familiarly in public. Amanda and Julie do not wish to impose their sexuality on anyone – “Hey, boys and girls, I’m your new teacher, Big Lesbian Amanda!” – but they are not willing to hide themselves from the world as the older couple did. I’m enormously proud of them for that.

Those who rail against homosexuality like to proclaim their desire to preserve morality. They talk about family values and the welfare of children and speak of defending marriage. Don’t let that fool you – they do not do this out of genuine morality, and a simple conversation with their targets reveals this. They do it out of a desire to be applauded for marginalizing those who are different. They “sound a trumpet” of their own piety “that they may have glory of men,” just as Jesus of Nazareth famously warned against in the Gospels.

These people infect our society with heterosexism to advance their own political agenda and the messages they send about LGBT individuals – they’re immoral, they’re perverted, they’re sinners, they’re unnatural, they’re dangerous – create a culture that encourages violence against people who have violated no one’s rights. They have a First Amendment right to send those messages, but no one should have any illusions about their real consequences: They victimize innocent people in the name of morality by proxy.

The Sermon on the Mount says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” but that hasn’t stopped some people from doing just that.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theatre studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].