A few years ago a young friend of mine, Rick, died of brain cancer associated with AIDS. It was the end of a life that burned out quickly because of the hatred gay people still endure in this country.
Rick had been captain of his high school football team in a suburban Atlanta school. He made the mistake of confiding to a friend that he was gay. Within a few days, his life became a nightmare of harassment. The school would not protect him and he was forced to drop out. Out on his own and suffering from a lack of structure, support or safe sex education, he got infected with HIV and died quickly.
Not long afterward, a woman wrote me the story of her own younger son -- a boy who was bullied as a "sissy" in his school. His school's administration refused to protect him too. He came home one day, took his seat at the family dinner table, pulled out a gun and killed himself.
These stories are not unique. Despite the increased tolerance of gay kids and adults in recent years, so-called homophobia still abounds in the culture, to the extent that there still is no popular consensus that gay people deserve protection under basic anti-discrimination laws -- much less the right to marry.
You need look no further than 22-year-old Ruth Malhotra to see the sweet face of hatred passing itself off as religious piety. Ms. Malhotra, a Christian, and another student, Orit Klar, a Jew, have filed a federal civil rights suit against Georgia Tech officials. The suit seeks to revoke Tech's "tolerance policy," which forbids harassment of gays, including the use of intolerant speech. The suit further challenges the school's policy of not funding religious activities through student activity fees.
Of course, all manner of right-wing religious and Republican groups have gotten behind Malhotra, who is a senior with a long record of ranting about "political correctness." She testified before the Georgia senate's Higher Education Committee in 2004 to complain about the ideologically punitive bias of professors.
Malhotra and her supporters claim, of course, that their constitutional freedom to express their religious values is violated by Tech's policy. After all, as everyone knows, Jesus encouraged his followers to vilify homosexuals. How can you call yourself a Christian if you're not spreading hate speech? And how can you conduct intellectual debate if you're not allowed to condemn a person on the basis of pure, authoritarian religious belief?
Since any personal religious belief should be granted expression, I encourage you to check out this photograph of Malhotra and a friend standing beside a life-size photo of President Bush: www.tinyurl.com/pen3y. You will note that the vaguely ethnic-looking Malhotra -- hey, screw political correctness -- is soliciting sex by wearing a button that says "Kiss Me -- I'm a Republican." Hey, my religion says kissing is a sex act and that advertising for sex is immoral.
Now check out this collage created by the operator of the satirical site, outsidethetent.com: www.outsidethetent.com/photos/ruth_malhotra.jpg. It shows Malhotra standing amid an anti-gay rally. Although this is Photoshop work, it represents exactly the kind of "free speech" Malhotra would authorize and the kind Georgia Tech is attempting to limit. This is not open, rational discussion about sexuality.
Next to the sex-crazed Malhotra in the collage is a young man who is obviously homosexual. He is wearing a T-shirt with the word "HOMO" struck over in the manner of a "no parking" sign. I assume this is a claim that he is not a fag or that fags should not come near him.
Now recall a Bible story. A crowd of would-be stoners of an adulteress disperses when Jesus commands that the person without sin cast the first stone. Since this boy is obviously hurling stones at homos, he either is truly without sin or he, by the compassionate logic of the Bible, is more likely exactly what his shirt says he is not. Psychology often makes the identical claim: We sometimes punish others for desires we cannot regulate within ourselves.
In short, Malhotra is promiscuous and he's a homo.
Absurd conclusion? Mean ad hominem attack? Indeed, but it's exactly the kind of behavior authorized by Malhotra's lawsuit: One should, out of pure religious bias, be allowed to make any claim you want, no matter how injurious. In her world the concept of personal sin authorizes personal condemnation.
In the meantime, Malhotra, while becoming a star of the fag-bashing paranoid right, leaves behind Jesus' real message of compassion. And it is dead kids like my friend, Rick, who come back to mind when I read this kind of crap.
There is only one thing gay people want, Ms. Malhotra. It is the right to love one another with as much openness as you demand a kiss for being a Republican. Institutional policies that protect gay people from your kind of attack are trying to create a world that recognizes that people flourish when they can love without attack. I will grant that the same policy may limit your expression somewhat, but I wonder if you know that your kind of expression literally kills people.
Cliff Bostock holds a Ph.D. in depth psychology.
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