It still seems an unwritten rule in establishment Washington that homophobia is at most a misdemeanor. By this code, the Smithsonian’s surrender is no big deal; let the art world do its little protests. This attitude explains why the ever more absurd excuses concocted by John McCain for almost single-handedly thwarting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are rarely called out for what they are — “bigotry disguised as prudence,” in the apt phrase of Slate’s military affairs columnist, Fred Kaplan.
-Frank Rich "Gay Bashing at the Smithsonian"
Dear Mr. President,
Frank Rich's column in the New York Times is worth reading, and not just for the brilliant and characteristically eloquent way he takes down the hypocrites crying "hate speech" about the Smithsonian's exhibit including "A Fire in My Belly." Beyond the cold political outrage, Rich draws a parallel between the deaths of bullied gay teens and the deaths of so many artists and the ones they loved to AIDS. His words convey a palpable helplessness, the frustration of watching from a distance as so many suffer and die needlessly as those in power condemn them, of listening as the hateful bullying from the right once is once again allowed to marginalize the gay community without objection.
I can relate to the way Rich feels. It's appalling to see the Smithsonian capitulate to the homophobic bullies on the right offended by art. And while Republicans in congress pile on their own objections, they continue to hold up repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, and, as Rich notes, have yet to participate in the anti-bullying it gets better project. I think that common sense tells us a piece of art that some find offensive is far less deserving of the condemnation of members of congress than a national epidemic of homophobia and its attending death and suffering. I don't understand. I know I am removed from it, living in the privilege of a white-skinned heterosexual body. But I couldn't help but see the faces of my friends in the stories of the young artists dying of and losing loved ones to AIDS, of the boys giving up on life because they fear they will never live and be accepted for who they are. I see them in these stories and I ache for losing them and seeing their losses. Most of all, I feel angry. Angry that I cannot protect them from people like this, people with the power to help them who do nothing but make it worse and then have the audacity to get angry about their expressions of frustration. It is unsurprising that a religion wielded as a tool of oppression will become the target of criticism and frustration by those it oppresses.
Heterosexual Christians wrote the laws of this country. They have determined who can vote, who can marry, whose lives are worth funding research to save and who gets to serve in the military. It is long past time for it to be ok to make and display and honor art that expresses the pain at the damage that their system has caused. The Smithsonian made a mistake, backing down in the face of this manufactured controversy. I think it is time that you (and more of those with the power to change our cultural acceptance of homophobia) stood up and said so.
Mr. President you campaigned on the promise that life for gay and lesbian Americans would be better under your administration than under President Bush's. While there may be a limit on how many minds you can legislate into acceptance, there are unjust laws that are within your power to change. The alteration of this exhibit at the Smithsonian may seem like a small thing, but it is the latest in a long series of capitulations to the idea that not only is being gay unacceptable, being angry at the way the rest of the country treats you isn't either.
Please read Mr. Rich's column, Mr. President, and ask yourself if you are still fine doing nothing on this issue.