THE easiest argument to make against gay rights--and the hardest to defend--is the assertion that the American "mainstream" doesn't tolerate gays and lesbians. No debate. No thinking. Gay rights is just an issue for gays and lesbians and their wacked-out-Harvard-liberal friends.
The problems with such an argument are obvious: Why base moral judgments on what other people think? Why not, instead, work to change anti-gay attitudes? There's also another problem with this anti-intellectual argument. It's wrong.
Slowly but surely, Americans' attitudes towards gays and lesbians are changing. In October 1989, a Gallup poll reported that more Americans agreed than disagreed with the statement that homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal. Fully 71 percent agreed with the proposition that gays should not be discriminated against in employment--the highest level in years. In the middle of Bisexual Gay Lesbian Awareness Day (BLAD) week--a period intended to raise awareness of the presence of gays and lesbians on campus--we should all be glad that America is on the road to becoming a more tolerant and just society.
THE perfect illustration of this growing awareness is the issue of gay and lesbian students and the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Last spring, activists convinced the Undergraduate Council to reverse its decision to invite ROTC back to campus, on the grounds that the organization did not admit gay and lesbian students.
A writer for the conservative Salient argued: "Only at Harvard could the current debate over the on-campus status of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) ever take place. For the attitudes of a large segment of the Harvard community are so far out of touch with the beliefs and values of the rest of the American people that it is easy to get a warped perspective on the issue."
Within six months, however, a similar protest occurred at Princeton. At the University of Wisconsin, the full faculty met for the first time in 19 years and gave ROTC an ultimatum: admit gays and lesbians, or leave campus by 1993. At MIT, the home base of the Harvard ROTC program, students are demanding that the school issue a similar demand. And no less than 35 U.S. Representatives signed a letter calling on ROTC not to force those students who were kicked out of the program after discovering they were gay to repay their scholarships.
As for the "American people," the Gallup poll revealed that by a two to one margin, a majority of Americans believe that the armed forces should admit gays and lesbians.
Now who's out of the mainstream?
DESPITE these trends, the battle for acceptance of gays and lesbians is far from over. The University of Wisconsin resolution, for example, is unlikely to be enacted because of a state law requring the university to provide military instruction. And the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reported 7200 incidents of verbal harassment and physical violence against gays and lesbians in 1988. Even in Massachusetts, advocates warn that the recently passed gay rights bill--which outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, credit and public accomodations--may be in jeopardy of repeal.
BGLAD week provides a chance for Harvard students, both gay and straight, to learn about these obstacles facing gays and lesbians in their struggle for acceptance and equal opportunity. More than that, it is an opportunity to realize that promoting tolerance of gays and lesbians is good for all of us.