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Liberal Intolerance

Gay Conservatives Rightly Reject "My Group Against the World" Mind Set

By Kevin A. Shapiro

Being an openly gay student and a member of the senior staff of The Harvard Salient, I've had to take a great deal of flak and answer many questions over the past year. Some people are puzzled by what they perceive as a conflict between my politics and my personal life. "How can you be gay and still be so conservative?" they ask. "Aren't conservatives supposed to be homophobic bigots?"

The answer, quite plainly, is no. In fact, most conservatives I know are more open-minded and less hypocritical than their liberal colleagues. They'll neither embrace you nor reject you because of your sexual orientation--they simply don't care. It makes no difference if you're gay, just as it makes no difference if you're black, Jewish, rich or poor. What matters to them, instead, is the content of your character. True, those locked into the myopic mind set of "my group against the world" will not garner much sympathy. But not all of us are so provincial.

Being gay doesn't mean you have to be naive. There are a vast number of issues that have nothing to do with homosexuality and it's unclear why supporting gay rights must be tied to, say, supporting abortion rights or socialized health care. Granted, many thoughtful people, gay and straight alike, have pondered these issues and have come to regard themselves as committed liberals.

It's disappointing, however, that many others forfeit their souls to the incubus of identity politics, supporting the side that favors them on one issue regardless of how they feel about the soundness of its total ideology. Wedding yourself to a whole questionable agenda just because one or two items serve your ends is not only irresponsible, it displays a profound lack of conscience.

The more difficult and more courageous battle--and ultimately the more profitable one--is sticking to all the causes you believe in, and fighting to reconcile them. Of course, this may not be politically popular. David Brock, an openly gay writer for the hard-line conservative American Spectator and one of the President Clinton's most outspoken critics, has faced suspicion from the right and been caricatured viciously by the left--all on account of his sexuality.

But he's remained faithful to his beliefs, and is for the most part accepted without prejudice by his peers, even becoming a role model for young conservative journalists.

Another dangerous notion is that gays who fail to line up behind the dogmas of queer activism are somehow "sellouts"--internalized homophobes (whether they realize it or not) who betray themselves and others for material gain. The truth of the matter is that for many of us who are naturally inclined toward moderation, radical politics are simply distasteful. We are not closeting ourselves and we are not internalized homophobes. We merely have open minds, pragmatic methods and universal ideals.

It's not anti-gay to believe that the best way to build tolerance and, eventually, acceptance is to respect the sensibilities of the community as a whole, avoiding shock tactics and emphasizing the idea that gay men and women can be decent, responsible citizens. While displays of "gay pride" may have noble intent, it's fair to note that drag queens, crude sexual imagery and other outlandish aspects of many such demonstrations do little to promote a concept of gays as valuable members of the commonwealth.

It's not homophobic to concede that leading a homosexual lifestyle may be a choice, and that it may not be right for everyone. As neuroscientist and gay activist Simon LeVay notes in his book Queen Science, "In the end one has to respect an individual's autonomy, at least in the sphere of personal activity that does not harm others." While it's probably true that those who believe that gays have no choice whatsoever are most likely to support gay rights, if this is not the case, anti-gay forces are in an indefensible position nonetheless. After all, our rights to privacy and freedom of action and expression are grounds enough for treating gays and lesbians equally before the law.

Nor must a gay person subscribe to the orthodoxies of "queer theory." It's more than a bit silly to view every boy-meets-girl movie or detergent ad featuring a straight couple as a sinister reinforcement of the dominant culture of heterosexism aimed at marginalizing queers. Taken at face value, they're simply expressions of popular culture, where "popular" refers to dominance within the entire population. That many gays see the majoritarian forces that shape this culture as being hostile toward them is certainly interesting, but not necessarily justified, especially considering how popular culture is manufactured. I might as well complain as a Jew that the Christmas shopping season is perpetuated by the prejudice, ignorance and intolerance of Madison Avenue and San Francisco advertising executives.

Some may take affront at the suggestion that they're not yet really as broad-minded or understanding as they could be. I'd like to believe that the queer community and its ardent supporters, who advocate incessantly for tolerance, are themselves tolerant of all views and opinions. But suggestions that those of us who aren't radicals are traitors or worse reminds me of the sad truth of our political climate. As conservatives, we are still not tolerated here at Harvard.

Kevin A. Shapiro '99, editor of The Harvard Salient, lives in Winthrop House.

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