I gave my impressions of the speeches made by Clay Aiken and Meredith Baxter at the Human Rights Campaign’s “We Are All Made of Stars” gala dinner in Raleigh, North Carolina.
I joined in endorsing marriage equality for LGBT citizens, the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the enactment and enforcement of hate crimes laws, and the promotion of programs that would foster understanding of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, protecting them from harassment by other students (and sometimes by faculty as well), and allowing them to learn along with their straight peers in a safe school environment.
These are not conservative positions, but I believe they are the right ones, the ones in accord with the constitutional protections that should be afforded all Americans.
Reaction came from an unexpected source. No, not religious conservatives: there was just one comment invoking the wrath of God.
There were eight comments, out of approximately fifty, that concerned fourteen words in a two thousand word blog...
A joke about smokers and Republicans.
Here’s an excerpt, for context:
You see, I don't care that Clay or Meredith or TR or Neil or Wanda or Ellen or fill-in-the-blank is gay.
I don't care who is Native American or Jewish or who has a disability...
Hell, I'd say I care more if you are a smoker or a Republican!
A lot of things will inform my opinion of a person, but sexuality isn't one of them.
I was writing about irrational prejudices, as crazy in my mind as hating someone simply because they smoke or vote for the GOP.
I went back and read my blog, trying to see how it was possible for anyone to seriously believe that a person in favor of equal rights for everyone, regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender or disability, could possibly be in favor of discriminating against smokers and Republicans.
For those who might be wondering, of course I am not. The “lot of things that will inform my opinion of a person” include every form of exploitation: violence, sexual abuse, drug dealing and other predatory crimes, especially against children.
No, I am not a smoker. It is knowledge, information, and life experience, not bias, that led me to choose to avoid a product that has no safe use.
Besides, I live in Los Angeles. With the air quality here, smoking would be redundant.
Smokers in my life? Almost no one in my extended family, and just a few of my friends, smoke. Some have quit. Some have died.
Some smokers are people I admire, like John Lennon… and Barack Obama.
Adults get to make their own decisions, but I am glad that most of the people I care about most don’t embrace a habit as potentially deadly as this extra weight I’m dragging around.
Yes, I am a Democrat. There’s no prejudice or bias there, either: that was a careful and considered choice, based on what I believe will help create and support the best lives for both majority and minority populations.
I loved my father, even though he was a Republican, as most African-Americans once were.
I have voted for Democrats, Republicans, Independents and a variety of third party candidates, based on my opinion of who would do the best job for the people they represent. I take voting seriously, because women fought far too hard for me to be cavalier about elections, and people who look like me died for the right of franchise.
I am all-too aware that the leaders of my party sometimes resemble the Keystone Kops --- that is, when they are not channeling Beavis and Butt-Head, sitting across the aisle from the loyal opposition, lead by Snidely Whiplash.
There is far too much heat in politics today, to the point where there is little room for light.
Polarization has gradually eroded the ability to hold intelligent discourse on the most pressing needs of America and the world --- but that’s a whole ‘nother blog.
I have friends across all of life’s spectrums, and the same is true of the people with whom I work. For all the people I don’t know who fall under whatever label, I am not inclined to judge them unless they give me reason to do so. I’m funny that way: my default setting for people is “decent and deserving.”
Imagine the fun when I wrote and co-produced a military documentary. It was 1992, and I divided my time between supporting the Clinton/Gore campaign and working on the documentary with Chris, a 20-something Reform party activist for Perot, and Wes, a 50-ish retired Navy man who smoked like a chimney, voted Republican and listened to Limbaugh.
We had some lively conversations, to say the least.
I love them both dearly.
I’m laughing about this a bit, but no serious comparisons can be made about discrimination against smokers and Republicans, in context of the issues raised in a blog about extending equal rights to all.
What a shame if a sense of humor also falls victim to these polarized times.
Let's not work so hard to find offense.
Laughter is not the same as trivializing important issues.
It might hurt a smoker’s feelings, or tick them off, if someone complains about tobacco's odor or if laws limit where a person can light up because of evidence of the dangers of second-hand smoke, but no smokers are being tortured and left to die, strapped to a fence in a field in Wyoming.
Republicans pass in and out of power, and in my life there has been a Republican president nearly twice as many years as there has been a Democrat in office. People who are Republicans have representation in every branch of government. Even when not in power, neither party rises to the status of oppressed minority.
Republicans, Democrats and independents alike can marry, buy property, decide medical and legal issues together, adopt children, work at a job without fear of being terminated solely because of their political affiliation and express their love of country by serving in the military. Perhaps an exception can be found somewhere, but in 21st century America, political party is not cited as the reason for tying a person to the back of a truck and dragging him three miles down the road until he is dead.
There’s a reason the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is named after Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr., not after Joe Camel.
My blog had a serious intent, but like many before me (including Aiken and Baxter in their remarks to HRC, and writers far better than I am, from Jonathan Swift to Jon Stewart), I occasionally leaven seriousness with humor. I wonder: in the interest of clarity, next time I write about a serious issue, should I consider avoiding all jokes?
Perhaps in my next blog, I’ll write about the thoroughly inexplicable things people believe in, and I want everyone to feel welcome…
Even if you’re a vegan or a Democrat.