I'm sure everyone remembers Tim "I hate gay people" Hardaway, who thoughtlessly uttered these 4 words after pro basketball player Don Amechi (sp?) came out of the closet. He said that in response to a question about how he would feel about having other gay players on his team. Obviously, he caught a lot of flack.
Turns out, the flack actually did some good. In an effort to uncover and get to the root of his own discomfort with gays, Hardaway started volunteering with the YES Institute in South Florida, which is a non-profit group working to end suicide, and create acceptance, among gay, lesbian and transgender youth.
Says Hardaway, "I just wanted to go in and get educated, that's all. Get educated on what I said and why I said those things,'' Hardaway said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. "I'm working on understanding it now. I'm not really trying to make amends. I've been there trying to get help.''
Hardaway has declined many interview requests in recent months, saying he didn't want to make his work with advocacy groups seem like a publicity stunt or a quick-fix to an image problem.
"I had no idea how much I hurt people...A lot of people.''
This strikes me as totally sincere, and the actions of someone who actually has a tremendous amount of empathy, who was just ignorant and afraid. Paradoxically, I think it takes a person who's pretty secure with themself and open to new ideas to do this. Nobody's perfect, and if it takes getting beaten up publically for someone to finally step back and realize that their opinions might be ignorant and hurtful, so be it.
However, sometimes I have to concede that I'm also wrong about some things. Including the video last week of San Diego mayor Jerry Sanders tearfully admitting that he was wrong about civil unions and that gay people deserved all the rights and responsibilities of marriage just like everyone else. I got into an argument with a friend last weekend about this video. He was very moved by it; I was not so moved by it. Like the Hardaway thing, it also seemed very sincere and real to me, but my reasoning was, "Wow, the guy finally realized that gay people are actually real, and their relationships are just as valid as straight people's. Why should we give him a medal for that?" I thought, well, he finally came around to thinking what is correct, so who cares. Good for him.
Then when I heard about Hardaway today, and got a little choked up, it occurred to me that these situations are quite similar, and why did I have an immediate emotional reaction to one, but felt sort of resentful toward the other, when basically, it's the same thing? Well, I did a lot of thinking about it, and came to a couple of conclusions.
1. Hardaway is a basketball player whose actions are ultimately pretty inconsequential. Jerry Sanders is a politician who affects public policy. In the past, he's used his position as a public "servant" to authorize discrimination. In my opinion, personal morality should never determine public policy on a legal basis. Which is what I find so infuriating about the anti-gay marriage crowd. Their arguments are based entirely on religious "morality" and the "ick factor." Not one of them, ever, in the history of this debate, has been able to offer a viable legal, or constitutional, reason, why gay marriage shouldn't be legal. Yet they all claim to believe in democracy and freedom. Bullshit. If they truly believed in democracy, they would swallow their personal beliefs in favor of doing what is legally correct, despite how they actually feel about it. That is the very definition of the separation of church and state. Don't believe in gay marriage? Fine. Don't go to a church that sanctions it. But you can't argue that there is a single legal defense against it. You just can't.
2. For the mayor of San Diego, it took his daughter being a lesbian to finally change his mind about gay marriage. Which is great; at least he changed his mind, thank Jeebus for that. But what if his daughter hadn't been gay? Would he still be able to turn a blind eye to discrimination and not have to feel any empathy, or see the fallacy of his legal reasoning? Who knows. And the same argument could go for Hardaway. It took getting kind of publically crucified for him to change his mind. But nevertheless, nothing was really at stake for him. He changed (at least seemingly) because he was simply internally troubled by his own stance. He could have just said, "Fuck all ya'll, I can hate gay people all I want to." And he probably did at first. But something inside of him knew that was wrong, and on his own volition, with nothing to gain (not even a daughter's love), he sought out an answer.
3. At least Hardaway was honest in his bigotry. Sanders claimed to believe that gay people were just like everybody else, and deserved equal rights, yet he denied equal rights to them. Purely because of the "ick factor." (Or political prosperity.) It's totally hypocritical. I'm always more willing to respect positions that are at least honest in their ignorance and bigotry than in positions that are bigoted, but still claim to not be. It's trying to have things two ways, and it's either dishonest, or whoever holds the opinion (such as having no problem with gays, but being opposed to gay marriage) is remarkably unself-aware.
I know I'm kind of arguing silly semantics here, and ultimately, both men did, and are doing, the right thing. And I'm glad for that. But the whole Sanders thing still kind of bugs me.