UPDATE: I cross-posted this piece at Pam’s place, and she added an interesting juxtaposition with Michael Medved’s analysis, which seems to be that a gay man in a locker room is the equivalent of an ugly fat woman. Sexist and homophobic — two for the price of one.
Ummm, wait a minute — that doesn’t sound like my beloved Leonard Pitts. And actually, it isn’t how it sounds. Mr. Pitts points out that Hardaway’s honest, in-your-face homophobia helps to rip the socially acceptable veil off this particular bigotry, just as Bull Conner and his dogs showed the true face of segregationism.
Let me tell you a story. It’s about a man named Bull Connor. In 1963, he was the police commissioner of Birmingham, Ala. Back then, Birmingham was pleased to be considered the most segregated city in the South. Then civil rights demonstrators under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. came to town. Connor directed the city’s response.
When you see those famous images of dogs attacking unarmed marchers and firefighters directing high-pressure hoses at men and women singing freedom songs, you are seeing Connor’s work. He was a hateful cuss, but there was a useful purity in his hate: The sheer violence of his response to the civil rights movement brought international condemnation and irresistible pressure for change.
Segregation was, for many people, still socially respectable in that era. Politicians defended it with honeyed euphemisms like ”state’s rights,” and preachers assured their flocks that it was God’s will. So you could be a segregationist and still feel good about yourself, still feel moral.
Connor inadvertently made that impossible. How moral can you feel when a guy is loosing dogs on children in your name? Connor stripped segregation naked. He made people face it for what it was.
And perhaps Tim Hardaway and others like him will do the same for homophobia. It’s easy to hold onto casual disdain and erroneous assumptions when the people around you support your cruelty and self-deception. Who’s being hurt, after all? As long as the victims are invisible, unknown Others, it’s no big deal. Anyway, why can’t those
blacks gays keep to their place and stop demanding equal rights flaunting their “lifestyle”? Their lives aren’t that bad; they just like to complain. Right?
But then the world sees Bull Connor siccing dogs on children, spraying them with high pressure hoses, treating them as less than human while they respond, as they’ve responded for so long, with dignity and courage. Much the same way the world heard Tim Hardaway go after John Amaechi, who had done nothing more than publicly acknowledge that he’s gay:
”I hate gay people,” he said, “so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”
This wasn’t some socially acceptable expression of discomfort — it was flat-out “I hate you, and I wish you didn’t exist.” And it’s the true feeling that lies behind a lot of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” crap that gets dished out by people like James Dobson, who insist they only want to “cure” a “disorder”.
There is something bracing in the matter-of-fact clarity of Hardaway’s declaration. He cut through the clutter of weasel words and half-truths that traditionally surrounds homophobia, showed us what lies behind honeyed euphemisms (”traditional values”) and claims to speak for God.
…So often, we use words to distance ourselves from what we feel, to hide our true meaning, even from ourselves. Hardaway used words to say exactly what he felt, and it is possible to abhor what he felt and yet appreciate that he does not make you guess or infer.
Think again of Connor, screaming obscenities under an Alabama sun. To hear him, to hear Hardaway, is to know that you have finally come down to it, finally met the beast that lives behind euphemism and weasel words.
And you — all of us — can fight it.