Opinion: Why gay role models matter

May 23, 2013


Mark Carson was shot in the face because he’s gay.

His alleged killer, 33-year old Elliot Morales, is said to have confronted Carson, 32, and a companion, in New York’s Greenwich Village last Friday night, yelling antigay slurs. When Carson walked away, Morales reportedly followed and shot him. Morales was arrested by police after a foot chase.

In pondering this tragedy, it is worthwhile to consider a couple things: where it happened, and when.

The “where” is just a few blocks from the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar where a 1969 police raid (“act of ongoing police harassment,” would probably be the more accurate description) led to a violent uprising. It is regarded as the birthplace of the modern gay rights movement.

The “when” is now, in the post-Jason Collins era.

He is, you will recall, the 34-year-old NBA journeyman who made history a few weeks ago when he became the first active player in one of the big four professional sports to come out as gay. While most of us were applauding, a few of us affected to treat the event with a collective shrug, sought to minimize it by pretending it was unimportant.

“Who cares?” wrote conservative blogger Crystal Wright.

“It means less than nothing to me,” said Mike Francesca, a New York radio host.

“I do not care about Mr. Collins’ sexuality,” wrote columnist Armstrong Williams.

Methinks they doth protest too much.

Why does this matter?

Yours truly attempted to answer that question in this space when Collins came out. Sadly, Mark Carson provides a more viscerally convincing answer in the fact and manner of his dying.

Here’s the thing: As gay rights have become more approved and inevitable, it becomes less socially acceptable to oppose them as loudly and brazenly as some of us once did. As recently as 2001, for example, Williams was arguing that gay couples were unfit to adopt.

Such arguments largely lost, he and others like him turn now to this new pose of ostentatious indifference that says in effect, “Fine.” Be gay if you must, but why do you feel you have to announce your sexuality to the world?

It is an argument with the unfortunate advantage of seeming to make sense, even as it paints gay people as overly provocative and needlessly demonstrative. Don’t put your sexual orientation in my face, it says, and I won’t put mine in yours. Keep your sex life private. Don’t ask, don’t tell.

But the flaw in the argument is obvious: straight people announce their sexuality all day everyday. It happens when they canoodle in the park, walk hand in hand through the mall, place loved ones’ pictures on the desk. These are small joys and we don’t think of them as announcements of sexuality, but they are.

If you are gay, you don’t do such things. Or, you do them strategically, thoughtfully, picking and choosing where and when it is safe to canoodle, hold hands, set out the pictures … be. Because you realize the reaction may not just be derision, but violence. Even death.

So the decision to seize these small joys demands courage. This is what is provided when a Jason Collins announces himself. Or when an Ellen DeGeneres, a Zachary Quinto, a Neil Patrick Harris, a Jenna Wolf, an Anderson Cooper, a Ricky Martin or a Wanda Sykes does the same.

Sometimes, when you step out on the ice, it helps to know someone else has already tested it. If you are going to demand the right to be, if you are going to accept the risk that doing so entails, it’s good to know that at least you’re not alone.

Why does this matter?, they ask.

Well, in 2013, in America’s biggest city, within steps of a gay rights landmark, it seems you can still be shot in the face for no other reason than that you are gay.

That’s why.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


Paul Wilson 5 years ago

What would Charles Darwin have to say about homosexuality? Eventually the flaw will be eliminated. It occurs in nature but is a genetic defect. We don't have a choice on our genetic makeup. I don't care who you sleep with...but to teach that is is something other than a genetic defect is a lie.

jafs 5 years ago


Any evidence for your claim?

notaubermime 5 years ago

"The single purpose for two people to get together is the survival of the species."

That would be incorrect, both for humans and a number of other animals. It is also incorrect to see evolution as having a purpose. Scientists also no longer see group selection as a valid so even if there was a "purpose" to evolution, it would not exist on the level of species.

Charles Fogarty 5 years ago

This "defect" has been around for a long time, so I doubt if it will be eliminated. Clearly there is some other benefit to the species. Since so many Gays enter the helping professions and historically the unmarried child (who was often Gay or Lesbian) was the one who cared for elderly parents and among some Native American tribes the "two-spirits" people were the shamans and teachers, same-sex attraction does benefit the species as whole. Pork_Ribs, it isn't always about sex.

bad_dog 5 years ago

"I don't care who you sleep with..." Pork_Ribs

“I do not care about Mr. Collins’ sexuality,” Columnist Armstrong Williams.

Also, please elaborate why homosexuality is a "flaw" and a "genetic defect".

Frederic Gutknecht IV 5 years ago

"Defects" are one of the many beautiful expressions of nature/life. Without "defects", there would be no evolution.

We are currently stuck in our place, time and genetic structure. Genetic drift, change, mutation, catastrophe, etcetera...have all lead us along a winding path to NOW.

The development and worship of our judgement is as bizarre a mutation and expression as any other. I'm guessing we need to blame our gods, gads and/or ourselves for that.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 5 years ago

Pork Ribs demonstartes the reality that there are still a great deal of misguided, homophobic dolts left in our society. Kansas is populated by a mojority of them including the elected Republican regime. Eventually, these throwbacks will die out, as the bigots against bleck people have (well for the most part, there are still a few around)

.Equlity will come. but probably not in our lifetime, The "religious reich" is still firmly in control of many aspects of our society and we must wait for those miscreants to die out.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 5 years ago

"black people" Damn, this type is small!!

Terry Sexton 5 years ago

Small type maybe, but I love the word 'mojority.' It sounds like a crowd of mostly cool people.

'Genetic defect' is hilarious. Porkie is always good for a chuckle.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 5 years ago

"bleck" is the South African pronunciation...

Chris Golledge 5 years ago

"genetic" - possibly http://tim-taylor.com/papers/twin_studies/studies.html

"defect" - says who?

Let's say it is genetic. That means it is not a choice, and therefore is not the moral decision that many pretend it is. I did not choose to have freckles, and I did not choose to like chocolate more than brocholli. I'm not a fan of brocholli, but does that mean I have the right to persecute those who are?

deec 5 years ago

It's an Italian variety of broccoli. :)

Or maybe it's that painter who did the naked lady on the giant sea shell

verity 5 years ago

Interesting. First the argument that homosexuality is a choice, not genetic. Now it's genetic, but a defect.

What argument will they come up with next? How hard is it to just give everybody the same rights? Seems like it would make life easier.

Paul Wilson 5 years ago

They should have the same rights. I don't believe it is a choice. The action is a choice. I don't care what they do. My question was: What would Charles Darwin's opinion be? Obviously as it relates to Natural Selection. Are there Naturalists out there that actually believe that this genetic condition makes the species stronger?

Chris Golledge 5 years ago

Why would we care what Darwin would say on this? I think you are trying to imply that procreation is the only purpose a person has.

jonas_opines 5 years ago

Also that we didn't construct societies almost completely for the reason of escaping natural selection in the first place.

deec 5 years ago

Then why don't human females have an estrous cycle like all other mammals? In other species, the female will only accept a male contact when she is fertile.

jafs 5 years ago

Well, we can't exhume Darwin and ask him.

On the other hand, since homosexuality has been around for a very long time and seems unlikely to be going away, perhaps he would say that it has some sort of beneficial aspect to it that makes it continue.

What's your evidence or argument that it's a "genetic defect" again?

Leslie Swearingen 5 years ago

You know something? When I read this column I thought about the aspect of gay sexuality for the first time, that is to say putting it in context. I did think gay was all about sex, but now realize that it is not.

It is about how two people relate to each other, it does not affect what kind of books they read any more than I read only certain kinds of books because I am a woman. Therefore, it does not affect how they would raise a child, their individual personalities would do that.

I have never been openly critical of gays but this is the first time that I have really understood a very important part of their lives, the right to be a parent. It seems like I can read or hear something a thousand times and it doesn't really register, but then I read it again and it does. Maybe Pitts just put it the right way for me.

Phoghorn 5 years ago

We need a lot more gay role models. They could teach us all to learn to smile and look on the bright side of everything. Too many people go through life unhappy. We all need to learn to live a gay lifestyle. Be happy, smile, cheer up, be gay, be optimistic. Be gay in all of your business details. Be gay in all of your relationships. Be gay when dealing with rush hour traffic in a construction zone. Be gay, even when your car breaks down. Be gay and thankful when things go right. Be gay and hopeful when they go wrong. If you are married, may your marriage be a gay one. Be a gay role model for those who feel blue. You may help them feel gay too.

Pastor_Bedtime 5 years ago

I challenge the notion that the sole reason folks get together is to procreate... and the fact that the world's population (how many billion now?) continues to double at an alarming rate seems to indicate that a few folks ~ gay or straight ~ who don't have children do no harm whatsoever to the survival of the species. If we're passing judgment on the actions of others, then who does mankind a greater disservice ~ a childless-by-choice couple or one who has a dozen or more children?

Paul Wilson 5 years ago

Why do all of you assume I'm not gay? I just wanted to know what you thought. I am gay. I think it is a genetic defect. I also think Darwin would say the same. I don't have evidence...just my opinion. I wanted to know yours.

pizzapete 5 years ago

You think you're a genetic defect? You might want to see a doctor about that.

jafs 5 years ago

Really? I'm very surprised to hear that.

It's unfortunate that you consider yourself to be defective - why is that?

Paul Wilson 5 years ago

No different than having rheumatoid arthritis (mild) or downs syndrome (severe). Both are genetic issues. I wouldn't be ashamed to have those either. But I'm not going to sit here and say that it is a course of evolution that is sustainable or that my genes would be selected over time...they wouldn't. That was my point. People who attacked me earlier simply didn't understand the bottom line. And that is...we will never be 'normal'. No matter how patronizing these threads get. Hetero's will always look at us as freaks....no matter what they may tell themselves or their leftie friends.

jafs 5 years ago

Why do you think that?

Homosexuality has been around for a long time, and it's still here. I see no evidence that it's disappearing. So it must be perfectly fine from an evolutionary standpoint for a small portion of the population to be homosexual.

It would be bad for the entire population to be that way, just as it would be bad for everybody to be born male, or female. That doesn't make it a "genetic defect" in my book though.

"Normal" is defined culturally, of course, and in most places by the majority, so you're right that many will see minority populations as not normal, but that's just statistics really. If you think that "heteros" will always see "homos" as "freaks", you don't know enough decent straight folks. It mirrors the odd things that straight people who don't know gay ones say about them.

Sounds to me as though the problem is how you see yourself, really.

gr 5 years ago

But jafs, you are assuming it's genetics and not choice. Choice has been around a long time. If it's choice, then just because something has been ongoing, doesn't mean it's beneficial. But suppose it is genetics. Then it would be mostly eliminated because evolution is all about fitness of the offspring. There may be a small frequency of defective genes, but there wouldn't be an increase. But what do statistics tell you? Is it increasing or decreasing? When a choice is made available, more people make that choice.

jafs 5 years ago

That's what PR said, and I was responding to that point.

And, I don't agree that homosexuality is a "defect", so the rest of your post seems off to me. In certain circumstances, it would be beneficial to have more homosexuals - for example, given our overpopulation of the planet, right now might be just such a time.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 5 years ago

Everything is a defect beyond and before the adjudication of now and our perception. It is always judgement day. It is always wrong but the only right we have.

jafs 5 years ago

When was the last time a straight person was shot and killed because they were straight?

Straight people feel free to be open about their sexuality in numerous ways, without fear. Denying that to gay folks seems off to me. I can go with my wife anywhere in public, be openly affectionate, talk about "my wife" to people, etc. without any fear that somebody will hurt or kill me. Everybody should have that same freedom in my view.

gr 5 years ago

I don't know. When was the last time someone was shot and killed just because they wouldn't give the robber their money?

You do have a point about just expressing something in public. But then, being blown up just because you worked at a federal building comes to mind.

jafs 5 years ago

Again, if you read the post I'm responding to, you'll understand my point much better.

The post said people get shot everyday for various reasons - that may be true, but gay people are and have been killed for being gay, while I'm not aware of any straight people that have been killed for their sexuality.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years ago

When you say "flaunts" it could be someone who simply has a vibrant personality, who is in a good mood and having fun with life. Or, it could be someone who is playing mind games intending to insult. If a gay person responds to a slur by standing up for themselves, is that a taunt? Or a show of self respect?

jafs 5 years ago

Do I need to know how straight you are? Do you hide it so I don't have to know about it? Should you have to do that?

If you don't care, then you don't care, and you shouldn't care whether or not they're open about it. But, saying you don't care, but don't want to see it tells me that you do care.

jafs 5 years ago

What's the difference between "seeing it" and a "public display" exactly?

I'm sure that everybody knows what color you are, and I'll bet that you express your sexuality in numerous ways, many of which you're probably unaware of, as most straight folks do - I know that I talk about "my wife" in conversations all the time.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years ago

jafs, here is what is really going to bake your noodle. As an elderly woman in what ways do I express my sexuality to others, or do they just assume I don't have any because of my age?

jafs 5 years ago

Well, if you've ever been married and have pictures of your spouse, children, etc. or ever talk about them then your sexuality is known to others to some degree.

Very few people are completely private about their sexuality - they just aren't aware of the many ways in which they communicate it to others.

Jen43 5 years ago

The last figure I saw on percentages was that homosexuals are only about 4 % of the population. No doubt it's higher in Lawrence since they all move here. I don't care what they do and can't control it anyway, but I'm tired of hearing about it and in many ways, turning it into a political issue. By the way, I think Fred Phelps is a homosexual.

hedshrinker 5 years ago

I am puzzled by the constant use of the phrase "I don't care" when what really seems to be being communicated is "I don't want to be aware of, this subject makes me SO uncomfortable that I don't want any behavior or talk about its very existence". They are just fine thank you very much as long as there is nothing on their radar screen that reminds them that many perfectly happy, successful people they know are homosexual, because that knowledge apparently makes them really annoyed.
I think if people truly "didn't care", they would not be having such hissy fits and out of proportion emotional reactions to its reality and constantly be demanding that gays keep their very existence to themselves. I'm sorry that some people get such a rash from knowing about someone's sexual orientation, which in reality is just one of the many things that define who we are and which is pretty immutable. Many are not willing to be closeted any more just so others can stay in denial.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.