Friday, March 14, 2014

The Power of Words


Simple characters on a page (or computer screen). Yet at the same time, when they are strung together, they evoke a wide range of human emotion – from pleasure and happiness, to anger and disgust. Even though we may claim that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, in reality, words DO have an immense impact on individuals and groups. Words can bring a man to his knees or propel someone to stardom. In essence, words are among the most powerful tools of humanity. 

Because words have these impacts, it is unsurprising that the hiring of certain "writers" gets everyone up in arms. For example, take the kerfuffle over Ezra Klein’s most recent hire of Brandon Ambrosino for Klein's new venture Vox. Though the hire may be puzzling (I don’t care about the hire per se), I am more concerned about the impact that Ambrosino’s words have had and will have on the LGBT movement.

But Kyle, you may say, if the pro-equality side on the “right side of history”, it shouldn't matter what a professional contrarian claims. This is true…to an extent. Though our side can withstand even the most intellectual arguments – as can be seen in both the legal and academic realms - the reason why Ambrosino gets under the skin of LGBT activists is not because of what he says, but instead because he is a gay man making these arguments. Even if Ambrosino’s beliefs emanate from a deep seated insecurity as well as display a lack of intellectual rigor, these facts don't matter to those fighting against our community. The opponents of equality (whether on the Right or Left) will naturally engage in the fallacy of extrapolating what one person says as being what a large segment of people think. “Look”, they will say, “here is a gay man who doesn't think that if you oppose gay marriage you are a homophobe…ergo, we are not” and “here is a gay man who says he chose to be gay, hence, ALL gay people choose to be gay”.

Ambrosino’s thoughts may be acceptable for debate in the realm of academia, after all, queer theory has been fighting against the “born this way” narrative for some time now, but Ambrosino is not in academia and he isn't writing to an academic audience. He is writing to broader society, a society which still contains a large percentage of people who DO believe that gay people are bullies, that we can change our sexual orientation, and that it isn't wrong to deny gay couples equal marriage rights. Ambrosino’s words will give (and likely have given) credence to the parents – like mine – who believe that gay people choose their sexual orientation, to send their children to reparative therapy. His writing gives legitimacy to the claims that those of us who are fighting for equal rights are the actual haters. And he gives a pass for religious groups to change their belief structure – because it isn't homophobic to deny gay couples equal treatment under the law.

Ambrosino doesn't seem to understand the responsibility of the platform that he has been given. His words do not exist in a vacuum, but instead are part of the overall narrative of equality and the place of LGBT people in the broad fabric of our society. His words have the power to help (or to hurt) not only our movement, but also the young man questioning whether his parents hate who he is because they think that gay couples are disgusting. This is the reason why there has been so much blowback by the LGBT movement on his hire, and why Klein should seriously reconsider giving Ambrosino a platform to disseminate his views. 
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