28 May 2008

Is Uncle Tom A Gay Man? (Part One)

David Benkof
A fool to himself and his kind . . .
DAVID BENKOF

One of the most withering insults that one Black man can hurl at another is "Uncle Tom". This was especially true during the peak years of Black Power activism, when I was a teenager. The insult dates back to the mid-19th century, when author Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote her famous anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. The fictional "uncle" (a condescending nickname that Southern Whites once used on older Black men) was a hero in her book. However, among Progressive African-Americans, that moniker quickly took on a derogatory connotation. It came to mean any Black man who was excessively accommodating of White prejudice.

An "Uncle Tom" was always trying to stay in the good graces of the Great White "Massah". He accepted racial segregation and inequality with a shuffle and a smile! He embraced buffoonish "coon" stereotypes, flaunted his lack of education like a badge of honor, and worst of all, criticized Black people who sought to better their lot in life. He was there to assure Southern racists that "colored folks" were happy with imposed second-class citizenship, and that it took either "carpetbaggers" from the North or the rare "uppity n*gger" to stir up feelings of discontent among them.

Uncle Tom and his female counterpart, Aunt Jemimah, were particularly loathed by young Black foot soldiers who spearheaded America's Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s. Largely via their frequent use of the insult, it entered the lexicon of other oppressed communities. Latino activists began to denounce Uncle Toms in their ranks (called "Tio Tacos" in Spanglish), as did equality-minded Native-Americans and Asian-Americans.

It was inevitable, then, that the term would also enter the vocabulary of LGBT activists. A term like "Uncle Tom" seems very appropriate now, with stereotypical Gay imagery everywhere, homophobic self-identifiers proliferating, and counter-productive politics so widespread among us! I was reminded of just how widespread they are when my pen pal, the Reverend Jerry Maneker, linked me to a syndicated editorial that appeared in the May 20th edition of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Titled "Why California Gays Shouldn't Celebrate State Court Ruling", it was penned by one David Benkof. He's a Conservative author, columnist and founder of a fringe blogsite called gaysdefendmarriage.com. That's right, pilgrims . . . it's a site for LGBT folk who share the religious Right Wing's exclusionary credo about "traditional" marriage! (It's really true that you can find anything at all on the Web!)

The subject of Benkof's op-ed is, predictably, the landmark ruling that California's Supreme Court handed down on 16 May, which legalized same-gender marriage in that state. Dude does his level best to throw a soaking wet blanket over the euphoria that Gay Californians are now feeling! Benkof's essay isn't the worst example of Uncle Tom-ism I've ever encountered; that dubious honor goes to an Advocate article I read in which a Gay pornographer decried safe sex as encroachment on the "freedom" to be homosexual. Nothing, I repeat, nothing could be worse than that!

However, Benkof's shuffle and smile routine ranks right up there with GLAAD's endorsement of the viciously heterosexist movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, former Venus magazine editor Charlene Cothran's high profile conversion to the "ex-Gay" cause, Jamaican LGBT activists' cowardly opposition to a cultural boycott of their rabidly anti-Gay island, and last month's ill-conceived "Million F*g March" that (unwittingly?) validated the rhetoric of Rev. Fred Phelps, the notorious hatemonger. Lord, deliver me! If we keep trending in this backward direction, before we know it, the Gay Rights movement will have become nothing but a fond memory!

OK, OK, I know: You want I should can the curmudgeon routine, and bring on the offensive op-ed, right? Well, here it is, then, slightly edited for style.

Champagne corks have been popping wherever Gays (sic) and Lesbians gather throughout the Golden State after the California Supreme Court's ruling in IN RE: Marriage Cases, which opens the way for same-sex couples to legally wed beginning next month. But the Gay community shouldn't be celebrating.

Any Post-Intelligencer reader who wondered what interest group Mr. Benkof carries water for wasn't left wondering for very long!

This decision does next to nothing for California Gays (sic) and Lesbians, and causes real harm to people who believe in the "old" definition of marriage. It's nothing to be proud of. The June weddings that can now be expected for same-sex couples all over California actually will provide little tangible advantage to anyone. California already has a Domestic Partnership law providing all the state benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act prevents all the Federal benefits.

Time out for a reality check! California’s Domestic Partnership law actually falls short of giving Gay couples every state benefit. However, even if there were exact equivalency, it wouldn’t matter; the Court overrode that law in its decision! It found that separate-but-equal provisions for Straight and Gay families violate the state constitution's guarantee of equal protection for residents. Read the complete decision at:


Sure, Gays and Lesbians may get a lift in self-esteem from having their relationships declared "equal" by four jurists, but does an ego boost really outweigh the real harm caused by last week's decision? Because there certainly are harms: To religious liberty, to give just one example.

How snide can you get? And how ignorant can you be? Has Benkof never heard of justice and fairness? Does he really think Gay couples brought litigation against the state of California in order to boost their egos? What a dumbass!  There are far less expensive ways to do that! Could it be he's got a hungry ego himself, and mistakenly believes the same about everyone else? And could it be that his "just one example" of "harms" resulting from the California decision amounts to a Chicken Little-styled scare tactic? Judge for yourself:

For the past two weeks, I have been contacting "marriage equality" leaders all over California to ask about the impact of re-defining marriage on religious freedom. All, including several prominent Lesbian and Gay legislators and other leaders, have refused to disclose their opinions, some repeatedly.

Excuse me . . . names? What are the names of these LGBT leaders from California? Benkof wants us to take his word that these unidentified people exist, are what he claims they are (note the curious use of quotes), and did what he says they did. I tell you what, sugar: I’ll trust him if you will!

Although California marriage-equality leaders won't say what impact they expect the new decision to have on religious freedom, activists in other states haven't been so shy. Openly Gay Washington state Sen. Ed Murray (Democrat from Seattle) and a representative of the largest Michigan Gay Rights group, the Triangle Foundation, have both told me that people who continue to act as if marriage is a union between a man and a woman should face being fined, fired and even jailed until they relent.

Hmmm . . . did Senator Murray really say this? Note the suspicious lack of a quote from him! The only quote Benkof offers in support of his inflammatory claim comes from the aforementioned Triangle Foundation spokesman, and as you'll see, context is everything:

So if a traditionally religious business owner wants to extend his "marriage discount" only to couples married in his eyes, the Triangle Foundation's Sean Kososky says: "If you are a public accommodation, and you are open to anyone on Main Street, that means you must be open to everyone on Main Street. If they don't do it, that's contempt, and they will go to jail."

Benkof has constructed a far-fectched, hypothetical scenario here! Faced with a legal definition of marriage they disagreed with, most Fundamentalist business owners would simply stop offering such a discount. Let's pretend it's plausible, though, just for the sake of clarifying some points: The legal definition of civil marriage is not determined by individuals. It is determined by law. So if the law says that marriage can only happen between men and women, a vendor is within his rights to withhold a hypothetical "marriage discount" from Gay couples.

On the other hand, if the law does not limit marriage that way, and the vendor refuses to accommodate same-gender spouses, he can and should be sued for false advertising! A religious zealot's ability to impose exclusionary doctrine on people ends when he leaves his church community and enters the public sector to provide services! However, if he tries to do so and becomes the subject of a grievance, there's no direct correlation between filing a lawsuit and spending time in jail! After all, most litigation is settled out of court.

Seattle's Michael Taylor-Judd, President of the statewide Legal Marriage Alliance, said if a newspaper writes that a given same-sex marriage wasn't really a marriage, "it is certainly in the realm of possibility for someone to bring a (libel) suit, and quite possibly to be successful." Kososky agreed: "I would be sympathetic to some damages. They need to be slapped publicly."

Second point of clarification: Does Benkof understand what libel is? The Oxford Modern English Dictionary defines it as 1) a published false statement damaging to a person's reputation, or 2) the act of publishing such a statement, or 3) a false and defamatory written statement. The entry goes on to say that this defamatory falsehood must be motivated by malice. That's a huge burden of proof to satisfy!

If someone voices his sincere belief that same-gender marriage is illegitimate, and a newspaper publishes it in the form of an editorial, a letter to the editor, or a quote from a news article, then that person has expressed his opinion. Expression of personal opinion is well-protected under our Constitution's right to Freedom of Speech! If such belief forms part of a religious conviction, then it's also protected under the Freedom of Religion clause. What's more, there's a vast difference between "the realm of possibility" and likelihood. How likely is it that lawyers would take on libel cases with such tremendous burdens of proof, especially given the conservative bent of our American judiciary? Most, if not all lawsuits of this type wouldn't even make it to court! They'd sputter out of existence in the planning stage.

Sharon Malheiro, a lawyer and LGBT activist from Des Moines, Iowa (who is) affiliated with the state's Gay marriage lobby, One-Iowa, told me if a teacher in a marriage-equality state taught that marriage is between a man and a woman, "then it becomes a job performance issue," and the school district should take appropriate action.

Third point of clarification: I wasn't aware that a course called Definition of Marriage was part of any public school curriculum in this country? When was it added? If public school teachers take it upon themselves to teach what Ms. Malheiro describes in their classrooms, disciplinary action should result. They are proselytizing their students, and that's forbidden by law. It's just as inappropriate to encourage opposition to same-gender marriage in a secular educational setting as it would be to encourage support for it!

"Is Uncle Tom A Gay Man?" concludes with Part Two.

2 comments:

  1. I know that Evangelical Christians and Religious Jews will never be able to resolve their differences (we do not believe Jesus is the Messiah by our scriptures) - but I'm still moved by your spiritual insistence and your proclamations of the passages in the scriptures that support EVERY letter of LGBT.

    I agree about the B community. Gays too often do not do them any reverence. Just like a Hetero can not know how a Homo will feel, how can a Homo know how a Bi will feel? We have to trust that person's knowledge of themself.

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  2. I published your feedback on the probability that you used the words “homo” and “bi” as abbreviations, and not as sexual slurs. Please try to avoid that terminology, though. It narrows us down to our sexual habits, and we deserve far more respect than that. Remember, we’re the human beings who possess Fullness. That means we are closest to the image of God!

    Scripture does indeed validate LGBT identity, but so many of us are afraid to read it! At best, we skim over it. We prefer to have it read to us by demagogues who hate our guts. I challenge all LGBT people, regardless of faith, to purchase a copy of the Bible in a good, modern translation and read it like I did, over a period of months. I’d also suggest buying a Gnostic Bible to get a good feel for what the early Christians believed. I did this in an attempt to find scriptural condemnation and confront it. Instead, I found scriptural affirmation. Now I’m trying to spread the news.

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