No, Andrew Sullivan, Calling Out Bigotry is Not 'Intolerance'

In his rush to the barricades, Sullivan both misses the point and harms our cause.
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Last week, after Brendan Eich resigned as CEO of tech giant Mozilla over outrage about his support for the maliciously discriminatory Proposition 8, prominent gay blogger Andrew Sullivan rushed to the defense... not of the LGBT families in California whose rights Eich helped strip away and not to the activists who fought so hard to restore those rights anew, but to Eich himself.

Heroically describing Eich as someone "who had the gall to express his First Amendment rights," Sullivan harrumphed:

"Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me - as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today - hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else - then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us."

Sullivan revisited the topic with even more vigor later that same evening, saying that poor Mr. Eich was "purged" like a "heretic," the victim of "left-liberal" intolerance. (I'm sure Brian Brown and Tony Perkins, two dangerously homophobic activists who just love to accuse LGBT people of "intolerance," would agree.)

He also offers this outrage-tinged advice to the LGBT civil rights movement:

"You want to squander the real gains we have made by argument and engagement by becoming just as intolerant of others' views as the Christianists? You've just found a great way to do this. It's a bad, self-inflicted blow. And all of us will come to regret it."

But in his rush to the barricades, Sullivan both misses the point and harms our cause.

The way Sullivan describes it, Eich is just a guy who supported a political cause a few years ago, the same way many Americans of all ideological stripes do. No big deal, right?

Wrong. Proposition 8 wasn't just some random, innocuous ballot initiative -- it was a cruel, animus-driven crusade to strip a disfavored minority group of an existing and fundamental right. The campaign to pass it relied on lies and gutter-level fear-mongering, flooding the airwaves with images of smiling children accompanied by ominous warnings about how much they'd be harmed if voters didn't enshrine marriage discrimination into the constitution.

Eich didn't just passively endorse this awful effort -- he felt so strongly about denying LGBT couples and families the right to marry that he gave a sizable chunk of change to make it happen. (Maybe $1,000 isn't a substantial amount of money in the upper echelons of the tech industry, but down here on the ground it's some pretty serious cash.)

And that's not even the extent of Eich's anti-LGBT political activities. He's donated to outspoken homophobes like Republican Reps. Tom McClintock and Linda Smith, the latter of whom describes homosexuality as a "morally unfit inclination." Eich gave money multiple times to Ron Paul, who has long opposed LGBT rights, and to the notoriously homophobic (and racist, and anti-Semitic) Pat Buchanan.

A year before Eich's first donation to Buchanan's presidential campaign, the future candidate said about the AIDS crisis: "our promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide;" not long before that he claimed that AIDS was the "awful retribution" for gays' "declared war on nature." Yet last week, when the Guardian gave Eich a chance to distance himself from Buchanan's anti-gay views, the embattled CEO couldn't even muster a comment.

If a person can't say, in the year 2014, "I reject the belief that AIDS is nature's way of killing gays," on what planet is that person not intensely homophobic? If Eich can't bring himself to simply acknowledge the humanity of LGBT people, how on earth would he be able to impartially serve in a job where he might have to make decisions impacting the lives of his LGBT employees?

According to Hampton and Michael Catlin, the software developers and binational same-sex spouses who launched the Mozilla boycott, Eich had a similarly appalling response during a private meeting. Binational same-sex couples feel the sting of marriage discrimination far more acutely than most, and when Hampton finally got a chance to sit down and talk with Eich, he wasn't looking for him to change his personal views -- all he wanted was an acknowledgement of the suffering that he and his husband endured.

I met with Brendan and asked him to just apologize for the discrimination under the law that we faced. He can still keep his personal beliefs, but I wanted him to recognize that we faced real issues with immigration and say that he never intended to cause people problems.

It's heartbreaking to us that he was unwilling to say even that...

People think we were upset about his past vote. Instead we were more upset with his current and continued unwillingness to discuss the issue with empathy. Seriously, we assumed that he would reconsider his thoughts on the impact of the law (not his personal beliefs), issue an apology, and then he'd go on to be a great CEO.

Someone who's incapable of separating his personal anti-gay beliefs from the fundamental American principle that all people deserve equal treatment under law -- and who, when presented with a real-life example of unconscionable suffering brought on by anti-gay discrimination, can't even look that person in the eye and say he's sorry they were hurt -- is a deeply, deeply homophobic person. Forget marriage -- if Eich can't even concede that same-sex couples should be able to love each other in the same country without being degraded and humiliated by the state, he clearly views them as unequal, lesser, inferior.

If a CEO publicly held the belief that women, African-Americans, or Jews were inferior, would the Andrew Sullivans of the world be lining up to defend him? If that person had donated to sexist, racist, or anti-Semitic groups, would we even be having this discussion? Of course not -- he or she would be roundly condemned and immediately fired, because those prejudicial views are rightfully regarded with revulsion and scorn by civil society.

So, Mr. Sullivan, why on earth should patently discriminatory, homophobic views like those held by Eich be granted any further "tolerance"? Implicit in that line of thinking is that anti-gay bigotry is somehow nobler or more acceptable than racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism, and quite frankly, that's appalling.

Responding to prejudice with outrage and action doesn't harm the LGBT civil rights movement. Accommodating bigotry, on the other hand, harms us a great deal -- it reinforces the lie that some forms of hatred are worse than others, and tacitly concedes that homophobia is a legitimate worldview that deserves deference and respect.

If we're truly interested in full civil equality, that's a concession we can't afford to make.

Originally posted at The Bilerico Project.

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