Like LGBT Community, Elected Officials Are Being Bullied, Too

 Scientific evidence has yet to confirm without dispute the burning question about whether being gay is innate or, as many opponents of gay rights claim, a choice. But my personal experience, and an overwhelming number of subjective reports of those who identify as gay or lesbian, will tell you that it’s not a choice. It’s just the way we are.

Here’s one thing we can all agree on: exchanging a life-long promise of commitment to (or in the case of five states and the Distric of Columbia: legally marrying) someone of the same gender is just like the act of running for Congress or another elected office. It’s a choice.

As we listen — consciously and unconsciously — to the environment and cultural messages around us, however, one might wonder why anyone would bother to do either.

By now, you no doubt realize that I’m writing this article several days after the tragic shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a staff member, a U.S District Court judge and the constitutents who gathered to speak with her.

In the hours and days which have unfolded since Saturday’s shooting, we’ve heard voices pointing fingers at folks perceived as responsible for the “vitriol” and angry political rhetoric and we’ve also heard from analysts, like ABC’s Amy Walter, who caution us to focus less on the “heated political rhetoric” as scapegoat and instead consider the impact of the culture of violence which has been condoned and — even — celebrated in American culture.

As I considered this question of the role we all share in creating a positive tone of civility and in refusing to accept aggressive words and/or deeds as a solution to be celebrated, dramatized and folded into video games, I couldn’t help but realize that the conversations around “the government” and “gays” have something in common.

Much like the LGBT community, elected officials are being bullied. And the transgressors are getting away with it. To wit:

Airtime. The airwaves are full of spokespersons and influencial voices saying without irony or apology that being gay or lesbian is “wrong” and “immoral” and airtime is also given to the threatening voices at town halls and rallies where many elected officials are treated with contempt and undeserving of respect.

Leading Voices. Our country’s loudest political voice, President Obama (in many ways an advocate to the lgbt community), says publicy that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage (though he’s at least begun to say that his thoughts on this are ‘evolving’). Meanwhile, elected officials (and those campaigning for office) who hold a more extreme view have spoken disrespectfully and use loosely violent imagery and metaphors in their speech.

Distortions. Some media outlets and personalities will go so far as to report whatever they want as “facts,” without regard for the truth.

Silence. Universities and workplaces have enabled discrimination, without recourse, against members of the LGBT community (or those perceived as gay or lesbian). The recent events at Belmont University and Penn State come to mind.

Anonymity. The pervasive use of social media, blogs and email as anonymous means of communication (by kids and constituents alike) have resulted in postings on websites and correspondence in inboxes which defy any sense of decorum or respect. Many spew downright hatred and I would contend a majority of this speech wouldn’t happen in a face-to-face encounter.

The Inevitable. Recent reports of bullying in schools and colleges this past year alone have netted us examples of many youth attempting to (and sometimes successfully) killing themselves in response to the bullying. And, certainly the attack on Rep. Giffords reminds us that a hostile environment and access to guns can lead some individuals to do the unthinkable and open fire in a crowded public setting.

Bottom line, the bullying and disrespect (tacit and explicit) directed at elected officials and the LGBT community has been accepted in wider culture to the point that, in some worst case scenarios, violence results.

As Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said so wisely in a press conference on Sunday, “This may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.”

I, for one, sometimes feel vulnerable as an out lesbian and I imagine that many elected officials feel the same. As an optimist, though, I believe that many will still choose to serve — as will I — in the face of our increasingly crass and inhospitable culture.

Meanwhile, I hope that the LGBT community and any other group which has systematically been discriminated against can rise up and speak out in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King to encourage love and change in a culture of non-violence.

In the coming days, all elected and appointed government officials need our empathy as a catalyst for broader cultural change, just as the LGBT community needs the empathy of government officials to move ever-closer to the long-overdue upgrade from our current status (legal and otherwise) as second class citizens.

As I close, I offer my hope that our culture will choose a New Year’s Resolution which embraces examples of love and tolerance over violence and aggression.

As the wise friend who officiated at the wedding ceremony between me and my partner back in 1999 said: “Love opens up. Love sends out. Love welcomes in.”

And we need love now more than ever.


Photo credit: GayWeddings.com

Wedding innovator Kathryn Hamm (@madebykathryn) is co-author of The New Art of Capturing Love: The Essential Guide to Lesbian & Gay Wedding Photography (Amphoto Books, 2014), an Education Expert for WeddingWire and Publisher of GayWeddings.com