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Leonard Pitts: Good for Tim Hardaway

Ummm, wait a minute — that doesn’t sound like my beloved Leonard Pitts.  And actually, it isn’t how it sounds.  Mr. Pitts points out that Hardaway’s honest, in-your-face homophobia helps to rip the socially acceptable veil off this particular bigotry, just as Bull Conner and his dogs showed the true face of segregationism.

Let me tell you a story. It’s about a man named Bull Connor. In 1963, he was the police commissioner of Birmingham, Ala. Back then, Birmingham was pleased to be considered the most segregated city in the South. Then civil rights demonstrators under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. came to town. Connor directed the city’s response.

When you see those famous images of dogs attacking unarmed marchers and firefighters directing high-pressure hoses at men and women singing freedom songs, you are seeing Connor’s work. He was a hateful cuss, but there was a useful purity in his hate: The sheer violence of his response to the civil rights movement brought international condemnation and irresistible pressure for change.

Segregation was, for many people, still socially respectable in that era. Politicians defended it with honeyed euphemisms like ”state’s rights,” and preachers assured their flocks that it was God’s will. So you could be a segregationist and still feel good about yourself, still feel moral.

Connor inadvertently made that impossible. How moral can you feel when a guy is loosing dogs on children in your name? Connor stripped segregation naked. He made people face it for what it was.

And perhaps Tim Hardaway and others like him will do the same for homophobia.  It’s easy to hold onto casual disdain and erroneous assumptions when the people around you support your cruelty and self-deception.  Who’s being hurt, after all?  As long as the victims are invisible, unknown Others, it’s no big deal.  Anyway, why can’t those blacks gays keep to their place and stop demanding equal rights flaunting their “lifestyle”?  Their lives aren’t that bad; they just like to complain.  Right?

But then the world sees Bull Connor siccing dogs on children, spraying them with high pressure hoses, treating them as less than human while they respond, as they’ve responded for so long, with dignity and courage.  Much the same way the world heard Tim Hardaway go after John Amaechi, who had done nothing more than publicly acknowledge that he’s gay:

”I hate gay people,” he said, “so I let it be known. I don’t like gay people and I don’t like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be in the world or in the United States.”

This wasn’t some socially acceptable expression of discomfort — it was flat-out “I hate you, and I wish you didn’t exist.”  And it’s the true feeling that lies behind a lot of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” crap that gets dished out by people like James Dobson, who insist they only want to “cure” a “disorder”.

There is something bracing in the matter-of-fact clarity of Hardaway’s declaration. He cut through the clutter of weasel words and half-truths that traditionally surrounds homophobia, showed us what lies behind honeyed euphemisms (”traditional values”) and claims to speak for God.

…So often, we use words to distance ourselves from what we feel, to hide our true meaning, even from ourselves. Hardaway used words to say exactly what he felt, and it is possible to abhor what he felt and yet appreciate that he does not make you guess or infer.

Think again of Connor, screaming obscenities under an Alabama sun. To hear him, to hear Hardaway, is to know that you have finally come down to it, finally met the beast that lives behind euphemism and weasel words.

And you — all of us — can fight it.

***

From Pam, your editorial blogmistress: Instead of writing a separate post on this topic, I thought it might be appropriate to juxtapose the thoughts of Leonard Pitts to the those of Michael Medved, who directly challenges a comparison of homophobia of  Hardaway situation to racial animus of years past.

Read after the flip.Michael Medved clutches his pearls; he is worried about sex-obsessed gay men getting a woody in the locker room when looking at all those straight guys.

In response to the Hardaway controversy, several sports columnists compared his resistance to the idea of playing alongside gay teammates to the racism of previous years when white players tried to avoid competing with (or against) blacks.

The analogy is ridiculous, of course. There is no rational basis for discomfort at playing with athletes of another race since science and experience show that human racial differences remain insignificant. The much better analogy for discomfort at gay teammates involves the widespread (and generally accepted) idea that women and men shouldn’t share locker rooms. Making gay males unwelcome in the intimate circumstances of an NBA team makes just as much sense as making straight males unwelcome in the showers for a women’s team at the WNBA. Most female athletes would prefer not to shower together with men not because they hate males (though some of them no doubt do), but because they hope to avoid the tension, distraction and complication that prove inevitable when issues of sexual attraction (and even arousal) intrude into the arena of competitive sports.

Criticism of this nature says a lot about the homophobic mindset — that straight guys are all irresistably attractive, and that somehow there aren’t any gay men in the locker room or in the the military already.

But wait, it gets better. Medved adds such a heaping dose of sexism in the next paragraph that it takes your breath away.

Tim Hardaway (and most of his former NBA teammates) wouldn’t welcome openly gay players into the locker room any more than they’d welcome profoundly unattractive, morbidly obese women. I specify unattractive females because if a young lady is attractive (or, even better, downright “hot”) most guys, very much including the notorious love machines of the National Basketball Association, would probably welcome her joining their showers. The ill-favored, grossly overweight female is the right counterpart to a gay male because, like the homosexual, she causes discomfort due to the fact that attraction can only operate in one direction. She might well feel drawn to the straight guys with whom she’s grouped, while they feel downright repulsed at the very idea of sex with her.

…When Hardaway says “I hate gay people” what he suggests at the deepest level is that he feels revolted by the very notion of same-sex eroticism and that he’d prefer not to face the distraction of such thoughts in the locker room or on the court.

You can sense Medved protectively grabbing his ‘nads. Hardaway may be revolted, but what about “the distraction” faced by all the closeted gay colleagues who played alongside him or on other teams? He’s ok with that? Despite the “male bonding” through collective homophobia in the forms of manly joking and banter, these closeted players, because of people like Hardaway, suffered in silence, yet still performed their jobs on the court each game. 

Medved spills out so many irrational fears in this essay that you have to wonder about the man’s comfort with this sexuality. His “proof” of his analogy is so retrograde and incredible that you can’t believe he committed the words to the keyboard — the “Astronaut Love Triangle” represents the danger of men and women fraternizing is “a pointed reminder of the way that even disciplined military careerists can be diverted, even ruined, by attraction, eroticism and romance.”

Is Medved saying all gay men (lesbians naturally don’t factor into Medved’s untethered panic) are the equivalent of Lisa Nowak, the clearly mentally ill astronaut who drove 900 miles in a NASA diaper to allegedly kidnap/kill her perceived romantic rival? Even worse, is he calling for women and men not to work together because of individuals who are unglued?

Given that the rape of women in the military is a big problem the Pentagon has had to address, does this mean women are to blame for their predicament because of their mere existence on a base? Medved’s answer would have to be yes; men simply cannot control themselves so the arousing presence of women must be eliminated. This is absurd.

How does he explain all the countries where gays and lesbians calmly and competently serve alongside their straight fellow service members in the military, showering and sleeping in the same spaces without the world coming to an end? And we’re not just talking about other countries — though DADT is in place, many openly gay and lesbian soldiers are accepted by their straight colleagues without incident — it’s certain members of the Pentagon brass holding their ‘nads, not the boots on the ground. People in the line of fire couldn’t give a damn about someone’s sexual orientation when they are facing IEDs and gun battles each day.

People like Medved believe that their repulsion to the thought of being in close proximity to gays in the locker room is something they are entitled to, because they truly believe it’s about biology — humans cannot control their sexual impulses and are in a constant state of sexual alert in the military and in the locker room.

Also:

* Check out Jon Swift’s take: Tim Hardaway Makes Homophobia Look Bad

Hat tip to BarbieAnn.

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