Fresh Ideas: Love, not hate, thy neighbor

On Jan. 2, I settled down with the Nevada Appeal, a cup of warm chai, and the optimism a new year brings. Then I got punched in the gut by Mary Santomauro’s letter to the editor (“Homosexuality is morally wrong”). Only one day into the brand new year, and already hate oozed from our capital city newspaper.Santomauro criticized fellow citizen George J. Gosselin who had congratulated Carson High students for forming the new Gay-Straight Alliance Club (“CHS's Gay-Straight Alliance praised,” Dec. 25, 2012). She claimed that Gosselin’s praise and the club’s existence “will give children the message that gay is OK when, in fact, it is not.” According to Danielle Greene (“New club offers hope, acceptance,” Dec. 18, 2012), “The GSA is not just about being gay teenagers trying to make their way through the world while trying to dodge all of the negativity... it is about supporting and taking care of your peers and not being afraid of being who you are.” That sounds like encouragement to love thy neighbor — all of them — not a “Gay is OK” publicity campaign. Santomauro accused Gosselin of setting a bad example by recognizing the GSA Club’s “forward-thinking” students. She suggested that for those like Gosselin, who acknowledged he is a gay adult and had “suffered through the torment of bullying,” that “it would be better to have a millstone tied around one's neck and to be cast into the sea.” What about her own example of suggesting death by millstone and drowning? Even a First Amendment absolutist should consider that hate speech.This isn’t the first time Santomauro has preached her destructive diatribe. But on Jan. 2, when she compared homosexuals to thieves and killers, she crossed a line — from merely offensive or contrary to hate speech with its potentially dangerous consequences. I thought about ignoring her letter, but couldn't — not after Greene described how 64 students, gay and straight, showed up for the first GSA Club meeting. I imagined being the mother of a gay or lesbian child — a child born on a range of the sexuality spectrum that Santomauro’s ideology refuses to acknowledge. How could I bear anyone comparing my child to a robber or murderer? Santomauro would probably argue that she hates the sin, not the sinner. Try explaining that to a child. Even worse, Santomauro predicted that homosexual behavior will call a “Sodom and Gomorrah event” upon the United States. What might be the effect of Santomauro’s brand of hate on young people trying to understand their place in the world or questioning their very existence? And might expressions of hatred like hers provoke others to violence? Greene reported that students at the high school who objected to the new club “ripped down our posters and used negative words.” Bullies who destroy property and denigrate their peers should be held accountable for their actions before they move on to millstones and mayhem. We live in a civilized society. Those who use the Bible and First Amendment as shields against accountability for hate speech can no longer be given passes. All law-abiding U.S. citizens have the right — some would say the God-given right — to be treated with dignity. And dignity is not the sole province of those who happen to be born heterosexuals. • Marilee Swirczek is professor emeritus at Western Nevada College and lives in Carson City.


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