The mayor doth protest too much
War on Dumb by Kyle Whitmire
You wake up. Your first decision of the day: Do you hit the snooze button or get out of bed?
Out of bed.
Shower or just cake on some deodorant and fake it?
Blue jeans or khakis?
Black shoes or brown?
For breakfast: bacon and eggs or oatmeal?
Gay or straight?
Out of the closet or in?
But I just got out of bed.
What'92s your sexual preference today?
You'92re kidding me, right?
Not at all. According to Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford sexual preference is a kind of lifestyle choice, the sort of thing we pick up as a hobby or extracurricular activity. Which gender you prefer to sleep with is just one of those decisions you make in life, like whether to play golf or tennis.
'93I don'92t think I'92m intolerant, I just don'92t condone the lifestyle,'94 Langford told The Birmingham News. '93Your personal lifestyle should be nobody'92s issue but yours. It'92s not a civil rights issue; it'92s a personal issue.'94
Forget for the moment that the very act of the thing necessitates other people being involved. Langford doesn'92t want to pass judgment on anyone'92s '93lifestyle'94 choices '97 except when he does.
Last week, Mayor Langford put his foot in a hornets'92 nest when he said he would deny a parade permit for Central Alabama Pride, a gay rights organization that hosts an annual parade through Five Points South. Being a newcomer to Birmingham, the mayor evidently was not familiar with the event. Gay pride parades might not be so common in Fairfield, but in Birmingham this sort of thing has happened for years.
Of course, denying a permit was ludicrous. If ever the mayor had picked a civil liberties fight, he had one on his hands now, but Langford quickly backed down.
The city now intends to allow the parade to proceed. However, the city will not allow Central Alabama Pride to hang rainbow flags from light poles as it has most years, and the mayor will not sign a proclamation for the event.
Again, Langford doesn'92t want to pass judgment on anyone'92s '93lifestyle'94 choices '97 except when he does.
Take, for example, the sackcloth and ashes prayer rally Langford hosted at Boutwell Auditorium. There, last month, he led more than 1,000 residents in a religious service that was less about crime reduction '97 its stated purpose '97 than it was the deification of the mayor himself. But perhaps I'92m passing judgment on the mayor'92s lifestyle choices.
With or without a proclamation, the parade will take place next month.
Still, the mayor'92s position in this troubles me.
I'92ve known people more homophobic than Mayor Langford. (And I have more than a suspicion that Langford is not nearly as gay-adverse as he pretends to be.) Years ago, I even met Fred Phelps, that lunatic preacher from the Westboro Baptist Church who protests soldiers'92 funerals and runs Godhatesfags.com. Phelps'92 hatred is astonishing and so far from the mainstream that it'92s almost amusing. Only the media take him seriously. And it'92s for just that reason that the kinder, gentler homophobia, like that the mayor preaches, is more troublesome. The difference between Phelps and Langford is the difference between the Klan and a restricted country club. One is ghastly hate speech while the other passes for conventional wisdom, the political residue of Don'92t Ask/Don'92t Tell. The first we dismiss because it'92s absurd. The second, we accept offhand.
But it takes only a modicum of thought to undo the mayor'92s line of rhetoric.
Sexual preference is no more a choice for homosexuals than it is for heterosexuals. Arguing otherwise perpetuates a subtle bigotry and lays a foundation for more aggressive rhetoric.
Take for instance, the talk-radio fallback: '93the Gay Agenda.'94
I once toyed with a column about the Gay Agenda, but never finished it. It went something like this.
'95 Track lighting;
'95 Dancing with the Stars;
'95 Making your kids queer.
As a column it didn'92t meet my weekly word count, but it got to the point. The Gay Agenda is a silly argument predicated on the notion that being gay is somehow contagious.
In reality, the gay pride parade is a lot less likely to make anyone gay than the St. Patrick'92s Day parade will make anyone Irish.
Langford doesn'92t want to pass judgment, but he already has. Langford doesn'92t think himself intolerant, but no one ever does. He says that this is not a civil rights issue, but this is the town where we put Civil Rights in a museum, so what'92s the fuss?
But maybe, though, the mayor is right and I'92m wrong. Maybe he or I or anyone else can change our sexual preferences as easily as we change into a different pair of shoes.
If so, there'92s one way for the mayor to prove his reasoning is better than mine on this issue.
Trust me, it won'92t be pleasant for me, either, but if anyone can change their sexual preference, then both of us can. Right?
Not permanently, of course. Not no, but hell no to that.
But just for 10 seconds. Try to be gay enough long enough to kiss another dude '97 me, on the mouth.
Or if I'92m not your type, kiss Frank Matthews, instead. Frank, the mayor'92s co-director of the Mayor'92s Office of Citizens Assistance, has never withheld his thoughts and feelings on this subject '97 and they are much more virulent than either of ours.
Come on, mayor. Give me a big wet one.
But no tongue, please. That'92s just sick.
War on Dumb is a column about political culture.