“I think there is a gay mafia,” said Bill Maher on Friday during an online segment of his HBO show Real Time. The topic at hand was the resignation of Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, in response to the renewed controversy over a $1,000 donation he made in support of California’s Prop 8 in 2008. “I think if you cross them, you do get whacked. You really do,” Maher added during a segment with five presumably straight guests, each of them laughing and nodding in agreement.
I’d laugh, or at least chuckle along, if I wasn’t too busy cataloguing the frequency with which the notion of a powerful, shadowy gay conspiracy has come up lately in public conversations. The same day Glenn Beck ranted during his radio broadcast that LGBT activists are “becoming a terrorist organization” that just wants to “keep everyone in fear.”
Last December, when A&E temporarily suspended Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he made rambling, pointedly anti-gay comments in a GQ interview, Sarah Palin tweeted a photo of herself with the Duck Dynasty cast with the caption, “Those intolerants hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch [Robertson] for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”
In February, Alec Baldwin opened a so-called farewell to public life with the sentence: “I flew to Hawaii recently to shoot a film, fresh on the heels of being labeled a homophobic bigot by Andrew Sullivan, Anderson Cooper, and others in the Gay Department of Justice.” The incident in question involved the actor calling a paparazzi photographer a “cock-sucking faggot.”
Andrew Sullivan, for his part, has written quite passionately (three separate posts to date) about his “disgust” with Brendan Eich being forced to step down due to pressure from inside and outside of Mozilla. Three board members auspiciously resigned within days of Eich’s promotion. Several employees published tweets calling for his resignation, and a few wrote essays. Notably, OkCupid, a dating site, encouraged users to boycott Mozilla Firefox: “If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.”
However arresting and damning it feels to be called a bigot, I assure you, it is far more painful to endure bigotry itself.
In 2008, the same year that Eich donated money to support Prop 8, the same year Barack Obama continued to resist supporting marriage equality, a straight man tried to kill me. He held me down on the floor of his apartment and said, “You’re already dead” over and over again while beating me. This happened in Arizona, a state that just a few weeks ago almost made law a bill designed to protect the religious freedom of business owners who fear they’ll be sued by marriage-equality supporters. It is surreal to hear that anti-gay people feel they are being bullied for their beliefs.
Look, I get it: The “right side of history” is a moving target, a fast one at that. No one knows that more than LGBT Americans currently witnessing the stunning breakthroughs that have defined the last decade in particular. And in the wake of rapid change, complicated and necessary questions are emerging. Most notably, is there a statute of limitations on past anti-gay gestures? Let’s say Brendan Eich was promoted to CEO of Mozilla in 2018 instead of 2014. Would his Prop 8 donation still sting? I surely am not the first person to point out that Hillary Clinton didn’t come out in support of marriage equality until 2013. How do we reconcile that with her sizable LGBT following or now-historic 2011 declaration that “gay rights are human rights” in Geneva? History will not bother to wait for us to be brave, but it rarely forgives delay, especially when it comes to would-be leaders. If he didn’t know that already, Brendan Eich knows it now.
And so, ultimately: I’m sorry if my equality is inconvenient for you. Or that you risk being taken to task for bigotry no longer afforded the veil of public opinion. If I sound cold, understand my words have been chilled by stories of a lesbian couple murdered last month in Houston, a 4-year-old boy in Oregon murdered by a mother who believed she could beat the gay out of him, more than 30 states where LGBT people can be fired for being out, and a nation where marriage equality is still not a reality for all of its citizens.