Sean O’Donnell was uncomfortable with the prejudices of an Indiana Pizzeria. When bigotry hit a Pennsylvania, his blood boiled over. This time it was hitting too close to his own kids. Here is what he is going to do about it.
In a pizza shop in rural Indiana the message was clear. In a mechanic’s garage in suburban Michigan the message was clear. And in a public high school in southwestern Pennsylvania the message was clear. Homophobia remains an acceptable form of bigotry.
I learned about the shenanigans of the Indiana pizzeria and the Michigan garage via social media. It was shocking, but not necessarily surprising, to realize this type of discrimination existed in 2015. And while both stories left me with a trunk full of synonymous emotions, ultimately I threw up my hands in defeat as if to say, “Oh well. This is the world we live in.”
Then this past week the “rights” of others to discriminate against me and my husband hit a little too close to home when students at a public high school twenty miles south of where we live organized a series of anti-gay days. Over the course of a week, students arrived at school in pre-arranged identical dress (i.e flannel shirts) with the message Anti-Gay scrawled on their hands and arms. Allegedly homophobic posters were found fixed to lockers, students were verbally intimidated, and a “lynch list” of gay students and their allies was circulated among the protestors. The offending students posted photos on Instagram and bragged about their exploits on Facebook. They were proud of their actions.
The school, who rightfully would not have tolerated these incidents had they been racially motivated or involved acts of anti-Semitism, has been slow to respond. A week after the initial anti-gay day and the administration’s single response has been: “Our investigation is ongoing, and we encourage anyone with information to contact McGuffey School District administration immediately. McGuffey School District is committed to providing a safe, supportive environment for all children.” As news organizations like The New York Times and The Advocate pick up the story, the district’s non-response and its message grows louder with each passing day.
As a progressive society we do not tolerate the racist or the anti-Semite, but for the homophobe we seem all too willing to make an exception. We pass liberty laws that enable a business owner to proudly declare: If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no. We pervert the First Amendment so a publicity-seeking thug can state: I would not hesitate to refuse service to an openly gay person. We remain silent when a public high school permits students to organize anti-gay days, our passivity a de facto endorsement of their learned ignorance.
To be clear, these actions are the actions of a dying breed. A desperate attempt to maintain control of the plantation. A last gasp of a toppled reich. As a society, it is our responsibility to make our voices heard where there is injustice. As a community, if we cannot stand up for even ourselves then how can we expect others to stand with us?
These bigots – and make no mistake, that is exactly what they are – these bigots hide behind religious freedoms and the First Amendment. They wrap themselves in the Constitution before nailing themselves to a cross of obscure biblical quotes, acting as if every malformed thought that pops into their heads deserves to be given a voice. They are the personification of hate and ignorance.
We can no longer afford to indulge these bigots or to make excuses for them. Their so-called freedoms are not a free pass. We must hold them accountable. It is not enough to simply boycott their businesses or call them out on social media with clever hashtags — to be truly effective we must shame them into isolation. Perhaps in solitude they will at last hear the hate in their own voices.