Dear AAAAA,

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Let me back up, and complicate, Dan when he writes...

remember that TVC and NOM and FRC and AFA are all shooting themselves in the foot. So are all the freelance haters lurking in comments threads on blogs and on news websites spouting off about buttsecks and feces and pedophilia.

You see, today most people know someone who's LGBT. The homophobic nonsense that straight people used to find so persuasive—gay people are all icky perverts! they're coming for your children! they hate the family!—doesn't work on straight people who actually know someone who's LGBT.

Because it's not just that hate fades when haters know someone who's LBGT: hate fades, or gets complicated, when people know someone whom they know is related to someone who's LGBT. One degree of separation can suffice.

To wit: I am a regular patron at a bar where I've literally known the bar owners, and one of the bartenders, and many of the patrons, my entire life (I've lived in the same zip code for all of my 50 years). It's the kind of low-key neighborhood joint where everyone talks sports, local news, whatever. Some of the regulars are old-fashioned prejudiced Never Really Thought About It regarding various things; some are actual bigots. Either way, years ago, if someone would spout some homophobic bullshit, I'd clear my throat (I'm usually at a table in the window, reading the paper, not right at the bar engaged in the chitchat). Then one or the other of the regulars or the bartender would remind the rest of who my brother was, or the bigot would just remember that when you make a disparaging remark about fags, you're talking about Bill's brother Dan. You know, Dan, went to school with your little sister? You know, Bill, who can talk Cubs and Bears and why Loyola is fucking up the 'hood, Bill, he's one of us. So shut the fuck up about his brother.

This didn't necessarily change their minds about Queers Being Icky, but they kept their bullshit quieter in deference to me. Because they knew me, and my whole family, including the queer one. And I have to think that over the many years this has gone on, where Dan's appearances on Maher or CNN, or in the Reader or the Tribune, have been the subject of conversation, they've come to realize that maybe they're full of it a bit, on the wrong side of history.

And when our mother died five years ago, everyone in that bar was right there for us. Not just for me, for us all.

One regular helped us get the local parish space for the post-funeral meal, even though we hadn't been active in the parish for decades. A bigoted regular whom I despise beyond words offered his condolences, and I accepted them. The bar owners catered the liquid portion of the reception: just take what you need and we'll settle up later. (And let me say: they rounded down. A lot.) All of this is exactly what they'd've done if the whole family was straight, because it didn't matter that Dan is gay, it mattered that Bill's, and Dan and Ed and Laura's, mother had died and we were part of a community where we all know and support one another, regardless of whatever else we might disagree about.

This hasn't changed this joint into some haven of LGBT disco-ball Celebrate Good Times. Plenty of bigotry (racial as well as gendered) lingers. But there are some GLBT regulars, including a lesbian couple whose identity couldn't be more obvious or less of a problem. It's more of an issue that one of them is a St. Louis Cardinals fan in Cubs/Sox territory. That tolerance—about the gender identity, not the baseball fandom—is something that might not have happened ten years ago, but it's happening now, maybe in some small part because I've been out for a long time as a straight guy with a gay brother. Insult fags, you insult my brother. Fuck with him, you fuck with me.

But to further complicate things, tolerance is a two-way street. One of the afternoon regulars is a priest at the local parish, whence my family has been married and buried for four generations, where our mother's funeral and wake happened.

So, to my own prejudices. I'm usually in this joint late afternoon post-work and/or pre-game, when the TV is on the news. And when the news is about the Catholic Church, especially lately with the selection of the new Pope, my instinct is to say something just loud enough for everyone to hear about "Oh, great, they've elected a new Baby-Raper-Chief-Cover-Up-Officer." I look around, and if that priest is in the room, I keep my mouth shut. I still think that the Most Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church is a Medieval maelstrom of financial bullshit, and is clearly a giant pedophile cover-up operation, but if he's there, I figure he doesn't need to hear that from me.

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But the other day, I didn't pay enough attention. Right after Benedict resigned, the news was all about "who would take over?" and I glanced up from the New York Times crossword and said "Yeah, we need someone to keep the baby-rapers safe" and at the same instant looked over and saw this priest at the bar. I hadn't noticed him coming in. I felt like a total asshole, just because saying such a thing was an insult to him.

This guy is a regular in the same saloon I am a regular in. I've never said more than "hello" to him, or he to me, but we occupy the same public urban space and so owe each other some consideration. I should assume that he's probably not a baby-raper, or someone who approves of the pedophile cover-ups. I know him in passing, and just as bigoted straights who know someone who's GLBT and out must confront their own prejudices, so I too have to think very carefully about what I say, when and where I say anything that just grows out of my own prejudices. And it's only such public situations that let me see what my own prejudices are.

So, AAAAA: my advice? Let the rage go, let tolerance grow. Peace.

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