January 23, 2013

When You Mean Well, but Not Well Enough

Over winter break, my family and I watched the film Philadelphia, which stars Tom Hanks as a lawyer who gets fired by his law firm due to his homosexuality and worsening case of AIDS (and Denzel Washington - go watch it!).

“Why does Tom Hanks have AIDS?” asked my mum.

My brother responded, “We don’t know. The film doesn’t tell us. Probably sexual activity.”

As if to scold Andy Beckett, the protagonist of Philadelphia, or perhaps to derive some kind of universal moral lesson for me and my brother, my dad said, “That’s why we should accept gays, but not promote it,” said my dad.

This isn’t the first time my parents have used this curious term of “promotion.” In my senior year of high school, I revived the LGBT club named the Spectrum Club, which had fallen into inactivity for a couple years. When I told my parents that I was involved in such activities, they immediately told me to stop. Despite my arguing and protests, we left off there with my parents saying that it didn’t have to be me who does the “promotion.” Since then, they have become a bit more liberal in their view points, thanks to the legalization of gay marriage in New York which helped legitimize the gay rights movement in everyone’s recent memory. Therefore, it was rather disheartening to hear my parents use this same language again a couple years later.

My friend O sometimes talks about irritations caused by her parents, but often digresses and defends them by saying, “they mean well.” To borrow her phrase, my parents mean well. They are not excessively ignorant, and they understand that there are oppressed groups in society. In fact, I’d regard my parents as very smart and enlightened people about many things who did a bloody good job raising me. Anyone can mean well, but you also have to think of how to make your thoughts and actions reflect meaning well.

What my parents mean when they say “promote” is not entirely clear. So how much should we actually “promote homosexuality?” How much is enough? From the legal perspective, there isn’t really a reason to exclude LGBT couples from the institution of marriage given that marriage is a contract in which two individuals enter. I believe that any two consenting adults should be able to get married, and I am willing to express this viewpoint through blog posts like this one and perhaps more importantly, through my votes. From the social perspective, LGBT individuals are people just like anybody else. We should be their friends and in some cases, we may need to stand as their allies. If I’m any good at this subtext thing though, I think my parents still hold the misconception that being gay necessarily implies irresponsible sexual behaviour, and that homosexuality is a thing that exists, but ought to cease existing rather than continue. But that isn’t possible because even though no one fully understands the origin of being LGBT, we will certainly stick around for a while. The way to pursue better sexual health among the LGBT community isn’t to condemn the sexual cultures that exist now and in the past, but to allow more to come out in the open so that we may continue to do whatever it is we like to do romantically without endangering our health.

To take a page from my dad’s book - here’s the moralizing lesson I’m going to take from this story and bestow upon anyone reading this: when it comes to the way you view an issue like LGBT politics, even if you do not want to be the loudest proponent, you still have a responsibility to re-evaluate the stereotypes you hold so that at the least, you do not perpetuate ideas like the conflation of homosexuality with HIV/AIDS. 

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