11/23/2004

Timothy M. Gay: Camouflaging fear and loathing as 'moral values'

Timothy M. Gay: Camouflaging fear and loathing as 'moral values': "One of my favorite teachers was a wiry little man with thick, horn-rimmed glasses who taught fifth grade. It's been 40 years, but I can still see his crooked grin and hear his voice cracking with excitement.

He made learning fun, constantly getting the class to act out skits to reinforce one lesson or another. His eyes were keen and his heart was big: He always made sure that kids from broken homes or the wrong side of the tracks got starring roles in our productions. He helped implant in me a lifelong love of history. I was out sick with the flu for a couple of days that year; he waited until I returned to resume class readings of a Civil War book that he knew I loved. He was everything a great teacher is supposed to be: unfailingly kind, considerate and dedicated.

He was, also, we learned much later, gay. But because this was the mid-1960s in a small town, he didn't dare live as such -- especially since he doubled as the school's principal. Only in his twilight years did he follow his heart, moving to a city to live as a gay American."

Imagine for a moment, however, that it wasn't four decades ago but four days ago that my teacher was reaching out to help a less fortunate kid with a thorny math problem. And imagine that he'd had the courage in that small town to "come out" and had taken up residence with his partner. In the new world order dictated by champions of "moral values," this wonderful, caring teacher might be branded dangerous. Emboldened by national conservative leaders, the town's evangelicals -- and there are plenty of them -- could well have raised a hue and cry to keep this teacher and "his kind" away from their children. And the town's young people would have been denied the chance to have their lives shaped by a remarkable educator.

Here's what Republicans of conscience have to understand about the machinations of Karl Rove and company. Fear isn't some emotion that can be easily bottled back up after it's been -- viciously -- unleashed. It isn't a once-every-four-years vehicle that can be wheeled out for a few months, then stowed back in the garage to be retooled for the next election cycle. Encouraging fundamentalist preachers to pound their pulpits and inveigh against gay people has consequences. It puts men and women in communities nationwide at personal and professional risk. There's nothing more despicable than creating a phony political issue (just how many gay couples are clamoring for marriage certificates in the state of Ohio, anyhow?) and preying on people's prejudices.

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