Homophobia is bad for your brain

Elizabeth's picture

I just read a story in the New York Times, written by Tamar Lewin, that was both touching and infuriating. It concerned a change noted recently by staffers at the GI Rights Hotline, a number for people to call if they want help becoming conscientious objectors.

The touching part of the story came in the descriptions of the work done by those who staff the hotline. Since conscientious objector status is decided based on a person's beliefs, and since a caller's beliefs and a staffer's beliefs might be quite different, it can be a challenging job and these workers come across as very dedicated to helping people despite conflicting belief systems. It was also touching to read the concerns they shared about those who never make it to the hotline, speculating that many of those who desert or who kill themselves are people who are "struggling with their conscience."

The infuriating part comes in when people apply their beliefs in illogical ways. Specifically, the change on which the article reports is the new growth in calls by people who want conscientious objector status because they cannot in good conscience serve in the military with people who are gay. Lewin explains in her article that this objection on the face of it fails the conscienctious objector test, in which a person must clearly object to participating in all war as a result of some deeply held moral, ethical, or religious belief. She quotes J. E. McNeil, a long-time staffer of the hotline, who explains that “In the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation, they’re not opposed to participating in war, they’re opposed to who they’re participating with”.

To make the irrationality even clearer, when McNeil explained to one caller that under Don't Ask Don't Tell he was already serving with gays and lesbians, and so his objection didn't make sense, the caller responded: "‘Yes, but now if they come out, they can be forced out. But if homosexuality is actually allowed, I will be housed with somebody who’s sexually attracted to me.’  

As if somehow a) attraction is inevitable and b) it is only going to happen if a person is allowed to be out. Not only is homophobia irrational by definition, apparently it also interfere with one's ability to think rationally. In other words, homophobia is bad for your brain. Quick! Somebody call the science reporters.

My heart goes out to people who are truly struggling with changes in their attitudes toward war, who want out of the military because they have come to feel that there is no moral way to fight war. My heart also goes out to those who, in trying to assist conscientious objectors, must listen to the fear and hate of people who would happily fight war if only they could do so without challenging their bigotry.


 Photo by Adam Fagan, afagan on flickr, and used under a Creative Commons Noncommercial Share Alike 2.0 Generic license