Dear Robert George,
I spoke to you at the lecture you gave the other day with Cornel West in the Quaker Meeting House at Swarthmore. I was the young man in the first row who asked you what it would take to change your mind about queer people and gay marriage. You didn’t really give me an answer to the question I asked, but instead you talked a lot about the process that led you to the views you have today. You read Plato, and Gandhi, and Kinsey, and many more. You suggested that I do the same, and that perhaps after careful reflection and thought, I might come to agree with you.
Of course, the terrible irony of all this is that I am gay. You couldn’t have known. I wasn’t wearing protest t-shirts like so many of the queer activists on campus, I didn’t out myself to you in my question, and my mannerisms don’t immediately betray the the inner workings of my heart. When you addressed me, you mistook the anger in my voice to be the passion of an activist and an ally, rather than the pain of a young man you had hurt.
But now that we’re both in the know, I have to wonder if you would go back and change your answer. Not because somehow knowing that I’m gay would change your opinions about gay people — I’m not so arrogant as to think that. But because the absurdity of telling a young gay man to read Plato so that he might reconsider his views on his own humanity would surely be too much even for you.
I’ll be frank — I think that you should never have been invited to come and speak to this campus about community. You are the founding chairman of the National Organization for Marriage and you serve on the board of the Family Research Council, which has been recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-gay hate group. NOM is currently in the midst of a major campaign to deny transgender children the right to use the right bathroom. You’ve co-authored the Manhattan Declaration, calling for Christians to engage in civil disobedience against laws giving equal rights to queer people, and you’ve endorsed the “traditionally regarded” view that our love and relationships are “beneath the dignity of human beings as free and rational creatures.” These positions are by nature hateful and bigoted. The fundamental equality of others is self-evident. We don’t reason it out from assumptions. It’s not subject to rational inquiry and debate. We know it because we live it every day. How can I have a discussion on equal terms with you when you don’t recognize me as equal? Our disagreement isn’t rooted in logic or reason; it precedes it. It derives from the fact that my humanity is obvious to me. It is obvious to the Swarthmore community. And it should be obvious to you.
Before you came, I worried that your lecture and the ensuing discussion would descend into meaningless platitudes. I worried that the discussion’s only purpose would be to paper over the many harms that you’ve done with abstractions like “civility,” “community” and a fetishization of dialogue as an end unto itself. And what was so galling to me about the whole event was the way we treated your opinions about queer people as though they’re just another respectable position in a philosophical debate. As though my life and my humanity was just some discussion prompt that college freshmen write about in a first-year seminar.
In the months leading up to this event, I spent hours in meetings with our college President Rebecca Chopp and many other professors and administrators expressing exactly these concerns. All of them told me that I should just attend — that the questions I wanted to see answered would be addressed. I was furious at them, and furious at Cornel West, and furious at you, but I decided to go anyway to hear what you had to say.
And as much as I wish that I was wrong, my fears were played out. I went. I heard you speak. I asked you questions that you didn’t answer. I’d still like the answers, if you can give them now. But what I really want is an answer to the question that I didn’t ask, perhaps for fear of what the answer would be or perhaps because I think I know it already.
What did I do to make you hate me so much?
Class of 2014