Opinion Columns & Blogs

Racism, homophobia, religious bias, misogyny are not products of the fringe

Two years ago, my partner and I conceived three children through in-vitro fertilization. We were elated. After hearing of our situation, a Seattle news station contacted us about doing a human interest segment.

The piece ran on the daily newscasts and was placed on the station’s website. The site, like most news sites, allows for commentary from viewers. These posted remarks can be made anonymously.

The comments on our story included thoughtful voices of support and encouragement. Then there were the rest. Veiled by anonymity, viewers from around Washington spewed vileness about us, our children, and homosexuality in general. We were called filthy names, accused of waging a publicity stunt and an attempt to collect welfare; our children were referred to as “freaks.”

It was terrifying and it got my attention.

I realized I had become comfortable, even complacent. I spent nine years in an extremely conservative state, living in the back recesses of the closet, hiding my sexual orientation as well as my political and social beliefs. When we moved back to the Northwest, I felt safe. Those with dissenting opinions seemed much more willing to interact on an amicable “agree to disagree” basis.

But I quickly realized vehement intolerance is closer to home than I knew.

Recently, I read an online article about a couple who won a lottery. It told the story of their reluctance to cash in the ticket for various reasons. At the end of the piece was a small picture of the couple. They were interracial.

The public forum erupted. Many comments were removed because they included a word the website’s administrators deemed offensive (hint: the N-word). The comments ran six to one deriding interracial marriage. The subject of the article was all but forgotten amid a flood of racist outbursts.

As the circus that is a presidential campaign ramps up, one is reminded of the slightly more subtle bigotry of American politics. The recent “birther” issue is perhaps the most transparent racist ploy I have seen.

When John McCain ran for president, there was some banter about his citizenship. A bipartisan group of attorneys investigated the matter and determined he was indeed eligible for the presidency. There was little talk of the matter again.

For his part, President Obama produced his certificate of live birth during the campaign. And yet, more than two years into his presidency, a relatively small but vocal group has pushed this matter beyond every reasonable limit. If his name was Bernie Olson and he was an old, rich, white guy, he wouldn’t have to deal with this scrutiny.

Women in politics face an exceptionally harsh audience. The criticism, name-calling and general disrespect shown women like Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Nancy Pelosi are revolting. All politicians receive a generous helping of contempt from the pundits. However, women in politics often become crude punch lines in some sick jokes.

Racism, homophobia, religious bias, and misogyny are not products of the fringe. They are not fading into oblivion. They are among us, slinking around mainstream America, even here in our well-educated, bright blue state. They hide behind religion, patriotism, and partisanship.

The strength of this country is being eroded by perpetual conflict. Male vs. female, heterosexual vs. homosexual, Christian vs. Muslim. We have become a nation defined not by achievement, but by opposition. Too often our adversaries are not across seas, but across the street.

The fundamental rights Americans enjoy are the products of supreme sacrifices by our founding fathers and brave soldiers who selflessly serve. If we do not extend dignity and equality to all who dwell within our borders, then we have squandered those sacrifices.

Kris Coyner is an activist for immigration justice and civil rights. She and her partner are raising 1-year-old triplet daughters near Shelton. A member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, she can be reached at kriscoyner@gmail.com.