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How Many of Us Have Been Senator Ashburn


I have noticed something in my judgments of other people. I can be armed and ready to give someone the third degree, only to realize that what's really pissing me off is how similar I am to those I want to accuse. I've been contemplating this urge to blame California Republican state senator Roy Ashburn, who was arrested for drunk driving after leaving a gay bar. Ashburn -- known publicly as a straight man until he came out on a radio program Monday -- consistently voted against bills that would expand the legal protection of LGBT people.

The first way I've been approaching the Ashburn story is this: When people like the senator are so repulsed by what they see inside, they can't even bring themselves to admit it. Further, this self-hate is so strong that some people lash out, even violently, to condemn the characteristic in others. This is denial coupled with projection. Psychological projection, briefly defined, is a defense mechanism often unconsciously used "when a person's own unacceptable or threatening feelings are repressed and then attributed to someone else."

Why else would some people be so hateful about homosexuality -- so negatively vocal about it, condemning it as sin, and finding so-called cures for it -- unless it's what they hate and fear in themselves? At the very least, they have given an enormous amount of attention, energy, and thought to it. Straight men don't do that. They just don't think about it. They think about having sex with women. "Reparative" therapists, "ex-gay" ministries, and political leaders fighting to negate homosexuality think about it all the time. Maybe the only way they can allow themselves to dwell on homosexuality is by thinking about it in the negative, but they're thinking about homo-sex nonetheless.

It's not surprising that they then get caught behaving in the very ways they condemn. In fact, this behavior is often a kind of cry for help. A closeted man behaves in a risky and irresponsible manner, unconsciously wanting to get caught -- forcing his hand -- so the inner battle will end. Whether he comes out or not, he eventually reaps what he sows. The pain and injustice he allows to be inflicted on gays and lesbians is unavoidably inflicted on himself. So the senator might have voted against protecting LGBT rights, as he said, to reflect his constituents' wishes, but his self-hate makes him blind to see that his choices are hurting others as well as himself.

Such actions cost our community its civil rights. At the extreme, the price of discrimination has been violence against and even the death of innocent LGBT people. The gay mayor of West Sacramento, Christopher Cabaldon, told the San Francisco Chronicle he wondered how Ashburn could "live in the community and expect that you're going to be safe and protected when you are, during the daytime, doing everything to deny those protections."

But the tables turn when I contemplate the second angle of blame in regard to the senator's exposure. I would venture to guess that any number of LGBT folks would still be firmly in the closet if it were not for getting caught quite literally with their pants down. I'm sure a few of us are secretly angry at the senator not because he is a hypocrite but because he got away with it longer that we did. This is not to let the senator off the hook in any way. At least, in his initial statement, he has kept the focus on taking full responsibility for his actions instead of taking the ludicrous route that others in his shoes have so often taken by denying the facts and insisting they are straight. Good for you, senator -- keep taking those little steps of integrity and over time you can rebuild your trustworthiness. Just think of the positive impact you can have now that you have the power of honesty behind you.

Ultimately, we have all felt urge to hide who we truly are in the face of palpable fear and rejection. This is a problem of our society at large, and its solution is not found in blame but in honest, compassionate education. We can strive to create a world where people don't have to hide who they are in the first place. Whether the issue is hypocrisy, gender discrimination, marriage inequality or outright hate and violence, our community holds the answer in our resilient ability to celebrate diversity. Let us continue to lead the way in our affirmation of authentic sexuality -- inside and out. Although it may sound redundant, when everyone feels welcome, no one is excluded.

Senator, whatever state you are in, this diversity includes you too.

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