by Mark Zustovich
Within the span of a few days, we have witnessed the best and worst of humankind. Just hours after New Mexico became the 17th state to legalize marriage equality, Uganda passed its anti-homosexuality law, which essentially exposes its gay citizens—and their supporters—to a life sentence in prison. And in between was Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty, a self-made businessman who apparently isn’t content with making millions off his invention and suckering millions into watching his inane television reality show. Instead, he spouts off to GQ about his preference for vaginas while demeaning Blacks and linking homosexuals to bestiality, adulterers, prostitutes, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers.
Please don’t get me wrong. I admire Robertson for all that he has achieved, including a stint as a teacher, a master’s degree in education and a lucrative patent for the Duck Commander, a device that replicates the sounds of our fine, feathered friends and makes it easier to attract and kill them on the spot. Barbaric and useless? In my opinion, yes. Ingenious capitalism? Absolutely. I also support the right of Robertson to practice Christianity, form his own belief system and speak freely to family, friends, neighbors, associates and anyone else who will listen. I would’ve also defended his constitutional right to speak publicly about his beliefs, however twisted, had he remained a private businessman. Once he signed on the dotted line with A&E, however, he became their property and those rights were left at the door. When I was a radio reporter, I had to sign a legal agreement that held me to the same standards as a condition of employment. Robertson may be rich, but he is not special.
A half a world away, while Robertson was spewing his vitriol and feeding into the celebrity-obsessed, trash TV, tabloid news culture that Americans are wittingly—or unwittingly—embracing, Frank Mugisha was making an eleventh hour stand against his nation’s brutal anti-gay legislation. Mugisha, recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for his activism in Uganda, is now a criminal in the eyes of his own government for being openly gay. It’s the kind of depraved and condoned hatred that led to the murder of his close friend and fellow advocate, David Kato, in 2011. Unlike Robertson, who is abusing his religious ideology to perpetuate all of the worst stereotypes about gay people, Mugisha is risking his own safety and freedom to break those stereotypes down, not only in Uganda but across the globe. By some counts, 83 nations and independent political entities have laws that classify gay people as criminals and some even call for the death penalty.
For Mugisha and everyone fighting the good fight for justice and equality around the world, there is scant middle ground on these issues. Either there is freedom and respect for all of us, or for none of us. You can’t hold your holy book in one hand while beating us with the other. You can’t become judge, jury and executioner while claiming only God can fill those roles. You can’t lay claim as the birthplace of Buddhism and then celebrate your high court ruling making being gay a crime (yes, I am talking to you, India). The story of Robertson’s comments will certainly die with the next news cycle, but his type of dangerous, self-serving rhetoric will stick in the minds of otherwise decent people for whom Duck Dynasty is high art. His sentiments will lurk in the darkest recesses of the minds of our future hate crime perpetrators—those like the murderers of Sakia Gunn, Ali Forney, Brandon Teena, Matthew Shepard, Mark Carson and countless others.
As an agnostic gay man, I never rely on biblical passages to make a point. But since people who oppose my “lifestyle” use them as a convenient crutch, how about Jesus—who never utters the word homosexuality in the entire Bible—as quoted in Matthew 12:30: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” In my worldview, you can align yourself either with the Frank Mugishas of the world, or the Phil Robertsons. If you still can’t make up your mind, try this one on for size: among those who came out in support of the embattled Robertson were the clueless opportunist Sarah Palin and the insidious Westboro Baptist Church. That should tell you everything you need to know. In the end, your choice not only reflects who we are as a collective society, but speaks volumes about who you are as a human being. Remember, if you walk like a duck and quack like a duck…