Changing the Face of the Culture Wars: Are You Sitting Idly By?

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Discrimination against lesbian and gay people has been rampant as of late. These negative policies have real-life consequences for the mental health of those hurt by them. Instead of concentrating on changing the minds of those who are rigidly intolerant, perhaps we should focus instead on those who stand idly by.

Discrimination against lesbian and gay people has been hitting us in the face recently. First it was the Boy Scouts of America renewing their commitment to excluding gay boys, men and lesbian den mothers from participating in their organization. As their national headquarters are in Irving (part of the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex in which I live), the petitions people have signed protesting this policy made big headlines here. Following close upon the heels of the BSA’s bigotry was the now infamous statement against gay marriage made by Chick-fil-A’s president, Dan Cathy.

Some people immediately called for a boycott of Chick-fil-A restaurants. Many of the mainstream media outlets reported that this boycott is occurring because of what Dan Cathy said, but for me, that is not the case. He is free to believe and say what he wants (although I do have to wonder if he missed the parts about love and tolerance in the latter part of the Bible). However, when I learned that a large amount of the proceeds from his restaurants goes to groups classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center, I drew the line. I do not want my money funding groups that are not compassionate and do not work toward positive solutions. I also do not want my son belonging to a group that promotes discrimination.

For me, the so-called culture wars are not just abstract, theoretical constructs. In a very real sense, I treat the wounded of these wars. I am one of the doctors who tries to put back together the people these battles have torn apart. I regularly talk people down from the literal and figurative ledge, assist them with their grief, help them discover a sense of self-esteem, and encourage them to find ways to be happy in a society that tells them they are unworthy. I help them figure out how to deal with the fact that there are some groups who will not let them join and that there are many who think they have no right to exist. I also have to aid them in getting beyond the fact that thousands of people flocked to show their support for Chick-fil-A on August 1st and that some reportedly even said things like, “I’m so glad you don’t support the queers, I can eat in peace” and “I support your company, because your company hates the gays.” I guess the people who made such horrible statements didn’t realize or perhaps even care that some of the employees who heard these hate-filled sentiments happen to be gay.

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Some of my job involves helping to repair the wounded but, as a counseling psychologist, another part of my responsibility includes confronting injustice — so I have to do more than just show up for work. The people who have no problem spewing vitriol, the ones who actually delight in causing misery, are not ones for whom I will waste my breath. Until something happens that challenges their perspective enough, they will not change. However, I do plan on wrestling with another part of the problem: people who do not get involved. Case in point: a family friend told me that they are now boycotting Chick-fil-A because of their anti-gay stance but have no problem with keeping their son in Boy Scouts. When I questioned him about this discrepancy, he stated that their troop was not discriminatory, so he didn’t see a problem. But there is because, as the saying goes: If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem. Moreover, by continuing to be a member of an organization that promotes discrimination, you are tacitly condoning such a policy.

Too many evil or dysfunctional systems have been propped up by good people who refused to inconvenience themselves or take a risk. Too many people shrug their shoulders at belonging to an exclusionary group or eating at places that fund hate. They are not personally discriminatory, so why make a fuss? There is some truth to the idea that some bad organizations, governments, and businesses can only be taken down or changed by people working from the inside. However, in order for that to happen, the insiders must actively work for change. They cannot just sit by and say, “I don’t agree” while doing nothing to transform what is wrong into what is right. As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [sic] to do nothing.” So, if you’re going to belong to or patronize an organization that discriminates against a certain class of people — whether it be homosexuals, women or people of differing race — then you’d better be doing something to change it or risk being tarred with the same brush of intolerance.

Perhaps it is time for us to stop worrying about those whose minds we cannot change and instead focus our time and energy on the people we can reach. It is not enough that we boycott businesses and groups that are soul-destroying; we must also ‘girlcott’ (which means giving support) businesses and groups that are soul-enriching. We have to work on changing the attitudes of those who have, thus far, just stood idly by. We must convince them that, as Toni Morrison said, “The function of freedom is to free somebody else.” If we can do all that, if we change attitudes and work in a positive direction, then maybe we can change the face of the cultural wars. That would be quite welcome because, let’s face it, the battlefield is demoralizing. We could all use the change.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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