Saturday, November 10, 2007


In this country we're lucky to have folks like Bill O'Reilly, who are able to so well demonstrate the misguided and intolerant voice of the right wing. Now I'm being slightly sarcastic here, but I am also serious in a way because if we ever intend to win in the great debate against those who promote hatred and restriction of civil liberties, we must understand where they are coming from. Unfortunately, it turns out that the far right may be nearly impossible to debate due to their general irrationality, misuse of logic, and overall intolerance of anything that is not what they consider "normal."

Anyone who is familiar with Bill O'Reilly knows that the political commentator of Fox's The O'Reilly Factor promotes "traditional" American values. He also frequently contributes to the culture of fear that serves to maintain intolerance within our country. In July I wrote about The O'Reilly Factor's absurd story on "lesbian gangs" that was highly misleading, containing extreme distortion of facts for what seemed to be the sole purpose of portraying a sexual minority as dangerous and sexually aggressive.

Now, it's interesting to look at the history of O'Reilly's views on gay rights. A 2002 article in The Advocate gives a pretty good overview of his feelings. In the article O'Reilly admits to believing in antidiscrimination laws that include sexual orientation as well as supporting adoption rights for gay couples (although he admits that he's looking out for the kids, not the gays). Some religious extremists, such as the uber-Evangelical American Family Association have gone so far as to accuse him of promoting the "Homosexual Agenda." (As a side note, for more information on the "Homosexual Agenda", you can visit the AFA's special issues page) In a transcript from a 2002 airing of his show, O'Reilly comes up against "ex-gay" spokesperson for the AFA, Stephen Bennett. In the show, O'Reilly directly challenges Bennett's religious fanaticism by quoting areas of the Old Testament (such as Deuteronomy 22:20-21, which states that non-virgins should be stoned) to highlight the immediate contradictions that come with citing Scripture to advocate for certain social norms. O'Reilly said to Bennett, "You don't speak for God" and reminded him that we live in a secular society -- one which allows for religious fanaticism, but which prevents that fanaticism from crossing the line into public policy (at least theoretically -- I wonder if O'Reilly was perhaps feeling a bit delusional when he made this statement since these days it seems that religion -- Christianity specifically -- dictates pretty much every move of the Right).

Despite all that, O'Reilly is far from being an ally to the LGBT community. In fact, O'Reilly thinks that gays should pretty much just shut up about their sexual orientation. He tells The Advocate, "The basic tenet is, I want you to have a good life. It's easier to have a good life if nobody knows what your sexual proclivities are--hetero or homosexual or whatever--so keep it quiet unless you absolutely have to define it." This goes along with an earlier statement: "I've never understood why anyone, why any American, would want to tell the world what their sexual preference is. It's no one's business but yours." So what he ends up promoting is a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" point of view which tells gays that as long as they don't "express" their sexuality, there's no problem with it. Consequently, what you end up seeing is a massive double standard between what is considered sexual expression from a homosexual and what is considered expression of sexuality by a heterosexual. For the homosexual, the mere mention of a "partner" or of one's orientation is sexual. But, you certainly don't see O'Reilly or anyone else telling heterosexuals to not mention that they're straight ("What? You have a wife? Don't tell me that! It's none of my business! That's your private life!" -- Yeah right).

The basic inconsistencies in O'Reilly's (and many Americans') sentiments are exemplified in the November 7th broadcast of The O'Reilly Factor where he spoke to Dr. Laura Berman of Northwestern University about a poll in the yearbook of Waukegan High School in Illinois, which voted a lesbian couple as "Cutest Couple". O'Reilly was outraged over what he considered to be a vastly inappropriate promotion of sexual conduct in a school setting. Dr. Berman, luckily, held her own against the man and did her best at pointing out the error in his argument.

The thing that is most frustrating about O'Reilly's point of view -- one which is shared by many individuals -- is that he makes ridiculous assumptions using faulty logic and false analogies. The two girls in the story were automatically accused of promoting sexuality in a school setting just by being "in love", as Dr. Berman stated. For all O'Reilly knows, these girls might not even be having sexual relations -- not all high school couples do. But there is something inherently sexually inappropriate about them being a couple that is not true for any heterosexual couple. In O'Reilly's view, the simple act of coming out is actually an issue of sexual conduct (or perhaps misconduct). Gays and lesbians mentioning their relationships (whether or not it has anything to do with the erotic aspect of those relationships) is automatically sexual, whereas a straight woman mentioning, "Oh my boyfriend and I went to the movies" would never be accused of acting inappropriately by discussing her private "sexual life." But of course, heterosexuality is normal behavior and homosexuality is deviant behavior (it's "what you do" remember and not "who you are") so therefore any attempt at normalization is automatically political, apparently.

Back to The Advocate interview, O'Reilly explained that gays should stop trying to "force" others to be tolerant of them, since the majority of Americans are never going to accept them. Basically, he implies that discrimination against gays is acceptable and understandable and average Americans should just accept it and get over it rather than be outraged that in a secular, contemporary and democratic society like ours it is still necessary to be "tolerant" of those who hate others based on their sexual orientation. For a long time religion was used as a basis for racial discrimination as well -- for example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would not ordain blacks into the priesthood until 1978. One of the great leaders of Mormonism, Brigham Young, stated that black skin was the mark of Cain -- a punishment for the murder of Abel by Cain in the Old Testament. An article in The Salt Lake City Tribune shows that although official church doctrine no longer teaches these beliefs, many Mormons still hold them and interracial relationships continue to be taboo within the faith. The point is, nearly every type of intolerance throughout history has been justified by religion. Religious opposition is certainly, in my opinion, no reason to give up the fight in insisting upon a fair and just society that values the inherent worth and dignity of all its members.

I was made aware of this current O'Reilly broadcast on As usual, the writers over there had several witty remarks to make about it ("The Waukegan Bulldogs are trying to make an issue of something — trying to start a revolution via yearbook poll. After all, that's tactic No. 43 in the Homosexual Agenda Handbook. Next on the list: stocking the soda machines with virgin mimosas and herbal teas!") But one thing that stood out to me were some comments made by European readers:

"I can't believe ... that this kind of debates are broadcasted on the american TV. Honestly... as a german (or european) I'm quite shocked about this. What's up over there?! This man and his point of view are completely out of question... I can't believe any channel gives him any airtime! Is he popular? He definetly shouldn't be! Wow... it's the 21st century and people are talking about this on national television?! Something is going waaay wrong..."

"I live in the UK and I cannot believe this crap is shown on tv! It's outrageous he can get away for being so homophobic. I am genuinely shocked that something like that could be televised. I feel sorry for any American teens who may have seen this and been in the process of coming out or have just come out etc because [understandably] they won't want to be open about who they are and they are with because of people like this guy."

"I live in Sweden and it's truly shocking to se this kind of blatant homophobia on american television. Our most conservative government party, Kristdemokraterna (basically the christian democrats) are liberals compared to this guy and I can honestly say that if a "journalist" like O'Reilley said anything like this, there would be an uproar. It's a shame..."

"Being European (from a very small yet quite well respected country boasting a semi-direct democracy in between high mountains) this truly is yet another confirmation of the bad picture of "America" we get every now and then. The America which is "running" and judging our Planet. Red States having way too much influence - and a society (i.e. those parts that get represented in the media and thereby kinda seem to form public opinion) who in a way still have to live in a medieval state of repression ... I truly feel for every one of you who has to cope with such an ignorant society who on the whole (for their negative aspects) seem to have much in common with a medieval one where fears were big and belief in nonsense was normal and reasonable thinking was not an option. ... Would love to see him taken to the European court in Strasbourg"

"Another European here shocked to see that something like this can be televised in the USA. If one of the hosts of any of our news programmes ever made a comment as homophobic as the ones this man has made, he or she would be fired immediately. I'm not saying we don't have homophobic people in my country, because we have a few, but luckily for us, they're not given their own TV shows to spread their BS on national television."

"I'm not sure about the entire European continent, but this would certainly never happen in Germany. It simply couldn't. So even though I sometimes hate this country, and I've always wanted to move/life in San Francisco, I'm becoming more and more repulsed by the way the American right wing agenda is not only getting shoved in our faces through the media, but also by how many people still fall for that. After seeing this interview, I am honestly scared of having to live in the US. I know that there are people who don't hate "us", but sadly the right wings fundamentalist seem to get more and more powerful."

Basically, we should never stop believing that we can have a just society. We should never fail to be outraged by acts of intolerance. And we should never accept that "tolerance" of homosexuality as long as it's kept "private" is progress.