Being gay isn’t supposed to be considered terrible in the 21st century US, right? According to the verdict in a recent workplace bullying lawsuit in Los Angeles, one of the most liberal cities in the country, being gay is so terrible that if people think that’s what you are, it’s as bad as killing you or turning you into a mental or physical vegetable for life.
For a few decades, citizens of the modern world have been treated to formal and informal diversity education by schools, universities, workplaces, news media and entertainment, with a major emphasis on acceptance of gays. Major cities have annual gay pride parades, supported by many heterosexuals as well. The psychological establishment, which once considered homosexuality a mental disorder, has changed its mind, and now considers it a normal sexual lifestyle.
As reported this week in the Los Angeles Times, James Pearl, a sanitation worker, was awarded a monumental judgment of US$17.4 million dollars by a jury that needed a mere two hours to arrive at a unanimous decision in his favor. Judgments of this magnitude are usually awarded for incidents of wrongful death, or paraplegia or brain death. What was the terrible crime for which Mr. Pearl was so immensely compensated?
“He endured repeated harassment by his supervisors, who falsely perceived that he was gay [and] was subjected to verbal abuse, hazing, and a bullying campaign in which his portrait was photoshopped to show him in a same-sexrelationship with a subordinate. The images were then circulated among city employees…”
We are fortunate to live in a society in which we have the right to sue our employers for criminal abuse. But let’s examine this case carefully.
Let’s ignore the fact that lawsuits rarely involve cases of absolute guilt on one side and absolute innocence on the other.
Let’s assume, instead, that Mr. Pearl was an ideal employee who in no way contributed to hostility within his workplace and deserved nothing but admiration. The main argument in this lawsuit was that he was humiliated for being perceived as gay. If the gay issue were not part of this lawsuit and it were strictly one of abuse by employers and colleagues, and the sexual insults and photos were heterosexual in nature, how much would he have been awarded? A hundred thousand dollars? Half a million? Two million? Perhaps, if he were lucky.
Thus, the brunt of the monetary award was because he feels that about the worst thing that can happen to a human being is to be thought of as gay. In other words, he suffers from pathological homophobia. He hates gays so intensely that the thought that others may perceive him as one induces as much anguish as having a family member murdered or being injured so severely that he can no longer use his body or brain.
So in today’s world, why didn’t it occur to the defense attorneys to argue:
“What’s the big deal? You’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles for decades. Haven’t you gotten the message by now that there’s nothing wrong with being gay? So some of your colleagues think you are gay? Are you homophobic? Perhaps you should be fired because your hatred of gays makes you unfit to work in a government job, and you should be sentenced to perform community service for the gay community and to undergo an intensive diversity training program?”
Responsible newspapers are supposed to put the interests of the public first. It’s not Mr. Pearl’s supervisors and colleagues who will be paying him $17.4 million. It’s the rest of us. Why didn’t the reporters of the Los Angeles Times respond with outrage that taxpayers are being forced to pay someone $17.4 million dollars of their hard-earned money for hating homosexuals? Does Los Angeles have no better use for $17.4 million? But it isn’t only the liberal LA Times that failed to pick up on the fact that a man is being handsomely rewarded for homophobia. Neither did the conservative New York Post, which is usually quick to condemn the excesses of political correctness, and, instead, expressed only sympathy for the bigoted plaintiff.
But perhaps the greatest mystery of all is that gay advocates consider this judgment as a victory for their cause! Gay Pop Buzz, a blog for gay men, posted the story as a cause for celebration! Don’t they see it for what it is, a total failure of everything they’ve been fighting for, a throwback of their mission to the stone age? Don’t they realize that this verdict is the ultimate insult to the gay population? Such a pro-homophobic verdict should be expected from an ISIS tribunal, not a democratic American court of law.
What if his colleagues thought he was a Jew?
Imagine that Mr. Pearl sued his employers not because they thought he is gay but because they thought he is Jewish? Would a $17.4 million judgment in his favor cause me to celebrate? If I were smart, I would put my family on the next plane out of the country before we get herded into cattle cars bound for concentration camps.
Would the Anti-Defamation League or any of the myriad Jewish defense organizations herald the verdict as a victory? They would be holding press conferences crying bloody murder and demanding that the Federal government take action against the Los Angeles justice system.
Casting doubt on diversity education
Psychologists, particularly psychodynamic ones, are aware that people’s conscious attitudes do not necessarily reflect the contents of the deeper strata of their psyche.
Our profession has been at the forefront of the fight for celebration of diversity. Because of our concern for the harm caused by the malevolence of irrational bigotry, we have undertaken the noble mission of promoting mutual tolerance and respect among all people regardless of group identity.
On the surface, we have made wonderful progress. We have a multitude of laws against bigotry, discrimination and hatred, and society as a whole is certainly less biased than it was until a few decades ago.
But we need to consider whether all of the progress is real, or whether people’s fear of the law and of being accused of bigotry by their peers makes the progress seem greater than it really is. The right-wing backlash against progressive identity politics that emerged during the last Presidential campaign shocked many of us. It was so easy to unleash the public's fear of minorities that had apparently been simmering beneath the surface despite ubiquitous diversity education.
We need to consider whether our public education against psychological phenomena like bias and bullying can be as effective as we would hope them to be. Bullying is continuing to be as big of a problem as ever despite anti-bullying education and laws.
And as the Los Angeles trial has revealed, after decades of being taught that bias against homosexuals is wrong, everyone sympathizes with the suffering of someone who hates being associated with homosexuality.
If diversity activists wish to see the continuation of the progress of their cause, the best thing they could do is to schedule mass demonstrations against this obscene verdict and call people out for their phony declarations of sympathy for gays. No one who is truly in favor of equality for gays can simultaneously celebrate the legal victory of homophobia.
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems.