Redefining heroism

Which calls for more courage: coming out of the closet, or dealing with the mess that's left behind?
Babette Francis | May 31 2013 | comment  



Presidents usually do not have the time to congratulate or commiserate with every citizen in the headlines, whether for an act of heroism, an academic achievement or a personal tragedy. Their phone calls are reserved for exceptional situations as for the widow of a soldier killed while trying to save the lives of others.

But under the Obama administration heroism is evolving.

One of Obama's heroines is Sandra Fluke. She is a law student who lobbied for Georgetown University to be compelled to offer health care that covers contraceptive drugs, in spite of the Catholic university's moral opposition to artificial birth control. She claimed that during her time as a law student, birth control could cost her more than US$3,000 per year.

No matter that birth control pills cost a few dollars a week and are often handed out free by Planned Parenthood - Sandra Fluke became one of President Obama's political pin-up girls. He even rang her to console her after she had been vilified by Rush Limbaugh.

To those who think it is a little unseemly for the President of the most powerful nation on earth to become involved in the birth control arrangements of an unmarried student, yes, it is more than a little "off". And as to why her pills cost more than $3,000, maybe she wanted them platinum coated.

And then there is Jason Collins, an American basketball star who earned superhero status from President Obama for "coming out" and declaring that he is homosexual. The President rang him “to express his support and said he was impressed by his courage,” according to the White House Twitter account.

Once upon a time a man had to risk his life by taking on an enemy platoon to save his comrades or dash into a burning building to save a trapped child. No longer. Hero status is now for those who "come out", in the case of Collins after living for eight years with his fiancée, Carolyn Moos, who fully expected to marry him until he dumped her.

Did she get a phone call from the Oval Office? Of course not. Hero status is reserved for those who "come out", not for those they leave behind.

On Monday night I watched Q&A, the popular Australian talkfest on ABC. Among the panelists was an American Episcopalian bishop, Gene Robinson, who insists that homosexuals are "born that way". However I recall that before Robinson (courageously, of course) "came out", he was married and had two daughters. President Obama honoured him by inviting him the invocation at his first inauguration in 2009.

Sometime I would like to see on Q&A those heterosexual former partners that these brave homosexuals left behind, like the hapless Carolyn Moos. Seems like the gays have all the fun and get all the publicity.

Sometimes I wonder (to myself) why coming out is regarded as heroic. First of all, you receive congratulations from all the nabobs in politics and the media. And second, it seems like a pretty cushy identity. You can change it whenever you like and you can demand to be affirmed for whatever choice you make.

Take, for example, some recent guidelines on hate speech from the US Department of Justice (DOJ). It has just issued a document titled: “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Inclusion at Work: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Managers.” It was emailed to DOJ managers in advance of the June celebration of LGBT Pride Month.

Employees are ordered: “Don't judge or remain silent. Silence will be interpreted as disapproval.” This is worrying. If I remain silent at a Gay Mardi Gras parade, will my silence will be interpreted as disapproval? The directive includes a quote from a “gay” federal employee to justify the directive:

“Ideally, I’d love to hear and see support from supervisors, so it’s clear that these aren’t just policies on paper. Silence seems like disapproval. There’s still an atmosphere of LGBT issues not being appropriate for the workplace (particularly for transgender people), or that people who bring it up are trying to rock the boat.”

Here is another DOJ suggestion: "Display a symbol in your office such as a LGBT pride sticker; use inclusive words such as 'partner' rather than husband and wife in invitations to office parties".

In Australia we already have "Parent One" and "Parent Two" on birth certificates. How much more inclusive can we get? Well yes, on the horizon is the IVF “Parent Three”.

It gets even more confusing. Another injunction is to "use a transgender person's chosen name and the pronoun that is consistent with the person's self-identified gender." Self-identified gender for the day, that is. Persons can change their gender whenever they wish without having go to through all that medical stuff with hormones and surgery.

(This seems to be the latest fashion in sexuality. It is common enough for the city of Boulder, Colorado, to require that employees “not change gender presentation in the workplace more than three times in any 18-month period”.  This does seem somewhat draconian. Perhaps they could be allowed up to five changes.)

Once upon a time, heroism meant honouring commitments, not reneging on them. It meant enduring the scorn of the powerful, not receiving their congratulations. It meant reserving one’s sexuality for a lifelong partner, not casting her off. But, then again, if we are going to redefine marriage, perhaps we have to redefine heroism as well.

Babette Francis is the National and Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc., an Australian NGO with special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. She (courageously) admits she is and will remain female and heterosexual.



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