Where I come from, being called a bigot used to be an insult, and being called bigoted was an accusation people used to take very seriously. Considering that I grew up in South Africa during the last years of the Apartheid regime, and was schooled under its influence, this is a revealing scenario.
In those days, liberals used to refer to people as bigots because they were supporting and defending racist policies, and were very enthusiastic about it. Very often, the same people used to "categorically deny" being bigoted and would take such accusations very personally while often going to extremes - very often religious extremes - to try to justify their bigotry.
The landscape has changed since then, both politically and socially. As we are so often reminded, queer is the new black. There are no true "conservative" parties in this country today of the same ilk as there is a Conservative Party in the UK for example. No, here we have some small minority parties which are called conservative only because they are staunchly religious fundamentalist in nature and cannot in their minds or in their policies separate the concepts of politics and their particular religions.
Such conservative parties, which despite their claims of speaking on behalf of all "true" Christian South Africans, only form a very small, very vocal minority in the country. Perhaps this is fortunate, because their policies are radical and their reactions to democratic ideals such as freedom, equality and liberty - well, reactionary - and they scare away the moderates. They hijack the stage and the microphone away from the moderate majority and take pride in blurring the lines between church and state, fact and fiction - and actively pursue their goals of spreading malicious myths and slanderous "ex-gay" propaganda in South African culture in order to cultivate their support base.
Surprisingly, the leading figures of these parties do not so much as flinch when they are called bigots, nor do they even deny it anymore. They make light of the name, they joke about it being applied to them, and laughingly embrace it, because they feel it reflects that they are sticking to the "true principles" of their faith - which is, sad to say - notably fundamentalist in nature.
Looking at life on a smaller scale, the sentiments expressed by the leaders of such groups carry across to the lowest level - "grass-roots level" it has been termed. Thus, we see the hatred, bigotry and prejudice espoused by these leader-figures given substance by their supporters and willing stooges on the ground.
As part of the pink community, we have all tasted bigotry, discrimination, homophobia, transphobia and prejudice first-hand. We've heard it in "polite" company, in the "jokes" told in impolite company, the pastor's acidic sermons, in refusals to allow us to attend school or work dances or events with our partners, and in fearing for our jobs because of who we love. Am I right?
The whole issue of anti-gay and anti-trans bigotry a.k.a. homophobia and transphobia, stems from the misconception that being gay or trans is an "identity" - that gay and trans people only do gay and trans things and exist completely outside what they see as a purely heterosexual and cisgender society.
In their minds, gay people are so far removed from "normal" straight people that they do only gay things. Gay people wake up gay every morning, get out of their little gay beds, go have a little gay breakfast, have a little gay shower, get dressed in their little gay clothes and go to work to their little gay jobs and attend little gay meetings with little gay agendas. It never seems to cross their minds that gay people are just people who live life exactly the way they do. It never occurs to them that being gay isn't what gay people are or how they live - but simply WHO they love.
Why should these people try to get to know gay or transgender people? After all, they're not people in the "same way" as they are people, are they? They don't eat the same food, laugh at the same jokes, drive the same cars, or watch the same movies as they do. These people like to claim that it is impossible for us to worship the same Gods they do, or to be "true" Christians or Muslims, etcetera - as they obviously are, just because of their inborn sexual orientation and gender. Lucky them. Some would even like to pretend that our lives are not as precious as theirs, and that we don't breathe the same air or bleed the same color as they do.
And when I see reports of the protests in Uganda over the past year, and other places around the world - where people who claim to be good people simply because of what God they claim to follow (regardless of how they blatantly flout even the basic tenets of their faith) baying for the blood of people they do not even know, who have done them no wrong, I have to wonder if there is something in the water.
People hate gay and trans people because they do not know us. They reject offers of friendship because they don't know us - and because they don't know us, they are afraid to get to know us. It is a vicious circle - about as vicious as the incident reported in the Sunday papers where the "God-fearing Christian woman" got her rocks off kicking a gay woman in the crotch repeatedly "in the name of the Lord". I can guess she wasn't really trying to "kick her straight" as euphemistically claimed - but that she was kicking her out of pure, brutal, unadulterated, honest-to-God hatred. I find myself admitting that it is a refreshing change to see an example of this under-emphasized honesty. Don't you agree? I think it makes a change from the staid and restrained suit-and-tie bullshit rhetoric these folks recite on TV interviews, like "Hate the sin, but love the sinner", because the truth is, and we all know this - it is utterly impossible to not hate someone when you hate what they are. And someone who is gay, or trans IS gay or trans. Full stop.
I think that alone speaks volumes about these people. How can one separate a person from themselves? How can HATE ever come out of the same vessel that contains love? If we think of God, and are reminded of Christ who commanded people to forgive each other "seventy times seven" - how can we believe that we are expected by God to hate others, for whatever reason? Yes, I think the bible mentions God hating "sin" - but that is God, not us. It also says that "vengeance is mine, saith the Lord" - also not ours, funny enough. People do not seek vengeance out of love, they seek it out of hatred and anger. Vengeance and hatred is for God to deal with, not us. We are supposed to forgive, at least - we are, if you subscribe to the bible. I find it so odd that so many "Christian" fundamentalists repeatedly miss this point and view the trappings of their religion as weapons of war.
Good people do not do things like this. Demanding that people be marooned on an island and starved as punishment for how they are born and for who they love? When did that ever come out of Christ's mouth? Kicking somebody into a coma because of who she loves? People who do this sort of thing and claim to do it "because" they are followers of a man who symbolizes through his life and death the principles of self-sacrifice, selfless love, acceptance and pacifism - are not only liars, but malicious, deceitful frauds and hypocrites as well. They bring shame and embarrassment down on the people who really do believe in that God and who really do live close to the peaceful all-inclusive teachings of Christ.
This brings me to the point that since GLBTI people are born the way they are, and cannot help being what they are (and nor should they) - it is obvious that those persecuting them have made the choice to persecute - and to live a lifestyle which enables it. It is therefore not gay people who have chosen a "lifestyle" - but rather these fundamentalists.
I want to close with something I heard yesterday, and I love it: "Being gay isn't a choice, but living a fabulous lifestyle is!"
Being criticized over a matter of "choice" when you had none makes no sense until you look at the people persecuting you. They are the ones who at some time made a choice in their lives to (as they put it) live "a Christian lifestyle" - thus, since they have made a choice to live as they do, and are oblivious to the facts behind gender identity and sexual orientation, they assume that people just wake up one day and decide to be gay or transsexual. And since they have no idea what their scriptures really say or mean, they get it into their heads that being gay or trans is somehow a grave sin, an "abomination" and worthy of death and any other unspeakable things they can sneak past the censors. That, of course, and convincing other people to see things their way, because they are too lazy to go and find out the truth of things themselves. It is far easier to just give in to the fear and hatred brought about by ignorance.
If it comes down to choice, and I look at the lifestyle these people who claim to be "good" are living, and the lifestyle they would force upon me if they had the chance, I'm afraid I can't see they have a damned thing to offer me. I don't know what these bigots are putting in their corn flakes, but as a person who is wide-awake and has both eyes open, I can see the clear difference between a person - and a lifestyle.