4. You cannot call it “special rights” when someone asks for the same rights you have.
When I was working on the James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Bill here in Texas, I learned a very important lesson. I learned that the essence of prejudice is not a felt hatred of some other group, but an unfelt sense of privilege over that group. No one I talked to was aware of disliking people of color, or gays, or Muslims; but they did feel any concessions made to protect them from dangers that did not threaten white Christian heterosexuals were “special rights.”
By “sense of privilege” I mean the unconscious belief that whites are in a superior position because we worked harder or were smarter. By “privilege” I mean an unexamined belief that gay people are somehow less moral than heterosexuals by definition. By “privilege” I mean the belief Christianity is the only true religion and that other religions should conform to the world as we see it or move somewhere else.
I learned that because many white people think of themselves as the norm, any discussion of racial issues was talking about someone else. When anyone spoke to them of “civil rights,” they considered it to be someone else’s problem. Any efforts by people of color to have all the same rights white people take for granted were seen by some as wanting “special rights.”
I learned that men consider gender issues to be about women. Again, because many men have been taught to see themselves as the norm, when someone mentioned gender it was someone else’s problem. I often here people in the church talk about a “woman pastor.” What that tells you is that the person considers the woman to be in a male slot. Any effort by women to have all the same rights that men have (like the ERA) are considered as seeking “special rights.”
Finally, I learned that because many heterosexuals consider their own behavior to be the norm, any conversation about sexual orientation seems to be about those other people. There was little conversation about what was fair. The whole topic of sexual orientation seemed to be someone else’s problem. Again, any effort by non-heterosexuals to have the same rights to a home and family that heterosexuals take for granted we seen as the pursuit of “special rights”
It has been said the true test of a lover of justice is whether they offer others every right they claim for themselves. By this noble standard, few could be called lovers of justice. When some religious people presume to have a God given right to take away other people’s rights, I want to beg them to stop thinking about sex for one moment and realize that what these people are seeking is a home, and a family, and a sense of safety. I want to ask them, “Why, for the love of God, are you working so hard to keep them from having the same rights you take for granted?”