“Sorry, not my fault, I’m LGBT!”

May 13, 2011

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When I browsed through the media today to get some inspiration for this blog post I came across a name sounding quite familiar, David Laws. I was reminded that I started writing a blog post exactly a year ago which I never finished because there was a more pressing item on my agenda at that time. However, the general theme of the original post has lost nothing of its importance for the LGBT community and reminds each individual working in communications of one important lesson: Protect your credibility at any cost!

Last May, the Daily Telegraph reported that the UK's Chief Secretary of the Treasury, David Laws, had claimed over £40,000 on his expenses in the form of second home costs, from 2004 to late 2009, during which time he had been renting rooms at properties owned by what the paper claimed to be his “secret lover” and “long-term partner”, James Lundie. The problem with this was that since 2006, the UK parliament has banned its members from leasing accommodation from a partner. Therefore, Laws resigned stating that one reason for the way he had claimed expenses had been to keep private details of his sexuality.

Something similar happened when Germany's openly gay Secretary of the State, Guido Westerwelle, was accused of giving his partner, Michael Mronz, access to business opportunities for Mronz's enterprise by taking him on state visits and giving him the opportunity to network there. One line of defense against these accusations was that Westerwelle's critics were really only trying to hurt his reputation because they were homophobic. It was claimed that if his partner was female nobody would have cared if she joined his state visits even if she had networked in her own interest.

The two cases demonstrate very nicely how double-edged the LGBT discrimination argument is nowadays. Not a long time ago, coming out as LGBT in public meant the end of a career. In some sectors of public life this is ultimately still the case. In other areas, and apparently politics is one of it, the logic has been reversed. Today, when members of the LGBT make a mistake some of them tend to blame their critics for being anti-LGBT and that attacks are not about the actual matter but about their sexuality (such as in the case of Westerwelle). Or they blame society in general for having to live a life in secrecy which led them to illegal or at least illegitimate conduct (such as in the case of Laws). The guilt for it, however, lies with society.

The two cases above – and in fact there are several more – stand for concerning development for the LGBT community because it damages our credibility in the long term. Accusing others of homophobia in order to protect oneself from (justified) criticism will ultimately lead to a devaluation of (also justified) criticism of true homophobia.

We have seen a similar development in Germany with regard to certain communities of resident aliens. When criticism regarding the failed integration into the German society of these communities came up, one could observe a reflex of reputing the discussion on grounds of xenophobia. This was done despite some of the criticism being justified. However, after a while society grew tired of the xenophobia argument simply because it was too obvious that it was abused to prevent a discussion altogether.  Today we face the challenge in Germany that a lot of xenophobs can utter they crude thinking with limited opposition because society has become skeptical whenever somebody uses the xenophobe argument because it was overused in the past.

It seems that the same could hold true for our community. Today, we are in the fortunate situation that homophobia is perceived as negative by the broad public and that individuals discriminating against LGBT individuals based on their sexual orientation will be sanctioned by society. This is because we built a strong case for our course over the past decades by transparently and openly communicating our self-understanding. Starting now to abuse the trust and acceptance which society has in us will ultimately lead to a deterioration of our credibility, one of our most precious goods!

What is your perception of the “LGBT argument” as defense strategy? Should we be carefully using it or would you pledge for a more aggressively pushing it to counter possible homophobic tendencies right from the beginning?