Last summer, the Boy Scouts won a landmark legal battle that entitled them to continue their policy of excluding gays from their ranks. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that, as a private organization, the Boy Scouts may exercise their right to free assembly unrestricted by nondiscrimination laws. Stung by this defeat in court, gay activists launched a Dr. Laura-like PR defamation campaign against the cub club.
Something similar has been happening at Tufts University, and the way things have transpired there in the last six months, it seems clear that gay activists are failing to grasp two important principles. First, disregarding the right of private groups to associate freely has a way of coming back to bite you on the ass. Second, if you’re going to make nondiscrimination your cause, you’d better be willing and able to apply it to yourself.
Last April, a student group called the Tufts Christian Fellowship refused to allow one of its members, a lesbian, to assume one of its leadership positions. They did so, the group says, not because she was a lesbian (she was, after all, already an “out” member of their group), but because she did not share their conviction that homosexuality is a sin. Shortly thereafter, the lesbian student filed a complaint with the university, and a student judiciary panel revoked the Fellowship’s funding. After the Fellowship appealed, however, the judiciary panel reversed itself last month and reinstated the Christian club. On the night of November 28, a group of students angered by this decision occupied one of the university’s administrative buildings in protest, attempting to force the university to clarify its nondiscrimination policy regarding campus clubs.
Nondiscrimination. OK, let’s see if this holds water. To put things in perspective, let’s reverse the situation. How would the campus gay group at Tufts have reacted if one of their members—say, a fundamentalist Christian who believed homosexuality to be a sin—had expressed a desire to hold elective office in and speak publicly for their group? Would they, in the name of nondiscrimination, have welcomed him with open arms? Or would they have leapt on their right to freely associate and ousted him, because his beliefs were so antithetical to the group’s mission that endorsing him would have been untenable?
A similar incident that occurred in Boston in 1995 may give us a clue. Consider that year’s Gay Pride Parade. A group of gays called the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (PLAGAL) applied for inclusion in the parade but were denied. (Being pro-life is a big no-no in gay circles.) PLAGAL decided instead to set up a table along the parade route, where they quietly displayed their literature. Before long, however, the table was surrounded by a gaggle of screaming hecklers who tore up PLAGAL’s leaflets. In an effort to preempt a violent outburst, Boston police asked PLAGALites to leave. Is this what gay activists mean by nondiscrimination? Or for them does the term apply only to the Boy Scouts and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade?
Nondiscrimination is not selective. Unless gay groups at Tufts and elsewhere are willing to admit everyone from fundamentalist Christians to members of the KKK into their ranks, or unless they’re willing to let the administration dictate to them what they can believe and publicly express, they’d better learn to respect the right of other clubs on campus to associate, discriminate, and speak freely.
Gay activists don’t seem to understand that trashing other people’s civil rights will only undermine gay civil rights. Constitutional rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech are two of the pillars on which the gay rights movement was built. Activists, of all people, should understand that. The noxious effects of jettisoning them cut both ways. The Christian club, like any other private club, should be allowed to idiosyncratically circumscribe its membership, or dub homosexuality a sin, and remain in good standing with the university. Otherwise, when the political climate changes gay clubs will be prevented from hand-picking their ranks, and expressing gay pride, because they offend others. Gays will find themselves back in the ’50s, and it’ll be their own fault.
Until myopic gay activists learn to be as nondiscriminatory as they would have us be, they should cease their sanctimonious saber-rattling and leave public policy to people who understand the Constitution and why preserving the rights it guarantees is so important.