Last week I learned that a very close friend had died as a result of prejudice. He was gay. He had come to this country from the Middle East because he loved America and the American way of life. He had worked hard to get here and managed to achieve a 4.0 grade point average and a scholarship to study at one of our better universities. That gave him a student visa to come live here.
Once here he still kept his being gay a secret. Being gay in his home country meant terrible persecution and very possibly even death -at the hands of the government, his friends and neighbors and possibly even at the hands of his own family. He was astounded by how accepting and open he could be in so many places here. How his being gay was widely accepted and made no difference to so many of his friends and classmates here. How he was free to be himself, open and honest. But, he was constantly afraid of being found out "back home". Even here, in this country where freedom and tolerance are supposed to be a sacred part of the American character, he could not completely be himself. He was still forced to live "in the closet".
You see, he was afraid. He was afraid that if the INS knew he was gay, they would deport him. He was afraid that if his university knew he was gay they would give him bad grades and cancel his scholarship. His was afraid that if his fellow students knew they would no longer be his friends -and some one might tell his family.
But, in spite of all that, he loved it here. Life here was so much better and the times he spent when he was able to just be himself made him very happy. He graduated from the University with 2 Masters Degrees. He found a job working on a project for one of our large banking institutions and they got him a work permit to remain in America and work towards naturalization and citizenship. Life was becoming very good and he was planning a very happy future.
Then one day his fears caught up with him. A cousin who had come to America and earned his citizenship, and who had been a close friend and ally, found out about his being gay. He turned on him, telling his family about it. At that same moment, the bank where he worked canceled the project he was working on and he lost his work permit to stay in the U.S.. The INS told him he had to go home and they came and picked him up and put him in detention waiting deportation. Suddenly he was faced with a life of abuse and cruelty and was being treated like a common criminal. He could not stand it. He felt his only escape was to take his own life.
The day I found out what had happened to my friend I read a blog written by another friend. The author of that blog is some one I have known for many years He is someone I have always admired and have been proud of him for the things he has accomplished in life. But, what I read in his blog displayed a side of him I found very disturbing, and very disappointing. A few short lines buried in the blog revealed a hypocrisy in his personality. He was commenting on a movie, a remake of one which is now considered something of a classic, and he was talking about how it was likely to be a very bad movie with an un-plausible story line (something I think he was right about). But then he added a few lines about the original movie. He he made fun of it for too much 'male bonding' and too little attention being paid to the females in the cast. Then, as if he had not gotten enough humor from it, he added the now almost obligatory comment "Not that there is anything wrong with that" calling attention to his making fun of the unintended (and non-existent) gay overtones in the plot --as if this somehow made his snide comments acceptable and "politically correct". In reality is was only a cheap shot, intended to get a few more snickers from his readers.
It was disappointing to read those comments. I had always thought of him as some one too smart to buy into the stereo types and who was accepting and tolerant of other life styles. As some one who realized that making jokes like that perpetuated and encouraged the stereo types and resulted in people being hurt.
This little incident clearly displayed some hypocrisy which is, unfortunately, very common these days, especially among friends. A hypocrisy where one friend tells another "I don't care about your life style, or your race, or your age, or your religion. I am your friend and I accept you for who you are." Then, when your back is turned, they take cheap shots, showing their true prejudices. They make fun of you and say things they would not say to your face. It does not show the strength of character I admire in friends. It shows a lack of character I dislike in people. It shows a willingness to lie, to be un-trustworthy. It shows a lack of intelligence, the intelligence to know how those casual comments, made simply to get cheap laughs, contribute to real tragedies. Like the one which befell my other friend.
I am sure that my friend, who wrote those comments, had no intention, whatsoever, of doing harm or of insulting or hurting anyone. Maybe that's the real lesson here, if there is one. That good, descent people can do harm so casually and unintentionally. That comments which encourage hatred and prejudice, even made in a 'humerus' and casual way, and with no harmful intentions, have serious consequences. They contribute to loss, and sorrow and tears without achieving anything but a few cheap laughs.
Live Long and Prosper...