On March 30, Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy banned state-funded travel to Indiana. The reason wasn’t because Indiana had imprisoned a political dissident or arrested feminist activists for planning an event to raise awareness about sexual harassment. It wasn’t because Indiana lawmakers passed a law to censor the Internet. It was that Indiana had passed a law that would allow business owners who hold devout religious beliefs against homosexuality to choose not to participate in gay marriages.
In September 2012, Malloy went on a taxpayer-funded trip to China, where he promoted business relationships: “Connecticut is finally raising its flag in China after a 25-year absence,” he announced.
Malloy was joined by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo both in banning state-funded travel to Indiana and lobbying for business deals with China. Cuomo even has a trade mission to Cuba coming up on April 20. Outside interests paid for some of those governors’ trips, but the Connecticut Post reported that Malloy’s trip, one of many global jaunts he has taken as governor, was covered by a taxpayer-funded state agency.
My Big Fat Wedding Hypocrisy
Maybe the governors realized how silly their short-lived travel bans were after the media hype died down. Cuomo, Malloy, and Inslee have already lifted their states’ bans now that Indiana has passed a “fix.” After all, it would be kind of hard to justify going on a taxpayer-funded trip to China, a country where gay people can’t marry someone of the same sex (to say nothing of the many anti-democratic features of its government), when you have already drawn the line on letting photographers opt out of taking photos of a gay wedding the state allows.
Yet the domestic press exploded with attacks on the Indiana law and its supporters. Companies like Angie’s List and Salesforce said they would limit their business dealings with Indiana. Apple CEO Tim Cook compared Indiana pizzerias that won’t cater gay marriages to restaurants with segregated lunch counters. Small-town Indiana’s Memories Pizza was denounced and threatened after its owner answered a hypothetical question on the news, then people who donated their own hard-earned money to help the restaurant were denounced.
It’s almost as if gays aren’t being stoned to death in Iran, thrown off buildings in Syria, or threatened with long prison sentences in 78 countries or territories around the world.
How China Treats Gay People
China isn’t one of the worst countries for gay rights. It repealed its law against gay sexual relations in 1997. Homosexuality is slowly becoming more accepted. But China is still far from Indiana or other American states in terms of open acceptance of gay people.
Traditional social views in China pressure gay people to stay in the closet. Many have sham marriages to please their parents. Li An’s 1993 film, “The Wedding Banquet,” deals with sham marriages. Although the film is two decades old, the practice is still relatively common. Unlike Indiana, same-sex marriages are not recognized anywhere in China.
An international survey by Pew Research in 2013 found that 21 percent of Chinese think homosexuality should be accepted, compared to 60 percent of Americans. Don’t even think about setting up a non-government organization and hosting large-scale protests in China about gay rights, or other issues. In the run up to women’s day, five Chinese women were arrested just for planning to pass out information about sexual harassment. After more than a month, the women are still being held. If you surf the web from behind China’s Great Firewall, you won’t be able to view this Facebook page calling for their release.
Homophobia Is Not an Exclusively Religious Phenomenon
China has a much different history and culture than America that has shaped its social viewpoints. My point isn’t so much to criticize Chinese positions (although change would certainly be welcomed) as it is to criticize those hypocrites who seem only to get outraged when Americans do anything they find to be intolerant. The vast majority of countries in the world don’t measure up to Indiana or other American states on gay rights and acceptance of gays in society.
Their criticism also came down harshly on religion—particularly Christianity, which is understandable considering that Christians make up a large majority of religious Americans. Still, Neil DeGrasse Tyson vastly overstated his case when he told The Daily Beast, “Homophobia almost always entirely stems from religion.”
There are many cases where homophobia is caused or justified on religious grounds. Most of the countries with death sentences for homosexuality have fanatical Islamic governments. Uganda, a Christian country, passed a law criminalizing homosexuality with a death sentence, with the support of some American pastors.
But in no way is religion that cause “almost always entirely.” The insertion of “almost” gives DeGrasse a little bit of wiggle room. Is it enough wiggle room to cover Communist and authoritarian countries like the People’s Republic of China, Cuba, North Korea, Russia, and Zimbabwe? These are countries where the root cause of homophobia isn’t religion but big government power.
Communists Restrict Gay People Severely
In the cases of the PRC, Cuba, North Korea, and Russia, each are current or former Communist countries. Their governments under Communism exerted broad power over many aspects of people’s lives. In fact, Communist countries are officially atheist, and they have used state power to resist religion. North Korea bans the Bible. Along with Communism, China also faced the influence of Confucianism, which prescribes fixed roles for men and women in society.
Yet it wasn’t until the People’s Republic was founded and Mao took power that homosexuals (along with everyone else) faced the worst persecution. According to the Shanghai Star, in an article from 2004 now published on ChinaDaily.com, “During the cultural revolution (1966 – 76), homosexuals faced their worst period of persecution in Chinese history. The government considered homosexuality to be a social disgrace or a form of mental illness.” With the free-market oriented reforms China began under Deng Xiaoping, things got better, and homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 2001.
Russia’s “gay propaganda” law is well-known. That was one instance where liberal activists did apply their same level of outrage to a foreign country. In Russia, only 33 percent of the population said religion was an important part of their daily life in a 2009 Gallup survey, while 65 percent of Americans did.
Cuba and Zimbabwe, along with being authoritarian dictatorships, are examples of another aspect of homophobia: xenophobia. When Fidel Castro took power, he attacked gays as “agents of imperialism.” Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe, a proud Marxist, called homosexuality a “Western perversion.” Zimbabwe is also a very religious country, with 87.5 percent of citizens telling Gallup religion is important in their lives, but from the language Mugabe uses, it is clear attacking gays serves nationalistic purposes to solidify his power base. In 2006, he banned same-sex kissing and even hand-holding.
He is right in a way, though: The Western world, by and large, is much more tolerant of gay people and other minority classes than anywhere else in the world. Sometimes that fact should be acknowledged.