A few weeks a guy I know was beraiting radical queer folks, like me, who were pointing problems with pro-marriage rhetoric and specifically problems with supporting the HRC. When I, along with a few other people, pointed out that he may be missing some information here – that his knowledge was limited on this subject – he blew up, swore at me, and ceased to be my friend. In his tirade he explained that his family and upbringing were really homophobic. Basically, I got the sense that he wanted to be considered a hero for being less of a bigot than his parents. He considers himself an ally because he does the bare minimum – he considers queer people human.
More recently I saw another person defend Paula Dean, saying that because she was raised in the south and she is older it wasn’t really racist when she said incredibly racist things. Apparently her upbringing excuses her nasty behavior. She can’t be responsible for using racist language because it is common in her cultural background.
Bullshit. Upbringing doesn’t excuse racism. Living in a society that allowed slave owning didn’t make owning other human beings okay. Coming from a culture that commonly treats queers as second class citizens doesn’t make it acceptable to call us names. Being a bigot isn’t alright no matter how you were raised or how bigotted your parents are. Upbringing doesn’t excuse hatred, bigotry, discrimination, or calling people nasty words. Being transphobic doesn’t become okay just because your friends and family are. People have a responsibility to learn; they have to do better than that.
Furthermore, being less judgemental than your background doesn’t make you a hero, or even an ally. Being in favor of basic civil rights for queer folks is required, but not sufficient, for being an ally. It is the bare minimum. It’s the starting point. If you want to be a real ally you’re going to have to do more than think DOMA needs to be overturned. Being an ally to people of color doesn’t just mean believing you shouldn’t call someone the N-word. Being supportive of people with disabilities goes further than thinking handicapped parking spaces are a good idea.
Want to be a real ally? Assume that you always have more to learn. Remember that being better than your past isn’t an end point away from injustice – it’s just the begining.