I begin this response lacking full conviction that an article as disconcerting as Katie McHugh’s “Conflicts at CPAC,” featured in last week’s The Campus, deserves a response.
I wonder that the most fitting reaction, the most effective reaction, may rather be to deny McHugh’s article the validation of consideration conferred by reply. I do not wish to waste effort or emotion attempting to converse with someone who is ideologically closed to communication.
With these considerations in mind, I have opted to continue with this response because I’d like to believe that McHugh is open to conversation, of which criticism is sometimes part–– though I have considerably less faith in the openness of public figure Ryan Sorba, whom she found “incredibly brave.”
I would also like to avoid as much as possible making assumptions regarding McHugh’s personal beliefs or motivations, as she seems to either deliberately or conveniently avoid declaring them explicitly within her article.
While acknowledging that one’s entire worldview cannot be adequately expressed within the space of a single opinion piece, I find much of what was provided severely problematic. Due to my own considerations of space, I will only be able to address two of my most major objections: the designation of Sorba as a voice of dissent, and the comparison of his media reception to a lynching.
McHugh expresses joyful admiration for Sorba for his willingness to state homophobic sentiments in front of a largely unreceptive conservative conference. It is not Sorba himself who McHugh admires, calling him “haughty” and “arrogant,” but rather his ability to function as “the sudden, lone, vocal, delightful opposition” in a social climate that she feels is afflicted with the increasingly powerful “homosexual movement” which “proliferates like melanoma.”
Setting aside the frighteningly retro comparison of homosexuality to pernicious disease, I would like to examine the complications involved in designating Sorba as either a “brave,” “sudden,” or “lone” voice of dissent. Though he received negative responses from his immediate audience, as well as from various other commentators, one cannot afford to forget the larger socio–political context in which his remarks were made.
According to FBI statistics, 1,297 hate crimes were committed against individuals as a result of their sexual orientation in 2008 alone. This number excludes incidents that were unreported, insufficiently classified, or threatened but unfulfilled. Same–sex couples are denied the vast array of practical marital benefits in 45 states, including hospital visitation, Social Security benefits, and family leave, and the status and continuance of governmentally sanctioned same-sex unions in the remaining five states remains extremely precarious.
I could continue to list various statistics and specifics, but I fear that by doing so here in this small space I risk stressing particularities at the expense of adequately conveying the totality of this oppression that is so intricately ingrained in the fabric of our culture that it operates largely in ways that are unnoticed, and feel so “natural.”
It is this sort of thing that gives rise to statements such as, “Civil rights are grounded in natural rights… Natural rights are grounded in human nature,” made by Sorba, and quoted by McHugh as a commendable “outmaneuver[ing of] his foes.”
Mindful of this context, as well as our nation’s long history of sexual persecution, Sorba is not at all alone, not at all sudden, and not at all a voice of dissent. Rather, he speaks in concordance with a hegemonic power that is firmly established, deeply entrenched, and often violent. Bravery is not required when one is speaking from such a protected, privileged position.
With this understanding, McHugh’s decision to compare critics from the blogosphere and “commentators across the spectrum” to a “lynch mob” becomes profoundly troubling.
The explicitly racialized history of torture, murder, mutilation, and subsequent macabre commodification of black bodies ought not be invoked lightly and proves especially distasteful and absolutely erroneous when applied to a man espousing hegemonic values from a position of power and privilege.
Erin Caskey is a member of the class of 2011. She can be reached at [email protected]