Case-and-point: The Cap Times runs a story about recently selected UW chancellor Biddy Martin that mentions her being the first openly gay chancellor at the university. This isn't the first or only story run on her selection, rather just one of many, and it happens to focus on this particular element and how it relates to the UW's current lack of domestic partnership benefits. Martin has expressed her intention to support efforts to change that. Simple enough.
But of course, certain folks take umbrage with the article and its focus, claiming that Martin's sexuality has no relevance and shouldn't be mentioned, ever, at all. Apparently it gets their undies in a bunch.
Dave Blaska, scourge of the Isthmus Daily Page, laments that:
But is that the essence of Biddy Martin, her sexual proclivities? Why would a major university hire someone for that reason? (Or, for that matter, not hire?) Would not a more enlightened policy — a John Patrick Hunter policy — be (cue "Anchors Away") "Don't ask, don't tell"?Quality. Now that it's a generally accepted no-no to be a bigot, bigots have turned to round-about ways of expressing their disdain for all that is different: ignoring it. Plugging their ears and singing "la la la I can't heeeear yoooou" and claiming that it's "no big deal." That is, until someone has the gall to mention it, and then all bets are off as to civility and rationality.
Well, they're right on one count: a person's sexuality shouldn't be a big deal and it shouldn't have anything to do with how we judge their character, qualifications for a job, or anything else. They're as wrong as the military when it comes to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" though. Straight people mentioning their straightness doesn't seem to piss them off, so why should a gay person mentioning that they're gay?
We're also early enough in the game (sadly) that it remains noteworthy when the first of a traditionally marginalized and/or discriminated against group gains prominence or major achievement. The fact that, for instance, Barack Obama is the first major black candidate for the highest office in the land is noteworthy. We shouldn't elect him or not elect him based on that fact, but how on Earth are you going to ignore what is such a major milestone? Ignoring that fact, and the fact of the first openly gay UW chancellor, is akin to ignoring and/or denying the monumental hurdles they've had to overcome on their way to these positions. Hurdles that our society has, for far too long and even still to this day, placed merrily in their way.
And yet, and yet. The webmaster at TCT had to disable the comments section that accompanied the article about Martin and domestic partnership benefits because they became so vitriolic, so caustic that it did nothing to foster debate, only anger and hatred. That's a crying shame, but at least we're reminded that these types of attitudes still exist, and that there's still much to be done in the way of education and activism before we can call ourselves a truly enlightened and egalitarian society.