The Bottom Line

Black/White/Straight/Gay.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Black/White/Straight/Gay. Photo by Callen Harty.

There is an unpleasant truth about the current gay bashing laws recently passed in Russia and several countries in Africa and it is not the obvious idea that human rights are being violated by a spate of laws criminalizing homosexuality. The same unpleasant truth is swirling around the controversy with multiple American states recently trying to pass laws that allow discrimination against lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) people based on religious beliefs. The bottom line is this: The bottom line is what counts.

The Obama administration, primarily through Secretary of State John Kerry, has condemned all of these homophobic laws and has been particularly harsh about the newly-signed “jail the gays” law in Uganda. The United States is looking at possible sanctions and looking at budgets to consider cutting aid to Uganda in response. Although Kerry also condemned Nigeria’s comparable law a few months ago the reaction has not been comparable. Strong words of disappointment were expressed but there was no talk of sanctions or any action to try to convince or coerce Nigeria into honoring its own Constitution. In fact, the ambassador to Nigeria specifically assured the Nigerian people that the U. S. would not cut any aid to the country.

The laws in the two countries are eerily similar, but the reactions are not, so what is the difference? The most obvious one is that Nigeria is an oil-rich country and we are one of their largest and most dependent customers. According to the United States Energy Information Administration between 9 and 11 percent of our imported oil has come from Nigeria over the last decade. Meanwhile, Uganda is a much poorer country that is one of the world’s leaders as far as dependency on foreign aid. Simply put we can put the screws to Uganda if we want to, but we don’t have that same leverage with Nigeria. It comes down to economics rather than what may be the right thing to do.

There are also diplomatic options–such as recalling our ambassador–that we have used in the past when a country does something that is not to our liking. It simply doesn’t appear that the United States has any interest in pursuing any punishment or other avenues to try to get Nigeria to change their law. Meanwhile, gay men are being dragged out of their houses and beaten in the streets of Nigeria simply for being who they are. The same is also happening in Uganda and elsewhere on the continent. Similarly, despite our verbal protestations against Russia’s recent “gay propaganda” law the United States happily joined other countries to participate in the Sochi Olympics. Gay men and lesbians in Russia also face beatings by homophobic thugs. During the Olympics the networks didn’t touch upon that and one can presume all the sponsors were happy with how everything turned out, except perhaps the final medal count.

The disturbing truth for human rights is that those who espouse them in our country do so only when it is most convenient. When those rights advance the profitability of companies then those in government and in private enterprise support them wholeheartedly and pat themselves on the back for how much they care about equal treatment for everyone. When the bottom line is not affected the worst treatment of minorities can attract nothing but silent acquiescence at best or a complete dismissal of the idea that there even is a problem. Occasionally laws will change for the betterment of a class of people due to public opinion, but generally only when there is no economic impact, either positive or negative. Conversely, laws that allow discrimination can also pass due to public opinion, but again when there is no apparent financial advantage or disadvantage evidenced.

Take a look at the recent law passed by the Arizona legislature (and numerous other attempts around the country) that would allow for those with “sincere religious beliefs” to refuse service to lesbian and gay citizens. It is clearly discriminatory against LGBT citizens. It passed both houses in Arizona, but when word got out elsewhere in the country pressure started to bear on the governor to veto the bill. At first it was queer rights groups and there was no indication that Governor Jan Brewer would not sign the bill. That was followed by a threat of a boycott from George Takei who has so many online followers he could probably make that happen simply by snapping his fingers. Newspapers then started questioning whether the state could afford another boycott like the one that followed their passage of a hateful immigration bill several years ago. Still, there was no indication of either a signing or a veto from the governor. Finally, corporate giants like Apple, A T and T, and the NFL weighed in with strongly worded letters and opinions that the Arizona economy could suffer if the bill were signed. There were even implications that new businesses would not come to the state and that businesses already there might leave. That pretty much guaranteed that the governor would veto the bill.

The bottom line on queer rights and human rights in general is that those in power support those rights when advancing them also advances their economic interests. It is only when economic arguments are made (gay weddings will benefit the local economy by increasing business at chapels, honeymoon spots, florists, jewelers, and the like) that the big money folks who influence politics start talking about the importance of rights such as marriage equality. In a more just society (and world) the dignity of every human being’s life would be what determines whether a certain bill advances equality for all or moves us backward along the path of human progress. It would be really easy to see which bills advance rights and which do not if not for the blindness caused by money and greed.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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