Just a couple of weeks ago NFL Quarterback Tim Tebow pulled out of a scheduled appearance with Dallas Baptist Church after homophobic rhetoric given by their Pastor, Robert Jeffress, came to the media's attention. While it obviously fell well short of an outright acceptance of the LGBT community by Tebow, at least he wasn't throwing his support behind a church that employs a pastor with a prominent history of anti-gay rhetoric.
However, Tebow has now chosen to speak at Liberty University's Wildfire Weekend, an event devoted to exploring, "the life of true adventure that God intends for…Men". The conference advertises itself as," a two-day event packed full of workshops, exhibits, and fun around the stuff that men love: hunting, fishing, football, motorcycles, racing, extreme sports and other outdoor activities…", which, although devoid of many other things that men can love, makes no mention of LGBT issues or acceptance to the event.
This is because the conference is sponsored by, and taking place within, Liberty University. The Evangelical Christian school was founded by the late televangelist Jerry Falwell in 1971. It is known for its strict honor code, which includes a ban on the enrollment of openly gay students at the university. Therefore it stands to reason that Liberty University would not let an event transpire on their private campus unless it also adhered to their anti-gay moral rhetoric. So the question remains of why Tim Tebow would withdraw from Dallas Baptist Church after he received unwanted media attention surrounding the church's noted anti-gay leaning if he is only moving to another, just as anti-gay, institution.
Naturally, those of us who support LGBT equality are not happy that an athlete like Tebow is lending his name and credibility to an anti-gay cause. But are we "bullying" him by bringing all of this information to light?
Anyone who has a problem with any speaker, or any host, or any combination of speaker and host, has every right to make a public case against my planned appearance. We all have that glroious freedom to speak out.
When it comes to such complaints and their adjudication, merit would ultimately rule the day. If someone like Peter LaBarbera were lashing out against ma pro-LGBT speaker - someone who has built his career around making life harder for LGBT people, lookers-on would have to judge the platform and positioning from which he makes his arguments.
If that speaker was me, and my role as a legally married gay man who values his life and family were the sticking points that the conservative critics brought into the public debate arena, then observers would have to make their own decisions about LGBT people and our worth. If a hypothetical host's policies of not only accepting but generally lauding LGBT people's struggles over persecution were the thrust of the opposition, then all involved would have to decide what kinds of houses of higher learning we want and value here in the U. S. of A.
Again, I would fully support my anti-LGBT critics' right to make the case against the appearance, but I would demand that the ultimate determinations be based on the facts at hand rather than crass characterization. That's not an unfair request.
Which brings me back to Tim Tebow and his planned appearance at Liberty University.
Liberty Univ. and its offshoots (Liberty Counsel, most notably) are among the most aggressively anti-LGBT outfits working in America today. LU proudly embraces its agenda of crafting future minds that will remain closed to LGBT equality and even basic acceptance. This is a university that actually includes "ex-gay" misinformation in its teaching. I'm not going to rehash all of the other resoundingly anti-LGBT teachings that LU holds dear; our pals at Right Wing Watch have done that for us.
So here we have two facts. One, Liberty University is proudly and notoriously anti-gay. Two, Tim Tebow - a popular pro athlete - is scheduled to speak there.
But what do the far-right commentators like Fox News' Todd Starnes say and do when folks on our side ask why, exactly, Tebow is catering to a university with policies like these? Well, they immediately start attacking the messengers, of course. In word and in strategic mindset, the basic view becomes something like this, the headline of Starnes' latest piece on the matter:
If you're not familiar with Starnes, he is one of the most willing mouthpieces for anti-gay activists in the media. And this is always how these things go. If and when we equality advocates raise questions, we are labeled bullies. We are all positioned as "activist," even if the mentioned "we" works for a thoroughly objective media source that is simply noting the facts. Rather than address the merits (or lack thereof) attached to the controversy, the defenders of the anti-LGBT view put on their "victim" costumes and act like the poor, maligned innocents. Every time, this happens.
It's something we've certainly seen with GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project. From the day we launched, almost everyone who has complained about the project has accused us of 'bullying,' 'silencing,' 'blacklisting,' or something similar. This, even though the project does nothing more—NOTHING. MORE.—than cite the listed commentators' own words. Rather than address, defend, or tell us whether or not they stand by the words that they themselves put on the record, virtually every commentator who replied to the project chose to attack GLAAD instead.
To me, this is one of the most telling aspects of the "culture war" circa 2013. Sure, when you are trying to have a national conversation about the civil rights and welfare of a minority population, it's frustrating to face an opposition movement that delves into anti-intellectual asides like these. At the same time, however, these self-victimization strategies should tell us that we are winning. The increasing inability to defend the merits (or again, lack thereof) attached to the discriminatory view speaks to their inability to sell this bill of goods to the public at large. The public has wizened up.
GLAAD Sports Media Intern Elliott Moore contributed to this story