Exploiting Robin Williams in the name of bigotry

    Robin Williams got an elegant farewell Monday night at the Emmy Awards, befitting who he was and what he accomplished. Hopefully, that trumps all the Internet debris that has been heaped on Williams these past few weeks by the usual suspects.

    Let’s talk about that debris – one item in particular. Not the Rush Limbaugh blather about how Williams subscribed to a pessimistic “leftist world view,” so ergo it’s no wonder he killed himself. Not the savage troll tweets that prompted daughter Zelda Williams to quit Twitter. I am referring, instead, to a Christian conservative essay – a fascinating exercise in sophisty – which cites Robin’s suicide as proof that converting gay people into straight people is a good thing.


    Yes, you may be wondering how Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the gay-hating Family Research Council, managed to make the leap from Robin Williams to gay conversion therapy. Beats me. But I can certainly conclude that the august title of “senior fellow” has been radically dumbed down.

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    It takes cajones to exploit a personal tragedy in order to promote a right-wing ideological crusade, but, hey, that’s why these folks are true believers. Let’s take a quick peek at Spriggs’ piece on the FRC website, and peruse what passes for reasoning. I’m having a hard time articulating his theme, but here goes:

    Williams killed himself after years of drug and booze rehab, but “liberal political activists” aren’t calling for a ban on drug and booze rehab. Yet these same liberals want to ban gay conversion therapy, which is sometimes a great cure for “the homosexual lifestyle.”

    OK, I tried. Perhaps we should just let Spriggs speak for himself:

    I have only one question for socially liberal political activists – why aren’t you trying to outlaw rehab? I ask the question because such activists are trying to ban a form of mental health treatment – not drug and alcohol rehabilitation, but “sexual orientation change efforts,” also known as “sexual reorientation therapy.”…There are those who have simply made a choice to walk away from the homosexual lifestyle, without clinical help – much like how Robin Williams simply stopped using drugs and alcohol in the 1980’s. Others have sought professional help, perhaps at the urging of family members, in the form of “sexual reorientation therapy” – much like when Williams entered a formal alcohol rehab program in 2006.

    Wow, great parallels! It’s like saying, “Some people believe in medieval bloodletting as a way to treat illness – much like today’s doctors who prescribe antibiotics.”

    Apparently, the Family Research Council argument is that because drug and booze rehab doesn’t always work, “liberals” should therefore not dump on gay conversion therapy when that doesn’t work. But somehow, while the group’s right-wing scholar is busy exploiting Williams, he somehow omits the fact that so-called gay conversion therapy has been officially denounced as snake oil by (among many others) the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization, and the American Psychiatric Association (which says that “in the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.”)

    In passing, Spriggs does contend that “homosexual groups” have “successfully pressured” various organizations to condemn gay conversion therapy. That’s a standard Christian conservative line, a blanket attack on science – and fresh proof, as if we needed it, that the religious right is ever-further adrift from the American mainstream.

    These are tough times for groups like the Family Research Council. Gay people are marrying; the old anti-gay bromides just aren’t working anymore. And the religious right even feels discomfited these days by the Republican party; in the words of prominent activist Gary Bauer, “Values voters have been treated as the stepchildren of the family, while the party has wanted to get on with so-called more electorally popular ideas.” (Memo to Bauer: The “so-called” popularity of gay marriage is actually quite real.)

    So they’re feeling politically marginalized? Oh, boo hoo. If they’re so willing to trample Robin Williams’ grave in the name of gay-hating bigotry, they deserve their fate.



    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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