Being a public figure can be very difficult at times, most especially when you fuck up. And just like ordinary citizens, they fuck up often. The big difference being the whole world knows when they fuck up.
Politicians, athletes, entertainers, cops, reporters & pundits are as humanly flawed as the rest of us. Hopefully, when they do fuck up, they immediately recognize their mistake, own it entirely, apologize for it, make amends and sincerely vow to never repeat it. In other words, as long as they are truly accountable for their fuck-up (ex: resign from their job), their wrong will be righted.
Which brings me to Michael Coren. Yesterday, The Toronto Sun published his latest column. Entitled “I was wrong”, apparently the longtime Sun Media columnist has had a change of heart about gay people:
“In the past six months I have been parachuted into clouds of new realization and empathy regarding gay issues, largely and ironically because of the angry and hateful responses of some people to my defence of persecuted gay men and women in Africa and Russia. I saw an aspect of the anti-gay movement that shocked me. This wasn’t reasonable opposition but a tainted monomania with no understanding of humanity and an obsession with sex rather than love.”
Coren is 55 years old. Despite voluminous evidence of hateful comments directed at the LGBT community and their supporters for decades, not counting rapes, physical assaults and murders, until he started defending “persecuted gay men and women in Africa and Russia” himself this year, he had no idea how much harassment they truly face. What an idiot.
He ends his short piece thusly:
“…I have evolved on this single subject because I can no longer hide behind comfortable banalities, have realized that love triumphs judgment, and know that the conversation between Christians and gays has to transform — just as, to a large extent, the conversation between conservatives and gays has.”
I am not prepared to throw around ugly terms like ‘sin’ and ‘disordered’ as if they were clumsy cudgels, or marginalize people and groups who often lead more moral lives than I do. I am sick and tired of defining the word of God by a single and not even particularly important subject.
If we live, we grow. The alternative is, of course, death.”
Sounds like belated personal growth, doesn’t it? Sounds like he has finally “evolved” on gays.
Unfortunately, a much closer examination of his column proves his “thinking” hasn’t changed at all.
Consider paragraph 2:
“I’m still regarded by many in the gay community as an enemy and I understand that reaction. I have said and written things in the past that, while never intentionally hateful, caused offence and pain. This isn’t necessarily relevant, in that truth cannot change according to response, but I could and would not say such things any longer. I was wrong.”
Note how he doesn’t specify what he actually said and wrote that caused so much anger. Also note how he downplays the severity of these unspecified comments by claiming rather unpersuasively they were “never intentionally hateful”, suggesting more of a big misunderstanding between two equal parties rather than hurtful, bigoted rhetoric directed from a privileged white man to a marginalized community he holds in contempt. (Why else would he use the phrase “reasonable opposition” in paragraph 3?)
Before he declares, “I was wrong,”, pay particular attention to the sentence that appears before it. It is within the short section in between the commas that reveals how Coren really feels about gays. When he says, “truth cannot change according to response”, that means no matter how much anger his anti-gay vitriol inspires, he has not changed his actual position. He just won’t use words like “sin” and “disordered” any more. Ignorant insults attract too much unwanted attention, you see.
In other words, like Pope Francis, Michael Coren is choosing his language more carefully now when discussing LGBT issues. He’s putting his rusty, out-of-date insults back in his hack pundit toolbox and locking the key. But also like the head of the Catholic Church, that doesn’t mean he’s changed his mind on gay rights.
Go ahead. Pour through that column and find the parts where he says he now believes homosexuality is a-ok and a normal form of sexuality, that he’s now a big champion for gay marriage and gay adoption, that he doesn’t think transgendered men and women are crazy, deluded perverts.
What’s that? You can’t find any of that in there? Of course you can’t. He wrote none of those things. Nor does he believe them.
This business of Coren declaring he won’t offend gay people any more with his dopey insults is not new. In the Sun specifically, he has written this promise countless times over the years. It has never led to him actually supporting full equality for gays which is the biggest insult of them all.
This past February in a Sun column entitled “Gay insults shouldn’t be tolerated”, he plainly states, “I oppose gay marriage”, “I uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman” and “most gay people do not choose their sexuality” (who are the ones that don’t?)
In another column from that same period, “Uganda’s anti-gay law a travesty”, while defending homosexuals, he does not defend homosexuality. “This isn’t the place for a discourse about the nature of sexuality,” he oddly declares before taking this convenient libertarian stance: “What consenting people do in private as long as it harms nobody is absolutely up to them.”
In the very next paragraph, though, he opines, “I find some of the excesses of the pride parade vulgar and annoying and I find some of the intolerance and triumphalism of gay activists in North America and Europe to be offensive.” So you can be gay in private but by God, don’t be gay in public! That’s vulgar! That’s annoying! That’s offensive!
In October 2012, during a broadcast of his Sun News talk show, The Arena, he had this to say about a private member’s bill regarding added protections for transgendered folks who use public washrooms:
“What this is saying is if you do not want a boy to go into your daughter’s washroom you are the problem…not the person who says ‘Oh, I feel like a girl today.”
During a subsequent discussion about the Toronto District School Board possibly hiring transgendered teachers, Coren, sarcastically pretending to be a possible candidate, remarked, “No I don’t have a BA no I don’t have an MA, but I did have my penis cut off.”
Finally, there was this:
“I’ve interviewed people who think they’re in another gender’s body… Invariably, I believe they need a lot of psychiatric help.”
In November 2010, after comedian Rick Mercer came out in a famous video, Coren called his actions “pathetic”. Regarding the It Gets Better campaign that inspired it, he decried, “[the] love that dare not speak its name will not now shut up.”
For his part, Mercer responded, “This is a perfect example of how it gets better, as I might have once let someone like Coren get to me, but now it doesn’t affect me one bit…I know the type of homosexual he likes: one in the Conservative party who does what they’re supposed to do.” In other words, keeping their gayness to themselves and voting against their own interests.
In the “I was wrong” column, Coren writes, “It’s tragic but indicative that there are critics who cannot come to terms with growth and change and, rather than consider what I have to say, try to question my motives.”
It’s neither “tragic” nor “indicative” to point out the obvious. Coren hasn’t grown. He hasn’t changed. And the suspicious timing of his column (in the middle of World Pride Weekend after all) is an excellent reason to question his motives.
His long history of abhorrent anti-gay views cannot be instantly erased because of a questionable shift in tone. He still harbours them. They can’t be forgotten, either, nor should they, as much as Coren would like them to be. Just because someone once again announces they won’t say hurtful things about gay people anymore doesn’t mean they’ve stopped thinking them or that they’ll actually live up to their word.
What does he mean when he says, “I was wrong”, anyway? What sorts of anti-gay “insults” is he referring to, besides the aforementioned “sin” and “disordered”? By not specifying the full context of what he actually said that “caused offence and pain”, he’s avoiding being accountable. He’s refusing to be real.
When I was a teen, my former church briefly contemplated having openly gay ministers. It caused such a backlash that it never happened. In History class, a Hamilton Spectator article about this was included in a project I did about current events which included my own summaries & brief analysis. Right next to the clipped out story, I wrote the phrase “can the queers” which actually got a bonus mark from my teacher. I don’t remember the full context of the line now, unfortunately (I’m sure I meant it as a mean joke), but nonetheless I am ashamed that I wrote it in the first place. In fact, I ultimately threw out the whole project years later. Today, I have no problem with gay ministers. (I’ve been an atheist since 1996.)
In college, I took a human sexuality class. We needed to submit an essay so I stupidly wrote one declaring that homosexuality was a mental illness. Even though the teacher wasn’t persuaded, I actually got a B+ on it. I’m not proud of that. It, too, was tossed quite some time ago. For the record, I no longer believe being gay means you’re mentally ill. It’s a perfectly normal form of sexuality. I regret writing that essay.
What does Coren himself regret, exactly? Beyond saying “sin” and “disordered” out loud to describe homosexuality, who knows? His column lacks full candor and humility, he refuses to admit his comments were “intentionally hateful” and he won’t specify exactly what he said in the past that he won’t say today. As a result, “I was wrong” is nothing more than an empty statement devoid of true contrition.
Speaking of contrition, where’s “I’m sorry”, “I apologize”, or any plea for forgiveness and reconciliation? If Coren is serious about making peace with the LGBT community, he’s only taken a half-hearted approach here, one that should be met with collective contempt and great suspicion. He hasn’t earned anyone’s respect on this.
What does it say about him that even his own children don’t agree with his outdated views on gays and gay marriage? As he notes, “that generation in the west simply does not comprehend opposition on these issues.”
Knowing their father’s long history of hateful anti-gay bigotry, it’s not difficult to understand why.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, June 30, 2014