| Conservatives have for decades cultivated a politics of victimhood - presenting themselves as victims of some group, usually liberal and often an oppressed minority, in order to gain sympathy for their insane beliefs and to delegitimize progressive ideas and actions. We're witnessing it on Proposition 8 as well, and now the media is playing along. The result is a massive distortion of the true effects of Prop 8, and the normalization of support for discriminatory policy.
The specific case is that of Margie Christofferson, who quit her job as a manager at LA's El Coyote Restaurant under pressure from activists and customers angry at her donation of $100 to the Yes on 8 campaign. Her journey from oppressor to victim has been aided by Steve Lopez of the LA Times, who wrote a deeply flawed column on Sunday casting Christofferson as a sympathetic figure:
Margie Christoffersen didn't make it very far into our conversation before she cracked. Chest heaving, tears streaming, she reached for her husband Wayne's hand and then mine, squeezing as if she'd never let go.
"I've almost had a nervous breakdown. It's been the worst thing that's ever happened to me," she sobbed as curious patrons at a Farmers Market coffee shop looked on, wondering what calamity had visited this poor woman who's an honest 6 feet tall, with hair as blond as the sun.
That sets the tone for a column that blames the victims of Prop 8 for making this poor woman cry, and Lopez isn't above repeating disputed claims that riot police showed up at El Coyote during a recent rally. But perhaps the most troubling part of the column was Lopez' normalization of her support for discrimination:
But I didn't like what I was hearing about the vilification of Margie Christoffersen and others in California being targeted for the crime of voting their conscience.
"Voting our conscience" has been one of the key methods by which Prop 8 supporters have escaped responsibility for their actions or even acknowledging what Prop 8 was - an attack on the legal equality of thousands of Californians merely for their sexual orientation. When framed this way the Yes on 8 position becomes almost unassailable, immune to criticism. "They're just voting their conscience," we're supposed to think, and not be allowed to ask them to face the realities of what they have done, not be allowed to criticize them for voting to take away equal rights and destroy existing marriages, and not be allowed to act with our own conscience by denying those who backed Prop 8 our patronage. Each of those acts is cast as an aggressive and hurtful act, where the oppressed are cast as oppressors.
Lopez mentions almost in passing that "thousands [of gay people] feel as though their civil rights have been violated" but their concerns and views don't get the sob story treatment Margie Christofferson got - even though she knew full well what she was giving money for, and continues to believe that her vote for Prop 8 was the right move. As Lisa Derrick notes she has never apologized to her once-loyal customers for what she did. Obviously she feels no need to offer any such apology.
Lopez' column writes the real victims of Prop 8 out of the story and replaces them with their victimizers. Once again GLBT Californians and their fundamental rights are treated as either deviant or invisible. The only people whose opinions matter are those who oppose gay rights, and if someone dares call it out then they become the oppressors. Standing up for gay rights, for marriage equality, becomes itself an act of hate.
Margie Christofferson is not a sympathetic figure. She is someone in deep denial of reality, who is unwilling to reconcile her relationships with her own intolerance. It's not the rest of Los Angeles's job to play along with it, to enable it, to pretend as if it doesn't exist. Doing so merely continues the decades of injustice that comes when good people do nothing and discrimination is treated as normal.
It would be nice if the traditional media would recognize this. It's not likely that they will. Martin Luther King, Jr. may be venerated today but he was a controversial figure in his day who received FAR more criticism from the media than credit, who was told that the March on Washington was a dangerous provocation that should not be attempted. The Civil Rights Movement rightly refused to let such concern trolling stop them. We who are part of the marriage equality movement would do well to learn that lesson.