By Ric Llewellyn
Phillip Lee's opinion piece "'Gay lifestyle' poses threat to people's physical well-being" Drew a lot of fire. The most polite comments were that Lee's opinion was outdated and irrelevant. Many others were churlish and disparaging.
Lee's opinion may be old-fashioned, but it is certainly not irrelevant. Lee exhibited a strong commitment to social action and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community and its supporters felt it was necessary to respond vigorously.
It was unfortunate that most who commented on the column answered an argument that wasn't even proposed. I suppose that speaks to the sensitive and volatile nature of the whole topic of homosexuality and society's response.
While some may think that simply railing against Lee's supposedly bigoted and ignorant proposition actually added to the understanding of the issue, I don't.
Here is the point I got from Lee's column: regardless of who you are, you have the capacity to control what you do. Now to apply that idea.
Lee legitimately showed that gay men are at a shockingly high risk of being infected with HIV. Unwittingly, many who ridiculed Lee's column reinforced his point: it isn't who you are that gets you sick, it's what you do.
Over and over Lee referred to the behaviors and practices -- not the people -- that result in so much death in one specific group. He simply invoked the "pro-life for all" mantra Californian columnist Valerie Schultz had used in opposition to the death penalty to stir society's sense of responsibility.
For Lee, the bottom line seems to be that the only way to certainly avoid HIV is to abstain from the risky behaviors that expose a person to the virus.
It is strange to me that within this sanctity of life context, Lee's opponents advocate less than certain strategies. Practicing "safe sex" is apparently safe enough for them. Perhaps life isn't really sacrosanct.
It does not take anything away from Lee's proposition to point out that straight, female intravenous drug users become infected with HIV, too. Or that promiscuous heterosexual men die of AIDS complications, too.
It actually serves to strengthen his fundamental point that it isn't who you are but what you do that belies a disregard for the sanctity of life. And if we are to embrace being "pro-life for all," we ought to embrace the behavior of self-restraint.
Mostly that concept was completely ignored.
Lee was ravaged for what were characterized as ignorant and dangerous homophobic opinions. Yet much of what was offered in the way of rebuttal was merely a contrary opinion.
Often, it was less fact-based and just as biased as Lee's column. For example, the invocation of some hypothetical "millions of happy, healthy, well-adjusted lesbian and gay people" is not a fact. It is just an opinion based on limited observation.
One of Lee's detractors declared that homosexuality is a hereditary trait. Another suggested that homosexuality is hard-wired. While those are interesting and widely held opinions, they only make the issue more obscure.
Is there a "gay gene?" Is our sexuality -- or at least homosexuality -- determined by the uterine environment? Is homosexuality a psychological or psychiatric syndrome?
Since sexual identity activists insist on including bisexual, transgender and "questioning" individuals, it is reasonable to ask how these expressions of sexuality would fit the hard-wiring theory.
If we really want a fuller understanding of the issue, we also have to ask how any of these ideas affects what we know about heterosexuality.
There is a lot yet to be understood on this subject. While Lee clearly rejects the commonly held opinion that homosexuality is a legitimate and appropriate expression of human sexuality, that is not what he wrote about.
Audrey Chavez of the Bakersfield AIDS Project responded to Lee's column and acknowledged that "[s]afer behaviors and healthy lifestyles promoting mental, spiritual and physical health are to be encouraged."
Lee took that recognition a step farther and made it our social responsibility to advocate healthy practices and behaviors and discourage those that jeopardize life, particularly among gay men.
As a society we stand for the lives of the unborn. We stand for the lives of the most vicious among us. Why do we so passionately reject a call to stand for life for those most imperiled by HIV?
Ric Llewellyn is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Llewellyn, not necessarily The Californian. You can email him at email@example.com. Next week: Heather Ijames.