Whenever a social transformation occurs, however, the past does not disappear, even if one has reformed their views. Being on “the right side” now shouldn’t let anyone avoid coming to terms with their own past acts of bigotry and oppression. This is not to say that we should freeze people’s identities and not allow them to change, grow, and learn. In fact, these are the kinds of people who can serve as effective outreach to those who may still revel in languages of hate and misogyny. Furthermore, there is a strong moral case to accept and forgive those whose personal views change.
This is why the case of Joy Ann Reid and her old homophobic blog posts is so frustrating. Rather than owning up to her own homophobia, the response was to claim that she had been hacked, a claim that has enter parodic level of impossibility. As explained further in Gizmodo, the only possible way for this to be hacked would have been by literal time travelling, master level hackers with access to servers all over the world. It is a hilarious moment to be sure, one of just total brazen overconfidence, with an insane level of escalation.
Reid is no leftist and has a history of needling progressive and leftist political ideas and politicians, especially Bernie Sanders and his family. She is an institutional liberal, who views all politics exclusively through the lens of electoralism. Ideologically, her remarks about the 2018 West Virginia teachers strike are most revealing. Reid’s big takeaway from an unheard of mass strike was if only they voted for Democrats then things may be different, without noting that the governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice, was elected as a Democrat and then switched to the Republican at a large rally with a surprise visit from Donald Trump.
Even with my disagreements over political strategy, firing her for having said homophobic things in the past in beyond excessive. In fact, this could be an opportunity for liberals to come to terms with their own internalized and externalized homophobia. Coming of age in the early 2000’s, the world was rotten with homophobic moments from not just the “God Hates Fags” Westboro Baptist Church types, but from plenty of liberals and Democrats as well. For example, when Dennis Kucinich was asked in a presidential debate about appointing a trans woman to the Ohio Supreme Court, liberal hero Jon Stewart made a horrible and hack “judge chick with dick” joke.
So while it is fun to watch someone whom I have many political disagreements with completely self-destruct, Reid is throwing the opportunity for a truth and reconciliation moment around liberal homophobia in the garbage in favor of a shortsighted attempt to protect her brand. That sucks. If we are serious about fighting oppression and helping marginalized communities, we all have to come to terms with the impact of this kind of casual homophobia. If the non-queer among us wish to be allies to queer folks, we cannot just forgive and forget. We have to forgive and remember.
Ben Udashen is a writer and podcaster based in Seattle, WA.