There's an older guy who comes in to the theater often. He's about 60 with a beer gut, grey hair and beard, and a baseball cap which proudly states his status as a former military man. He assumes that since he's been around the Promenade since the dawn of time, he's entitled to free movies.
He came in last night and started talking to the security guard and me about new movies coming out. He said he wanted to see "Edge of Darkness," the new Mel Gibson movie. I said that I don't really want to see it because of my political and moral issues with Gibson, and I don't want him getting any of my money. And here's were things go sour.
Old Guy says that he wouldn't see "Milk" for similar reasons. "Milk," I would remind you, stars Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, a queer activist who was the first openly gay man to win an elected position in California way back when. Old Guy said that he wouldn't see this movie because "I don't approve of that homosexual lifestyle, and don't want to see it all over the screen."
Any time I hear the phrase "homosexual lifestyle," my heckles immediately raise. The term, as I'm sure you're well aware, carries strong religious and political baggage. It's used exclusively by right-wing fundamentalists/nut-jobs to demean and disempower queers. So when Old Guy started talking about what it means to be gay as if he had any idea whatsoever about the subject, I naturally had to correct him. I must say that, seeing as it was my workplace, I was extremely civil and self-contained (under the circumstances).
I asked him why he has issues with queers, and he said "Because you can't get anything but death out of it." Yes. "Death." Quite a loaded sentence. I thought about the various meanings he could be putting behind that word. I wanted to make my position very clear to him, so I retorted quickly with "Well, I'm alive and kicking, and very happy." That way there was no doubt that I'm gay. His body language immediately took on an aggressive stance, as did mine in response.
I wanted to make him state explicitly what he was trying to imply, so I asked him what he meant by "death." He said you can only put death in, and only get death out. Again, not clear. So I responded with a very cheesy "you can actually get a lot of love out of it."
I realized that I would have to ask very leading questions in order to get him to say what he meant. So I asked if he was referring to the idea that queer couples can't procreate, to which he replied that was part of it. I countered with the fact that one can adopt, which is a really important and wonderful thing to do.
Clearly this wasn't all of it. He didn't have a counter, so he tried to dismiss my arguments by throwing in religion: "Well, I believe in the true God." Meaning, of course, that gays are evil, unnatural, and hated by the one and only God (a god who, according to his logic, created everyone and everything, including the gays He apparently hates). Obviously, Old Guy knows exactly God's will and plan, has never doubted the Bible as the true Word of God (except when he makes exceptions of course), and understands the totality of the human experience.
I responded by giving one fist-pump in the air and saying "proud agnostic!" If he wanted to dismiss my logic-based arguments with religious bigotry, I had every right to dismiss his religious bigotry with my altogether lack of religion.
At this point, the security guard, who is a good friend of mine, decided to stop the "conversation." Of course I would never behave in an inappropriate manner at work, but I won't let someone demonize and attack my people right in front of me. The security guard clearly saw how upset I was getting and decided it was time to step in. Old Guy and I also recognized the need to end our discussion, since neither of us would ever convince the other.
Here's the moral of the story: Los Angeles may be a progressive, gay-friendly place in some ways. But hey, Proposition 8 passed here in California. There's always going to be bile-filled people like Old Guy whose blind hatred seeps out and infects those around them. But there will also always be people there to counter their hatred with reason. I'm proud to have the chance to be one of those people.