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Gays wrong to call for Kagan to declare sexuality

By LZ Granderson, Special to CNN
  • Granderson says a person's sexuality is supposed to be a nonissue in the workplace
  • So, he says, what bearing does Kagan's sexuality have on nomination?
  • Knowing the orientation of a justice doesn't determine how that person will rule, he says

Editor's note: LZ Granderson is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN The Magazine and, and has contributed to ESPN's Sports Center, Outside the Lines and First Take. He is a 2010 nominee and the 2009 winner of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) award for online journalism as well as the 2008 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) winner for column writing.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- On both sides of the battle between oppressed groups and their oppressors exist extremists. On one side are those whose prejudices help sustain the inequities most of us are trying to eradicate. On the other are those who refuse to see any significant progress, either because their worldview is seen through a victim's lens or they make their living picking fights.

The majority are in the middle -- everyday folks just hoping for a level playing field but too apathetic or scared to be seen as a racist, or sexist, or traitor to our religion, our political party or people.

Consequently, the silence of the many allows the hypocrisy of the few extremists to sully our airwaves, pollute our politics and ultimately taint our future. I see such hypocrisy at play in the flap over rumors about the sexual orientation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

Now, I understand the need to have positive, openly gay role models in the public eye. But I also believe there is a need to practice what is preached. If a person's sexuality is supposed to be a nonissue in the workplace -- which is the crux behind passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act -- then prominent gay people such as Andrew Sullivan, who in his blog is calling on Kagan to reveal her sexual orientation, need to stop making it one.

Sullivan says: "I do think a simple answer to a simple question about a core part of someone's identity should be possible. And I think a deliberate avoidance of this question is dangerous to public transparency and to the integrity of the process."

This is all happening despite her friends coming round to say Kagan is not a lesbian -- although that should be irrelevent.

As I've said in the past, if the person in question is attacking the gay community, then I believe it is fair to see his or her private life coincides with the public one.

But to demand some sort of public clarification, as if sexual orientation is a barometer for how someone is going to do his or her job, has the same witch-hunt elements of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy many want to see overturned.

To get a true sense of how Kagan would vote on a particular issue, comb through her earlier writings, the work she did as the dean of Harvard Law, or when the time comes, ask that specific question. This concentration on sexual orientation is counterproductive because it reinforces the argument that regardless of a person's background, everyone within a particular sect thinks and acts alike, which isn't true.

Moreover, in Kagan's case, it muddies the entire confirmation hearing process.

No one wants to be defined by one aspect of his or her being, especially in a workplace environment where such information has no bearing on how they will do their job. Knowing the sexual orientation of a Supreme Court justice doesn't tell anyone how that person is going to rule, nor does having a heterosexual or gay, lesbian or transgendered justice guarantee that person is going to be an ally for the community of which he or she is part. No more than Clarence Thomas is viewed as an ally for the black community.

Social conservatives propagate such correlations because they are trying to fire up their base for the impending election, but gay rights supporters need to be smarter than that. To go around demanding people tell us whether they're gay or straight on the job application, and then argue sexual orientation doesn't matter, is simply hypocritical.

It's like when black people call each other the n-word and then throw a fit when someone outside of the race uses it in the same non-hateful fashion. At some point you have to play by the rules you set, otherwise the game, or in this case, life, will never be fair for anyone.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.