Editorial: Anti-gay comments paint a troubling picture

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At the end of Oscar Wilde’s novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” the eternally youthful title character, after decades of hiding a depraved and malevolent nature made visible only through a festering decayed portrait of himself, takes a knife to the painting – bringing the decrepit ugliness of his true character back to its corporeal being, for all the world to see, and to know, and to impugn.

People around here have a habit of taking a knife to their own disheveled portraits, from time to time, as well.

The latest piercing made headlines last week in Lorna Sheridan’s story (“Developers Face Local Backlash Over LGBTQ Views,” April 19) with the surfacing of 5-year-old gay-bashing social media posts of developer Stacy Mattson who, with her husband Ken, both of Piedmont, in the past three years has shelled out $80 million to acquire more than two dozen properties throughout Sonoma Valley. Stacy Mattson’s anti-gay Facebook observations posted in 2013 and 2015 were eyebrow raising, at best, in a city that admirably embraces the diversities in gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture and lifestyle that can, at times, make Sonoma one of the greatest places on earth.

At worst, her comments were shameful – specifically her 2013 post about a gay marriage ceremony that was part of that year’s Rose Bowl Parade, in which she conveyed her “disgust” of the event being “hijacked by the gay agenda” and, she said, “the last thing I want to see in the parade is promotion of sin by being forced to watch a gay marriage ceremony.”

In those words is conveyed a callousness toward others that is troubling to many Sonomans.

Equally concerning to those unsettled by her Rose Bowl remarks, is that the Mattsons have partnered as part of LeFever-Mattson in multiple Sonoma Valley real estate acquisitions with Tim LeFevre, a Sacramento lobbyist who has sought rollbacks in gay and transgender rights.

Whatever is this “gay agenda” some folks fear so much, one wishes they’d meet the loving, giving, fun LGBTQ-plus community of Sonoma – and those of other cities in the United States and the world over; they’re part of the indelible fabric of 21st century society.

The outrage Stacy Matton’s sentiments inspired was earned; the condemnations of those sentiments warranted.

However, caution should be taken before anyone transfer their disdain for two thoughtless online statements onto any person as a whole. To paraphrase someone who knew a thing or two about putting human foibles into perspective, let those who are without sin cast the first stone. Or, in this case, those who haven’t Facebooked something stupid cast the first thumbs-down emoji.

Simply, most of us would find it pretty unfair to be defined solely by the worst things we’ve ever said, when usually there’s a level of humanity in all of us to help balance the scales.

Don’t make the same mistake the posts make – judging people too quickly, too harshly.

That said, a common theme has risen in the course of the discussion of the Mattson posts – and it’s potentially more disconcerting than the content of the posts themselves.

In an April 18 statement, in response to the impending I-T story about the anti-gay posts, the Mattsons touched upon the “proud history” of Sonoma’s inclusiveness. “As new owners (of the business we have purchased in Sonoma), we have insisted that this history of inclusion continue,” Ken Mattson wrote. “We also know that a truly diverse community benefits from the discussion of a broad range of ideas. We hope that all our guests, clients and employees will join in on this discussion.”

Some sympathetic reader comments following the story also framed their defense of the posts in a similar way: That she is being targeted for her “beliefs”; that people should be allowed to express “opposing views” without fear of backlash; that her First Amendment rights of expression are compromised by criticism of such.

That, as Ken Mattson suggests, if Sonoma is truly diverse, it will welcome discussing a “broad range of ideas.”

Before we get to the concept of homophobia as an “idea to be discussed” – as if it were a matter of mere political philosophy, like trickle-down economics or the effectiveness of social programs – let’s dispel the notion of criticism of someone’s social media posts as a First Amendment infringement. The First Amendment protects against government intrusion into free speech. That’s it. The publicly made denunciation of publicly made statements by members of the public is free speech in all its glory; it’s what the First Amendment is all about.

That said, not every topic requires a broad discussion with various sides given equal credence. The earth, after all, is not flat – no matter who wants to debate the matter.

Likewise, the acceptance of homophobia isn’t among a “broad range of ideas” worthy of discussing any more than the acceptance of such ideas as misogyny, white supremacy or the killing of infidels and heretics. Those ugly beliefs surely exist; but reasonable communities aren’t betraying their inclusiveness by not discussing their merits.

That there is a broad range of birth-given sexualities of equal worth is no more open to debate to the vast majority of Sonomans than whether the sky is blue or the sun sets in the west.

Sonoma should politely decline the offer to “join in on this discussion” on whether tolerance, diversity and the rainbow spectrum of human sexuality warrants acknowledgment and respect.

Better, Sonomans should decide how closely they want to hold the relationship between the personal opinions of business owners with the services they offer and act accordingly.

And to that, with all the ways our ill-advised social media posts have a way of going viral when least expected, those who find themselves having to answer for them at a later date can perhaps take comfort in Wilde’s most famous quote from “Dorian Gray”: “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Though, given the way social media has a way of haunting one in perpetuity, Wilde’s words may have outlasted their sell-by date.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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