Back in 2003, Washington University physics professor Jonathan Katz published an essay on his departmental web page called "In Defense of Homophobia". In a stroke of what some might call poetic justice, Katz's 22-year-old son Isaac came out publicly yesterday in an essay that ran in the Post-Dispatch.
Jonathan Katz's defense of homophobia had nothing to do with anything he learned in his academic research, which mostly involves astrophysics (he wrote a book about gamma ray bursts) and geoengineering. Nonetheless, last summer, because of that essay, he was kicked off a panel of scientists assembled by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to work on ways to stop the BP oil spill.
About a month later, Isaac Katz, who had just graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, came out to his parents.
In his essay, Jonathan Katz defends homophobia on rationalist grounds:
The religious believer may see the hand of God, but both he and the rationalist must see a fact of Nature. The human body was not designed to share hypodermic needles, it was not designed to be promiscuous, and it was not designed to engage in homosexual acts. Engaging in such behavior is like riding a motorcycle on an icy road without a helmet. It may be possible to get away with it for a while, and a few misguided souls may get a thrill out of doing so, but sooner or later (probably sooner) the consequences will be catastrophic. Lethal diseases spread rapidly among people who do such things.
He recommended that gays repress their sexual urges, the same way married heterosexuals repress their urges to cheat out their spouses.
In a postscript, written after his essay was discovered and pilloried by Student Life, the Wash. U. student paper, Katz compared homosexuals to Ku Klux Klan members:
A number of critics have asked if monogamous homosexuals are also culpable [for the spread of AIDS]. Quite apart from the question of the definition of monogamous (sexual contact with only one person in a lifetime? serial monogamy? some cheating? etc.), I suggest the following analogy: A man joins the Ku Klux Klan. He is not violent, and would never hurt a fly; he just wants a safe place to express his racist feelings. Is he culpable for the Klan's past acts of violence? I believe that even though he is not criminally responsible for acts that occurred before he joined, he is morally culpable for joining the Klan. The Klan has blood on its hands, and anyone who joins must share the guilt. So, too, with the homosexual movement.
OK, so the guy is clearly not an English professor.
When Isaac Katz was about ten years old, his brother called him a faggot. Their father blew a gasket. "To merely call another person homosexual," Katz the younger writes, "is to insult him or her in the worst way."
As an adolescent, Isaac Katz writes, he was clinically depressed and suicidal, though he was never bullied during his years at Clayton High. He felt less depressed once he came to terms with being gay. His father failed to see things the same way.
When I told my dad I was gay, his immediate response was, "No, you're not." (My mom, by the way, was and is more supportive.) When my insistence finally overrode his denials, he echoed his online essay that I should deny who I am rather than to engage in an act so abhorrent as to love another man.
Currently, Isaac Katz is living at home with his parents until he can move to L.A. to start a masters program in screenwriting. He says nothing about any awkwardness or about his dating life, but does allow, in his essay, that this discussion of his future plans was far more uncomfortable than the one about his coming out.
But, just as he believes his homosexuality has nothing to do with his worth as a human being, he also believes his father's homophobia should have nothing to do with his ability to help clean up the BP oil spill.
Let this be a lesson to us all.