Americans tend to ignore news about people who don’t look or sound like us. Here’s why that needs to change

I suspect most Americans are watching events in the Middle East with one eye closed and the other on the latest sports event. In other words, we don’t care unless it involves Americans.

I don’t think this reflects a wanton ignorance, just the long-term effects of a news media that only run stories that “connect” with viewers and readers. The end result is if the people involved don’t look like us and don’t speak English without a foreign accent, it’s relegated to the back pages or not seen at all.

This is why the Ebola epidemic ravaged several West African nations without much press — until someone in this country got sick. Then it connected!

Of course, there were just a few isolated cases in this country and there never was a real threat. But it was here! Now that’s news!

The same is true for LGBT Americans. We are more likely to follow stories that have an LGBT spin. Discrimination is a bad thing, yet it goes on every day. But when it is against one of us — well, that’s a different story. I fall prey to this just like anyone else.

So let me put this before you — and here’s a warning: It’s not going to be pretty. (I guess that is what is called a “trigger” warning?)

I ran across a picture of a frightened man sitting in a cheap plastic chair. Behind him were three men dressed in black, their faces covered with masks. In the background was a skyline.

Strange photo — until you read the caption.

The cowards with their faces covered were members of ISIS, the alleged Islamic State in Syria. The man in the chair was accused of having a “homosexual affair,” and he was going to be punished by being shoved off a seven-story building.
Got your attention now?

The war in the Middle East is far from over. We just came home, or at least some of us did. Meanwhile we have left chaos behind, and as one dictator after another finds his regime crumbling, the militants of ISIS are stepping in and offering their version of “civilization.” They claim to practice the much-talked-about Sharia law, but what they do mostly is hold kangaroo courts and kill people.

Unfortunately, we are powerless to intervene, since Syria is a state we don’t talk to anymore. We refuse to recognize the government of Syria, but we do “recognize” the rebels fighting the Assad regime.

And what about ISIS? Well they are an inconvenient by-product of the clash, opportunists who found a niche once the dictatorial rule of Assad was shattered.

Sound complicated? You bet it is. And it is only going to get more so.

Now there is talk of arming the “rebels” and essentially fueling the campaign against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Apparently, the thinking is by putting more guns in the hands of the “good guys” we can defeat one set of “bad guys.”

In the meantime, the vacuum that is being created is quickly being filled by ISIS. And that is bad news for everyone, especially LGBT Syrians. It’s a difficult situation and there is no simple solution.

And that is why it holds such a minor place in the minds of Americans. We like simple black-and-white issues. We are addicted to the whole binary paradigm. It permeates our understanding of the world and of human behavior — and it’s completely false.

When it comes to these issues there is no binary, no simple “good vs. bad.” There never has been.

Just as sexual orientation is a continuum instead of firm categories, so are the issues of right and wrong in world politics. If we are to be rational, informed citizens we need to try to understand the nuances of the big issues as well as the small. That takes work; it takes self-education, and most of all, it takes attention.

If we fail to pay attention to world affairs, we risk seeing them play out here in our country. Remember: There is a large group of Americans who want to rule this country based on “Biblical Law,” and that law is almost word for word the same as the religious law being professed in Syria.

If that isn’t an LGBT connection I don’t know what is.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and board member for the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 6, 2015.