Defining fearlessness down

First published 20 June 2006.

fearless, a.

Without fear.

1. a. Unaffected by fear; bold, intrepid. Const. of; rarely, with inf.
b. Without doubt about; confident of. Obs.
c. Of the bearing, demeanour, etc.: Showing no sign of fear.

Oxford English Dictionary

James Loney, member of the Christian Peacemakers Team that was taken hostage in Iraq last year, will receive a Fearless award at the Pride Toronto gala dinner tonight [20 June 2006].  I’m all for recognising courage in the gay community, I think that’s healthy and a good way of highlighting the challenges of the community for the broader straight mainstream.  I’m not so sure James Loney is a worthy exemplar, though.

    “I think (the theme) is very appropriate, because it speaks to the idea of us as queer people living our lives and loving free of fear,” said Pride Toronto co-chairman David Anderson, who credits Loney and Hunt for being longtime advocates of peace and tolerance in the face of adversity.

Lauren La Rose, “James Loney, partner to receive ‘fearless’ award
Canadian Press (on Canada.com), 18 June 2006.

There’s no question that a certain amount of courage is required to make one’s way to a war zone—even if your goal is to interfere in one side of the fighting.  But the name of the award implies, well, fearlessness, and covering up all public hints of your orientation so you don’t get killed by your captors doesn’t strike me as a particular sort of courage.  It’s difficult, sure, and emotionally taxing for both partners, but fearless?  I think not.

    In an effort to protect Loney’s safety, the media, family, friends and CPT cooperated in not releasing any information about his sexual orientation. Hunt stayed hidden, always on the sidelines, never giving media interviews. Articles that Loney had written about their relationship were pulled from the Internet.

    — Tanya Gulliver, “A life-or-death closet
Xtra, 8 June 2006.

For the record, I’m glad James Loney is alive and well and back on Canadian soil.  I think he showed a certain amount of (tragically misguided) courage in deciding to head to Iraq in the first place.  I’m not so sure that keeping your jihadist captors in the dark about something they would surely kill you for qualifies as courage.  At best it’s smart-headed survival instincts.

We don’t give awards to soldiers who move into contact with the enemy but then desert and shuck their uniforms, pretending to be civilians.  We give awards to those who keep fighting tenaciously against hellacious odds even when it is more expedient and safe not to.  Surely there are examples of truly fearless LGBT men or women who deserve to be fêted—people who took a stand in spite of dangerous odds, did not hide their orientation for fear of harm, and weathered the storm in spite of the possible consequences.  They are real heroes, unlike James Loney.

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