Brandon Ambrosino deserves a chance

Stephen Richer Law Student, University of Chicago
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It seems like the whole online media world hates Brandon Ambrosino. And, by extension, they hate Ezra Klein for asking Ambrosino to join his new team at Vox.

They hate Ambrosino because he’s a 23-year-old, radical anti-homosexual, who is gay himself.

Fortunately, one for three puts you in the hall of fame (in baseball). That his age is not 23 can be established by reading the multiple articles in which he references his age (definitely over 23, at least 27, maybe 28). These are the same articles that Ambrosino’s critics supposedly read and sharply criticized Klein for supposedly not having read.

The radical anti-homosexual claim deserves more scrutiny. Gabriel Arana of the American Prospect claims that Ambrosino is rotten because he might like Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty (“still, Ambrosino says he wouldn’t mind going fishing with the guy”). Yet in his Time article about Robertson, Ambrosino first casts the Pope’s liberalization on gay marriage in a positive light. Then, turning to Robertson, Ambrosino writes, “For the record, I’m undecided on whether or not I think Phil actually is homophobic, although I certainly think his statement was offensive, and not only to the LGBT community.”

John Aravosis, writing at AmericaBlog, begins his anti-Ambrosino post by noting that Ambrosino went to Liberty University, and that, seemingly, is enough to condemn Ambrosino to gay hell. But please not so fast. We of the pro-equality movement should welcome religiously-trained Liberty University graduates — it’s they, if anyone, who can get the religious right to accept gays. Ambrosino’s unique education allows him to write article after article about how Jesus probably would have been very accepting of gays (and, accordingly, so too should Jesus’ current disciples).

Ambrosino’s next sin, according to Aravosis, is that “he’s a fan of his alma mater’s founder Jerry Falwell, who once claimed ‘God hates homosexuality’ and later blamed gays and feminists for 9/11.” That certainly is damning for Falwell. But are we really willing to swiftly carry over one man’s sins to the damnation of one of his flock? Most left-of-center publications (fairly) didn’t embrace this theory when it came out that Reverend Jeremiah Wright — President Obama’s former pastor — said some nasty things about Jews and the United States.

As for the piece that Ambrosino actually wrote about “Being Gay at Jerry Falwell’s University,” it doesn’t lionize Falwell, and it doesn’t gloss over Liberty University’s anti-gay reputation. (“‘Why did I come here?’ I asked myself. ‘Out of all the colleges in the world, why did I pick this one?’ … Liberty was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a Southern Baptist minister often known for homophobia, bigotry, and the Moral Majority.”) Rather, it simply shows that Falwell was a human being who had other sides to his life: “When I think of Jerry Falwell, I don’t think about him the way Bill Maher does. I think about the man who would wear a huge Blue Afro wig to our school games, or the man who slid down a waterslide in his suit, or the man who would allow himself to be mocked during our coffeehouse shows. I think about the man who reminded us every time he addressed our student body that God loved us, that he loved us, and that he was always available if ever we needed him.” And that’s legitimate.

This is the general tenor of most of Ambrosino’s pieces. He’s very well aware of the sad history of gays in America (“It wasn’t too long ago that a gay person could have a drink at just any bar, or walk down just any street, without the very real threat of being the victim of a hate crime”); he’s not a religious extremist (see his piece on Halloween, or this dig on his former church, “‘We went to one of those obnoxious churches where people pray in tongues and parade around the sanctuary carrying banners that said ‘Maranatha’”); he simply sides with the opposition on some issues, but remains sensitive to the position of gay Americans.

Yes, he does write some weird stuff about choosing to be gay. And yes, he is more defensive of anti-marriage-equality folk than I would like (I’m typically of the mind that being anti-gay marriage means you cruelly think gays are less equal members of society). But have these positions moved so beyond the pale of accepted ideas — like thinking that the sun revolves around Earth — that we’re willing to dismiss as crazy or evil, anybody who entertains them? I have my days where I think so. But if we followed this exacting logic standard, then we’d have to dismiss any conservative commentator who dismisses evolution or any liberal commentator who thinks GMOs are evil. This makes me give pause.

Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I didn’t find the most ludicrous of Ambrosino’s work (I read all of his pieces at The Atlantic, Huffington Post, Time, and The New Republic). But from what I read, I side with Andrew Sullivan, and think Ambrosino deserves a little fairer treatment.