playing the Orson Scott Card: why I won’t go see Ender’s Game

An edited version of this piece appeared in the July 25, 2013 edition of the SF Bay Times.

As a sensitive and lonely gay kid in rural Virginia, science fiction and fantasy were my gateway to a world of endless possibilities and brighter futures. My favorite childhood friends and places included Corwin, Amber and the Courts of Chaos; Milo, Tock and the lands beyond the phantom tollbooth; Bilbo, Frodo and the realms of Middle Earth; among myriad others. To the woods behind my house, with handmade communicator and tricorder, I boldly went to seek out new life forms; in the wardrobe downstairs I desperately sought Narnia; on the carport I bravely battled garbage-can Daleks.

I escaped the pain of feeling intensely different from family and peers, and of being an outsider in the world in which I lived, by retreating into these genres and the worlds they opened up.

My passion for and exploration of science fiction and fantasy have shaped me considerably throughout my life.

That’s the context, then, in which to place Ender’s Game, a celebrated and award-winning science-fiction novel I first read nearly 30 years ago. The story of Ender Wiggins, the misunderstood and bullied kid and potential savior of all mankind, his tragic destiny and his quest for redemption, resonated quite strongly with me, as it has for many.

This fall, a movie based on the novel, starring Harrison Ford, is being released to great fanfare. I should be giddy with excitement, drooling with anticipation.

I won’t go see Ender’s Game.

The author of Ender’s Game, who also gets film credits as writer and producer, is Orson Scott Card.

Why is that significant? In addition to his many works of fiction, for over two decades Card has published a series of uninformed, demeaning and even hostile articles about LGBT people, our civil rights and marriage equality.

Card has described LGBT people as suffering from “tragic genetic mixups” and “sex-role dysfunctions.” He has written, “The dark secret of homosexual society… is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.”

Card has argued, “Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced… but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.”

To Card, civil marriage equality is a conspiracy by “government or society… to encourage reproductive and/or marital dysfunction in their children.” “However emotionally bonded a pair of homosexual lovers may feel themselves to be, what they are doing is not marriage. Nor does society benefit in any way from treating it as if it were,” Card wrote, adding, “But homosexual ‘marriage’ is an act of intolerance… So if my [gay] friends insist on calling what they do ‘marriage,’… they are attempting to strike a death blow against the well-earned protected status of our… real marriage. They steal from me what I treasure most, and gain for themselves nothing at all. They won’t be married. They’ll just be playing dress-up in their parents’ clothes.”

Particularly disturbingly, Card has invoked marriage equality as a potential justification for insurrection, writing, “[W]hen government is the enemy of marriage [i.e., allows same-sex couples to marry], then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary…. Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support [man-woman] marriage…”

More condemnatory then Card’s ugly and inflammatory words, though, is that for the past four years he has actively served on the board of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), whose stated purpose is to work to deny civil marriage equality.

A portion of any money that goes into Card’s pockets, then, may flow back to NOM, to be used to try to deny equality and dignity to loving same-sex couples. Moreover, the film’s success may determine the degree to which Card’s own celebrity is elevated and along with it a broader platform for the role he plays in funding and advancing NOM’s anti-LGBT and anti-equality agenda.

I won’t go see Ender’s Game.

I’m not petitioning the government to censor Card. There are no First Amendment implications to my actions, and there isn’t even a free speech issue more generally. I’m not suggesting Card can’t hold his negative opinions about gay people, speak out against my equality, wax nostalgic for a time when the government could jail people for being gay, or make movies.

I’m not even specifically asking anyone else not to go see the film. Boycotts are controversial, and the choice to participate or not is a very personal one. Some believe that one can and perhaps even should make a clear distinction between an artist’s less savory personal beliefs and causes, and the art he or she creates, and that supporting the latter doesn’t mean endorsing the former. It’s likely, in fact, that I listen to music, read books, and see movies made by people who hold beliefs I might find equally repellent to Card’s.

Let’s be clear, though. Card isn’t just someone who holds strong negative opinions about LGBT people. Card is a public figure, with a public platform he has used to advocate for anti-gay actions and government policy, and for LGBT people to be punished and shamed. And for the past four years, Card has served on the board of an organization whose very mission and purpose it is to deny civil marriage equality to same-sex couples, and has devoted time and money to try to write that organization’s tenets into state and federal laws and constitutions.

Clearly, Card has the right to hold these beliefs, to make them public, and to donate as much money and time to NOM as he wishes.

Correspondingly, though, I also have the right to criticize his beliefs, actions and causes, to hold him accountable for them, and to refuse to be complicit in them.

I have the right to educate others about them.

And I have the right to spend my money as I see fit, to support – or to withhold support from – any particular person, project or work of art. I don’t expect everyone to come to the same conclusion about the Ender’s Game boycott, but I hope we can agree that open and honest discussion about such actions is important nonetheless.

Ironically and tragically, a man so intimately connected to a genre most often identified with exploring possibilities for better ways to live together and to grow as a species in the future, a genre that encourages respect for the alien, for those different from us, has elected to devote his time and resources to diminishing and limiting the humanity and rights of others in the present.

I won’t go see Ender’s Game.

Instead, I’ll stay in and watch some Star Trek or Doctor Who. And I’ll donate the money I’d have spent for a movie night to an LGBT advocacy organization.

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