The Raleigh Rant

2015 LGBT issues in review

2015 LGBT issues in review

      Of course, the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage not only dominated the headlines for most of the year but also had the most significant impact since their sodomy decision in 2003.  The rush of gays and lesbians to make their relationships legal set off an economic boom in many communities that continues.  Public opinion has radically shifted on the issue in spite of the predictable backlash in state legislation and comical grandstanding of people like Kim Davis.

      Yes, that was the big story of the year, but other trends also were significant.  The continued growth of movements such as the Reconciling Ministries Network, The Reformation Project, and the Gay Christian Network continued to narrow the wide gap between the LGBT communities and organized religion.  Some denominations are more progressive than others, but the trend is clearly to more acceptance of gays into the church.

      After decades of rejection, gays and lesbians also are becoming more open about their Christian and Jewish beliefs and regular participation in worship services and church activities.  They would have been derided a decade as “goodie-goodies” who were unwilling to accept their homosexuality and “go all the way.”  Well, it is clear now that there is no such thing as a “gay lifestyle,” since people with same-sex orientation and gender identity express it in as many different ways as heterosexuals do.  The “coupling” of LGBT people had been under the radar of the media for decades, but now we’ve been discovered and even celebrated.

      In spite of the “religious liberty” exclusion laws being rushed through the southern legislatures and debated in others, the backlash against same-sex marriage has been surprisingly muted.  In spite of the demagoguery of the Republican Presidential candidates, mainstream Americans have moved on.  Of course, the Tea Party and the Radical Right will continue to pursue this as a wedge political issue, but the facts are that they are losing public support even among the evangelical community.  The anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim rhetoric appeals to a radical minority, but it is not a winning strategy for the general election.

      The referendum on the repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was a major setback in that it reflected the residual bigotry of a large element of the population.  The lies and subterfuge of the “bathroom” ads were effective in framing the issue to appeal to fear rather than to discuss the issue of discrimination.  The big lie can still work. Transgender people are still facing the most discrimination.

      The ordinance also reflected the strategy of the LGBT community that has been focused on getting community and state protections since for 20 years the federal employment non-discrimination act has been blocked in Congress.   The Republicans still have enough votes to block it, and some Democrats are afraid to stick out their necks.   Perhaps Obama can use his final year to seal his record on LGBT rights.  That issue has been raised in the courts, but it is very difficult to win.

      “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military is history, and the problem now has become one of sexual harassment of women, suicides of war-damaged veterans, and spousal abuse.   The predicted cataclysm of gays in the military didn’t happen, as has been demonstrated in all of the other military commands of NATO.

      This was a good year for the LGBT community, but we still have work to do.

The True Meaning of Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving holiday has been over-run by the early Christmas promotions, which is somewhat of a blessing in disguise. It means that Thanksgiving hasn’t been overly commercialized and remains largely a simple family gathering around a feast table. Of course, during the past decade the concept of what constitutes a “family” has changed. Not only with same-sex marriage and the adoption of LGBT couples of children, many gays and lesbians have formed families of friends who are their primary means of social activities and support. Not everyone is rushing to get married or even to pair up with someone. For many older LGBT persons, that prospect came too late in life to even consider.

I have spent several Thanksgivings with friends in varying locations as we join together to enjoy a holiday meal and catch up on visiting since we don’t get to see each other that often. Christmas is usually reserved for time with local friends because the hassles of travel at Christmas become even worse.

A lot of people talk about regaining the true meaning of Christmas, but what is the true meaning of Thanksgiving? Surely it’s more than just getting stuffed with food, overdosing on football on TV, and battling with in-laws over politics. Sharing a meal with family and friends is more than just a social occasion. It is a tradition of enriching a communal experience that is not limited to just Thanksgiving. Even the secular in this country practice the Thanksgiving traditions, which unfortunately are limited just to the United States.

What does it mean to be truly thankful? Well, first it means to focus on someone besides our selves. We reach out to others in kindness and humility. If we are religious, we pray to God in response for our blessings. If we are unable to be grateful, then we are incapable of being happy. Even when life is hard, and circumstances are less than perfect, a moment of gratitude can open a heart that has been bruised. Perhaps when we are too affluent and take for granted our situation in life as something to which we are entitled, then we have a very shallow experience of Thanksgiving.

Sometimes family gatherings are tense when a LGBT couple shows up the first time, and it is awkward for everyone around the table. But that is better than living a lie and playing let’s pretend. It also provides an opportunity for growth and strengthening of family relationships beyond the superficial siblings. We get to really know each other even as we have grown apart as we grow up and have families of our own. Blood relatives sometimes have the weakest links because of incidents that happened long ago that have never been forgotten or forgiven.

After I left home, I rarely got back except for Christmas so I had to bring together another kind of family for Thanksgiving. I did have a partner at various times in my life, but most of the time I was alone and had to look to friends. Now I don’t have a partner or any close living relatives, so my friends have become my family. Our local LGBT Center is wonderful in that it provides a place for lonely people to join together for a meal during the holidays.

The Lord loves a thankful heart, and may he bless you.

Dirty Tricks work again

Dirty Tricks Win Again

The city that elected a lesbian mayor with a city council that passed an equal rights ordinance, turned tail and rejected the ordinance in a referendum Tuesday. With the interjection of the Republican Lt. Governor into municipal politics and the outrageous ads predicting male sex offenders would invade women’s bathrooms, the appeals to ignorance and bigotry against transgender people was revealed for the nation to see. Even more ironic, progressive bond issues passed in the city, county, and surrounding communities. Clearly the ads were the deciding factor.

If you tell the big lie often enough people will come to believe it, is the political strategy that has been employed again and again, and in this case it worked. Some claim that the split was along racial lines or religious bias, but the detailed results still haven’t been reported yet. Without pointing fingers at any particular group, fear of transgender people was exploited for political advantage.

The vote was decisive: almost 2:1 for repeal of the ordinance. I would not presume to assume that the city is that divided or that the majority of its citizens are homophobic. It simply proves the old adage that advertising works, and when it’s used effectively it gets results. Even if it is a lie, a simple graphic message can grab attention. I didn’t follow the campaign that closely even though I contributed to our side so I don’t know enough about how the political strategies and tactics were employed on either side. In politics it’s called getting control of the narrative and putting your opponents on the defensive. Apparently the consequences of rejecting the ordinance didn’t come across in public opinion, and it remains to be seen what effect that may have on the national standing of Houston. It isn’t just a loss for the LGBT community who still can face discrimination; it is a loss for the city that has damaged its reputation.

When I lived there years ago, Houston was a friendly, open and progressive city. Sure there was an economic chasm between River Oaks and the East Side, and the Houston Police regularly harassed gays. But it didn’t have the snobbish, money-conscious attitude of Dallas. The lack of zoning and rapid growth created a rather haphazard pattern of development, and it took years for the infrastructure to catch up. But it was a world-class city in terms of cultural opportunities at a time when Dallas was still very provincial.

It still has an automobile-centered culture like Los Angeles, and its public transit is decades behind. The oil and gas industry still dominates the business community. This week the citizens of the city took a step backward, and it may take years to recover.

God and Gays

For several years I have compiled a resource guide of videos and books for the Reconciling United Methodists of North Carolina. Somehow I missed the 2006 film “God and Gays.” I found it on Netflix and watched it recently. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was late learning about it because it barely registered on IMDB. My guess is that film faced distribution problems and thus had little impact.

It follows the usual documentary format of people telling their stories, but this time it seemed different. The discussions had more theological depth to them. Perhaps that was because some of the interviewees were ministers. Most came from a fundamentalist background and told of their difficulties in coming out. That process was not just a public statement but also a period of spiritual growth and development for them. They didn’t deny their faith and then recover it. As they came to know and understand themselves, they also came to have a closer relationship with God.

They didn’t debate the Biblical scriptures about homosexuality or how they learned to re-interpret the scriptures in a new way. Their testimonies were about how they grew in their faith and understanding of religion and how to relate with God. Through their internal conflicts, they drew closer to God.

Apparently this film made the round of a few LGBT film festivals, but it didn’t make it to our area. The founder of SoulForce is prominently featured in the film, but I don’t recall seeing anything about it in their publications. Perhaps that was because it was not one of their projects, and they focused on what they were doing.

At that time, the LGBT community and organized religion were such poles apart that neither side wanted to acknowledge the other. In the meantime, several Protestant denominations (except the Methodists) have made major strides in changing their policies about LGBT issues. I recommend the film for many reasons. It is not just about reconciling mainstream religion and homosexuality. It demonstrates that the LGBT community through their struggles can offer a guide to a deeper personal relationship with God rather than just going through the routine rituals of religion.

I doubt that either the opponents or supporters of the LGBT community will change their beliefs after seeing this movie, but it offers an opportunity for discussion that isn’t limited just to rehashing a few scriptures over and over again. The people in the movie experienced a process of discernment that not only enabled them to grow in character but also in faith.When our faith is challenged, it either grows or dies. Unfortunately, a lot of LGBT people have lost their faith because of these difficult challenges.

Kim Davis is Dead Wrong

We not only have freedom of religion in this country, we have freedom from religion. According to her oath of office, she certifies that the records are accurate and maintained in proper order. She does not certify that she personally approves of the records or endorses them. If as a matter of conscience, she believes that she cannot fulfill the duties of her office, then she should resign. That is her right, but she does not have the right to choose what law she will or will not obey. If everyone did that, the entire legal system would collapse.

In real terms, her actions and those of others are simply efforts to subvert the law by claiming religious freedom in the practice of her conscience. The record of her religious observance thus far has not been good so why is she suddenly becoming so pious? This clearly is a strategy of the Republicans to undermine the Supreme Court decision and to confuse the issues through legal wrangling in which the Court repeatedly has said that she has no merit or standing for appeal.

The Bill of Rights and legal precedence have been interpreted in numerous cases that there shall be separation of church and state, which not only means that the government can not impose a state religion, but also means that no religious institutions can impose their dogmas or persons their beliefs upon others or enact them as mandatory requirements to obtain basic civil rights. There are no religious tests for holding office, nor are there religious exceptions for not obeying the law.

The Constitution and legal precedence have established that federal law supersedes state or local law in most cases where the Federal Government has a primary interest. Equality before the law clearly is one of the foundations of our legal system, and when it is not observed then we have a corrupt and unjust system. The Supreme Court merely declared that this one minority couldn’t be excluded from having the same rights as other citizens. And because it addresses a fundamental right, then it must be equally applied under the law and cannot be over ridden by state law.

The Supreme Court decision does not address the issue of what churches or synagogues or mosques may or may not do when it comes to same-sex marriage. The rites and rituals of the church are beyond the purview of the court. Although the clergy are authorized to issue a marriage certificate, they are not restricted in what ceremony they may choose to use or to whom they may refuse to offer the ritual. The law applies only to public officials.

Kim Davis is an elected public official who has chosen to put herself above the law and thereby disqualify her for office. She cannot be fired; she only can be impeached and that is a very lengthy and expensive process. She claims she is taking a moral stand, but is it moral to disobey the law? Especially when you are a public official elected to uphold the law? This is a deliberate effort to avoid the implementation of the law and to exclude a protected minority as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court. We already have many abuses of our legal system, are we to tolerate one more abuse?