The Raleigh Rant

The Church and Homophobia

Some people use the Bible as a club rather than a guide and try to clobber people into changing and becoming Christians only by observing a strict set of beliefs or dogma. That approach doesn’t work because it just antagonizes people. It makes the people who are quoting the Bible feel more pious that they’re preaching the Gospel, but it’s bad news not good news. Jesus said to repent, but he applied that to everyone.

Several organizations have the word “reconcile’ in some form of their title, which implies dialogue or at least compromise. The mainstream Protestant denominations are in various stages of dialogue or discernment of how to deal with the sin of homosexuality. Of course, that starts with the basic assumption that it is a sin. So does it all comes down to interpretation of a handful of verses? No, not really. Homophobia presumes an attitude of whether to be welcoming and inclusive or exclusive and judgmental. Once you have decided that, it is a question of finding means to justify your assumptions.

I grew up in the church, and it’s a big part of who I am. I’m not going to let people run me off simply because they’re judgmental and hostile to me. I can quote the Bible as well as they can. But those kinds of arguments only confirm people’s original positions and create more hostility.

So, let’s play nice and just get along together? It takes a lot more work than that. Let’s start with a little empathy for our opponent’s understanding and worldview. A lot of hostility against the LGBTQ community is simply based upon fear. That’s why we’re encouraged to come out and became open in our orientation so that we’re not just the unknown or stereotypes. Because of the past sins of the church, many in the LGBTQ community are so hostile to any organized religion they can’t even hope for reconciliation.

It was a long struggle for me. Your family background, education, life experiences, and personality all factor into how you may or may not reconcile these conflicts. Sometimes they primarily are internal, and sometimes they are open, argumentative, or even life threatening. Dealing with conflict is difficult and requires persistence. The LGBTQ community and the church have been at odds for decades, but I see a little more openness on both sides so perhaps there is hope of reconciliation.

Equality for all

Kim Davis has become the poster child for the radical right’s backlash against same-sex marriage in the US. I refuse to use the term conservative Christians because these extremists defy every tenet of Christianity. We have many Christian denominations with varying beliefs and practices, but the extremists go beyond the bounds. Other countries have been far ahead of us in granting equal civil rights.

The facts are simple: she had neither the legal or moral right for her actions. As a three-time divorcee and an adulterer, she can claim no moral high ground or religious basis for her bigotry. The oath of office that she took offers no exceptions of her duties for religion. When she issues a marriage certificate, she does not personally approve the marriage. She merely certifies to the state that it is legal and the process is in order. Whether she may choose just to quietly resign or to assume the role of a movement leader and appeal for funds and more publicity may not be a personal decision. Those who would use her to promote their cause may impose it upon her.

It is too early yet to see how this media spectacle will play out. The divisive tone in the nation is inflamed by the media seeking controversy that plays to the extreme and absurd for attention. They’re not interested in real conversations about basic issues affecting our country such as war and peace, economic injustice, racism, refugees, and the oligarchy. These issues are too complex and don’t photograph well. We’ve already seen in the national political campaigns the media flock to whoever is the meanest and shouts the loudest. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are in command of reality or have a substantial platform. It’s just pure entertainment and not news. The reality shows have gone prime time, including the news segments on the cable networks.

Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and people can choose whether to obey the law or to disobey. We saw mass disobedience of the law during Prohibition, and the Constitutional amendment was repealed. Perhaps those in opposition are hoping eventually for a reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court decision and thus feel justified in disobeying the law. Perhaps they’re just angry and want to vent their anger in any way possible, including violence.

The real issue isn’t about same-sex marriage. It is about social and legal justice. It’s about equality before the law and that no laws should enshrine discrimination against minorities. It’s also about equal enforcement of the law without discrimination. We’re still struggling with that in terms of race, and the radical right is trying to reverse the gains of the past 60 years and take us back to the 1950’s. They demonize the poor and glorify the rich and thereby ignore all of the declarations of the Bible, including both the Old and New Testaments. They will use any means, including lies and distortions, to impose their theocracy upon a democratic nation. They would make us a flip-of-the coin compared with Iran.

Those who would appeal to our Founding Fathers also ignore the fact that the founders established not only the separation of church and state but also the protection from religion imposing upon the rights of the state and individuals. The folks who wrote our Constitution understood the mistakes of centuries of state-sponsored religion in other countries and offered us a unique opportunity for religious diversity and freedom of expression. You not only could be Catholic or Protestant, you could be Jewish or Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu. We welcomed people of all faiths and nationalities. Of course, it took 150 years to also include all races.

Let’s face it; the extremists have given all religions a bad reputation, not only in this country but also around the world. ISIS would try to take us back to the 8th Century or earlier. We have not yet seen that level of violence in the United States, but the KKK and others are ratcheting up the level of violence. Hopefully we will not return to the mass murders of the 1920s. Transgender people seem to have become the new primary target of prejudice. Our nation was founded upon equal opportunity for all; let’s hope that we can keep the dream alive.

North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

I am attending the first weekend of the annual North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival at the Carolina Theater in Durham. This is one of the biggest LGBT events in the Triangle, exceeded in numbers only by the annual spring GoRaleigh street fair that draws a large percentage of allies who come to join the fun.

We have moved out of the ghettos and are becoming mainstreamed into American society so why do we continue to need Gay Pride parades and festivals? First, we have yet to achieve full rights legally and are still discriminated against in spite of recent accomplishments in the courts. We need to push to cross the boundaries of homophobia not only in the courts and legislatures but also especially in our churches.

For generations we were shamed and rejected and hid in the relative safety of our bars and social clubs, and those years became part of our history and culture. We have a unique history that goes much further back than the United States, and many of us have forgotten or never knew of that history. It is a part of who we are and should be celebrated beyond just Stonewall.

Many of the films in this festival will never go into general theatrical release both because of their limited audience appeal but also because they are independently produced and distributed. They are not part of the giant media network, and without these festivals that happen all across the country they would have no audience. With no market, the writers, directors, and producers (usually only one or two people) would not be able to get funding or find story material. These films don’t have the giant market the porn industry does that is usually distributed directly via DVD or online.

What does it mean to a young gay man or lesbian to see a love story that reflects their secret dreams? How do transgender people feel when someone dares to tell their story honestly and with hope? What about parents who are struggling to accept the news that their children are LGBT? I certainly had few LGBT role models when I was a teenager or even a young adult struggling to find self-awareness and acceptance. If homosexuality was even dared to be mentioned, it always was in the context of perversion, and the characters were either sad, comic or evil.

So are these just gay propaganda promoting a lifestyle? That’s what opponents would have you believe. If we dare to tell a story with a happy ending or show a gay or lesbian couple in love, then we’re accused of flaunting ourselves and offending the public. The landmark film “Brokeback Mountain” is celebrating its 10th anniversary as one of the few that told a gay love story that appealed to the general market and was hugely successful. Of course, it had to end tragically to satisfy the critics, but then other love stories also often end that way also.

I’m no longer ashamed of being gay, and celebrating with others in these festivals is a joyful experience that I recommend to everyone.

Gay Lives Matter

Gay Lives Matter

In spite of all the controversy over the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” it is apparent even in a quick review of the daily news that people of color in America do not receive justice either from the police or our judicial system. I would not belittle the efforts to bring attention to this national problem that requires immediate corrections, but I would add a note of another minority group that often is overlooked in the criminal justice system.

Read more: Gay Lives Matter

So, what comes next?

So, what comes next?

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is legislation proposed in the U. S. Congress that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by employers with at least 15 employees. ENDA has been introduced in every Congress since 1994 except the 109th. Similar legislation has been introduced without passage since 1974. The cliché is “married on Sunday, fired on Monday and evicted on Tuesday.”

So what good does it do LGBT people if they can be married but still discriminated against in employment and public accommodation? Surely these were some of the most basic rights established in prior civil rights legislation. Will the backlash against same-sex marriage provide a continuing blockade of any federal legislation on these issues? I’m not a political scientist so I can’t speculate on the chances for passage any time soon, but I can state that I always have felt that this was our most basic need and should be a priority for LGBT advocates.

Unfortunately, in the midst of all the celebrations about the recent Supreme Court decision, the attitude appears to be that victory has been won so now we can just go home and enjoy life. The battle ground on same-sex marriage has just moved to the states, which is the reverse of what has occurred on job and housing discrimination. Many employers, cities, and states have non-discrimination rules and laws; it’s at the federal level where we’ve been stymied. Presidential executive orders have established safeguards for federal employees, and recently employees of federal contractors, but there are not even any guidelines much less regulations for most employers. Major corporations have been far ahead of the game for decades in promoting diversity as good business and good for business, but lots of smaller companies still operate at the whim of their owners. There are rules about age, race, gender, and national origin, but discrimination still exists even in these categories.

Although public opinion on discrimination against LGBT people has changed in recent years along with attitudes against same-sex marriage, there does not appear to be the same strong religious bias for job discrimination as there is against same-sex marriage. Many religious organizations still discriminate against LGBTs but don’t promote that policy for all employers. So it appears the politicians who the ones who are still lagging behind public opinion. We would not have same-sex marriage in the United States today except for lawsuits and court decisions. We have not had the same success with anti-discrimination lawsuits, such as the Hobby Lobby decision last yet.

Clearly the Republican Party still sees homosexuality, and particularly same-sex marriage, as a wedge issue that appeals to their base although it is questionable how long that can remain a successful campaign issue. The traditional divide between liberal and conservative voters doesn’t apply to the issue of LGBT discrimination, where many voters see it as a libertarian issue.

So are the major LGBT advocacy groups re-orienting their campaigns? It is too soon to say, or to guess what direction that may take. They have badly miscalculated on ENDA in the past. Internal conflicts among the groups over whether or not to include transgender issues or religious exceptions weakened a unified political front. Court decisions on same-sex marriage drove the change in the laws as well as public opinion, but that does not appear to be a viable option for job discrimination.