Hidden obstacles to equality
Violence against members of gender and sexual minorities is on the rise all the world. In the United States, LGBTQ youth are 5 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight/cis youth, and well over 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.
Bigotry is a big problem. But overt, in-your-face aggression is probably not the biggest challenge we face. “Silent bigots” enable oppression by their inaction. They may not think of themselves as bigots at all, but without them, far fewer LGBTQ people would have to live in fear.
Summer is Pride season
Every year, we celebrate the brave LGBTQ men and women who rioted for four days in June of 1969, battling New York City police with bricks, broken bottles, fists, and teeth. We commemorate our fellow queer people who took to the streets to fight — insisting they must not be treated as criminals for daring to drink and dance together in Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn.
We’ve come a long way since those sultry summer nights in lower Manhattan, but we have a long way to go — perhaps further than we’ve come in the 50 years since Stonewall ignited a bonfire of righteous rebellion.
We’re battling centuries of entrenched cultural assumptions about what it means to be queer — about how how it’s bad, dirty, and shameful to experience minority sexual orientation of gender identity.
We’re embroiled in a fierce culture war
We’ve been Othered for centuries in much of the world, treated as outcasts, and persecuted relentlessly. Why? By a series of unfortunate historical accidents, Christianity began to treat us as pariahs shortly after it was born, spreading our Othering into Europe and eventually sending missionaries around the globe to export persecution.
When Mohammed founded Islam, he copied many Christian ideas, including condemnation of same-sex love. Early Islamic culture was not particularly homophobic, but in competition with Christianity, it eventually became so.
The battle lines of our war for equality, acceptance, and peaceful existence most often face the forces of conservative Christianity and Islam, which in today’s world are usually the loudest enemies of human decency and ordinary morality with respect to queer folk.
Evangelical Christians, the Roman Catholic hierarchy, the Mormon Church, and Islamic extremists are our clearest enemies. They plainly and loudly call for our stigmatization, working hard to leverage political power to exclude us from social equality and to hurt us.
Conservative Christians are OVERT homophobic bigots
For example, according to Dignity USA, “Progressive” Pope Francis insists that gay couples can’t be considered real families.
Just weeks before World Meeting of Families 2018, a Vatican event that has been plagued with mixed messages about whether same-sex couples and families of LGBTQI people will be welcome, Pope Francis projected a very narrow view of what family is. In remarks to the Italian group Forum delle Famiglie, the Pope is reported to have said, “It is painful to say this today: People speak of varied families, of various kinds of family,” but “the family [as] man and woman in the image of God is the only one.”
In fact, the Catholic Church routinely teaches school children in official documents that we LGBTQ people are depraved, disordered, and morally evil.
Evangelical Christians and the Catholic leadership differ on some points of theology, but they’re united in their condemnation, stigmatization, and persecution of LGBTQ people. Evangelical Christians in the United States work energetically every day to pass laws to oppress us.
Obviously, we must oppose them. We must not tolerate being Othered and stigmatized.
I wrote once about how I grew up in an evangelical Christian world where racist bigotry was preached routinely from pulpits across the United States — justified as divinely mandated and biblically supported.
I wrote that there is no moral distinction between racist bigots and anti-LGBTQ bigots — no matter what their religions tell them. I wrote that Christians who judge and condemn queer people as sinners are precisely morally equivalent to members of the KKK.
A reader’s comment, however, got me thinking:
“I would like share my experience growing up in a liberal Protestant denomination that touts inclusiveness. The homophobia there is latent and much more insidious. The difference is, the religious bigot will tell you to your face. Homophobia, racism, sexism, misogyny are institutionalized from an early age. The ones I don’t trust are the ones who are silent and pretend there isn’t a problem.”
This comment reminds me that even in progressive Christian circles, so much work needs to be done. Real stigma remains, though actual affirmation and acceptance of queer people among liberal Christians exists.
I know, because I’ve experienced it
When I lived in Montreal I was close friends with an Anglican vicar who accepted me without moral qualm or reservation, publicly affirming and insisting that we queer people do not sin when we have sex. He accepted my partner and me as fully equal — unconditionally.
Sadly, this is often not the case among progressive Christians
I’m reminded of a protracted public dialogue I engaged in a couple of years ago with an Anglican priest in Vancouver. He considered himself to be both progressive and an ally to LGBTQ people.
He acted shocked and appalled, however, when I called him out on his blatant homophobic rhetoric. Commenting on one of my articles, the priest told me that he considered it his moral duty to respect the beliefs of fellow Christians who sincerely hold that LGBTQ people are sinners.
I called him a bigot, challenging him to become a more moral person
“But I don’t believe that, myself,” he protested. “I’m not a bigot. I just can’t expect everyone to agree with me. That’s not realistic. We can’t divide the body of Christ over this issue.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Christ wants us to perpetuate evil, does he? Is that what your Christ is about?”
Over the course of several weeks, he finally came around, admitting that his position was morally indefensible, and that he must not respect or tolerate exclusionary, stigmatizing beliefs.
Sadly, he’s in a minority, even among progressive Christians, who all too often sacrifice morality on the altar of practicality. They enable bigotry by refusing to condemn it.
They go along with stigmatization and hateful labeling of queer people out of a desire to “get along” and out of the absurd notion that all human ideas are worthy of respect simply because they’re ideas.
- Poland erupted in homophobic riots this summer after Catholic bishops egged on opposition to Pride parades and events.
- Transgender women are murdered at an alarming rate in the United States.
- Medication for HIV prevention and treatment that could end the epidemic is still not universally available or affordable. AIDS rages on, especially among trans and gay people of color in the southern US, due to racism, homophobia, and transphobia baked into our healthcare system.
- Most LGBTQ people in the US have no protection under the law with respect to employment, housing, and public accomodation. While a large majority of Americans support the federal Equality Act, conservative religious opposition has kept it stalled politically.
- LGBTQ people all over the US struggle for the right to foster or adoptchildren or to have their children born outside the US recognized as citizens.
- Violence against LGBTQ people around the the world is shockingly high, but the United States has virtually shut off the possibility of political asylum for queer people who fear for their lives.
- Transgender womebiun in the United States are being beaten and killed.
- Lesbians in Malaysia are being publicly flogged.
- Queer adolescents all over the world are self harming and attempting suicide.
- Good, decent human beings everywhere are living shamed, empty lives.
Ideas about LGBTQ people being immoral sinners are ultimately responsible for untold amounts of human tragedy.
Yes, conservative Christians are especially guilty. The extreme views of evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics are obviously over the top and unacceptable to civilized people.
But quiet bigots do as much damage. People who insist that bigotry must be respected and tolerated do every bit as much harm as religious folks who overtly call for our stigmatization and push to legislate our inequality.
Most religious Americans oppose homophobia
According to Dartmouth College religion professor Randall Balmer, speaking to NBC News, while a small segment of the religious right has “elevated sexuality into a litmus test of faith,” those beliefs are out-of-touch with most religious Americans:
Most religious groups in the U.S. support same-sex marriage, according to a 2017 report by the Public Religion Research Institute. The study found approximately two-thirds of white mainline Protestants (67 percent), white Catholics (66 percent), Orthodox Christians (66 percent) and Latino Catholics (65 percent) favor same-sex marriage, along with 77 percent of Jewish Americans, 51 percent of Muslims, 80 percent of Buddhists and 75 percent of Hindus. Opposition to gay marriage, according to the report, “is now confined to a few of the most conservative Christian religious traditions,” including white evangelical Protestants. The study also found majorities of nearly every major religious group in the U.S. now support legal protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Americans.
Are you a quiet bigot?
Are you among a majority of Americans who don’t have a problem with LGBTQ people, but who stay silent when friends, colleagues, or religious leaders oppose full equality?
Do you enable persecution of LGBTQ people by silently going along with theologies and belief systems that Other and exclude us?
Do you tolerate hateful language that labels us as immoral because you think ideas must be respected?
I challenge you to become a better person. I challenge to become more moral. I challenge you to stand up for true equality. All it takes for evil to prevail, after all, is for a few good people to do nothing. Don’t be one of those few people.