Posts Tagged With: homosexuality

The Straight State

Straight State

Canaday, Margot.  The Straight State: Sexuality & Citizenship in Twentieth Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.

Subject:  The simultaneous formation of the American bureaucratic state and the formation of a homosexual identity through the notion of sexual citizenship.

Main Points:  This book is what Canaday calls a “social history of the state,” meaning that she believes we can study the actions of the state itself by studying “what officials do” (5).  Ultimately, she is studying how, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the US state became increasingly concerned with the existence of ‘sexual perverts’ and ‘gender inverts’ within its borders.  As time went on, this aversion to a more general gender inversion became an obsession with a specific form of being: homosexuality, an identity that the state itself played a fundamental role in defining.  As Canaday makes clear, the state began to define citizenship and homosexuality as mutually exclusive terms: one could be one or the other, but not both.  The bureaucratic state turned these views into reality by implementing policies that “established individuals who exhibited gender inversion or engaged in homoerotic behavior as either outside of or degraded within citizenship” (13).

Basically, Canaday’s main argument is that the growth of the bureaucratic state went hand-in-hand with its surveillance of sexual and gender inversions and eventual creation of a hetero-homo binary.  In order to substantiate this claim, she focuses on three spheres of the modern US state: immigration, the military, and welfare.  Between 1900 and 1924, the US federal government had to decide what to do with the influx of European immigrants coming into its borders.  Canaday argues that the bureaucrats used the label of “perverse” to map out and decide who would be allowed into the country.  Supposedly perverse individuals, such as effeminate men, were denied entrance into the US because, being perverse (gender inverted), they were more likely – almost guaranteed – to be weak and dependent on the state for support.  Women were targeted for being prostitutes since ‘being dependent’ was considered normal for a woman (26).  By the 1950s, however, the old understanding of “perverts” or “inverts” was replaced by a more systematic, and simplified binary of hetero/homosexual (you were either hetero or homo; there was no middle ground – a single same-sex action could brand you as a homosexual for life).  The McCarran-Walter Act barred all homosexuals from entering the United States, and Canaday calls this act the “culmination of nearly a century of federal regulation of homosexuality – a consolidation that definitively made homosexual sex…irrefutable evidence of homosexual identity” (216).  Through its surveillance and bureaucratic power, the state had turned same-sex sex into a defining characteristic of a deeper personal identity. 

She also looks at the role of the military in the creation of a “straight state.”  By the First World War, the military began to see homosexuality as a psycho-pathology and thus, they followed the lead of psychiatrists and began to do screenings to weed out homosexuals (66).  The ‘active’ or penetrative man in homosexual sex had been traditionally excused for his transgression, because he had not inverted his dominant gender role – in other words, his masculinity (gender) was still intact since he had not allowed himself to be penetrated by another man.  However, under the new view of homosexuality as an illness, it was object choice that was the sole factor in defining someone as homosedual.  In other words, if a man “chose” another man as his object of sexual desire, both men were automatically homosexual; gender (or more accurately, the inversion of gender roles) was no longer the defining factor.  So, afterwards, all men involved in homo-sex were discharged.  This psychological definition led to a hardening of the hetero/homo binary, and this shift affected women as well.  Defining the parameters of female homosexuality became less important than the fact that it was homosexuality – and thus the same as male homosexuality (187-188).

Her discussion of welfare and the state’s definition of sexuality and gender is centered on the crisis of the Great Depression and the definition of dependency.  At first we see the same connection between perversion and dependency as we did with immigration.  Civilian Conservation Corps camps were built partially to instill masculine characteristics in drifting, out of work teenagers.  Allowing them to wander around jobless would supposedly assure that they would sink further into weakness, degeneracy, and dependence on the state.  Therefore, the state had a financial motivation to help make sure that its male citizens upheld traditionally masculine gender roles.  It did not help that CCC camps were sex-segregated and many homoerotic encounters came from prolonged stays in these all-male camps where masculinity (hard work, being the bread winner) was exalted.

Canaday also talks about one of the most powerful ways the state defined homosexuality through its bureaucracy: administering veterans’ benefits.  “Blue discharges” were given to release solders from military service without a full “dishonorable discharge,” but under a stigma nonetheless.  Men with a blue discharge were ineligible for benefits from the Veterans’ Administration or under the GI Bill; the common denominator was that the blue discharges were predominantly given to men who were accused of having sex with other men.  Therefore, the blue discharge (and its denials of benefits) became associated with homosexuality.  Therefore, she argues that through bureaucratic mechanisms like a blue discharge, the state effectively created a “closet,” a reason for men to hide their desires for other men.  The state’s medicalized vocabulary also led same-sex desiring men and women to think of themselves as a particular type of man or woman who would have to hide in order to get state benefits.  Therefore, the state “institutionalized heterosexuality” (171).

Conclusions & My Remarks:  Canaday’s book makes several important contributions, and it reminds me of David Johnson’s the Lavender Scare (2004) in that it shows how the federal government first had to define homosexuality before it could police it.  So, “homosexual,” “gay,” and “lesbian” were not just grass root identities which the government reacted to.  Instead, the government was instrumental in defining homosexual, gay, and lesbian as identities.  I think she was convincing in showing that a more simplified (easier to police) understanding of sexual desire emerged – one that was based on sexual object choice rather than gender inversion (moreover, homosexuality was turned into a medical issue and thus under the domain of the state).

So, I think Canaday’s book is good at showing the how, but I’m still not clear on the why?  Why did, in the twentieth century, the US state become so interested in defining sexuality?  I’m guessing it was because it wanted more power over its citizens, and in order to do that, it had to define who its citizens were.  So, now we’re talking about Foucault’s biopower – the state’s power over life and the reproduction of life.  Homosexuals were not denied sexual citizenship (or legal citizenship) because of any moral or religious grounds, but because they were seen as a degenerative threat to the state.  So, in this case, I can see where a growing bureaucracy would go hand-in-hand with defining sexuality.

The idea that the state helped create homosexual identity(ies) is really interesting, and helpful to our understanding of LGBT history.  I think what I got out of this is that the state helped form a politicized homosexual identity through its definition of and attempt to police homosexuals.  Johnson (Lavender Scare) also shows this:  by denying political & welfare rights to homosexuals, people (who were slowly and because of a myriad of reasons, starting to think of themselves as a common, homosexual group) began to see themselves as a political minority that would have to fight for political rights.  So, the state inadvertently created gay rights activists.

For more books on the history of sexuality, see my full list of book reviews. 

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Coming Out Under Fire

Berube - Coming out under Fire

 

Berube, Allan.  Coming Out Under Fire:  The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II.  New York: Free Press, 1990.

Subject:  An examination of World War II’s repercussions on the development of a gay identity and subculture in the United States.

Main Arguments:  Berube focuses primarily on military life for gay men and women during the Second World War, and spends less time on the post-war period.  One may expect that a history of gays in the military would be one dominated by oppression, but Berube shows that, while there was plenty of oppression to go around, this period was actually a vital stage in the development of a gay identity and subculture.  The history Berube tells is one in which the gay women and men acknowledge institutional oppression, but then go on to navigate the system and carve out a niche for themselves.

As other scholars have shown (John D’Emilio in particular), the WWII era was one of mass movement; individuals were shipped off to distant places and forced to interact with people who were different from themselves.  But, this movement also allowed for people who may have felt different to meet others who were also “different.”  More specifically, Berube argues that the mass mobilization of WWII allowed gay men and women (who had either volunteered or who were drafted into the service) to achieve a level of anonymity by leaving the watchful eye of family and friends.  This granted them the courage to act on feelings that usually had to be suppressed, allowing them to experiment with their desires.  Moreover, it’s not insignificant that the armed forces were single-sex communities; worlds were created in which men only interacted with men, and women only with women.

Before the WWII period, individual homosexual acts were persecuted by the military.  But, Berube argues that reformers and humanitarian psychiatrists were successful in WWII in convincing the military leaders that homosexuality was not a criminal act, but instead a medical disorder.  Psychiatrists pushed for this reform because they felt it would lead to more humane punishment, or an honorable discharge from the military instead of prison time or a dishonorable discharge.  Instead, what happened was social isolation, dishonorable discharges, times in hospital wings, or even confinement to “Queer Stockades,” where they were forced to eat together under armed guard, sleep with the lights on, and other such conditions.  But as mentioned before, this is not a history solely of oppression.

Berube shows that the need for manpower during the war had drastic effects for the military’s treatment of gays and lesbians.  First and foremost, the military simply needed soldiers to fight, so leaders were more willing to overlook even cases of blatant homosexuality.  In fact, Berube shows that sometimes intimate bonds between the soldiers were seen as helpful to the war effort by forging camaraderie among the men.

But the military’s views towards gays also created a set of unintended consequences.  First, because homosexuality was now officially defined as a personality disorder (and therefore potentially affecting a specific set of the population), the military needed a regimented, formal, anti-homosexual policy.  But this then helped to create homosexuals as a specific group, helping to form “gay” as a set identity, rather than just a set of acts.  Being labeled as member of a group also allowed gay men and women to think of themselves as belonging to a community whose underlying connection was their gayness.  Gay men in particular began using “camp” and lingo to develop a semi-secret identity within the military culture.  Berube depicts that “drag shows” in the military allowed gay men to openly expand their secret subculture.  In a world of only men, female characters had to be played by men as well, and Berube says that, “The joke was on the unaware members of the audience – a subplot about homosexuality was being created right before their eyes and they didn’t even know it” (72).

In the final chapters, Berube shows that changes of discourse during WWII, along with a growing awareness of gay people as a group, set the stage for the heightened scrutiny of homosexuality after the war.  But these changes were not all liberating or repressive, but simply changes in policy, language, and social spaces, ultimately leading to the “redefinition of homosexuality as a political issue” (253).  Different groups then used this new discourse for either gay witch-hunts or the starts of gay activism.

Gay women soldiers actually get ample attention in his book, though it is less than gay men receive.  Berube explains that this stems from differential treatment of male and female homosexuality.  For one thing, the stereotype of the masculine dyke often lent itself to the belief that gay women would make good soldiers (unlike the stereotypical effeminate male homosexual).  Moreover, the military leadership wanted to keep any discoveries of gay women in its rank as secret as possible, because they were simultaneously campaigning that if women joined the military, they would “remain” womanly, feminine, and thus able to return to being good wives and mothers when the war was over.  Berube also notes that female sexuality was also easier to mask because of the greater social acceptance of women expressing physical affection to each other.

My comments: First of all, Berube does an excellent job of showing how World War II was a watershed moment in gay history, essentially acting as a “coming out” moment for countless individuals across America.  But more specifically, I like that he shows the power of discourse, the power of words, even to create unintended consequences.  While the military sought to repress homosexuality, it first had to define it (and thus create an character type that hadn’t existed as such before).  This discourse of “homosexuals” allowed men and women to identify themselves as a homosexual, a specific type of person.  Also, in a slightly different context, the psychiatric evaluation of homosexuals that resulted from the shift in identification led to conclusions that 1) not all gay men were effeminate, and that most of them were actually good soldiers; 2) most men identifying as gay liked their own behavior and didn’t want to be “cured”.  And lastly, I like that Berube didn’t get stuck in using binary definitions of “gay/straight,” but instead showed that individuals created a myriad of identities in between the two.

This is one of the best history books that I’ve ever read! I simply love it.

For more books on the history of sexuality, see my full list of book reviews. 

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Inverts & Experts

Gender-_A_Useful_Category_of_Historical_AnalysisRuehl, Sonja.  “Inverts and Experts: Radclyffe Hall and the Lesbian Identity” in Newton, Judith & Deborah Rosenfelt, eds.  Feminist Criticism & Social Change: Sex, Class, and Race in Literature.  New York: Methuen, 1985.  pp: 165-180

Subject:  An examination of the portrayal of lesbians in Radclyffe Hall’s novel The Well of Loneliness.

Main Points: According to Ruehl, the 1928 publishing of The Well of Loneliness and the resulting obscenity trial “put lesbianism on the map” in England (165).  Before that, lesbianism had only been discussed and understood in medical terms.  The main authority behind this medical discourse was sexologist Havelock Ellis.  His research helped transform understandings of lesbianism from being a moral, chosen sin into a biological state of being that couldn’t be helped by the lesbian.  Therefore, lesbianism became a social problem instead of a sin.  Because lesbians couldn’t do anything about their innate homosexuality, homosexuality should be tolerated (though Ruehl points out that Ellis himself never went as far as campaigning for tolerance).

Through this medical-psychological discourse, so-called deviant sexualities are organized into a scientific taxonomy or classification system (166).  Moreover, these new, permanent categories not only make up a person’s identity; they are what defines it.  Foucault points out that this new classification establishes new power structures and forms of power, which can often be used by the “normal” segments of society to suppress deviant identities.  However, this creation and definition of identities also allows for the creation of a “reverse discourse.”  In other words, once homosexuals are defined, individuals identifying as homosexuals can then form groups under the term as well as challenge, tweak, or completely redefine what the term means.  Ruehl sees Hall’s The Well of Loneliness as an example of a reverse discourse.  While Hall does not challenge Ellis’ discourse directly, she begins to open up space for other lesbians to speak for themselves by the very act of writing the novel about lesbian life and speaking as one herself (170).  This allows room for the development of a reverse discourse.

Ruehl believes that, for the most part, Hall’s novel follows Ellis’ portrayal of “true” lesbians as “congenital inverts.”  That is, they are masculine and desire feminine women.  Ellis seemed to have trouble defining feminine lesbians and wondered if they were “true” inverts or not, since they were not masculine.  He explained them away by claiming some people could be tempted by homosexuality.  Hall’s main character, Stephen, is a masculine lesbian who falls in love with several feminine women, but ultimately wishes to spend her life with Mary, a girl from a lower class.  In the end, Stephen “allows” Mary to wed a man so that she would not have to go through a harsh life.  Several other examples like this (like the point that true inverts are sterile) are meant to illicit pity for lesbians, thus making the book a political act.

Class also plays into the story because Stephen comes from the aristocratic class, and as such, their values are placed in the hero status.  Honor and “doing the right thing” (including letting Mary wed a man and live a normal life) are noted as praiseworthy.  But that also goes along with Ellis’ claim that homosexuals should become the highest or best part of society.  Since they are/should be sterile, lesbians should be able to cultivate a superior character and achieve moral excellence (173).

My Comments: This was a very interesting chapter and allowed me to finally know what The Well of Loneliness was all about.  I also thought Foucault’s/Ruehl’s idea of “reverse discourse” was pretty helpful in explaining how individuals were able to use medical discourse to come up with an identity that they saw as more fitting.

For more books on the history of sexuality, see my full list of book reviews, here. 

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Hidden from History

Duberman

Duberman, Martin, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr., eds.  Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay & Lesbian Past.  New York: Meridian, 1989. 

Subject:  An anthology of 29 essays on gay and lesbian history, from the ancient world to the post-World War II era.

Summary & Main Points from the Introduction:  The introduction is actually a helpful, if brief, historiographical essay on the main trends of the study of homosexuality in the past 150 years.  I don’t want to summarize it all here, but I do want to point out the two developments that the editors believe have led to an “unprecedented outpouring” of work done on gay and lesbian history since the 1970s.  First has been the success of a lesbian and gay movement in creating a more tolerant climate in which scholarship could be done.  They also note that activists – like Jonathan Katz – were among the first to do this research.  The second development has been a change in the notions of what constitutes acceptable topics for researchers.  LGBT topics and sexuality and gender have been “approved” as part of a larger movement that made social history acceptable.

After scholars began reclaiming (or “finding”) the “gays and lesbians” in the past, they started focusing on specific themes: the oppression of homosexuality through politics, morals, and through pathologization.  Some scholars, though, began focusing on the oppressed subcultures themselves and the way that they resisted oppression.

The introduction then summarizes the impact of social constructionism on our understanding of (homo)sexuality, though Carole Vance warned against the “oversimplified and undifferentiated use of the theory,” insisting that just because the modern homosexual or “gay” person didn’t exist in the past, we should not deduce that no type of identity based around homosexual acts ever existed.  In other words, “Most recent work argues that the homosexual role, as we currently think of it, developed only in the modern period, but it also establishes that the modern role is not the only homosexual role possible” (9).

The most interesting part of the introduction – and the most helpful for me in my research – is when the editors discuss the “unusually” close relationship between professional historians, gay rights activism, and a collective identity.   “The gay and lesbian communities have increasingly recognized that some of the most important issues facing, agitating, and sometimes dividing them today, personally and collectively, are best addressed historically” (11).  Because their past has been ignored or denied, gay people’s “hunger for knowledge of their past is strong.  Having struggled to create a public presence for themselves in the world today, they seek to reclaim their historical presence.  For many, gay history helps constitute the gay community by giving it a tradition, helps women and men validate and understand who they are by showing them who they have been” (12).

Selection of essays from the book:

Robert Padgug, “Sexual Matters:  Rethinking Sexuality in History”

Denying that the categories of sexual behavior currently familiar to us (hetero/homosexual) are predetermined and universal, Padgug argues that our sexuality is neither a fixed essence nor even, necessarily, an individual’s innermost realit. To the contrary, human sexuality, unlike animal sexuality, is never more than a “set of potentialities,” rich and ever-varying, tied above all to whatever is currently viewed as social reality.  Just as social reality changes radically through time, so do the sexual categories that reflect it.

Vivien W. Ng, “Homosexuality and the State in Late Imperial China”

In the seventeenth century, China experienced a burst of public interest in male homosexuality.  Confucian scholars made references to it in their jottings, and novelists and playwrights celebrated it in their works.  This open discussion of homosexuality led to a conservative backlash by the new Manchu rulers of the new Qing dynasty.  Responding to the widespread perception that homosexuality had become “rampant” in China, the Qing government, in 1740, decreed that consensual sodomy between adults was a punishable offense.  Ng’s essay first establishes the social milieu of seventeenth-century China, then explores descriptions of homosexual love in literature and the relations of such descriptions to Confucian ideology, and finally, analyzes the response o Chinese officialdom.

Randolph Trumbach, “The Birth of the Queen:  Sodomy and the Emergence o Gender Equality in Modern Culture, 1660-1750”

Trumbach argues that a major shift occurred in the conventions governing male homosexual relations in Europe’s large cities around 1700.  Whereas before then, many citizens of cities such as London accepted the existence of adult male “rakes” who had sex with both women and boys, after 1700 they were increasingly likely to think of homosexual behavior as the forbidden activity of a deviant, effeminate minority of adult males.  Groups of such men actually appeared about then, and were best known because of raids on the “molly houses” where they gathered.  Trumbach argues that their emergence should be understood in the context of a growing gender equality between men and women (equality in the new, heterosexual norm, with the deviant being “the other.”)

James D. Steakley, “Iconography of a Scandal:  Political Cartoons and the Eulenburg Affair in Wilhelmin Germany”

From 1907 to 1909, Imperial Germany was rocked by a series of courts-martial concerned with homosexual conduct in the army as well as five courtroom trials that turned on the homosexuality of prominent members of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s entourage and cabinet.  National honor was palpably at stake in the Eulenburg Affair, as it had come to be known.  While it was unfolding, the scandal led to an unprecedentedly detailed discussion homosexual practices in the German and even foreign press, including a wealth of (anti-)gay images in political cartoons.  These representations provide vivid insights into the nation’s values, anxieties, and cultural norms, revealing that homophobia was yoked with anti-Semitism and antifeminism as part of a broader antimodernist backlash that ultimately led to Germany’s entry into WWI.  Yet, at the same time, increased public awareness of homosexuality undoubtedly caused some individuals to reconceptualize their sexual activities and thus contributed to the making of modern homosexuals.

George Chauncey, Jr., “Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion?  Homosexual Identities and the Construction of Sexual Boundaries in the World War I Era”

Using evidence generated by a navy investigation of homosexuality at the Newport Naval Training Station in 1919-1920, Chauncey reconstructs the social organization and self-understanding of homosexually active sailors.  Newport’s sexual culture was surprisingly different from our own, and Chauncey shows how large numbers of sailors were able to have sex with men identified as “queers” without its affecting their image of themselves as “normal” men.  This is due to a highly developed and varied gay subculture in which multiple identities (queer, fairy, trade, etc) could allow some men – usually playing the dominant and masculine roll – could have sex men (of another category) without becoming “a homosexual” themselves.  Also striking is his analysis of the relative insignificance of medical discourse in shaping homosexual identities, the class differences in sexual ideology, and the diversity of sexual cultures.

Erwin Haeberle, “Swastika, Pink Traingle, and Yellow Star:  the Destruction of Sexology and the Persecution of Homosexuals in Nazi Germany”

This one is particularly central to my own research, though it wasn’t particularly enlightening.  Haeberle shows how several forms of discrimination culminated in Magnus Hirschfeld: he was Jewish, homosexual, and a socialist.  His work in sexology put yet another target on his back, because Haeberle argues that sexology was focused primarily on critiquing the prevailing sexual attitudes and traditional assumptions about sex (while the Nazis were trying to re-implement traditional roles).  His discussion of the actual persecution of homosexuals is rather accurate – though he admits that activists and early historians who didn’t have access to Third Reich records produced an exaggerated narrative.  Yet, he also falls in the trap of taking the Nazis at their word.  He presents statements from the Party about their views on homosexuality, without actually examining what was happening on the ground.  So, while this is a good start for this research, it needs to be taken further (which is what I intend to do!)

John D’Emilio, “Gay Politics and Community in San Francisco since World War II

In this essay, he picks up a tradition of community history by focusing on San Francisco, a city especially identified with the gay experience.  He explains how San Fran became a “gay space” – one reason being men and women discharged from the military for homosexuality did not want to return home to face the stigma, so they stayed and helped contribute to a forming community.  He adds that the repression of the postwar decade heightened consciousness of belonging to a group.  D’Emilio makes it clear that the emergence of San Francisco as a gay space, and eventually as a hotbed of gay activism can only be understood in lieu of larger social changes at the time.  San Francisco was home to other radical movement, like the beat/hippies, as well as a literary tradition that questioned traditional moral values.  Gays and lesbians felt more at home in this liberal atmosphere.  As the community grew, the consciousness of community led to political activism, and the activists borrowed from the women’s lib, black power, and civil rights movements.  Backlash from the New Right provided the stimulus of the potential of the politically active gays and lesbians (which were just a minority of the gay and lesbian community) into a force with real power.

My Comments:

Overall, I think it’s a helpful book, and there definitely needed to be an anthology of gay and lesbian history by 1990.  The introduction is helpful in tracing the major trends in the field, and each of the essays raise important questions about essentialism vs. constructionism and the relationship between medical knowledge, sexuality, and politics.

Unfortunately, this is a very male-dominated book.  It was also a very Western book.  It would have been greatly improved if there was more work dedicated to the unique lesbian experience, as well as the multiple different ways in which same-sex desire has been understood in non-Western societies.

For more books on the history of sexuality, see my list of reviews, HERE. 

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The Christian Case for Gay Marriage

I’m done fighting people on what the Bible does or doesn’t say about homosexuality and gay marriage, because I think people that use the Bible as a weapon to discriminate are simply doing so to cover up their own prejudices.  And so, it’s hard to have a decent conversation with someone who thinks their prejudices are backed up by the word of God.  But I did come across this article by a professor of law (a Christian one at that), who doesn’t just pick and choose which parts of the Bible he reads.  He says that it really doesn’t matter if Christians believe homosexuality is a sin or not; what matters is that they should spread God’s love and acceptance (“we don’t have the moral authority to deny anyone the blessings of a holy institution”), and let God sort it out later if he so feels he needs to.  Just a few Bible verses before I post the article: 

Matthew 7:1-4:  “Do not judge, lest you too be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  

John 8:7 – “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” 

1 Corinthians 13:13:  “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.” 

Matthew 22:36-40:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  And Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like this:  Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”    

And now for Professor Osler’s article: 

Editor’s NoteMark Osler is a Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

By Mark Osler, Special to CNN (original article here).

I am a Christian, and I am in favor of gay marriage. The reason I am for gay marriage is because of my faith.

What I see in the Bible’s accounts of Jesus and his followers is an insistence that we don’t have the moral authority to deny others the blessing of holy institutions like baptism, communion, and marriage. God, through the Holy Spirit, infuses those moments with life, and it is not ours to either give or deny to others.

A clear instruction on this comes from Simon Peter, the “rock” on whom the church is built. Peter is a captivating figure in the Christian story. Jesus plucks him out of a fishing boat to become a disciple, and time and again he represents us all in learning at the feet of Christ.

During their time together, Peter is often naïve and clueless – he is a follower, constantly learning.

After Jesus is crucified, though, a different Peter emerges, one who is forceful and bold. This is the Peter we see in the Acts of the Apostles, during a fevered debate over whether or not Gentiles should be baptized. Peter was harshly criticized for even eating a meal with those who were uncircumcised; that is, those who did not follow the commands of the Old Testament.

Peter, though, is strong in confronting those who would deny the sacrament of baptism to the Gentiles, and argues for an acceptance of believers who do not follow the circumcision rules of Leviticus (which is also where we find a condemnation of homosexuality).

His challenge is stark and stunning: Before ordering that the Gentiles be baptized Peter asks “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”

None of us, Peter says, has the moral authority to deny baptism to those who seek it, even if they do not follow the ancient laws. It is the flooding love of the Holy Spirit, which fell over that entire crowd, sinners and saints alike, that directs otherwise.

It is not our place, it seems, to sort out who should be denied a bond with God and the Holy Spirit of the kind that we find through baptism, communion, and marriage. The water will flow where it will.

Intriguingly, this rule will apply whether we see homosexuality as a sin or not. The water is for all of us. We see the same thing at the Last Supper, as Jesus gives the bread and wine to all who are there—even to Peter, who Jesus said would deny him, and to Judas, who would betray him.

The question before us now is not whether homosexuality is a sin, but whether being gay should be a bar to baptism or communion or marriage.

The answer is in the Bible. Peter and Jesus offer a strikingly inclusive form of love and engagement. They hold out the symbols of Gods’ love to all. How arrogant that we think it is ours to parse out stingily!

I worship at St. Stephens, an Episcopal church in Edina, Minnesota. There is a river that flows around the back and side of that church with a delightful name: Minnehaha Creek. That is where we do baptisms.

The Rector stands in the creek in his robes, the cool water coursing by his feet, and takes an infant into his arms and baptizes her with that same cool water. The congregation sits on the grassy bank and watches, a gentle army.

At the bottom of the creek, in exactly that spot, is a floor of smooth pebbles. The water rushing by has rubbed off the rough edges, bit by bit, day by day. The pebbles have been transformed by that water into something new.

I suppose that, as Peter put it, someone could try to withhold the waters of baptism there. They could try to stop the river, to keep the water from some of the stones, like a child in the gutter building a barrier against the stream.

It won’t last, though. I would say this to those who would withhold the water of baptism, the joy of worship, or the bonds of marriage: You are less strong than the water, which will flow around you, find its path, and gently erode each wall you try to erect.

The redeeming power of that creek, and of the Holy Spirit, is relentless, making us all into something better and new.

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Secretary Clinton’s Speech in Recognition of Intl. Human Rights Day

On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a historic speech at the United Nations in Geneva, discussing the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  While applauding the forging of such a document (in 1948) and its success in helping to achieve equality and dignity for many minority groups across the globe, she acknowledged that there is still one minority that is consistently left out of the push for equality:  the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender community.

This address focuses on the LGBT community in particular, but so many things she says apply to all human beings on this Earth.  Indeed, Secretary Clinton proclaimed that, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

Her message was powerful, succinct and clear.  Take the time to watch all 30 minutes of the speech.   Some of my favorite lines are below, but then I will also provide the transcript of her whole speech.

“No practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us.  Rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights.  Indeed our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings.  

Minorities can never achieve the majorities necessary for political change.  So when any part of humanity is sidelined, the rest of us cannot sit on the sidelines.  When we see denials and abuses of human rights and fail to act, that sends the message to these deniers and abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for their actions.  But when we do act, we send a powerful moral message.”  

That made me think of a couple of different quotes:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

and

“Sometimes we must interfere.  When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Whenever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”  – Elie Wiesel

 

Full text of the speech (thanks to the U.S. Department of State’s website): 

“Remarks in Recognition of International Human Rights Day”

Good evening, and let me express my deep honor and pleasure at being here. I want to thank Director General Tokayev and Ms. Wyden along with other ministers, ambassadors, excellencies, and UN partners. This weekend, we will celebrate Human Rights Day, the anniversary of one of the great accomplishments of the last century.

 

Beginning in 1947, delegates from six continents devoted themselves to drafting a declaration that would enshrine the fundamental rights and freedoms of people everywhere. In the aftermath of World War II, many nations pressed for a statement of this kind to help ensure that we would prevent future atrocities and protect the inherent humanity and dignity of all people. And so the delegates went to work. They discussed, they wrote, they revisited, revised, rewrote, for thousands of hours. And they incorporated suggestions and revisions from governments, organizations, and individuals around the world.

At three o’clock in the morning on December 10th, 1948, after nearly two years of drafting and one last long night of debate, the president of the UN General Assembly called for a vote on the final text. Forty-eight nations voted in favor; eight abstained; none dissented. And the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. It proclaims a simple, powerful idea: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. And with the declaration, it was made clear that rights are not conferred by government; they are the birthright of all people. It does not matter what country we live in, who our leaders are, or even who we are. Because we are human, we therefore have rights. And because we have rights, governments are bound to protect them.

In the 63 years since the declaration was adopted, many nations have made great progress in making human rights a human reality. Step by step, barriers that once prevented people from enjoying the full measure of liberty, the full experience of dignity, and the full benefits of humanity have fallen away. In many places, racist laws have been repealed, legal and social practices that relegated women to second-class status have been abolished, the ability of religious minorities to practice their faith freely has been secured.

In most cases, this progress was not easily won. People fought and organized and campaigned in public squares and private spaces to change not only laws, but hearts and minds. And thanks to that work of generations, for millions of individuals whose lives were once narrowed by injustice, they are now able to live more freely and to participate more fully in the political, economic, and social lives of their communities.

Now, there is still, as you all know, much more to be done to secure that commitment, that reality, and progress for all people. Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm.

I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country’s record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home.

Now, raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs. So I come here before you with respect, understanding, and humility. Even though progress on this front is not easy, we cannot delay acting. So in that spirit, I want to talk about the difficult and important issues we must address together to reach a global consensus that recognizes the human rights of LGBT citizens everywhere.

The first issue goes to the heart of the matter. Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.

This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.

It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.

The second issue is a question of whether homosexuality arises from a particular part of the world. Some seem to believe it is a Western phenomenon, and therefore people outside the West have grounds to reject it. Well, in reality, gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths; they are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes; and whether we know it, or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors.

Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do. South Africa’s constitution, written in the aftermath of Apartheid, protects the equality of all citizens, including gay people. In Colombia and Argentina, the rights of gays are also legally protected. In Nepal, the supreme court has ruled that equal rights apply to LGBT citizens. The Government of Mongolia has committed to pursue new legislation that will tackle anti-gay discrimination.

Now, some worry that protecting the human rights of the LGBT community is a luxury that only wealthy nations can afford. But in fact, in all countries, there are costs to not protecting these rights, in both gay and straight lives lost to disease and violence, and the silencing of voices and views that would strengthen communities, in ideas never pursued by entrepreneurs who happen to be gay. Costs are incurred whenever any group is treated as lesser or the other, whether they are women, racial, or religious minorities, or the LGBT. Former President Mogae of Botswana pointed out recently that for as long as LGBT people are kept in the shadows, there cannot be an effective public health program to tackle HIV and AIDS. Well, that holds true for other challenges as well.

The third, and perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.

In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.

Of course, it bears noting that rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights. Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source. For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.

The fourth issue is what history teaches us about how we make progress towards rights for all. Progress starts with honest discussion. Now, there are some who say and believe that all gay people are pedophiles, that homosexuality is a disease that can be caught or cured, or that gays recruit others to become gay. Well, these notions are simply not true. They are also unlikely to disappear if those who promote or accept them are dismissed out of hand rather than invited to share their fears and concerns. No one has ever abandoned a belief because he was forced to do so.

Universal human rights include freedom of expression and freedom of belief, even if our words or beliefs denigrate the humanity of others. Yet, while we are each free to believe whatever we choose, we cannot do whatever we choose, not in a world where we protect the human rights of all.

Reaching understanding of these issues takes more than speech. It does take a conversation. In fact, it takes a constellation of conversations in places big and small. And it takes a willingness to see stark differences in belief as a reason to begin the conversation, not to avoid it.

But progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate.

Many in my country thought that President Truman was making a grave error when he ordered the racial desegregation of our military. They argued that it would undermine unit cohesion. And it wasn’t until he went ahead and did it that we saw how it strengthened our social fabric in ways even the supporters of the policy could not foresee. Likewise, some worried in my country that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have a negative effect on our armed forces. Now, the Marine Corps Commandant, who was one of the strongest voices against the repeal, says that his concerns were unfounded and that the Marines have embraced the change.

Finally, progress comes from being willing to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We need to ask ourselves, “How would it feel if it were a crime to love the person I love? How would it feel to be discriminated against for something about myself that I cannot change?” This challenge applies to all of us as we reflect upon deeply held beliefs, as we work to embrace tolerance and respect for the dignity of all persons, and as we engage humbly with those with whom we disagree in the hope of creating greater understanding.

A fifth and final question is how we do our part to bring the world to embrace human rights for all people including LGBT people. Yes, LGBT people must help lead this effort, as so many of you are. Their knowledge and experiences are invaluable and their courage inspirational. We know the names of brave LGBT activists who have literally given their lives for this cause, and there are many more whose names we will never know. But often those who are denied rights are least empowered to bring about the changes they seek. Acting alone, minorities can never achieve the majorities necessary for political change.

So when any part of humanity is sidelined, the rest of us cannot sit on the sidelines. Every time a barrier to progress has fallen, it has taken a cooperative effort from those on both sides of the barrier. In the fight for women’s rights, the support of men remains crucial. The fight for racial equality has relied on contributions from people of all races. Combating Islamaphobia or anti-Semitism is a task for people of all faiths. And the same is true with this struggle for equality.

Conversely, when we see denials and abuses of human rights and fail to act, that sends the message to those deniers and abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for their actions, and so they carry on. But when we do act, we send a powerful moral message. Right here in Geneva, the international community acted this year to strengthen a global consensus around the human rights of LGBT people. At the Human Rights Council in March, 85 countries from all regions supported a statement calling for an end to criminalization and violence against people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

At the following session of the Council in June, South Africa took the lead on a resolution about violence against LGBT people. The delegation from South Africa spoke eloquently about their own experience and struggle for human equality and its indivisibility. When the measure passed, it became the first-ever UN resolution recognizing the human rights of gay people worldwide. In the Organization of American States this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights created a unit on the rights of LGBT people, a step toward what we hope will be the creation of a special rapporteur.

Now, we must go further and work here and in every region of the world to galvanize more support for the human rights of the LGBT community. To the leaders of those countries where people are jailed, beaten, or executed for being gay, I ask you to consider this: Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same. It also means ensuring that all citizens are treated as equals under your laws, because let me be clear – I am not saying that gay people can’t or don’t commit crimes. They can and they do, just like straight people. And when they do, they should be held accountable, but it should never be a crime to be gay.

And to people of all nations, I say supporting human rights is your responsibility too. The lives of gay people are shaped not only by laws, but by the treatment they receive every day from their families, from their neighbors. Eleanor Roosevelt, who did so much to advance human rights worldwide, said that these rights begin in the small places close to home – the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms, and offices where they work. These places are your domain. The actions you take, the ideals that you advocate, can determine whether human rights flourish where you are.

And finally, to LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone. People around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face. That is certainly true for my country. And you have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.

The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy. In our embassies, our diplomats are raising concerns about specific cases and laws, and working with a range of partners to strengthen human rights protections for all. In Washington, we have created a task force at the State Department to support and coordinate this work. And in the coming months, we will provide every embassy with a toolkit to help improve their efforts. And we have created a program that offers emergency support to defenders of human rights for LGBT people.

This morning, back in Washington, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad. Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.

I am also pleased to announce that we are launching a new Global Equality Fund that will support the work of civil society organizations working on these issues around the world. This fund will help them record facts so they can target their advocacy, learn how to use the law as a tool, manage their budgets, train their staffs, and forge partnerships with women’s organizations and other human rights groups. We have committed more than $3 million to start this fund, and we have hope that others will join us in supporting it.

The women and men who advocate for human rights for the LGBT community in hostile places, some of whom are here today with us, are brave and dedicated, and deserve all the help we can give them. We know the road ahead will not be easy. A great deal of work lies before us. But many of us have seen firsthand how quickly change can come. In our lifetimes, attitudes toward gay people in many places have been transformed. Many people, including myself, have experienced a deepening of our own convictions on this topic over the years, as we have devoted more thought to it, engaged in dialogues and debates, and established personal and professional relationships with people who are gay.

This evolution is evident in many places. To highlight one example, the Delhi High Court decriminalized homosexuality in India two years ago, writing, and I quote, “If there is one tenet that can be said to be an underlying theme of the Indian constitution, it is inclusiveness.” There is little doubt in my mind that support for LGBT human rights will continue to climb. Because for many young people, this is simple: All people deserve to be treated with dignity and have their human rights respected, no matter who they are or whom they love.

There is a phrase that people in the United States invoke when urging others to support human rights: “Be on the right side of history.” The story of the United States is the story of a nation that has repeatedly grappled with intolerance and inequality. We fought a brutal civil war over slavery. People from coast to coast joined in campaigns to recognize the rights of women, indigenous peoples, racial minorities, children, people with disabilities, immigrants, workers, and on and on. And the march toward equality and justice has continued. Those who advocate for expanding the circle of human rights were and are on the right side of history, and history honors them. Those who tried to constrict human rights were wrong, and history reflects that as well.

I know that the thoughts I’ve shared today involve questions on which opinions are still evolving. As it has happened so many times before, opinion will converge once again with the truth, the immutable truth, that all persons are created free and equal in dignity and rights. We are called once more to make real the words of the Universal Declaration. Let us answer that call. Let us be on the right side of history, for our people, our nations, and future generations, whose lives will be shaped by the work we do today. I come before you with great hope and confidence that no matter how long the road ahead, we will travel it successfully together. Thank you very much.

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“Homosexuality is an Abomination!” – God

I was riding down a south Georgia portion of Interstate 75 when I looked up and saw a huge, new billboard for a local church that read “HOMOSEXUALITY IS AN ABOMINATION.”  It was signed, “God.”  At first I didn’t let the sign bother me.  I had a good weekend planned, so I just thought, “Those ignorant mother f•ckers,” and kept on driving.  A couple of days later, when I was heading northbound, I saw that the church had the same sign posted so that everyone traveling on I-75 could see it, no matter if you were going north or south.

That time the gigantic billboard pissed me off.  I hadn’t noticed the sign until I was right up on it, so I didn’t have any time to jot down the phone number or even catch the full name of the church.  I’m sure it was something like “Christ’s Love Baptist Church.”  Normally, I don’t let anything like that bother me, but here I was, just driving down the road and minding my own business, listening to music, not hurting anyone, when some church tells me and every single car whizzing by that GOD himself thinks I’m an abomination.  I wanted nothing more than to blow that f•cking sign up.  But, of course, I kept my cool and drove on home, but I’ve been thinking about that sign for days now.

The billboard was referring, of course, to the random Bible verse in Leviticus (20:13) that states, “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.”  Yeah, I guess that’s pretty straightforward.  In fact, I can’t think of any other way to interpret that verse except that homosexuality is not only wrong, but an abomination.   And then of course, there is the section in 1 Corinthians (6:9-11) that lists who all won’t get into heaven (or, “inherit the kingdom” as the Bible puts it); yep, you’ve got it homosexuals are on the list, along with fornicators, thieves, wizards, and all of the other familiar evildoers.

Okay, so we’ve established that there are at least two verses out of 31,173 in the Bible that are against homosexuality.  But, it’s mainly Leviticus 20:13 that opponents of homosexuality cling to.  But here’s my question for that church who paid a lot of money to put up that billboard, and all of the other churches like it:  Why do you pick and choose which Bible verses you stringently adhere to?  The Old Testament is full of random and ridiculous rules and commandments that you have no problem overlooking.  Like, what about Deuteronomy 22:5 “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.”  So, say, women wearing pant-suits are an abomination, too?  While we’re on the topic of God deciding what we can and can’t wear, what about 1 Timothy 2:9:  “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.”  So, where’s your sign that says “WOMEN WHO BRAID THEIR HAIR AND WEAR GOLD ARE WHORES” – GOD” ?

And let’s not forget the Bible’s punishment for adulterers: DEATH for the man and the “other woman.”  Deuteronomy 22:22:  “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die.”  MUST die.  Phew.  Maybe if we stuck to this rule the Earth’s over-population problem would be more in check.

So, why ignore those verses?  They’re just as straightforward as the one against homosexuality.  Actually, if you want to be such a good little Bible follower, then why not follow Leviticus 20:13 to the letter?  Because, let’s read the entire verse:  “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”  So, why quit with calling me an abomination?  Don’t be half-hearted about it; carry out God’s commandment and kill me.  I hear stoning was an Old-Testament favorite.  Or, perhaps, if you pray hard enough, God will destroy us with a column of fire.

If I had to guess, “Christians” and people like that who just pick and choose which parts of the Bible they want to believe, are simply using the Bible – and Leviticus 20:13 in particular – as a shield to justify their own personal feelings and repulsion to homosexuality.  And don’t give me that whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” shit; that’s just a way for you to discriminate and still sleep at night.

And I guess, what I really want to ask is why did you choose to ignore Matthew 7:1 “DO NOT JUDGE, OR YOU TOO WILL BE JUDGED.”  Please, tell me, where in the Bible it says, “I, God, grant you permission; be my judges on earth, tell everyone that is not like yourself that I hate them and they’re going to hell; be arrogant enough to sign billboards with my name.”  I looked and I couldn’t find that particular verse.  Don’t you think if God really thinks I’m an abomination he’ll take care of me when I stand before him?  He doesn’t need you to do his work for him.

And what about the verse when the disciples asked Jesus which of the commandments was the most important, and the Prince of Peace answered (Mark 12:30-31), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these.”  Let me repeat, because obviously you missed that one, even though it’s written in red in the New Testament:  LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.  THERE IS NO COMMANDMENT GREATER THAN THESE.  Seems kind of like Jesus pulled the trump card there:  when in doubt, love your neighbor.  And I have to say, when I saw that billboard, or see signs on TV that say “God hates fags!” I don’t really feel the love.

If we’re all God’s children (Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”), then just let him deal with us, the people that you think are an abomination.  I’d much rather face him than you, because I pick and choose to believe 1 John 4:8:  “Whoever does not love does not know God, because GOD IS LOVE.”

Okay, I’m done with that.  I know I shouldn’t let such billboards make me bitter against all Christians.  Because I have met tons of Christians who actually follow Christ’s message.  I just find it repulsive when so-called “Christians” spend all of their time judging and preaching hell fire (not only against gay folks, but against anyone who doesn’t fit into their idea of a ‘holy’ person).  Actually, I pity those angry Christians.  I think it’s sad that they read the Bible and all they find is damnation.  They really missed the good stuff.

So, I may be done with the pick-and-choose Christians, but I do have a few other things to say.  So, sit tight.

First, let me say, that I’m not writing any of this to justify myself to anyone.  Nor am I writing to fight for understanding on behalf of every gay man and woman; I’m only one person and I can’t speak for everyone.

I’m not sure how many people out there still believe that being gay is a choice.  Maybe I’d be surprised by how many do.  Since I grew up in the Southern Baptist “Belt Buckle” of the Bible Belt, I grew up believing that being gay was a sin.  And if it was a sin, then it was a choice.  That definitely caused some conflict within me; I didn’t understand why, even though I was as good a Christian as anyone else, these thoughts and desires were still in me.  So, I’d pray harder for them to go away while wondering if the other guys in my class were struggling with the same thing.

It was not until I got to college that I even heard the idea that people could be born gay, and it made such perfect sense to me.  That was the only way to explain my “defect” and why it wouldn’t go away; it had to be inborn.

My reaction then, naturally, was to research what caused homosexuality.  I wanted to know exactly why I was they way I was.  What I found only frustrated me:  you could find articles that stated, yes, homosexuality is inborn, and the next article would say that there was no scientific evidence for that, so it must be a choice.  It pretty much depended who was funding the research, and it gave weight to the axiom that you find what you’re looking for.

Of course I dismissed the ones that said I had chosen this “lifestyle” and read the ones that suggested I was born this way.  Some hinted that it may be genetic (though I now understand that a “gay gene” will never be discovered, because that’s not the way genes work.  A single gene doesn’t control something as complex as sexual orientation or intelligence or personal dispositions).  Some research suggested it was environmental, perhaps a different blend of hormones in the womb.  Others still said that it was psychological – maybe the child didn’t have enough interaction with the parent (or relatives) of the same sex during the important stages of development.  Those same scientists said that even though homosexuality might have been onset after birth, it happened so early in development that it was still not a choice on behalf of the person.  Despite all of the studies on brain structure, and hormone levels, and birth order, it seems that the state of the science right now is that science can’t say decisively what causes homosexuality.  Here’s a good document for an overview of all the experiments and studies and the role that “choice” plays (namely that some people choose to live their life openly, while others choose to live a “straight” life).

I am a firm believer in the science of evolution, so my search for answers was not only for personal satisfaction, but also for understanding of why there would be homosexuals in nature.  Especially after being called “unnatural” once, I wanted to find out where in the natural world I fit.  An obvious answer would be that we’re an evolutionary mistake.  It happens; sometimes mutations lead to dead ends (like, uh, not being able to reproduce…yeah, that’s not so great for the survival of the species).  However, after giving it some thought, I only half-jokingly now state that in a world of rampant overpopulation, I and those like me are evolution’s population control, a “natural” way of slowing down our population growth so that the world doesn’t give out of resources quite as quickly.  A friend once told me that homosexuality is God’s way of assuring that the most brilliant minds are not bothered with children.  Hey, you’ve got to have a good sense of humor when dealing with this type of stuff…

Anyway, I eventually quit reading, because I only became more frustrated after each article.  I realized that I didn’t care whether it was a faulty gene, or a hormonal imbalance…I didn’t choose to be this way.  I just had to accept it and carry on with my life.  And eventually I did.  To hell with anyone (including myself) who demanded an explanation.

And to anyone who believes that there can be “gay therapy” or that you can “pray the gay away,” I have a little experiment for you:  for my straight readers – try to make yourself truly love and have sex with a member of the same sex.  It just doesn’t work, does it?  When you were born, you didn’t decide, or make the choice to be straight, right?  And being attracted to another guy or another woman just doesn’t make sense to you.  It’s the same thing – I tried for years and years to be “into” girls.  It just didn’t work.  And to expect that gay folks can be “cured” by therapy is absurd.  Sure, there are “success” stories – of gay people who want to be accepted SO bad, and have been told for so long that they are a sinner and disgusting, that they “convert” to being straight.  And they may even believe they are straight.  But in my opinion, they’re just acting straight to gain acceptance.  And to me “gay therapy” is destructive to people’s identity and self esteem.  But I’m not the only one that thinks that way.  Here is the link to the official paper put out by the American Psychological Association on the dangers of gay therapy.

I think that most people who are against homosexuality, or at least have an aversion to it, don’t understand it; they don’t know (or at least don’t know that they know!) a gay person.  It seems like most people’s mind goes straight to the bedroom when they think of “gay.”  That’s normal, I guess.  I mean, sex is one way we categorize ourselves; it’s in the terminology:  homosexual, heterosexual.  We put ourselves into boxes depending on our reproductive capability and sexual attraction.  But, what a lot of people don’t take the time to think about is that just like straight couples, what goes on in the bedroom is only one aspect of life.  Gay men and women actually (believe it or not) love each other just as wholly as straight couples do.  Remember that uncontrollable, dizzying feeling of butterflies in your stomach when you have a crush on someone?  And that moment when you may realize that, despite yourself, you’re in love with that person?  I’ve felt that.  For another guy.  Maybe I’m just some idealistic, hippy humanist, but I’m not sure how love, in any of its forms, can be wrong.  And I’m not sure how someone can tell me that the love that I feel is wrong, or less than the love that they feel.  Oh well; there are a lot of things in life that I don’t understand…

So, wrapping this wandering pondering up, besides the legal injustice (people have no problems accepting our work and our tax money, but only just recently let us serve openly in the military, and only allow us to receive the legal and financial advantages of marriage in 6 states of this Land of the Free), I find it really sad that people like me have to worry about coming out – about explaining and justifying who they are to their friends and families.  That’s something that straight people don’t have to do.

Now, let me add again that I’m not writing for every gay American.  I don’t know how they all feel.  I know that some people have had a way worse experience than I’ve had; we’ve all been made aware recently of the kids committing suicide because they were bullied.  My heart goes out to them.  But, fortunately, while deciding to come out created a lot of distress for me, I try not to focus on the negative (though it’s hard when I’m driving along the interstate and see such billboards!) and instead focus on the positive.  Yeah, America still has strides to take in order to treat all of its citizens equally, but in some countries people are still murdered and chopped up with machetes for being gay.  So, in that respect, I’m thankful that I happened to be born in the US.

And lastly:  I don’t expect everyone to accept homosexuality.  That simply won’t happen.  But please don’t, for example, use the argument that gay marriage will ruin the institution of marriage; 51% of marriages (between a man and woman, mind you!) in America end in divorce.  And don’t quote the Bible against me, because there are just as many verses that can be fired against you.  And if you really have to have someone to “blame,” then either blame God for creating us, or blame straight parents…they’re the ones having all the gay babies!  (Okay, maybe an inappropriate time to joke…)  And even if you believe that I chose to live this way, what does it matter?  How does it hurt you?  Don’t worry, I’m not out to convert you or your children to the dark side!  And sure, I want to take over the world, but that has nothing to do with me being gay.  So, even if you think homosexuality is a “lifestyle” that is chosen, I just don’t see how it affects you.   Who cares what I do in my life as long as it doesn’t negatively affect you?

So, I will end with this request:  I do not ask that you understand me or welcome me with open arms.  You have the right not to.  I will not hate you if you don’t.  But, I ask for the same in return.  If you don’t love me or accept me, at least leave me alone.  

Categories: Politics/Current Events, Religion | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

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