I never feel more alive than after a concert, and singing with the Boston Gay Mens Chorus gives me a special buzz. Tonight I’m especially excited – I’ve just sung Christmas Carols at Holly Folly, the annual Christmas celebration in Provincetown (the gay Mecca of North-East USA), and I’m fizzing with energy. The crisp winter’s air fill my lungs as I bounce joyously back to my hostel, and I revel in the sound of snow crunching underfoot, warmed by the glow of Christmas lights streaming from the Pilgrim Monument. I’m practically skipping. I glance across the street as I pass by a busy bar, attracted by the noise of human activity spilling onto the street, and catch the eye of a particularly cute guy, standing with two friends. I smile, and he looks back. He opens his mouth – do I sense the touch of a smile there too? – and yells out
“Why do you fucking faggots always walk so funny?”
I stop dead, skidding a little on the snow, and stared across the road. Provincetown is supposed to be safe, one of the few places where we outnumber them. His friends snicker drunkenly, swaying slightly in the cold, and I briefly consider crossing and trying to start a discussion – my optimistic, idealistic, idiotic teacher’s brain thinking “perhaps this is a teachable moment!” As I watch, however, the cute one says, loud enough for me to hear, “I wish I hadn’t left my AK-47 at home!”. With frightening authenticity, he mimes taking a gun from a sling round his shoulder, and pretends to shoot me with it, relishing the sound effects and the imagined recoil from his weapon.
I put my head down, thrust my hands deep into my pockets, and walk by fast, my elation dissipating into the cold night air.
Why does this happen? Why, even in Provincetown, where sexual minorities are often in the majority for once, do I get what amounts to a death threat walking down the street at Christmastime? There are doubtless many answers: sexual prejudice is a fungus that grows in countless dark spaces in the human soul. But can any honest observer of the world today deny the link between institutionalized religion and discrimination against sexual minorities? The examples are too numerous to relate: the Catholic Church pinning the blame for pedophile Priests on gays with one hand while, with the other, signing letters putting “the good of the universal church” above the welfare of abused children; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints mounting a truly epic campaign to remove marriage rights from gay Californians, supported by a motley crew of Catholics, Orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals; the grotesque Exodus International, which traipses around the globe spreading the lie that you can be “cured” of homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ, not foregoing hot-spots like Uganda, where their enthusiastic condemnation of sexual minorities fuels initiatives like the murderous “anti-homosexuality bill”; the illegality of homosexual relationships in many Islamic countries; the ex-gay industry, almost entirely religious and increasingly targeting children (I’ve written on this before); even the Church of Scientology gets into the act, supporting Proposition 8 – not too surprising given that L. Ron Hubbard originally considered homosexuality a mental illness (that’s alright, though, because I return the favor).
Hatred is less than love.
Right now more progressive religious readers are squirming. I can feel their objections as I type: “I don’t support homosexuality, but I don’t condone violence/execution/hatred/bullying!”; “We only oppose the practice of Homosexuality, not a homosexual orientation!”; “Everyone is a sinner, and this sin is no different!”; “Love the sinner, hate the sin!”; “There are many religious people and denominations which are open and accepting of gay people!” This last gives me pause: those religious people, like many contributors here at State of Formation, who fully embrace sexual minorities (and here I include transgender people alongside gays, lesbians, bisexuals, queers and the questioning) are my allies and I welcome them. I embrace them, and I respect them all the more for the hard work they do within their own communities to try to shift attitudes.
But the first responses are beneath contempt, a cynical attempt to have cake and eat it too. It is the very designation of homosexuality or homosexual acts as “sinful”, as in some sense against God’s law, which creates the situations in society which lead to hatred and violence against sexual minorities. Trying to stop violence against gays while supporting the cause of that violence is like blowing at the smoke that suffocates so many gay people while fanning the flames of the fire which produces it.
Hypocrisy is less than love.
This position, only comfortable for moral contortionists, is neatly encapsulated in this recent article by Stephanie Samuel in the Christian Post. The article responds to a study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing by Caitlin Ryan, PhD, which found that “Family acceptance [of a child’s sexual orientation] predicts greater self-esteem, social support, and general health status; it also protects against depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation and behaviors.” The study also noted that
“Childhood religious afﬁliation was linked to family acceptance; participants who reported a childhood religious afﬁliation reported lower family acceptance compared with those with no religious afﬁliation in childhood. Childhood family religiosity was also linked to family acceptance; highly accepting families reported low religiosity compared with the high religiosity among low accepting families.”
This is hardly surprising given the litany of evidence of religious complicity in sexual prejudice cataloged above. What is surprising is the astonishing reply in the Christian Post. Apparently,
“Pro-family leaders agree that it is important that children feel loved and accepted, but say that Christians should not accept social pressure to stray from their traditional values for fear of driving their children to suicide.”
These “pro-family leaders” include the Reverend “Buddy” Smith Jr, head of the American Family Association, who dismisses the study as “preposterous”, presumably relying on the insight derived from his undergraduate degree in music education and his graduate degree in theology. According to “Buddy” (no buddy of mine), parents should ignore experts like Dr. Ryan and sacrifice their gay children on the altar of sin.
Ignorance is less than love. Tolerance is less than love.
Enough is enough. This mind-boggling hypocrisy must end. This bigotry based on fairy-tales and lies has long passed its sell-by date. In 1973, the second Humanist Manifesto shone its light down a broader avenue, saying
“In the area of sexuality, we believe that intolerant attitudes, often cultivated by orthodox religions and puritanical cultures, unduly repress sexual conduct… While we do not approve of exploitive, denigrating forms of sexual expression, neither do we wish to prohibit, by law or social sanction, sexual behavior between consenting adults. The many varieties of sexual exploration should not in themselves be considered “evil.””
That, some forty years, later, we are still debating the obvious wisdom of these words is a source of frustration and sadness to me. But, just as my spirit was buoyed that cold Christmas night by thoughts of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, I’m supported by song. In the first rehearsal of a new season, the Chorus sings “Everything Possible” to new members. These words stuck in my head when I heard them for the first time last year:
“You can be whoever you want to be, you can love whoever you will. You can travel any country where your heart leads, and know that I will love you still!”
Can you imagine if this was the message gay youth like Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh and Billy Lucas had heard from their earliest years? I believe that they would still be alive today, as would hundreds of queer young people. It is a message of love – a message that would sweep away anti-gay bills, hypocritical “sinner loving”, blame-shifting Popes and crusading evangelicals. Now, as we enter the second decade of the third millennium of the Common Era, no other message will do. There is no excuse. Religious institutions, communities and parents must provide nothing less than love.
Enough is Enough – Nothing Less than Love.