You don't have to like religion, practice religion, or even identify with religion to be religious. You could simply believe in God in your own way, or pray every once in a while, or even just believe in some kind of spirituality or other form of higher power or greater connectedness, and guess what? You're religious. You can also just never say anything about any such topics and you'll be assumed religious (though perhaps not the right one, right Mr. Obama?).
At the Soulforce Symposium, I asked the panel about what I feel to be conflicting identities, being both gay and atheist. My friend, Cathy Renna, offered that she's long witnessed a disenchantment with religion in the LGBT community, to the extent that it was once taboo to admit attending services on a Sunday morning. And she's surely right, and it might only be in recent years that the LGBT community has placed a much greater focus on embracing and reconciling with religion. It could just be a pendulum swinging back towards a pro-religion point of view, but it would only have had to be as recent as the past six years for it to define my whole experience.
Now, let's face it, it's no surprise that LGBT folks would feel alienated from religion. After all, arguably all anti-gay and anti-trans sentiments are securely rooted in religious teachings and the willful ignorance that is religious thinking.
But not wanting to practice a religion and being an atheist are two very different things. Just because members of the LGBT community no longer want to be a part of religion doesn't mean they've stopped believing, or stopped being "religious," at least as I defined it above. It doesn't make them atheists, and it definitely does not automatically make them welcoming or inclusive of atheists.
The virus of religious thinking does not let go so easily, and the human brain is incredibly adept at functioning under the conditions of cognitive dissonance. A person who believed that homosexuality is a sin that then decided that the Bible was wrong about that could easily never question that the whole rest of the Bible is just as fallible. That person might trust religion less, but never bother to think critically about any of the rest of it, and certainly not abandon it.
But being an atheist? That's a whole different ballgame.
First, you should know that there's a whole atheist community. It's true. In fact, just like the LGBTQQIAA community has diversity, we have atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, nonbelievers, skeptics, brights, humanists, and more. There's a lot of overlap—I identify with at least five of those labels—so we don't use a a long acronym, just a single scarlet A. We have a coming out process and it can often be as difficult or worse than coming out as gay (and unlike the coming out process for homosexuality, it hasn't been studied at all). We suffer incredible oppression in the United States; in fact, we are the least trusted minority and our vision of America is the least popular, even compared to Muslims and homosexuals [sic]. We're also the only minority group for which tolerance has not grown over the past 30 years.
And yet, here we are. We vigilantly disclose our identities specifically so we can create change. We challenge people's core beliefs and welcome heated debate. And we are a community. We make an active choice to identify openly and we seek each other out. We need each other's support.
This community is a very different picture than the group of folks who just don't participate in religion anymore. It's a whole different identity, a whole different community, and a whole different set of challenges.
And you know what's great about the atheist community? Even though it is predominantly heterosexual (like the rest of society), it is overwhelmingly supportive and inclusive of LGBT issues. I would go so far as to say that the atheist community understands that anti-gay attitudes are among the most dangerous and unscientific views still held by most of modern society, and they speak out in defense of the LGBT community all the time. The atheist community is by far one of the strongest LGBT allies of any other minority community.
But then I come back over to the gay community and the reverse is not true for me as an atheist. HRC's putting out a "Clergy Call 2011 for Justice and Equality." The Task Force has a whole "multi-faith" mini-conference as part of Creating Change this year, as if CC weren't faith-centric enough. There's the MCC and UU, Catholics for Equality and Soulforce, and a slew of other pro-religion organizations that work on behalf of LGBT equality. Now, don't get me wrong, as a gay man, I appreciate those efforts greatly. But as an atheist, they totally alienate me. They make me feel unwelcome because they are antithetical to my point of view. And I seldom see partnerships with the atheist groups eager to help!
As an atheist, I want to dismantle the power that religion has, not reinforce it. I don't want people to reconcile their homosexuality with their faith; I want them to see that homosexuality is a brilliant example for how flawed and unnecessary faith is. I hate the idea that religions or religious beliefs are something deserving of respect, and I have no intention of respecting them or catering to them in order to achieve legal equality as a gay man. I want to work with other LGBT activists, but I don't want to have to sit through prayers or endure a faith hegemony to make my difference in the movement. And yet, that is increasingly the environment with which I am faced in the LGBT movement.
If you buy into the ex-gay movement even just a little, you are faced with two choices. You can try to change your sexual orientation or you can fail to change your sexual orientation. If you fail, they have nothing left for you, and certainly no validation for embracing an identity other than heterosexuality.
While it's not as overt, I feel like the LGBT movement similarly offers a kind of non-choice for atheists. I can work with faith and I can work without faith, but there is very little room for me to work against faith. While there may be some who aren't thrilled with religion, they like holding on to their own faith, nonetheless. Frankly, there is a certain baseline of anti-atheist prejudice (I call it "faithism") and religious privilege that is just as prevalent in the LGBT community as the rest of society.
Many atheists within the LGBT community struggle to be out (or even come out), recognizing the challenges of openly identifying as atheist within the LGBT community, and particularly of identifying as both atheist and LGBT in greater society. Surely for most, LGBT issues are more salient to them, impacting their relationships, families, housing, and employment. It's all too easy to subscribe to the silence and invisibility for nonbelievers that is already in place.
Gaytheism is a borderland that is not always fun to live in. On one side of the Venn diagram are the LGBT issues that are so salient and important to me that I am passionately dedicated to addressing, but which is a community that still ostracizes me for my way of thinking. On the other side is the atheist community, a group that completely appreciates who I am and supports my point of view, but who are less organized, less committed to the issues most important to me, and likely not the place I'll find a life partner or a job in activism or education. And I can't have it both ways and still maintain my own integrity, because I can't both disavow faith and simultaneously reinforce it and feel like I'm making any meaning out of my own life.
Given that I am a man of integrity, what choice do I have but to push? Push the LGBT movement to open its eyes not just to the unreligious, but to its atheist subcommunity en masse. I have to encourage other LGBT nonbelievers to come out. I have to try to help organizations understand how their religious messages or strategies can be very exclusive. I have to convince the LGBT movement to accept and welcome the support of the many atheist and humanist organizations eager to be involved with the effort for LGBT equality. Maybe I even have to create one that represents LGBT issues specifically on behalf of nonbelievers.
So, I'm just putting it all out there for you, LGBT movement. I'm going to be a little thorn in your side. I'm going to call you out on your religious privilege. I'm going to cause some consternation for your believers. I'm going to say things that aren't popular and that aren't even always welcome. It is very much my intent to push and to change as much it is my intent to support and cooperate. We're stuck with each other, so we'd best make the most of it.
But if nothing else, remember this: I'm not the only one. I know when prayers and Amens are making me feel uncomfortable and unwelcome; I can identify those triggers, respond to them appropriately, and continue on. But there are a lot of members of our community who aren't where I am, who feel silenced and alienated by all the attention you pay to religion. I want to create a movement that understands and appreciates their point of view as much as any other, and I want to work together to make that happen.
If you want to read the Feel Good Parent's Story Of The Year, then you must read this true life tale about one mother's quest to make sure her son wore the Halloween costume of his choice, even if it was Daphne from Scooby Doo.
In an interview with The Times, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has stated that he has "no problem" with gay bishops.
"I think if I were to say my job was not to be true to myself that might suggest that my job required me to be dishonest and if that were the case then I'd be really worried. I'm not elected on a manifesto to further this agenda or that. I have to be someone who holds the reins for the whole debate. To put it very simply, there's no problem about a gay person who's a bishop. It's about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe. So there's always a question about the personal life of the clergy."
But Williams has one caveat. He has no problem with it, so long as they're celibate. Heterosexual clergy are not required to be celibate.
In the interview, Williams also confessed that one of the biggest mistakes made during his stint as Archbishop involved openly gay and celibate cleric Jeffrey John, who was forced to remove himself from the running as a potential bishop in 2003.
"John is openly gay and entered a civil partnership in 2006 but lives a celibate life. He withdrew his candidacy in 2003 to avert a rift between conservative and liberal factions within the Church of England and was instead appointed Dean of St Albans. Earlier this year a selection committee that included the Archbishop of Canterbury rejected John's ordination to become Bishop of Southwark. The Archbishop's latest comments provoked a stern response from human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell on Saturday."
"'Rowan is not being consistent,'" Tatchell told The Times. 'On the one hand he says that he doesn't have a problem with gay bishops and on the other hand he blocked the appointment of celibate Jeffrey John.'"
Williams' initial reaction to the election of openly gay Mary Glasspool as bishop last year: "(The election) raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole." Glasspool was ordained in May.
It has been up since 2003 to honor Mr. Man-On-Dog after he made this now-classic comments about homosexuality (Mother Jones):
[T]he then-senator from Pennsylvania compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia, saying the “definition of marriage” has never included “man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be.” The ensuing controversy prompted syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage, who’s gay, to start a contest, soliciting reader suggestions for slang terms to “memorialize the scandal.” The winner came up with the “frothy mixture” idea, Savage launched a website, and a meme was born. Even though mainstream news outlets would never link to it, Savage’s site rose in the Google rankings, thanks in part to bloggers who posted Santorum-related news on the site or linked to it from their blogs.
What’s oh-so-beautiful is that the site is now haunting Little Ricky as he considers hopping into the 2012 GOP Presidential Contender Clown Car. His problem? SpreadingSantorum has been around so long and clicked so often that his campaign cannot think of any way to close the Google ranking deficit to get a “Santorum” search result that doesn’t have SpreadingSantorum as the top entry.
To at least make a dent, Santorum could try a concerted push to generate links to his domain on prominent sites and blogs, ginning its Google ranking; Mark Skidmore, an expert in search-engine marketing at the online strategy firm Blue State Digital, says Santorum should also consider buying paid search results for his name. He says the Obama campaign successfully used this strategy to help bury sites that claimed Obama was a Muslim or not an American citizen. But like Fertik, Skidmore thinks Santorum faces an uphill battle, in part because Savage’s site has been up for so long-with more than 13,000 inbound links, compared with only 5,000 for Santorum’s own site, America’s Foundation. “He’s staring at a very big deficit,” Skidmore observes.
That deficit might grow even bigger soon. “I’ve sort of been in denial about the fact that Rick Santorum is going to run for president,” Savage says. “But now I’m going to have to sic my flying monkeys on him”-in other words, mobilize bloggers to start posting and linking to his site again.
And from Politicususa.com, a good summary of Keith’s remarks (no transcript yet). A snippet:
Olbermann described the Right’s campaign as, “Yet in a country dedicated to freedom, forces have gathered to blow out of all proportion the construction of a minor community center to transform it into a training ground for terrorists, and an insult to the victims of 9/11, and a tribute to the Medieval Muslim subjugation of the West. There is in fact no Ground Zero Mosque. It isn’t a mosque. A mosque technically is a Muslim holy place where only worship can be conducted. What is planned for 45 Park Place New York City is a community center. It’s supposed to include a basketball court and a culinary school. It is to be thirteen stories tall, and the top two stories will be a Muslim prayer space. What a cauldron to terrorism that will be, terrorist chefs and terrorist point guards.”
Olbermann pointed out that since 9/11 Muslims have been at greater risk of being victims of US terrorism than non-Muslims. After he debunked Newt Gingrich’s fear mongering over the name Cordoba House, which he called a figment of Gingrich’s imagination, and the MSNBC host pointed out that the community center will be open to all New Yorkers.
He also knocked down the falsehood that the community center is located on Ground Zero, “This place Park 51 is not even at Ground Zero, not even right across the street. Even the description of it being two blocks away is generous. It is two blocks away from the northeast corner of the World Trade Center site, from the planned location of the 9/11 Memorial, it is more like four or five blocks even.” Olbermann showed that there is no view of the World Trade Center visible from the community center.
On a related note, Kerry Eleveld’s latest column in The Advocate points out that “Obama’s mixed messaging on the mosque proposed near Ground Zero leads one to wonder why the White House is so unwilling to touch other hot-button issues.”
Like “The Homosexual Agenda“?
Well, he sure likes taking our money, huh? Just doesn’t like to step on that third rail (other than to send David Axelrod out to bleat out incoherent messaging about equality and marriage).
Obama’s position – that he defends the right to build without supporting the project – mirrors national polling numbers. While one poll found that about 64% of voters believe proponents should be able to build, another poll found that 68% oppose the plan itself.
The situation brings several questions to the fore.
First, what exactly is the administration’s communications team doing? They either miscalculated the national mood or they misjudged how the president’s words would be received on Friday. But they unquestionably should have seen flashes of the firestorm to come from Sarah Palin and her cronies eons before they sent the president out to carry the torch for democracy.
Or is it possible that the president and his advisers understood exactly where this was headed but just couldn’t take the heat once they stepped into the pit? No matter what the answer, the White House squandered the president’s most precious commodity: his word – his compact of trust with the American people.
And here’s another stumper. The same CNN poll showing that more than 2/3 of Americans opposed the project was also the very first poll in history to find that a majority of Americans (52% to 46%) believe gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry.
Now marriage polls do see-saw even as they continue to trend toward equality and a Public Policy Poll late last week found that 57% of voters still think same-sex marriage should be illegal. But the fact remains that both of those polls show less opposition to marriage equality than to the Mosque project, and I can’t help but puzzle at the White House’s willingness to broach one subject while they continue to run away from the other as if it’s too hot touch.