As long as groups like Campus Crusade for Christ are demonizing LGBT people, we’ll continue to be persecuted at home and abroad
As if intending to justify the need for the International Day Against Homophobia, a vicious mob of more than 20,000 homophobes attacked 50 gay-rights advocates commemorating this event in Tbilisi, Georgia. According to the New York Times, the modern pogrom was “led by priests in black robes” who “surged through police cordons” and “swarmed the buses” where the gay activists ran so they could be evacuated.
“They wanted to kill all of us,” said Irakli Vacharadze, the head of Identoba, the Tbilisi-based gay-rights advocacy group that organized the event.
After the initial horror of the attack, I felt a powerful sense of relief. Finally, the world saw the unscrubbed underbelly of religious persecution against LGBT people in broad daylight. In Tbilisi, there are no sophisticated church public relations gurus to draft saccharine statements hiding the hideousness of depraved minds and wicked hearts. There were no insincere attempts to spin the spite by laughably claiming to “love the sinner” but “hate the sin.” What the world saw was a rare glimpse of would-be killers for Christ unplugged in their full glory.
We should be grateful for this peek at unfiltered prejudice, because most indoctrination and incitement takes place in the shadows. What people often fail to comprehend is that a colossal industry exists to demonize gay people, including numerous attempts to create conditions where homosexuals are imprisoned, assaulted and even murdered.
It is not just the fringes of Christianity where calls for violence occur, but from organizations that are considered mainstream. In January, for example, Campus Crusade For Christ (which recently rebranded itself with the hipper sounding “Cru”) sponsored an evangelism conference in Lagos, Nigeria. At the event, Dr. Seyoum Antonios, the head of United For Life Ethiopia, incited the crowd to frenzy, shouting multiple times that, “Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!”
Antonios can’t simply be dismissed as a renegade speaker, because two high-ranking vice presidents in the Campus Crusade international organization, Bekele Shanko and Dela Adedevoh, organized the conference. They invited Antonios to speak even though it was widely known that he led a movement to legislate the death penalty for LGBT people in Ethiopia.
The question is, why is an American organization that is currently on 1,600 college campuses, as well as extensive outreach within the U.S. military, giving a platform to an aspiring murderer? It seems that the policy for groups like Cru is to persecute homosexuals to the full extent that a country allows them to get away with. Which begs the question: What would they do to gays in America if given free rein?
If this is just a misunderstanding, Cru should send a powerful message by apologizing for hosting Antonios and immediately cut ties with Bekele Shanko and Dela Adedevoh. If advocating persecution and murder of LGBT people in Africa is, indeed, part of Cru’s mission, college administrators and the military officials should strongly re-evaluate if this organization belongs in their institutions.
Of course, unlike the barbarians who bared their teeth in Tbilisi, we fully expect Cru to disingenuously split hairs and say that the organization did not promote violence because it advocated a “graveyard for homosexuality” and not homosexuals.
That’s an interesting concept — much like claiming that a campaign to wipe out Judaism won’t harm Jews. I’d love to know the last time homosexuality was convicted of a crime and sent to jail, while the gay person walked out of the courthouse free. I’d love Cru to show me tombstones dedicated to homosexuality — that did not also have the rickety bones of a slain gay man or lesbian resting six feet below.
We can look at foreign anti-gay violence and discrimination and blithely conclude, “It could not happen here.” However, the dehumanization of LGBT people, on a smaller scale, happens every single day in America.
It occurred last week when a thug shot and killed Mark Carson in Greenwich Village for being gay.
It happened when Edie Windsor was slammed with a $363,053 inheritance tax bill after her partner of 42 years, Thea Clara Spyer, passed away. (A straight surviving spouse would not have had to pay.)
We witnessed injustice in Columbus, Ohio, recently after a lesbian gym teacher at a Catholic school, Carla Hale, was fired after 18 years of service. She was terminated because her partner was mentioned in her mother’s newspaper obituary. We can see the vindictiveness today, as senators threaten to derail immigration reform if it includes gay couples — essentially ruining lives and tearing families apart for sport.
People can only perpetrate such vile deeds when they consider homosexuals to be inferior. In most of these cases, there is a sadistic joy of inflicting pain and punishment on LGBT individuals when they are already suffering — such as a parent or partner’s death.
Until religious leaders stop portraying the LGBT population as subhuman — we can expect more atrocities, whether in Tbilisi, Lagos, or Greenwich Village.
Wayne Besen is founding executive director of Truth Wins Out, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization that fights anti-gay religious extremism. He can be reached at WBesen@TruthWinsOut.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 24, 2013.