Saturday, October 19, 2013

LGBTQ Equality Activists Tackle Homophobia Before the Values Voters Summit

On October 10th, a coalition of progressive voices spoke out against religious homophobia during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. The NALT Christians Media Conference took place shortly before the start of the 2013 Values Voters Summit, an annual gathering of right-wing leaders and activists in Washington D.C. Leaders from the NALT Christians Project, Faith in America, People for the American Way, Integrity USA, and the faith community criticized Values Voters Summit organizers for their homophobia, calling for a more inclusive Christian vision.

First, Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out and co-founder of NALT Christians Project, condemned the Religious Right for its homophobia. Besen called for a new national vision that would cherish justice for the LGBTQ community.
"Tomorrow, social conservatives will gather at the Omni Shoreham Hotel for the Values Voters summit. We are here today to articulate a starkly different vision for America, one that embraces traditional values but rejects valueless traditions such as sexism, racism, and homophobia; a vision that is inclusive rather than exclusive; diverse, not divisive; one where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are loved and not loathed, accepted and not rejected, celebrated instead of shunned, and most important, are regarded as full and equal citizens under the law."
Besen argued that the Religious Right has done nothing to improve the political climate of the country, and that its homophobic messages at the Values Voters Summit could harm LGBTQ youth. He reserved special ire for the Family Research Council which hosts the annual Values Voters Summit, insisting that the FRC should be "relegated to the fringe of the fringe where they belong".
"In 1979, Rev. Jerry Falwell founded his Moral Majority. In the 80s and 1990s, Ralph Reed, who headed Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, led this movement. Today, the Family Research Council and those at the Values Voters Summit lead the Religious Right. I ask you, are politics in America more civil, more humane, dare I say, more Christlike, since the infusion of the Religious Right? The answer is clear. Washington and much of the country's angrier, more dysfunctional, and more fractured than ever. It's time for a change. We must create this change to protect LGBT youth from damaging ideas that will be spewed at the Values Voters Summit."
Catherine Shore, co-founder of the NALT Christians Project, condemned the Religious Right's fixation on resisting LGBT rights, calling out the Family Research Council by name.
"The Family Research Council claims to speak for Christian families, but LGBT persons are our families. They're our brothers and our sisters and our sons and our daughters. The anti-gay Christian preoccupation with fighting LGBT equality negatively impacts our youth, both gay and straight, encouraging straight youth to intolerance and bullying, creating profound struggles with self-esteem within our gay youth ... This relentless anti-gay Christian messaging is damaging to Christianity itself."
Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, warned the audience that the Religious Right has ties to thousands of churches across America, into which it is injecting its homophobic messages.
"I would like to address some churches in America today because someone previously mentioned the Family Research Council being designated as a certain hate group. We have to remember that the Family Research Council communicates with hundreds of thousands of churches every week, so as the American Family Association. Probably the National organization for Marriage. So there's a lot of churches out there that are getting the message ... and it's a message that is causing great harm to a lot of individuals, LGBT youth especially, but not just them. Their families."
Childers shared accounts from LGBT people who confided in him about homophobia and physical violence they'd endured from their churches. He likened the homophobic Religious Right to anti-gay protesters at a pride festival, likening their propaganda to a protester's megaphone and signs. He blamed Christian silence for the presence of homophobia in society.
"The anti-gay religious industry component of the Values Voters Summit invades the societal consciousness today with their signs, plastered all over the media and on the internet, and the megaphone that they carry because of untold millions of dollars that they raise. And it's because, in America today, it's okay to mistreat gay people. It's okay for churches to do that. It's okay to bring that emotional and psychological pain against a young person, and the reason it's okay is because we Christians have not stood up to those voices of the anti-gay religious industry. That's why it's continuing."
Childers slammed the Values Voters Summit for promoting messages that cultivate despair in LGBT youth people. He expressed remorse over his previous participation in Religious Right bigotry, thankful that he was later liberated from their intolerance.
"What message would make a 12 year-old individual think that choosing death is better than growing up? That's the message that the anti-gay religious industry of the Values Voters Summit--that is the message they are putting out there. You go to their website and you will see that they ask churches to partner with them. I happened to be one of those individuals who once did partner with them, and I can tell you today, after coming to understand the harm that I unfortunately caused for many years, I am so very thankful that I was allowed to be liberated from that bigotry, from that prejudice, from that hostility."
Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, jokingly called the Values Voters Summit "the high holidays of extremism". He spoke at length about the breathtaking homophobic rhetoric of past and present Values Voters Summit speakers, including the FRC's Tony Perkins, AFA's Bryan Fischer, Liberty Counsel's Mat Staver, Ben Carson, and Rick Scarborough. Additionally, he reminded listeners that prominent Republican lawmakers also took place in the summit.
"These are not fringe people. These are the main speakers ... The list goes on and on, but I think the most important point that I want to make here today is that among all these hate-mongers who spew this hate, they will be joined by the leading Republican elected officials, including Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz, all of whom have been discussed as potential presidents of the United States. They will all be there."

No one should give a pass to these right-wing activists or these politicians simply because they cloak their bigotry in terms of faith. Even more importantly, no one should accept their claims that they speak for all people of faith, because they don't, and I'm proud to be joined today by leaders who are standing up to this very dangerous lie."
Vivian Taylor, executive director of Integrity USA, apologized to the LGBTQ community for the harms that some Christians inflicted on them. Taylor urged anti-LGBTQ Christians to end their oppression of the LGBTQ community and enter into right relationship with others.
"I want to speak to my brothers and sisters in Christ who have worked against gay and trans people, who have a distaste or a disgust or even a hatred for gay and trans people, who have ever worked to limit the rights of gay and trans people, who have ever worked to make it harder for gay and trans people to exist in the public sphere, to have full and equal rights in all ways, who has ever said that gay and trans people are just not as good as straight people.

I want to ask you today to stop. I want you to know that there is redemption and there is love and there is forgiveness for you. There is right relationship with all of your brothers and sisters and siblings, and all you have to do is ask for it. All you have to do is come back. Just know that in Christ, there is forgiveness, but the first step to that forgiveness is to stop working to do harm to your gay and trans brothers and sisters and siblings."
Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy for God and Patience with God, accused the Religious Right of inspiring "politics of division and polarization within society". He called the tension between the Religious Right and its opponents a "collision between a fact-based existence and a mythologically-based existed, which brings a bitterness with it because that is the losing side." While discussing his new book, And God Said, Billy, Schaeffer warned that fundamentalist hatred pulls people away from the divine far more than nonbelief.
"There are things that take us far further away from God than no religious involvement at all, if it leads you towards the kind of hatred and exclusion that so much American religion has gone toward."
Rev. Gary Hall, the dean of the National Cathedral whose October 6th sermon on LGBTQ dignity drew national attention, reminded listeners about physical and psychological violence against LGBTQ persons.

"The violence that is done against LGBT people is real. The violence that is done against LGBT children and youth by the culture, especially the culture of the faith community, and more specifically, the culture of certain kinds of Christianity, that violence is real." 
Rev. Hall argued that churches must recognize that sexuality is good, and that humans are called to live out their sexuality freely, responsibly, and ethically with others. He urged the faith community to affirm healthy sexuality among LGBTQ persons and heterosexual persons alike.

"Homosexuality is not only not a sin, homosexuality is actually good  because it is a gift. One's sexual orientation is the way one was made, and it is the gift that one has been given to reach out to and relate with other people. Certainly, as a Christian, I believe that there are moral and relational constraints by which I exercise my sexuality. This is not an argument for profligacy or for promiscuity, but it is an argument for saying that the Christian church needs now to say not only that it's okay to be gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, but it's good to be that way because that is the way that God has made you, and we need to say that now as clearly and compassionately and straightforwardly as we can because so many children and youth suffer in silence. So many children and youth are oppressed by their schools, by their families, and by their churches." 
Finally, Andrew Lang, executive director of the United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns, spoke proudly of faith community efforts toward equality for LGBTQ persons.
"The capacity to love and to seek love in return is not a curse, but a gift from God, and we don't want any lesbian or gay, bisexual or or transgender youth to grow up in a church or a synagogue where they are taught to be afraid of their capacity to love and to seek love. This movement has been around for more than thirty years, and it's growing rapidly, and we're not content any longer merely to be a sanctuary for LGBT people, to be a safe place. We are that and will continue to be that, but we also want to be advocates. We want to stand with the LGBT community when their dignity and their rights as citizens are under attack." 
I applaud the NALT Christians Project and its allies for holding the Religious Right accountable for its homophobia and articulating a vision of acceptance. The values they celebrated at the press conference stand in stark contrast to the anti-gay bigotry of the Values Voters Summit. In time, I hope that more believers reject the intolerance and ignorance of the Religious Right in favor of a saner, more just worldview.

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