Saturday, November 22, 2008

"No, We DON'T!" -- Reflections on Homophobia & Hope

I’m writing this on the plane home from Washington DC -- where the sense of energy and anticipation of new hopes, new beginnings and new opportunities was positively palpable. The first thing I saw when I got off the plane on Tuesday at Reagan National was the rack of “Yes, We Did!” t-shirts in the airport gift shop -- and the news all week was practically giddy with inauguration, transition team and new administration appointment talk.

Our work with the Human Rights Campaign Religion Council (the meetings I was there to attend) was all about how we – as religious leaders committed to an inclusive legislative agenda – can help move that agenda forward, as we come to the end of eight years of “Don’t Even Think About It” and enter a historic new era of “Yes, We Can!”

And yet.

In California, we face the uphill battle to undo what a multi-million dollar campaign of fear based disinformation did on November 4th when we took a historic step in the other direction of writing discrimination into the state constitution and eliminating the right of same-sex couples to civil marriage by passing, by a narrow margin, Proposition 8.

And what I’m wondering tonight, on this homeward bound flight toward LAX, is if the 2008 California election has not done for systemic homophobia what Hurricane Katrina did for systemic racism -- exposed it to the harsh light of day in a way that it can no longer be either ignored or denied. And I’m wondering if we can’t claim that reality and mobilize around it.

Because here’s the deal: a fear-based campaign doesn’t work unless people think there’s really something to be afraid of. We may think it’s ludicrous to imagine that the institution of marriage which has so far survived Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor and Britney Spears (not to mention Henry VIII with his six wives and Solomon with his many!) is going to be “threatened” by a few thousand same-sex couples wanting to live happily ever after. But remember, a “phobia” is – by its very definition -- an “irrational” fear: so there’s no point trying to use logic to overcome it.

And it is no more true that only those with “Yes on 8” signs on their lawns are infected with homophobia than it is that only those burning crosses on other people’s lawns are infected with racism. Homophobia is – and continues to be – both an external and internal challenge to liberty and justice for all in this nation. And it is a challenge we must meet head on if we are going to fully live into the promise of “Yes, We Can!”

The first “nudge” I got on this was last week as I watched (yet another) CNN report on the Prop 8 struggle. Toward the end of the interview with Lambda Legal attorney Jennifer Pizer, T.J. Holmes said to her, “should there be more emphasis to maybe change the hearts and minds, instead of changing law?”
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m all about education and outreach to change hearts and minds – that’s what “Voices of Witness” was about, that’s what our work at Lambeth Conference was about and that’s what our ongoing work and witness toward General Convention in the Episcopal Church is about.
But if the court deciding Brown v Board of Education had waited until voters "hearts and minds were changed" to believe that African American children “deserved” equal education, then we’d still be looking at segregated schools and I wouldn’t be flying home from Washington DC with three “President Obama” t-shirts in my carry-on!

Barack Obama's election does not mean we’re “done” with racism – not by a long shot. But it took all of it – the courts and the crowds and the legislation and the lawyers and the protests and the persuasion to get us to this historic “Yes, We Did!” moment – and our struggle against homophobia deserves nothing less than that full court press.

And here’s why: Because homophobia isn’t just “out there” – it’s “in here.”

This week, a member of our Integrity Board received an email from a member in her region, saying he did not believe Integrity should be supporting the Prop 8 protests, suggesting that “instead of making a big to-do about it, we should instead prove that we are worthy of marriage.”

She didn’t ask me for a response, but I gave her one anyway:

"What pack of lies we've been told that WE -- citizens of these United States and baptized members of the Body of Christ have to "prove that we are worthy of marriage." Let me put that in theological terms: BULL SHIT!! I'll get back to you when I'm a little less lit about this."

Well, it’s been a week and I’m not less “lit.” But here’s my response today to the idea that we have to “prove we are worthy:”

No, We Don’t

No, We Don’t

No, We Don’t

We do not have to prove that as citizens of these United States we are entitled to anything less than the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness we claim as foundational values for all Americans.

We do not have to prove that as baptized members of the Body of Christ our relationships are any less whole, holy and blessed than those of our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

What we can and will prove, however, is that this attack against our civil rights in California is not just about same-sex marriage that impacts a small percentage of American citizens but about core American values that impact us all.

Here’s how I responded to an emailed question from a USC journalism student asking, “What did you hope to accomplish by participating in the Prop 8 protest rallies on November 15th?”

What we hoped to accomplish was what I believe we DID accomplish: give voice to the righteous indignation of those who see this battle over Proposition 8 as a civil rights struggle with much broader implications than a few thousand same-sex couples who want to live happily ever after.

What we face in the ongoing struggle to combat Proposition 8 are forces willing to abandon historic, foundational principles of equal protection, separation of powers and the sanctity of an independent judiciary in order to achieve their narrow, bigoted, theological goals. I believe it is nothing less than the slippery slope from democracy to theocracy and we are at a defining moment in that struggle as we work together to challenge Proposition 8.

What we accomplished on Saturday, November 15th at the City Hall in Pasadena and in civic centers all over this great nation of ours was the beginning of what I fervently believe will be a new movement reclaiming liberty and justice for all (not just some) as a common, shared, achievable aspiration of the American Dream.

The election of Barack Obama as our 44th president was two huge steps forward toward that goal – Proposition 8 was a disappointing step back. What we accomplished on Saturday was demonstrating our refusal to settle for that step back and to claim for LGBT Americans the same hope our president-elect has called for us ALL to claim and to proclaim.

And we do NOT have to apologize for that. We do NOT have to settle for less than that. And we most certainly do NOT have to “prove” that we deserve equal protection as citizens of these United States.

No, We Don’t.

No, We Don’t.

No, We Don’t.

Remember that “nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal?” It’s the nation that had to fight a civil war to decide whether “all men” meant ALL men or just white men. And it wasn’t a fight that ended at Appomattox – that struggle continues today as we combat the systemic racism that has been called “America’s Original Sin.”

It’s the nation that had to decide if “created equal” stopped with men and extended to women – and we know that the struggle to overcome sexism didn’t end with either the Suffragettes or with Steinem but continues to challenge us as a nation at every level of social engagement.

And now we’re engaged in this struggle to decide whether religious bigots have the power to add an asterisk after “created equal” reading “*unless you’re gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender.”

Our answer to that question as a nation must be:

No, They Don’t!

No, They Don’t!

No, They Don’t!

And what’s our answer to whether or not we can muster the discipline and the determination to continue to move this country forward on that arc of history that bends toward inclusion until liberty and justice for all truly means “all?”

Yes, We Can!

Yes, We Can!

Yes, We Can!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You are never more articulate or beautiful then when you are on a rant.


PS. The Word Verification for this was "singica".

Sing on, my friend, sing on in CA.

Barbi Click said...

YEAH SUSAN!!!!!! I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!

Jan McFarlane said...

Susan, first, the theocracy argument needs to be intensified. We let the Yes on 8 people escape scrutiny on this issue.
Second, the disinformation campaign by Yes people needs much more effective strategies by the No on 8 campaign to combat.
Third, a full court press is absolutely essential -- speaking to the press, demonstrations, legal battles and possibly even civil disobedience. But, I also see the need for outreach to conservative congregations who will have us. A gay psychologist speaking at a recent PFLAG meeting said that there is a direct correlation between "reduction of homophobia" and "contact" between LGBT folks and straight allies with fearful straight people.
Jan McFarlane, straight mom with gay son.

uffda51 said...

I couldn’t help but notice yesterday, in the belated apology from Bob Jones University about their history of racial discrimination, these words:

“(w)e failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry.”

Even the most “traditional” institutions, including the Mormons, have changed their positions on race.

One day they will make the same statement about the LGBT community. Imagine the impact if that day were today.

Now that that moment is over, the usual suspects will rush to argue that racial discrimination is not comparable to gender discrimination, and they will not dissuaded by logic. But they will continue to dwindle in number.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

I agree and I don't agree (how's that for Anglican middle ground). And I'd ask to be heard.
Here is where I agree: Prop 8 needs to be overturned. Maybe it will be overturned by the courts, or by the voters. And it will take a lot of hard work, money, and political savvy not seen in this last election.
I would ask that everyone who favored the defeat of Prop 8 have a hard look -- a really honest hard look -- at the poor campaign against it. It was confused, complacent and did nothing to reach out to anyone other than true believers. Only on the last weekend was there any kind of coherent message. Meanwhile the robo calls were done, the absentee ballots collected by the Yes on 8. It was over. Elections are not won among true-believers only talking to themselves, but that is what happened here.
I noticed elsewhere that the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper -- the oldest black newspaper in the West -- is sponsoring a forum on this topic today in LA. Maybe that should be advertised here?

Rallies at the state Capitol are fine, but what is being done to reach out to groups and individuals who aren't there yet on gay marriage? They might get there but they aren't there yet. California voters are closer on this than they were only a few years ago on Prop 22. As Gene Robinson has pointed out, his own coming-out to himself happened over many years. Why would this happen over night in one election in California?
Yes We Can. But stop ranting and look at the hard lessons learned.


james -- thanks. Yep ... all that work is going on, too ... AND ...

... ranting and working is, in my lexicon, a both/and!

Have a great day!

Sarah said...

Having to prove that we are worthy of marriage reminds me of African-Americans having to take a test to prove that they were smart enough to vote!!!!

David said...

'We do not have to prove that as baptized members of the Body of Christ our relationships are any less whole, holy and blessed than those of our heterosexual brothers and sisters.'

Amen Sister, Amen!

I'd second Elizabeth+'s comment ( a fine rant artists herself), Susan you are awesome when .... just awesome!



Bruno said...

Brilliant! absolutely BRILLIANT!
might I add, We need to get off this "democracy" kick and get our High School Civic lessons out.
This government was never meant to be mob rule, our founding documents witness to that.
Also prop 8 didn't pass because of the failure of it's opponents, rather it passed because of the UNTRUTHS (otherwise known as lies) of it proponents!
AND I am pretty darned tired of people telling me to make nice in-spite of the removal of my rights. I am angry and will continue to be angry, and that anger will INTENSIFY every time one of my children (any glbt youth) is abused, beaten, threatened, abandoned, murdered or commits suicide because of hate or fear over who they are.

Kathy said...

Susan, Bravo! I totally agree that gays and lesbian do not need to prove they are worthy or mariage anymore then they have to prove they are worthy of life.

But, here is where I am confused. There is great support for Obama in the l/g community; however, Obama has not spoken out for this community during the proposition 8 vote nor has he said anything to support our protests. In fact his voice was used, rightly or wrongly, to convince people they could vote for him and against g/l. Further, yesterday, the Washington Times indicated that Obama will not be pushing for rescinding the "Don't ask Don't Tell" policy at least until 2010. Why should I believe him? I feel like I have been lied to?

Jim said...


I don't have to prove a thing because male straight white guys are presumed to be full citizens. While that is cool for me, it is damned unfair that you or anyone else is expected by anyone to have anything less than the same presumption.

I have a dear gay friend who worries about ticking off the straight world. I tell him and I will shout it from the housetops: the straight and stupid are chronically ticked off. Let them stew.

Hate 8 is simply wrong. There is no basis for accepting it just to be nice to bigots. And no matter how nice, how decent, how heroic lbgt people are, the bigots are not gonna move. The only thing that moves them is a well placed kick. Something I favor actually...


harry.knox said...

Susan, you make me want to carry a picket sign as I walk to church filling out my absentee ballot while calling undecided voters and kicking litter toward the trash can.

As James points out, there is much to be done, particularly in terms of expanding our coalitions with faith and people of color communities. You've rejuvenated me for the struggle!

DavidJustinLynch said...

Mother Susan, it is so refreshing to see a Priest of the Church express herself in ordinary street language. In some cases there is just no other way to have the necessary impact on the audience on an issue as important as the right of ALL persons to marry the person of their choosing.

In my twenties I was an activist in the National Association for Non-Parents which promoted the childfree lifestyle. I encountered many of the same arguments from conservatives, that the true purpose of marriage was reproduction. Of course, it is not. The Church has always married persons beyond childbearing years. I can recall inviting the late Bishop George Barrett to speak at a NON conference in 1978. He pointed out that the Book of Wisdom, Chapter 4, tells us it is better to be virtous and childfree than wicked and fertile and that the swarming progeny of the wicked will be of no use.

The same issues arise with same-sex marriage. Such partners marry for the exact same reason I did: affection, love and companionship, not reproduction. Hence, I have a great deal of empathy for the GLBT community on this issue as their goals in a relationship are similar to those of mine and those of my wife, Beeper (aka Sharon).

I found today's gospel reading very inspiring. Take note that it is not those of us on earth who will judge who will go to heaven and who will not. It is a task left to God and the angels alone. Hence, the people who judge the morals of others are usurping God's role and thus violating the First Commandment. I trust God to make the right decision about my place in the afterworld, should I get there. Why can't others?

RonF said...


the 2008 California election has not done for systemic homophobia what Hurricane Katrina did for systemic racism

What the heck did Hurricane Katrina have to do with "systemic racism"?

Susan, first, the theocracy argument needs to be intensified.

Jan, a theocracy is a state where the leaders exercising legislative, judicial and executive authority do so on the basis of their position as religious leaders. The fact that people were influenced by their religious beliefs during a democratic election has nothing to do with theocracy.


"however, Obama has not spoken out for this community during the proposition 8 vote nor has he said anything to support our protests."

Your confusion stems from thinking that Obama stands for principles as opposed to standing for getting elected. Don't forget that a swing of less than 3% of voters in a minority of states would have led to Sen. McCain being elected. Supporting same-sex "marriage" would quite possibly have lead to his defeat. And he knows it.

Sharon Groves said...

"Yes, We Can" and "No, We DON't!" --hope for real and sustained change and defiance against those who would allow for homophobia to sneak in and take over our hearts, making us meek and uncertain of our footing. What a gift you are to the movement, Susan. The clarity and power of this post takes my breath away! Thank you!

uffda51 said...

If Katrina had decimated Orange County or Kennebunkport, rather than New Orleans, does anyone doubt these regions would have been made whole in six months? Ronf, I have no doubt that you don’t see the connection between Katrina and systemic racism. I’m sure you don’t see the offense in placing quotes around others people’s marriages either.

When Jerry Falwell said “The idea that religion and politics don’t mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country,” he was certainly advocating something very close to theocracy. Where does that leave Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc., plus those of us who don’t subscribe to the fundamentalist version of Christianity?

Everyone is influenced by their religious beliefs during an election. That does not mean they favor encoding the particular views of their religion into the state constitution to deprive a minority of their rights. When will the values voters who elected the born-again, chosen-by-God George W. Bush acknowledge and apologize for the utter catastrophe of his unprincipled administration? Yes, Obama is a politician (McCain is not?), but his administration will be far better for the LGBT community (and everyone else, at home and around the world) than that of McCain-Palin.

Mitchell said...

Even after all the psychology course work I have taken, I still don't exactly understand homophobia. please help.