Category Archives: Gay Rights

Can The Arts Save Us?

Indianapolis, like many cities, has experienced an explosion of arts over the past ten to fifteen years: theater companies, art galleries, dance venues…all have proliferated. Even more significantly, the quality of those venues has dramatically improved.

Last weekend, my husband and I had tickets to two plays and a cabaret performance. (It was an unusually busy weekend for folks in our age cohort.) The cabaret performance was wonderful (Indianapolis has one of the very few Broadway-caliber cabaret theaters in the U.S.) but I really want to focus on the two plays we were privileged to see, because that experience illustrated why theater, especially, contributes to a culture of inclusion.

In times like these, when Americans are so divided, theatrical performance becomes particularly important, because it is through stories that we advance human understanding and self-awareness. (It was recognition of the importance of stories and how they are told that led to the establishment of Summit Performance, a new, woman-centered theater company in Indianapolis that endeavors to tell universal stories through a female lens.)

Last weekend, we saw two truly riveting performances: The Agitators and The Cake.

The Agitators, at the Phoenix Theatre, explored the long and often-fraught friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas–a friendship of which I had been totally unaware. It may be comforting to believe that representatives of different marginalized groups fighting for equal rights will do so in solidarity, but of course, reality is much more nuanced. The play–superbly acted–probed uncomfortable questions about uneven progress toward equality and our inescapably parochial perspectives–questions that we tend to gloss over.

The Cake, at the Fonseca Theater, defied my expectations. Part of the Fonseca’s stated mission is to be a forum for “pressing conversations.” The Cake was described as a play about a same-sex wedding and a bakery, so I expected a theatrical presentation of the legal challenges that have been in the news–the baker who refuses to lend his craft to an event he considers inconsistent with his religious beliefs, and the clash between civil rights and claims of religious liberty.

What I saw, instead, was a deeply affecting story about good people who were–inescapably– products of their upbringing, and how they reacted when forced to respond to a changing world, especially when people they dearly love are part of that change. No legal arguments, just people trying to reconcile their own contending beliefs.

Both performances reminded me that the arts are important, not just as outlets for human creativity and communication, but as necessary “threads” that very different people use to stitch together a social fabric. Plays, movies, well-done television presentations and the like allow us to travel to places we otherwise wouldn’t visit –some geographic, but others interior and highly personal–and to understand the issues that divide us in new and more nuanced ways.

In the program notes accompanying The Cake, Brian Fonseca quoted a patron saying “We sit together in the dark to know how to love each other in the light.”  I don’t think it is accidental that so many artists–actors, painters, dancers, whatever–are among the more compassionate and accepting people I know.

Readers of this blog who are in Indianapolis or surrounding areas really should try to see both of these productions.

 

Fighting Tolerance

One of the (relatively few) bright spots in recent American culture has been the vast improvement in social attitudes about LGBTQ people and the laws addressing their status. It never made sense–culturally or constitutionally– to make the religious beliefs/prejudices of one subset of Americans the law of the land.

Of course, a fair number of our persistent “hot button” issues are a replay of that same  demand–the insistence by some Christian denominations that the law should require everyone to abide by their denomination’s religious convictions.

The progress toward equal civil rights for LGBTQ folks should not lull us into a belief that we can declare victory for “gay rights,” because it turns out there are still powerful forces intent upon turning back that progress.

The Guardian recently published a lengthy article about one such effort.

Titled “The Multi-Million Dollar Christian Group  Attacking LGBT Rights,” the article focused on an organization called–misleadingly–The Alliance Defending Freedom. (Of course, the “freedom” the Alliance is defending is the freedom to impose its religious views on others).The Alliance is described as “a conservative Christian powerhouse working internationally to remake laws governing family, sex and marriage in a vision which ‘keeps the doors open for the Gospel.'”

Their Gospel, of course.

ADF, which reportedly received more than $55m in contributions in 2018, claims to have more than 3,400 affiliated attorneys and judges worldwide. In the 25 years since it was founded, it has brought 10 cases before the US supreme court, including some of the most consequential cases of the last decade on contraceptive and gay rights.

ADF is, “an aggressive, strategic legal group that is about Christian supremacy and hegemony in the US and in the world,” said Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst with Political Research Associates. “It’s the world under God’s law.”

The group’s work against LGBTQ+ people has led experts on extremism at the Southern Poverty Law Center to label them a hate group. ADF rejects that label.

The Alliance gave us Hobby Lobby, and more recently, the case of the baker unwilling to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding.

The group was founded by prominent opponents of gay rights, including Jeff Sessions, and it hasn’t confined its activities to the U.S. (In the UK, for example, it is defending graphic signs used by anti-abortion protestors.)

In the last decade, ADF attorneys argued in favor of state-sanctioned sterilization for trans people at the European Court of Human Rights. Their brief argued, “equal dignity does not mean that every sexual orientation warrants equal respect”.

Gee–I guess we are not all “God’s children…”

The Alliance is one of the groups behind those misnamed “religious freedom” laws that have popped up in so many states– laws that would give businesses the right to refuse customers or perform services based on “sincere” religious beliefs.

The article notes that, since American public sentiment now strongly favors same-sex marriage, groups like the Alliance have focused on curtailing trans rights, and the rights of trans girls in particular, alleging various “dangers” their existence causes to cis women.

Interestingly, on the same day I came across the Guardian article, the Religion News Service  reported on the “Godly” behavior of some other “Christians.”

A California-based Christian college and the former publishers of The Christian Post and Newsweek have pled guilty in a scheme to fraudulently obtain $35 million from lenders, according to the Manhattan district attorney….

Earlier this month, William Anderson, former chief executive officer of Christian Media Corporation and former publisher of the Christian Post, and Etienne Uzac, former co-owner and chairman of Newsweek Media Group, each pleaded guilty to one felony count of money laundering in the second degree and one felony count of scheme to defraud in the first degree.

Anderson stepped down from the Christian Post, an evangelical Christian publication, in 2018. Christian Post Executive Editor Richard Land, a longtime Southern Baptist ethicist, was not immediately reached for comment.

The publication made headlines in December for publishing an editorial in favor of President Trump. That editorial caused a politics editor at the publication to quit.

Perhaps the pious, holier-than-thou” “Christians” who are so concerned about other people’s “sins” should turn their attention to the behavior of their own brethren. Perhaps, too, they should consider the possibility that immoral behavior doesn’t occur exclusively below the waist.

And so long as we’re being “biblical,” Isn’t there some passage about removing the beam from one’s own eye before trying to remove the speck from someone else’s?

The Fight Is Never Over

When I first began this blog, one of the issues I frequently addressed was gay rights. LGBTQ folks still faced formidable barriers to equality; same-sex marriage was a pipe dream, with DOMA at the federal level and so-called “mini-DOMAs” in many states.  Activists were fighting “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” and working to include protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in state civil rights statutes.

In Indiana, civil rights organizations and major businesses managed to defeat an effort to place a ban on same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution, but we still lack those “four little words”–sexual identity and gender identity–in our civil rights law.  Unless you live in an Indiana city with an inclusive human rights ordinance, it is still perfectly legal here to fire someone for being gay. We also remain one of only five states without an inclusive hate crimes law.

Even in states like Indiana, though, LGBTQ folks have benefitted from the truly dramatic shift in public opinion that has occurred over the past couple of decades. As homophobia ebbed–it certainly hasn’t disappeared, but it has greatly diminished–this blog focused on other issues.

Attacks on LGBTQ citizens may have diminished, but as young folks like to say, “haters gotta hate.” As an article in the Guardian recently illustrated, there is plenty of room for homophobia among the numerous bigotries exhibited by our accidental President and those who support him.

The Trump administration has attacked LGBT rights in healthcare, employment, housing, education, commerce, the military, prisons and sports.

These efforts, it turns out, were just the beginning.

The president’s anti-LGBT agenda could soon gain significant momentum at the US Supreme Court, where Trump’s Department of Justice (DoJ) is pushing to make it legal to fire people for being gay or transgender. The move would fundamentally reverse civil rights for millions of people, LGBT leaders say, and raises fears that LGBT people may lose the minimal protections and resources they have won in past years.

“This is a critical point in history,” said Alesdair Ittelson, the law and policy director at interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth. “The outcome of this case is going to have a tremendous impact on everyone.”

During the Obama administration, the LGBTQ community won significant victories:  repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” new protections under the Affordable Care Act, an anti-discrimination executive order and expanded recognition of trans rights, among other things. Those victories are now under attack.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has sought to reverse healthcare protections for trans people, moved to ban trans people from serving in the military, eliminated rules protecting trans students and pushed to allow businesses to turn away gay and trans customers if they seek a religious exemption.

Last month, the Trump justice department made its most aggressive anti-gay legal argument to date, urging the supreme court to rule that gay employees are not protected under a longstanding act that prohibits “sex discrimination”. The DoJ filed briefs related to three supreme court cases to be heard together on 8 October – two involving gay men fired from their jobs, and a third involving a woman terminated by her employer after she came out as trans.

The courts have repeatedly held that gay people are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Before Trump, the federal government agreed. But William Barr’s Department of Justice is now arguing that sexual orientation and gender identity are excluded under Title VII because “sex” means only whether people are “biologically male or female.”

Before Trump, the Justice Department pursued justice. Before Trump, judicial nominees elevated to the federal bench were vetted for legal competence, not for fidelity to radical “conservative” (actually fundamentalist Christian) ideology.

Before Trump, even our worst Presidents weren’t rabid White Nationalists, Islamophobes, homophobes, anti-Semites and proud and loud racists.

But that was then, and now is now.

It Isn’t Hypocrisy–It’s Worse. Much Worse.

In a comment a few days ago, Gerald posted a link to Raw Story, headlined “Why Evangelicals Won’t Care about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s apparent sex scandal.”

Presumably, they also won’t care about the self-dealing, corruption and similar behaviors that were the focus of a preceding expose in Politico. 

What I found fascinating about the Raw Story version wasn’t the detailed enumeration of Falwell’s multiple unChristian behaviors. His full-throated support for Trump had already provided ample evidence that the publicly-espoused values of his brand of Christianity were bogus. What I found interesting–and hopeful–was the publication’s willingness to identify the actual values of that brand.

The article began with evidence of Falwell’s sexual kinkiness and financial improprieties–and a prediction that none of it would matter to his followers.

The pretense that the religious right was motivated by faith and morality was dropped — or should have been — when white evangelicals flocked to vote for Trump in greater numbers than they did for George W. Bush, who if he was convincing about little else, was convincingly a man of faith.

Here’s the thing: The real purpose of the Christian conservative movement is to uphold white supremacy and patriarchy, full stop. As long as Falwell Jr. keeps that up — as his father did before him — his flock will stick with him just as they’ve stuck with Trump, a thrice-married chronic adulterer who has bragged about sexual assault on tape.

The article went on to debunk the evident belief of the whistleblowers who shared the information with Politico that Falwell Senior had been a better, more authentic Christian.

The elder Jerry Falwell was a bigot through and through, and his version of Christianity was primarily, if not solely, about rationalizing a white supremacist, misogynistic and homophobic worldview.

Falwell first rose to fame as a Baptist minister due to his stalwart opposition to civil rights, which he called“a terrible violation of human and private property rights.” He declared that the 1964 Civil Rights Act “should be considered civil wrongs rather than civil rights.” He also once declared, in response to the historic Brown v. Board of Education case, that if the Supreme Court “had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made.”

Falwell Senior made little effort to hide his racism. He criticized Martin Luther King, Jr. for political activism, despite his own equally political activities. The article also reports what scholars have recognized for some time: the attacks on LGBTQ citizens and women’s reproductive rights were intended to divert attention from the racism that was less politically palatable.

Falwell became even more politically involved  when the federal government under Jimmy Carter stripped tax-exempt status from all-white private schools, which Liberty University was at the time. To punish Carter, Falwell helped form the Moral Majority in 1980 to support Republicans and defeat Democrats. He and other organizers shrewdly pivoted away from open support for segregation and opposition to civil rights toward the more politically palatable politics (at the time) of opposition to feminism and LGBT rights. Falwell would try to distance himself from his past by claiming later to oppose segregation, but he kept finding himself on the wrong side of history, such as when he supported South Africa’s apartheid government.

So Jerry Falwell Jr. isn’t straying from his father’s legacy, but expanding it. From the beginning, it’s always been about white supremacy and patriarchal control. The sanctimony was just plastered over these ugly intentions to give all that hate a holy makeover.

So why isn’t this behavior properly called hypocrisy?

Despite the repeated, strenuous efforts of liberals to point out the hypocrisy, Trump’s support on the Christian right never seems to weaken. That’s because it was never, ever — not for one moment, even at the height of the George W. Bush era of big-time Bible-thumping — about sincere religious conviction. It was always about white supremacy and patriarchy. To call this “hypocrisy” misses the point, in a sense, because to be hypocrites Christian conservatives would have had to believe in something larger than their own bigotries to begin with.

Bingo.

What Do Those Words Mean?

Given the overheated rhetoric coming from all sides in our current iteration of culture war, it’s tempting to dismiss the introductory paragraphs of a recent column originally published by Open Democracy as more of the same:

Any schoolchild in the United States knows that the US Declaration of Independence guarantees individuals’ rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Now, imagine what these principles mean for right-wingers and religious fundamentalists: where “life” refers to fetuses; “liberty” includes the prerogative to discriminate against LGBTIQ people; and “the pursuit of happiness” is reserved for straight, white patriarchs.

Dismissal, however, would be a mistake.

The concerns addressed by the column were triggered by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement of a new government body: The Commission on Unalienable Rights.

According to its statement of intent, the Commission is needed as human rights “discourse has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights”.

 In case you’re wondering how to distinguish “natural” rights, they’re the ones bestowed by God (at least according to Pompeo’s commissioners). One of them, Peter Berkowitz, argues that Christianity is the source of all human rights. Another, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, sees marriage equality for LGBTIQ people as a sign of the “End Times”

Pompeo has raised eyebrows at the State Department and among America’s (increasingly concerned) allies by his efforts to conjoin America’s foreign policy and his religious fundamentalism.

An article in The New York Times noted Pompeo’s willingness to connect foreign policy to his religious beliefs.

No secretary of state in recent decades has been as open and fervent as Mr. Pompeo about discussing Christianityand foreign policy in the same breath. That has increasingly raised questions about the extent to which evangelical beliefs are influencing American diplomacy.

The Times listed Pompeo initiatives prompted by his religious beliefs, including the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and the expansion of Trump Administration anti-abortion policies–effected by terminating financial support for international organizations that support reproductive rights.

In speeches, Pompeo has expressed his belief that mankind is in a “never-ending struggle until the Rapture.” He told a reporter for The New York Times Magazine that the Bible informs everything he does.

His interpretation of Biblical mandates, needless to say, is not universally held even among Christians. But the fact that other people hold beliefs that differ from his hasn’t dissuaded him from his obvious belief that his is the Truth that must be imposed on everyone else.

As Open Democracy reports,

In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal, the Secretary of State attacks “politicians and bureaucrats [who have created] new rights”, and thus “blur the distinction between unalienable rights and ad hoc rights granted by governments”. He also asserts that “rights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups”.

Women, non-Christians and gay people are thus categorized as “interest groups.”

The new commission’s initial assault is against abortion and the rights of LGBTQ people, but as the article points out, that’s only the opening salvo.

Unless you are part of the narrow demographic of rich, white men deemed to have rights in 1776, they’re coming for you too. In fact, their ideology threatens the vast majority of people – which is one reason it must be justified as “natural” and God-given.

I can think of few things more terrifying than people in positions of power who are convinced that their God has told them how He (and believe me, for these “Christians” God is always a “He”) wants them to interpret “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”

This Administration cannot leave soon enough.