Saturday, August 11, 2012

Speaking one's truth, free speech, and "that of God in All"

I have been out of the loop for the past few weeks, but I was asked recently my thoughts about the comments of the Chick-Fil-A CEO about gay marriage.  After doing a little more reading about it, I have to be honest, I think the reaction from the left on this (the mayors of Boston, Chicago and DC in particular) was way over the top and ultimately counter-productive, fueling the divide unnecessarily. 

Here’s what I know:  Chick-Fil-A is a fast-food corporation that is not open on Sundays.  This is not a fiscal decision, but a faith-based decision with fiscal implications.  Now think about it: in general, if a corporation like this is closed on Sunday, while most of the competitors are open, would you think this is a socially-liberal organization?  I certainly didn’t.  So now the CEO is ASKED his opinion on gay marriage, and he speaks his truth.  Given that Chick-Fil-A keeps its doors closed on Sundays as part of keeping the day sacred, why on earth did this surprise anyone?  The reaction of the left on this shows both ignorance (where have you been all these years, only now learning about this CEO?) and picks a fight where, honestly, I don’t think one was needed. 

There is a part of me that feels for the CEO.  He spoke his truth, and not only he but all his employees take a hit.  Other than closing on Sundays, I don’t see any other place in the corporation where faith influences practice.   This seems to me clearly a free-speech issue, and an example of where the activist world perhaps has too much time on its hands to generate reactivity – not thinking.  Because my aunt “likes” Chick-Fil-A on facebook, am I supposed to take offense?  Hardly.  As I said, there is something I admire about this company in its “closed on Sundays” practice.  To be honest, I think more companies should consider taking a day to put family, friends and faith above profit.  I also think it is a sad day when people are afraid to speak their truth – especially when asked.  Change is not going to happen solely through protest; conversation reaches those who often are pushed away by protest.  In this way, I think the activist reaction to the CEO’s statement has done more harm than good.  As my own protest, I am more likely to eat at Chick-Fil-A to show a support of free speech and good-faith effort at reconciliation. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Is an opulent gay wedding really progress?

Last night a friend was telling me that one of his colleagues – a gay man – just proposed to his companion. With the recent approval of same-gender marriage, this is great that people can do this. It’s a true celebration of the achievements of the gay rights movement and the progression of society. But when I heard that the happy couple wants to have a big bash wedding and reception at the Newseum (rental alone is in the 10’s of thousands), I had to give pause. Earlier in the day, I heard a news story from Maryland about some legislative snags in a bill to approve gay marriage in that state. A legislator from Montgomery County stated that this issue is about civil rights. I have to say, when I put these two items together, I’m not as passionate about the cause.

The issue for me is not about marriage. I absolutely celebrate the rights of all to marry, and have been the benefit of such support. However, if we in the gay community are going to consider our cause a part of the larger civil rights and social justice movement, we should also be challenging each other in extending compassion and consideration to others. Personally, I’m not speaking up for gay rights so that wealthy gays and lesbians can have 6-figure weddings; I call the ability to marry "progress, but not the 6-figure wedding. To me, it’s just a gay form of greed, selfishness and conspicuous consumption and these are at the real basis of any true civil rights issue, in my opinion.

It saddens me to see a segment of our society that knows what it is to be marginalized acquire rights and then gleefully spends while forgetting that there are those who continue to be marginalized. To celebrate that greed and materialism transcend race, color and sexual orientation is no celebration at all. It’s a slap in the face of those still in need, and until we get serious about the underlying issues and connections, there will be no true equality.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More thoughts on the fallout from Rutgers

I have prided myself on being a bridge-builder across political and theological divides. With regards to gay rights, I am clear on a couple of things. For example, I know that being gay is not a choice. I know that when we can live in a world where we not fear the scorn of friends or the rejection of our family or faith because of our sexual orientation, we can be a healthier presence in the world. At the same time, I do not think that being gay absolves us from the responsibilities in our community to be good stewards, to bear witness to the richness and diversity of the glbt community, and that we can do what we can to support future generations regardless of whether we have children or not. One thing I cannot say with 100% authority is whether being gay or not is a sin. I truly do not believe it is, and no one can convince me that it is, but, ultimately, no one living on this earth is the ultimate authority of this.

The recent Rutgers case of invasion of privacy and suicide, and the public reaction to it, has had me thinking about all of these things, as much of our media and community have entered into some serious soul-searching. Some are looking for blame, and certainly the two students who engaged in the invasion of privacy should not be let off the hook. By the same token, perhaps the young man who took his life should share some of the responsibility for this as well. There are many of us who have felt intense pain and shame, but took into consideration the feelings of others in our decisions to plug on. Things that lead to suicide are rarely simple causal equations, but a myriad of complexities. I know this can sound incredibly cold, and I by no means discount the intensity of pain that can exist, but I also think it is important to not overly-victimize and glorify someone who takes his own life, and to state unequivocally that were it not for this act the outcome would have been different. There is often much more to the story. There can be too many copy-cats.

But beyond looking at this saga in a vacuum, or even in the lens of a university campus, I can't help but look at this through a macro-lens and think, well, what do you expect? We live in a world where gays and lesbians are routinely considered "less than equal". There are open community conversations about the worthiness and rights of gays and lesbians, and people in well-placed positions of power feel no qualms about denying gays and lesbians equality. Everything from Don't Ask/Don't Tell, to gay marriage, to child adoption create opportunities to reinforce the societal imprint that we are second-class citizens. Preachers and congregants in countless churches talk openly about the sinful life of gays. Quakers are no exception, as is evidenced by this letter. Lest we think that liberal Friends are absolved from this, even the most well-meaning of Friends can easily dehumanize glbt folks with the kindest of terms, but still talking about "them" as if we are not in the room. Even the recent study about the high-rates of HIV in the gay community and the reaction of the media are players in the dehumanization process, as written about here.

I can't help but think that righteous indignation and attacking of whole groups (such as the Mormon Church in this case) because of the heinous acts and words of some within those groups may actually hinder the ability to reach out with compassion, healing, support and love that is missing from all of this. I think we all could benefit from taking a deep breath and see, that, outside of this Rutgers incident, we all share a responsibility to see that situations like this do not get repeated. Our whole society works in concert to perpetuate the second-class citizenship of the glbt community. It's not any one church; it's our collective society, and many of us play into the process in subtle ways - even when we over-generalize our "glbt" friends. We just have to recognize that, as long as we do this, it gives license to those who choose to prey on the vulnerable for personal gain can do so against glbt folks. If we can recognize this, then we can start to hold each other accountable in our words and actions as we work towards that better place.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Anti-Bullying" vs. "Kindness"

I was pleased and proud earlier this week to see my old school, Rutgers, embarking on a two-year effort to cultivate small acts of courtesy and compassion. So it was with tragic irony to read the story of the RU freshman who apparently took his own life after his roommate and her girlfriend got video footage of him with another male student having sex and spread it on the internet.

Predictably, it is easy to quickly line up and talk about how awful the two students are who did this, and that this is another example of how the attacks on the glbt youth have to stop. Human Rights Campaign sent an e-mail asking people to sign a petition to send to Education Secretary Arne Duncan demanding that sexual identity and gender orientation should be included in anti-bullying curriculum.

I am not a big fan of this approach. First, I have never thought that "anti-" campaigns are effective. They tend to doubly reinforce negative imagery, without promoting a vision of what we should move to (I've felt the same about the "War is not the Answer" campaign - war is the only image this sentence evokes). Second, if anti-bullying were really going to be successful, shouldn't the object be irrelevant. If we give a list of who should not be bullied, does that mean anyone not on the list is fair game?

Consider, instead, what Dan Savage is starting. In an NYTimes interview, he talked about a new web-program that shows gay teens images and stories of happy gay adults - not celebrities, but real people. I like this approach for two reasons: first, he acknowledges that there is little we can do to reach inside the school buildings with these messages for a number of reasons, and second, we don't have to wait until then. New technology allows us to connect with kids here and now. He also puts his effort into positive imagery.

To me, the main problem is not bullying, it's that we are not a very civil society, and this is both the tragedy and the opportunity that is playing out at Rutgers. The two horribly misguided teens who spread the video, to me, are part of the tragic narrative, not just two rotten eggs. They will no doubt be justly prosecuted and held accountable, but if it ends there, we all lose. We live in a voyeuristic society, and we raise kids in an education system that does little to nurture compassion. Even our service learning projects take our kids out of their community to nurture caring of outsiders, but not bringing them in. And then, of course, there is the whole media technology of violence and cruelty in news, talk shows, and video games. An "anti-bullying" curriculum doesn't stand a chance. But, a concerted effort at civility, I think, does. It must be sustained, and viewed as a rigorous exercise regimen that will start small and then build. Given our current climate, I look at it like this: we have to do an iron-man triathlon in three years, but for the last 10 we have been sitting on a couch, watching tv, eating potato chips and drinking soda. We need a good plan, but we can't magically expect to get up and run ten miles. Let's start with turning the tv off, and switching to juice and rice cakes. It's a long journey, but worth the effort.

We as a society have our work cut out for us. I don't believe in coincidences, so I think what happened at Rutgers shows that we have to make serious changes, and here's a reminder of why we need to do this. But it's not just at Rutgers. It's everywhere, including those who want to hang the two students who invaded the privacy of a fellow-student. What an opportunity to really shake the community to the need for change. Here's to hoping they can do it, and perhaps Quakers can commit to a similar path.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"With a Special Welcome to Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgendered"

At the local Friends Meeting, there is a smaller Meeting for Worship that meets at the same time as the big Meeting. I prefer the smaller meeting - the room seems more comfortable, and the spoken messages are fewer and, as a consequence, tend to be more centered. I say this cautiously, not wanting to pooh-pooh messages, but I have heard enough messages about Quaker righteousness to be happy for quite a while. There was also once a spoken message that was more of a plug for the Nominating Committee.

But, while I prefer the small Meeting, there is one thing that gnaws at me: most Sundays, the post-Meeting message is that this gathering has a "special welcome to people who are glbt". I understand that, prior to the last decade (or two), this was perhaps a necessary statement. I also know that this is very much the origins of this smaller meeting. But in 2010, in a city that now has legal gay marriage, I think that this welcoming message in the present tense is patronizing and out of touch. I also know that there are many in the Meeting who carry the scars and wounds from the time when this message was necessary. The repetition of the message in the present tense doesn't mesh with modern DC, but is really an homage to the past. To keep repeating the message also suggests that glbt folks are more welcome at this small Meeting than at the big Meeting, and that's not at all true.

Here's what I would suggest: drop "With a special welcome...". Perhaps replace this with something like "Welcome to this smaller Meeting, with its origins in being as a special welcoming place for glbt folks. We celebrate that this special welcome is no longer needed, but there are still many of us who appreciate the comforts of this smaller, often more quiet space."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Acceptance and Reconciliation: Two very different acts

At last weekend's Chicago Gay Pride Parade, a friend of mine brought a group of people to stand in the crowd in t-shirts that said quite simply "I'm Sorry". The group also had signs, one of which said "I used to be a Bible-banging Homophobe - Sorry". This friend, Andrew Marin (Founder of The Marin Foundation and author of the book "Love is an Orientation") has been doing some amazing work in the conservative/evangelical community over the past decade, growing in his ministry and using his life to build bridges. Andrew has a growing network of people who look at the movement of gay rights at this point not as a series of marches and protests, or as a campaign of tolerance and acceptance, but as a work of reconciliation and forgiveness. Here is a wonderful posting about the spirit of this work.

I have increasingly felt that the work of reconciliation is right up the alley of Friends. As Peacemakers, reconciliation and forgiveness are vital to healing wounds so that we can move forward. It is a definite work of faith and heart. Too often, however, I think we get stuck on tolerance and acceptance, and it creates blindspots. Too often I have encountered Friends who have no idea that there has been a fairly dramatic change in the attitudes of evangelicals and conservatives with regards to the glbt community. My own sense is that this is because, in our desire to be accepting of all people, we often falsely believe that our acceptance alone is enough to bring healing. This is not so. And as cycles of violence tend to repeat themselves, we may be standing at a juncture where we Friends are perpetuating the cycles by not recognizing this. If we do not recognize that there are people like Andrew out there (and there are many), then we miss an opportunity to be a part of the reconciliation process. In doing so, we may also be falsely casting aspersions on people who are more accepting of the glbt-community than we know, and for this, at some point, we also will have to give apologies.

What we cannot do is hide behind our walls and claim that we will only change our beliefs about "Christians" and the gay community when we see it. We have to travel outside our comfort zones - as Andrew has done - with eyes wide open and deep love in our hearts. It is out there and has been for many years. We have to stop asking for the changes, but instead asking ourselves why we continue to not see what is very much there?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Movements and Activists: are they the same thing?

This past week, there were two things I noticed in the news that I think might give pause to those of us who are firmly in the gay-rights camp. I am not sure what to make of them, but I think they are both telling of the times in which we live.

The first: at the recent gun-rights rally that was held on Federal Plaza in Washington, DC, a transgendered person was among the speakers. She was making the statement that all members of the glbt community should take up arms for personal protection. The crowd response was a mixed bag: clearly, her message was in-line with the theme of the day, but the messenger in this case raised the level of discomfort in the crowd a bit.

The second: As President Obama was making a campaign speech for Senator Boxer in California, he was heckled and disrupted by representatives of a group called “Get EQUAL” for not moving fast enough on the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. This message is not that dissimilar than the frequent e-mails I get from Human Rights Campaign usually “demanding” something – either military service, marriage, or a prom.

Personally, if this is what the gay-rights movement has become – a group of impatient, demanding, self-serving people, I want nothing to do with them. First of all, as a pacifist, I am not enamored with the outright violence of gun use for any purpose. Beyond that, I find these days that demanding things during a time when we are on a clear positive trajectory in terms of gay rights, is divisive. My own experience is that when we build relationships with people not completely aligned with us but also not against us, they may move in our direction. I also know that impatiently demanding things is not a real effective way of expanding the choir; in fact, it can have the opposite effect, making natural allies not so comfortable with the movement.

All of this is reflective of the times in which we live. Impatience, and reactive institutional behavior that may have had some movement successes in the past, but are now done more often I think to maintain the institutions rather than the movement. Think about it: Obama has said he is not in favor of DADT. He has instructed the military to find a way to get rid of it. That is more than his predecessors, and it will happen. Talk to most people in the military (especially those under 30, as is true throughout the country), and you will see that attitudes have changed dramatically, and policies will also change. To protest and disrupt Obama just seems counter-productive, and not recognizing that gay rights are part of a movement, with “move” being the key word.

At the same time, perhaps a little celebration about how far we have come. Across the political, social and cultural spectrum people from the glbt community are becoming increasingly visible. There are now openly-gay Republicans, Evangelicals, and Libertarians. Within the ranks of the military, there is an increasing comfort with sexual diversity. These are all signs that we are on the right course, and there really is no stopping the trend: it’s more a matter of pace.

I personally think that if gay institutions want to be a part of a movement again, and not just reactive institutions using tired practices, they are going to need to completely re-think their strategy that in some ways is actually slowing down the progress by dividing and stigmatizing. Do away with gay pride parades, or at least recognize that they are political and corporate spectacles (that often actually stigmatize the gay community) and not part of the movement. Instead, let’s organize community picnics – low-key affairs – in places that are less-welcoming but build community and visibility. Let’s keep speaking truth to power, but with an openness, a sense of doubt, and a willingness to look at our own hurts. Let’s not protest the people on our side, but nurture positive relations with those who are not entirely with us. New times call for new actions.