In which I FINALLY recap the rest of Creating Change

I’ve basically spent the week recovering from Creating Change; as awesome as it was, regular sleep deprivation threw me for a loop. And so only now, with all my brochures and notes and schedules strewn across my desk and lap, do I get back to business. On Saturday I attended two sessions where LGBTQ issues and religion intersected strongly.

The first was “Breaking the Cycle of Religion-based Bigotry,” which I’m amused to report was summarized by Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, with minimal editorial bias, as:

  • Using polling, focus groups and emotional arguments to persuade evangelical Christians to ignore Scripture and accept homosexuality-based “rights”;
  • Using the tragedy of homosexual youth suicides to shame Christians into stop calling homosexuality sinful…

(AFTAH also says that the conference organizers “[put] the ‘D’ back in ‘Deviance'” — delightful.)

The session was led by Mitchell Gold, the founder of Faith in America, and FIA’s executive director, Brent Childers — a straight ally who himself realized the effect the public dialogue and the political climate have had on LGBT hearts and minds. FIA works from the premise that beliefs aren’t the issue at hand, but the way they’re presented and often imposed on others (for example, marriage inequality and the lack of LGBTQ employment protections). Even when violence isn’t involved, youth in particular feel unsafe, unwanted, and yet unwilling to speak about their troubles when they grow up hearing platitudes like “love the sinner, hate the sin” — and hearing nothing in the face of bullying and bigotry.

FIA doesn’t respond by debating theology — people often get defensive and shut down if they perceive that an attack on one belief is an attack on their core faith. Rather, FIA chooses to highlight the impact that a climate that advocates or tacitly allows bigotry has on the mental health (and suicide rates) of LGBTQs — especially the young. No one wants people to get hurt; the stats that Gold presented show that when people realize what constitutes bigotry, and the effects it has on fragile adolescent psyches, many will at least change their approach, if not re-examine the issue entirely. To be practical: having a body count highlights that there is a problem, and it’s not theological divergence.

  • Gay kids who experience family rejection are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide and 6 times more likely to report high levels of depression.
  • Suicide rates amongst LGBT youth are four times higher than those of heterosexual youth.

Addressing Religious Arguments to Achieve LGBT Equality (PDF link)

For attending the panel, we all received copies of Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America (Amazon page; official book website). There are stories from entrepreneurs, politicians, students, ministers, who started to come out in their teens or decades later, growing up in the 50s and the 2000s — and in keeping with FIA’s message, we hear from Southern Baptists and Catholics and more. Many of the essayists wrote that after they stopped pleading for God to change them for fear of his abandonment, their faith lives only strengthened as they became honest with themselves and their families.

For Crisis readers who are wondering if LGBTQ status or LGBTQ acceptance can be balanced with religious faith, the message is that there is no necessary connection nor conflict between the two. As an atheist, that’s irrelevant to me, and there is a lot of intersection between religion and queer issues, but I have to agree. I’ve been reading Crisis all week, and the message and approach I took away from this panel — addressing people’s actions, not their beliefs — make it easily the most rewarding one I went to all weekend.

Uganda is one of the striking examples of religious bigotry put into practice. I went to “Uganda: Armageddon of the Culture Wars” because I’ve been following the progress of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill — a.k.a. the “kill the gays” bill. While sodomy is already criminal in Uganda and 36 other African states, Ugandans convicted as “serial offender” or HIV-positive homosexuals would be executed. In the meantime, a Ugandan newspaper has printed the names and faces of 100 suspected homosexuals, under the headline “HANG THEM,” which likely led to the recent murder of David Kato of the group Sexual Minorities Uganda.

The striking thing about the Ugandan/African gay witch hunt is that certain American evangelicals are to blame. Ultraconservative groups like Abiding Truth Ministries (an SPLC-recognized hate group), headed by Scott Lively (author of The Pink Swastika) have been engaging in a new moral colonization of Africa, shipping home their African success stories to bolster their congregations. When Biblical literalists bring verses like Leviticus 20:13 to the largely uneducated masses, the results are grim but not surprising.

David Kato’s friend and SMUG associate Frank Mugisha was there to tell us personally  about the deadly climate in Uganda. With him was the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, who heads the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation. Commendably, the foundation, which has a center in Kampala, Uganda, is trying to establish dialogue between LGBTQ citizens and the government and religious leaders — as well as pushing for general interfaith dialogue, HIV prevention, women’s rights, literacy and micro-loans, and more. Just as with FIA, the St. Paul’s Foundation is tackling immediate issues of life and death.

As for the part we can play in America, we can expose and shame the American religious figures who invest their hate abroad, and who silently encourage the fanatics who put fundamentalist beliefs into practice. A good start (and I really don’t mind if he’s an easy target, because that doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous) is the aforementioned Scott Lively, who has the audacity to claim of Uganda that “It is the pink-gloved hand of western powers that are cutting the throat of Africa’s most God-fearing country, and one of the world‘s most promising Christian democracies.”

Next time I’ll wrap up with a Saturday and a Sunday session which addressed succeeding as a blogger (not that I’m trying that hard) and finding a career actively devoted to LGBTQ issues and rights.

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