For Christians, President Obama Said Much More Than You Think He Said

Well, he finally did it.

This afternoon, President Obama said in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts that he supports the right of lesbians, gays, and bisexual people to marry the person they love. Here are the three short clips ABC has shared, followed by the reason I think this matters. (Hint: It’s a game changer, and not for the reason you think.)

I’ll let others talk about why this is a monumental step from an LGBT point of view. Joe Jervis and Pam Spalding had particularly insightful reactions over at the Village Voice. Over at America Blog, Joe Sudbay and John Aravosis outlined the history that led us to today’s statement. And David Badash has official reactions of many Gay, Inc. leaders. And of course, anti-gay industry leaders are uniformly apoplectic. Jeremy Hooper has those statements.

As for me, I’d like to recognize what Obama said to religious Americans, because it was something different than most people think, and that difference could help craft the discussion going forward.

Religious Americans, particularly Christian Americans, are the ones holding back LGBT rights in this country. Just yesterday, Pam’s House Blend ran this picture of a church marquee at a church that doubles as a polling place in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a pointed declaration to Christians going to vote on an anti-gay marriage amendment that if they wanted to be “good Christians,” they had no choice but to vote for the amendment.

This is what we call "passive electioneering."
This is what we call "passive electioneering."

(It’s a United Methodist Church, because of course it is.)

Planned or not, this is the context of the president’s statement, so it’s important to note exactly what he said to Christians who have been told for generations that as Christians, they can’t be in favor of civil rights for LGBT people. Watch the second video again and notice what he’s not saying.

He isn’t saying “I’m a Christian, but I think LGBT people should have rights.” He’s not even saying, “I’m a Christian, and I think LGBT people should have rights.”

No, President Obama is saying, “I’m a Christian, and that’s why I think LGBT people should have rights.”

Linger on that for a minute. The difference between those three statements is not inconsequential. In fact, it’s hard to overemphasize the importance of that nuance.

As offensive as “God is in the mix” was during that debate about civil marriage rights in 2008, the way he said it gave religious people permission to question their cradle-born beliefs about gay people. And as frustrating as “I’m evolving” has been for those of us who could really use (and deserve) equal rights right now, it has given Christians who might not know any out LGBT people permission to find room within their faith for new understanding.

And now, President Obama has called on Christian Americans to take the next step. He hasn’t told them to throw away their faith; that’s a fool’s errand. Rather, he has pointed out to them that LGBT inclusion very easily blends into the core of their faith as it already is. Just as importantly, he has given a voice to Christians who have already made that journey but have been intimidated into silence.

Will he convince the religious right? Of course not. I daresay that wasn’t even his goal. But there are people in the pews whose anti-gay positions are just an unconsidered default, and he might convince them to adjust their thinking to a more Christ-like attitude. He might get pastors in Middle America not to go quietly along with what Maggie Gallagher and Tony Perkins say they have to do. He might give closeted LGBT kids, teens, and adults who are steeped in anti-gay Christian dogma a new perspective that leads them safely out of the closet.

Like I said, this could be a game changer, far beyond just a conversation about legal rights. Well done, Mr. President. I’m impressed. (Now don’t make us push so hard for the next one. Deal?)


R.I.P. Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, 1928 - 2012
Maurice Sendak, 1928 - 2012
The New York Times reported this morning that renowned children’s author and out gay man has died at the age of 83 from complications of a recent stroke. Sendak came out publically just four years ago, though he had been in a 50-year relationship until his partner’s death in 2007.

Sendak is, of course, best known for his legendary book Where The Wild Things Are. His final work, Bumble-Ardy, was published less than a year ago in September 2011.

In an interview with NPR’s Fresh Air last September, Sendak had this to say:

I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.

One Tweet Response To UMC General Conference 2012

Well, it’s over. So much happened at the United Methodist Church’s 2012 General Conference since my first post about it. The bottom line is that for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, we’re exactly where we were two weeks ago. All we really have to show for this mess is a few fresh scars.

© UMNS | Click for original
© UMNS | Click for original

My heart doesn’t know what to make of it. I’ve been asked more than once why I don’t just leave. Will Green of Chicago said it best in this tweet from Friday morning.

Click for original tweet
Click for original tweet

This is where I stand, even if I have to do it from outside the Church walls for a while longer. I don’t know if that’s healthy; I suspect that it’s not. But it’s where I am.

United Methodist Church Divided On God’s Unconditional Love

Rachel Maddow got a surprise last Sunday when she appeared on Meet The Press. During a debate about the pay gap between men and women in America, she found out that Republicans just don’t believe that the pay gap exists. They think it’s explained by men working more hours, women having more part-time jobs, and other factors. She spent a good portion of her show Monday night talking about her surprise and showing with real data that the disparity isn’t explained by those factors, and made the point that perhaps the disagreement on the facts has been a problem in the discussion of policy. After all, if Republicans think it isn’t a problem, they aren’t going to work to fix the problem. It’s a good point, one that can be brought into other areas. To wit:

For the last seven days, and through this Friday, the United Methodist Church (UMC) has been holding its big quadrennial General Conference in Tampa, Florida to talk about new legislation in the Church, decide what problems we need to focus on, and what basic tenets need to be updated, introduced, or deleted from the Book Of Discipline (BOD), the Church’s Constitution. (More information on the structure of the UMC and function of General Conference here.)

There was a bit of an uproar on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 over several items. The biggest of them, at least rhetorically, was the addition of what should be a wholly uncontroversial phrase to the BOD. Here’s the newly amended preamble, with the addition in bold:

“We affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the Gospel. We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s love is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

After some contentious debate, the legislation passed, but not by much. In the end, only 53 percent of delegates agreed to add this very basic, very obvious, very scriptural, very Wesleyan affirmation of God’s love. Think of that. Nearly half of United Methodist delegates refused to affirm God’s unconditional love for everybody.

For the first time in a while, anti-gay and conservative United Methodists had to discard their usual “Gays Go Away” rhetoric and expose their true meaning: “People Who Don’t Believe Exactly What We Believe Go Away.” During the debate and the vote, the General Conference Twitter feed was filled with good people who were stunned by conservative United Methodists’ admission, stunned that in 2012 something so foundational to Methodism was even up for debate. More than one person said something to the effect of “This isn’t the UMC I know.”

Thanks to Pastor David Lafary for this image from General Conference 2012
Thanks to Pastor David Lafary for this image from General Conference 2012

Here’s the thing. This vote didn’t surprise me. At all. I figured it would pass, but it was fairly predictable to me that it was close. To be honest, I was as stunned by straight allies’ reactions to this admittedly horrifying vote as they were by the horrifying vote. This vote is the Church I’ve always known, the Church as it’s always presented itself to me.

In 1972, at the first General Conference after the 1968 merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, anti-gay language was added to ¶ 161G, saying “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” *

Ever since, for longer than I’ve been alive, progressive United Methodists have been trying to remove the anti-gay language and ever since, for longer than I’ve been alive, conservative United Methodists have been beating them back. Every now and then something gets through that almost affirms the existence and value of gay United Methodists, but it’s always accompanied by some other statement that pastors are free to discriminate against gay people, or a reaffirmation that gay people are “incompatible” with the UMC.

But the vote Tuesday morning was different. The added language was so basic that those opposing it laid bare the unvarnished rejection that anti-gay United Methodists have been lobbing at gays for 40 years. The argument against was something along the lines of “you can be separated from God by things that you do,” by which they usually mean to say “you can be separated from God by the genitals of a person you have sex with or want to have sex with or even are just attracted to.” But because the wording was so broad, it became clear that their position was unscriptural from a Methodist point of view. “You can be separated from God by things that you do” means that much of what people do all the time separates them from God’s love, and that’s just not what United Methodists believe. At least we don’t unless you’re gay, in which case we’ve believed that since 1972.

Bishop Melvin Talbert said at the 2008 General Conference that when African Americans were separated into their own segregated conference from 1939 to 1968, at least they were still connected. At least the relationships and the dialogue could continue. But the UMC has chosen for 40 years to shut the church’s door on lesbians, gays, and bisexuals **, something that hasn’t been done to any other group. That’s a special kind of attack, one that you can’t know very easily from the outside.

I’m not saying that my straight ally friends and compatriots have done something wrong. On the contrary, there are wonderful allies working very hard to make a place for gays and lesbians in the UMC. I have a feeling that before this vote, many straight allies in the UMC had honestly never had the vitriol leveled against them as it is leveled against gay people in the UMC every day. They hadn’t been on the receiving end of this kind of attack, and they were shocked to learn, just as Maddow was on Sunday, that the reality of this argument we’re having is different than they thought.

And I wept with them after the vote on Tuesday morning. No, I didn’t weep; I sobbed. I sobbed because for the first time, people working on my behalf received what gays and lesbians have been receiving from the Church for 40 years, and it hurt them. Pain, disbelief, and despair permeated the messages coming from Tampa, and the punch in the gut that I read in their messages was all too familiar. I don’t want them to feel this; it hurts to know that they do.

It sucked. It was a bad morning, one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and it sucked.

But my hope is that this horrible experience gave straight allies a Rachel Maddow Revelation, that it helped those fighting alongside us to understand a little better the reality LGBT Methodists live in, and that that better understanding will help them fight the battle in ways that none of us have considered before.

* The timing of this addition was not an accident. In September of that same year, the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. Conservatives in the UMC apparently got wind of this and wanted to affirm their disdain for gays, a statement that was previously unnecessary because we were officially considered mentally ill.

** The UMC is accidentally more accepting of transgender women and men than the rest of the LGBT community. Gender identity wasn’t a part of the original “incompatibility” clause, and being trans isn’t an official barrier to marriage rites or ordination, for example.

David Barton Says AIDS Is God’s Punishment For Being Gay. Julia Sugarbaker Disagrees

Last Friday, Glenn Beck’s favorite Pretend-Historian David Barton took to his WallBuilders radio show to declare that AIDS hasn’t been cured because God really wants to kill gays. Right Wing Watch has the audio clip. Here’s the quote.

There’s a passage that I love in Romans 1 – I don’t love what the topic is – but it talks about homosexuality and it says that they will receive in their bodies the penalties of their behavior. And the Bible again, it’s right every time, and studies keep proving that and that’s why AIDS has been something they haven’t discovered a cure for or a vaccine for, because it’s the fastest self-mutating virus known to mankind. Every time they just about get a vaccine discovered for it, it transmutes into something new and they have to start over again. And that goes to what God says, hey you’re going to bear in your body the consequences of this homosexual behavior.

I could spend a few hundred words ranting about how this jackass is an appalling embarrassment to the human species, but instead I’ll defer to Julia Sugarbaker. She knocked the David Bartons of the world on their collective keisters 25 years ago on an episode of Designing Women called Killing All The Right People.

Give him a wig and a pair of shoulder pads, and David Barton is Imogene.

Tell on, sister.
Tell on, sister.

Imogene, get serious! Who do you think you’re talking to?! I’ve known you for 27 years, and all I can say is, if God was giving out sexually transmitted diseases to people as a punishment for sinning, then you would be at the free clinic all the time!

And so would the rest of us!

[full episode here]

The “God’s punishment” garbage was popular among “Christian” Republicans in the 1980s. That David Barton still holds this narrow, hateful, mean-spirited, small view of both God and gays is sad and more-than-a-little infuriating.

One might even call it an abomination.

Focus On The Family’s Slightly More Polite Game Of ‘Smear The Queer’

The 16th annual Day of Silence is upon us. On April 20, 2012, students across the world will take a one-day vow of silence to remember LGBT kids who died by suicide this year and more broadly draw attention to the effects of homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism.

Day of Silence 2012

As you might guess, anti-gay groups are none too happy about people being reminded that their anti-gay rhetoric has a real human cost, and they’re sending in their kids to give the homos a smackdown.

Anti-gay group Alliance Defense Fund initiated Day of Truth back in 2005, built on the knowledge that the gay kids wouldn’t be able to respond verbally during the Day of Silence. It was horribly unpopular, and in 2009 ADF passed it to “ex-gay” group Exodus International. It became even less popular after the wave of LGBT suicides in late 2010, so EI passed it on to hate-group-affiliated Focus On The Family. Focus then rebranded the event as the Day of Dialogue.

Whatever they want to call their official anti-gay response, it’s remarkably similar to Smear The Queer. For those who missed that bit of playground violence in their youth, here’s a pretty good explanation from The Crow’s Eye.

The objet de jeu was simple, compared to baseball or lacrosse: do violence to the “Queer” with the ball. If you are wondering if the Queer was just an odd fellow, within game play, ponder no further. The Queer was certainly the Fag. And he had a handicap, which was the ball. The Queer had to have two hands on the ball, unless he was throwing it away. The point of the game, from the vantage point of the ball clasping Queer, was to get rid of the ball and become not-Queer. Because the only person who could be struck, tackled, knocked down or done violence to was the Queer with the ball.

In this slightly more polite version of the game, anti-gay groups arm the children of anti-gay churches to spread their anti-gay message to gay kids (and some straight allies). Then they present the anti-gay “Hey, we’re just having a conversation, man” model of sermonizing, full of coded words like “struggle” and “God’s best plan.” The goal is to get a gay kid alone and give him a good old-fashioned spiritual attack until he relents and goes back in the closet, or at least doubts himself enough to stop talking about it.

Last month, Friendly Atheist posted this spot-on response to the weird Day of Dialogue cards Focus are asking their kids to pass out to Day of Silence participants. Original is on top, response on bottom.

Click for Friendly Atheist's post
Click for Friendly Atheist's post

Last Saturday, Kenneth Weishuhn completed suicide after he came out a month ago and endured death threats by exactly the type of kids Focus On The Family has recruited to hand out these cards. He was 14. Austin Rodriguez attempted suicide in March at the age of 15, after coming out late last year. Thank God, Austin was not successful, and Asterisk exclusively reported earlier this week that he is slowly regaining his strength.

Jamey Rodemeyer. Rafael Morelos. Matthew Chance. Jacob Rogers. And the list goes on. Below is the map I’ve been keeping up of LGBT suicides in the United States.

(View LGBT Suicides in the United States in a larger map)

This year, we will remember that the anti-gay groups don’t want truth, and they don’t want dialogue. They want us to cease to be, to disappear. Above all else, they want to end us. The children and adults — their campaign’s damage lasts a lifetime — on this map are their success stories. (And yes, I’m saying what you think I’m saying. It’s long past time to stop sugar-coating it.)

This Day of Silence, we will remember.

How About Some Good News? Gay Attempted Suicide Victim Recovering In Ohio

Austin Rodriguez - image via WYTV
Austin Rodriguez - image via WYTV

On March 30, I told you about Austin Rodriguez, a gay teen in Wellsville, Ohio who had attempted suicide two weeks before. At the time, he was in a drug-induced coma and doctors were preparing to perform a tracheotomy to help get him off a ventilator. I’ll be honest, things didn’t look good for this splendid young man.

I’m happy to report today that Austin has made remarkable strides since then. He has been awake for a week now, and last Thursday spoke for the first time since the incident. He’s been moved from ICU to a private room on a “stepdown” floor, which is a very good sign.

Monday night, to the delight of family, friends, and supporters, Austin returned to Facebook with this post through his mother’s account.

Happy dances all around!
Happy dances all around!

hey everybody, this is austin 🙂 getting stronger every day, but i wont be home in awhile. Ik abt all the support & thank you all from the bottom of my heart ♥

I got in touch with Austin’s mother this morning, and she had this message for the community: “Austin had no idea so many people were pulling for him. I would like to personally thank everyone for their support.”

Austin has a lot of work and a long recovery ahead of him, but I look forward to the day when he can return to school. Keep it up, Austin! We’re so glad you’re here!

The Devotion Project: ‘There’s Nothing Like Getting News That Your Child Might Die’

The Devotion Project released its third short documentary today. This time out, the project features Laura Fitch and Jaime Jenett with their son Simon Lev Fitch-Jenett in Listen From The Heart. See it here in its entirety.

Don’t tell us our families are all that different. We know better, and now, so do you.

The Devotion Project is a series of short documentary portraits of LGBTQ couples and families, chronicling and celebrating their commitment and love, directed and produced by Anthony Osso.

Logo by Daniel Pando of Captured Energy (Click for more)

Two Weeks After Attempted Suicide, Gay Ohio Teen Remains Unconscious

Austin Rodriguez - image via WYTV
Austin Rodriguez - image via WYTV

It’s been two weeks since he attempted suicide, and Austin Rodriguez’s mother is asking for prayers in preparation for surgery next week. The Wellsville, Ohio teen remains sedated and on a ventilator at Akron Children’s Hospital after taking over a hundred prescription pills and collapsing in his family’s home on March 16.

This Thursday, Austin’s mother shared the following update with a Facebook group formed to relay information on his condition.

Austin has been fighting with Neuroleptic Malignate Syndrome. A lot of people were asking the name of it. Look it up, it’s really serious. He is looking at surgery mid-week next week to remove the tubes and put in a trach so after a week or so they could try to take him off the muscle relaxers and medications that have him paralyzed, which will be great. No real improvement with his lungs yet. His temp went up overnight to 104 again, but they put him on a cooling blanket again and his temp has come down and stayed down through the morning. His blood pressure is good for now. So please keep him in your prayers and if you have an extra minute please pray for our family. Thank you for all the support.

The Advocate first reported Austin’s attempted suicide last Friday. Local NBC station WFMJ followed up earlier this week.

Bonnie Rodriguez says her 15-year-old son declared his homosexuality just six to eight months ago. First telling family, then friends, and then no longer hiding it from classmates at school.

The teenager’s mother says it was shortly after coming out that her son, who is a straight-A student, began getting bullied at school.

She says at first her son appeared happy and relieved, and then she thought he may have been going through a depression and asked him about it several times, but he never really explained the extent of what he was going through.

From what his mother has learned, the bullying was not only cruel, but enough to make a teenager who was already introverted, feel like an outcast. “It was electronic, it was face to face bullying, they were hiding his gym clothes because they didn’t want him changing in the locker room with them. They didn’t want him to eat by them, or in the school lunchroom,” Rodriguez said.

As he enters week three in critical condition, here’s hoping we’ll soon have some good news on Austin’s recovery. If you have a kind thought or prayer for him, I know he and his family would appreciate it right about now.