Thursday, February 28, 2008

LGBT Visibility: Giving Witness

Today's AfterElton blogsite contains a posting by Christie Keith entitled "Inching Out of the Closet": see Christie Keith makes an important point about visibility: she notes that studies indicate a strong correlation between the public's knowledge of a gay person--a real-life, flesh-and-blood human being--and increasing acceptance of gay people and support of our rights. As Keith says,

And that doesn't mean visibility to each other, but mainstream visibility. There is nothing more strongly correlated with increased support of gay rights among straight people, from marriage to adoption to opposing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, than one simple thing: knowing someone who is gay.

Since this is a point I have made in a recent blog exchange at the National Catholic Reporter website, I'd like to lift part of a posting I made several days ago at that site to this blogsite. The person with whom I've been having a dialogue at NCR is a staunch Catholic. He argues that the best churches can offer LGBT people is tolerance, not acceptance.

He points to the "excesses" of the gay community, as exhibited in festivals like the Folsom St. Festival, as justification for the churches' judgment that openly gay folks are public sinners, and as justification for the disdain of mainstream America for LGBT people. Here's part of my reply to this blogger at

What I think I'd like to draw attention to as a way of moving the conversation beyond that kind of futile rebuttal is this: if we begin our examination of the place of gay folks in the church today with the preconceived notion that homosexuality is all about sex, is a notorious sin, and is a social problem whose public face is represented in carnivals, then we're going to see no problem at all in the church's bizarre (and, I argue, disordered) preoccupation with this notorious sin that is threatening social stability.

But there are a lot of other places we might begin the discussion. Rather than looking at clips of the Folsom St. parade, for instance, we might talk to some gay-lesbian family members or parishioners who have never been to a carnival parade in their lives. If we did that, we might find that the "public face" of homosexuality (to use your phrase) is no more salacious or wild than the public face of heterosexuality.

The majority of LGBT people in our society are leading the same rather mundane and boring lives as the majority of straight people. Most of us work, come home, watch t.v., have dinner, go to bed, and start the round the next day. We are no more concentrated in gay bars than straight people are concentrated in heterosexual watering holes. Many of us spend most of our time caring for family members. Indeed, most of us are actually married but living in the closet.

Which is to say, it's not all about sex. It's about love. It's about the everyday, about people right in my midst and yours who don't deserve to have "public faces" put on their lives--who don't deserve to be reduced to "lifestyle" tags, since we have lives. Get to know us--to know us as real human beings--and many of your preconceptions about our "lifestyles" may fall like scales from your eyes.

You say, "A gay couple is not comparable to a married couple, but to an unmarried one. Cohabitation between two homosexual men or women would be the same near occasion for sexual sin and the sin of scandal as between a heterosexual couple."

Why is this so, I wonder? If the church does not usually inquire into the living arrangements of unmarried straight people as a precondition to their receiving communion, and if it does not assume that two unmarried straight people of the opposite sex living together are necessarily having sex, why should it do so in the case of two gay people?

I would submit to you that right there is the heart of the problem: assumptions--and invidious ones--are being made about the lives and behavior of gay people that simply aren't made about the lives and behavior of straight people. What the church has wisely left to the private forum of the confessional in the case of single straight people, it does not do so today in its public utterances about and treatment of gay people.

This is unjust. And where there is injustice, people surely do have the right not merely to ask for but to demand acceptance.

To behave otherwise when one's basic human rights are violated and when one's very humanity is trampled on would be to collude with those who try to convince one that one's humanity is flawed or less worthy of respect than that of others. If one colludes with such forces, one undermines a very fundamental church teaching: namely, that all of us come from the hand of God as good, as worthy of respect, as having the same human dignity as anyone else, regardless of our skin color, our nationality, our income bracket, our gender, our educational level.

Increasing our visibility is all-important, if the churches and mainstream America are to “get it.” Making ourselves known as family members, neighbors, and friends is essential if the churches and mainstream America are to support movements to make the murder of gay youth unthinkable in the future. Precisely because the churches (and their mainstream supporters) continue all too frequently to reduce gay persons to stereotypes—homosexual sinners—it is crucially imperative that those of us who are LGBT and living in the midst of “ordinary” folks reveal ourselves, our lives, and humanity to those around us.

Certainly I would prefer to live quietly, without fanfare and self-disclosure. Life has not afforded me that opportunity, however, and I now choose to see the repeated disruption of Steve’s and my life together by gross prejudice of church folks as an opportunity to give witness.

I, we, are called to give witness. We witness to the grace in our lives, the unmerited and unexpected gifts that make our journey possible. We witness to the power of our shared love and of the love we see shared in a multitude of LGBT lives. We give witness to the mere, plain, simple, precious humanity of gay people everywhere.

We must do so, for the sake of LGBT youth. They do not deserve to be bullied, taunted, and scorned. The churches will one day be held accountable at the judgment seat of history for their collusion with the social forces that make such heinous crimes possible, and for their silence in the face of violence against LGBT youth. The churches will be held accountable by a God who despises injustice and abuse of the least among us.

It is time that those of us who are LGBT and who continue to maintain some hope, however tenuous, that the churches will live up to their calling to walk in the footsteps of a Lord whose love embraced everyone he met, speak out and call the churches to accountability. It is time for us to break silence. It is time for us to demand that the churches do so as well.

No comments: