Monday, August 25, 2008

Cyndi Lauper: A Courageous Voice on Behalf of Hope

I worked this weekend. That is, I blogged—something I usually don’t do on weekends. Since those weekend postings were talky ones, today I’m going to give readers (and myself) a respite by doing another news-gathering posting. It’s fascinating to track some discussions as they unfold after I’ve posted initial notices of them. This news roundup will revisit several stories about which I have previously written.

But first, I’d like to notice an outstanding commentary by singer Cyndi Lauper on yesterday’s Huffington Post blogsite ( Lauper’s piece is entitled “Hope.”

Cyndi Lauper has become a passionate advocate of the rights of LGBT human beings. The gay community admires her outspoken solidarity with us, her willingness to put her life and career on the line by standing with us at a time in human history when not even the Christian churches and their adherents, on the whole, are willing to make such solidarity with us—when they are, in fact, often the chief source of the pain we endure in discriminatory societies.

Lauper sees hope for change in this election cycle. She notes the increasing impatience of younger Americans with discrimination based on sexual orientation. She calls on gay people to tell our stories, since this is the only way mainstream America will understand how we are discriminated against, and what such discrimination does to our lives, our souls, and to those who love us. Lauper states,

If you want people to understand the reality of being LGBT in society today, you need to share your story.

If you are LGBT, share with them the discrimination you still face in America, and if you are a straight ally, share with them the discrimination you have seen inflicted upon your friends and family. Explain that discrimination not only affects the one it is directed towards, but it affects us all. Show through your example what LGBT people truly are like and break down the misconceptions and stereotypes that fuel the prejudices that have plagued our community and society for far too long.

I am an example of what can happen when you share your story. When my sister Elen came out to me and told me about her life, my eyes were opened to the fact that I needed to be a part of changing this country for the LGBT community and have taken that responsibility very seriously.

Wise words, and moving ones, coming as they do from someone who doesn’t just say she cares, but who enacts that care everywhere she goes. And words that demand a hearing, in our nation with the soul of a church, where the example set by churches makes a crucial difference to how the culture at large chooses to treat minority groups.

One of the most discouraging experiences many of us in the gay community often have is seeing the very people within the churches who have treated us with most conspicuous savagery rewarded for their cruelty—given preferment in their churches, praised as exemplary Christians noted for their kindness, thoughtfulness, and selflessness. Steve and I have seen this time and again—e.g., when the rector of a Catholic seminary who unilaterally denied Steve tenure after the faculty and students had voted for his tenure was then made a bishop. Since we know of other instances in which this same rector had demonstrated tremendous cruelty to gay seminarians, we are baffled (and yet truly not surprised) at his meteoric rise among the American bishops.

From where we stand, church leaders often seem to throw choice prizes to those who most viciously attack gay persons and violate our rights. Some of the most vociferous attack dogs of gay folks among the American Catholic bishops have received plush ecclesial positions. Some of these have skeletons in their own closets, when it comes to issues of sexual orientation. Their preferment seems obscene to many of us in the gay community who know too much about the lives they themselves often lead, while savaging gay persons.

Not soon after a Catholic college in North Carolina gave me a one-year terminal contract while refusing to disclose any reason for the termination, Rome elevated the church of the monastic community that owns the college to the status of a basilica—a singular honor for an abbey church. Though the community of monks that own this college, which has a history of turmoil due to the anti-monastic antics of some community members, had a visitation from its monastic governing body after we were expelled from its college, the monastery passed inspection with flying colors. And I know for certain that church authorities had been notified of the injustice the college and the monks owning it had done to Steve and me . . . .

I have seen another university president, whose behavior towards us was even more atrocious and far more damaging to us at a personal and financial level ,given a choice position on a board within the governing structures of that president’s church, after the ugly things she/he did to us were made public. That president is now celebrated as someone who creates a “caring community.”

In the final analysis, these rewards to homophobic pastors and church folks give the following message to the gay community: gay human beings deserve mistreatment, and if you are skilled at delivering that mistreatment within church circles without bringing financial loss and bad publicity to the church, you’ll be rewarded. How can we feel that the churches do anything other than despise us, when they conspicuously reward those who treat us as less than human? And how can we hear the churches’ message about wishing to be a “caring community” without rolling our eyes in disbelief, when the price of caring seems to be demonization and expulsion of openly gay persons?

The more the churches profess to be caring—to be all about open hearts, open minds, and open doors—while they kick gay folks to the gutter, the more the message is plain: not only do we not belong within the list of those for whom the church cares, but savaging us will actually earn brownie points for anyone seeking church advancement. In many ways, the treatment accorded LGBT persons who refuse to hide our identities within the churches is far more savage and discriminatory than the treatment LGBT persons receive in any other sector of American life today.

This has to stop. I continue speaking out and recounting the stories that have crossed my path to do my own little bit to stop it. Too many people simply do not know what goes on within churches and their institutions, from the inside—particularly what goes on, when it comes to how the churches actually treat gay and lesbian persons, while professing love and welcome. Too many people give the benefit of the doubt to churches simply because they proclaim themselves to be open-door communities, while behaving precisely the opposite towards gay persons. Stories such as those I’m trying to tell are seldom heard because the churches and their institutions have the financial clout to suppress negative publicity about their real treatment of gay human beings, by legal tricks and other maneuvers.

Cyndi Lauper is absolutely right: mainstream America needs to hear our stories. It will not do so via the mainstream media, though, since our media are beholden to the same movers and shakers who dictate what the churches do and say, and who often try to hold churches financially hostage if they become more gay inclusive. The hope apparent in our current cultural landscape—hope for more LGBT stories to be heard attentively by wider audiences—is to found among citizen bloggers, who persist in making our voices heard even when those who do not want these stories to become “mainstream” do all they can to suppress our voices.

And now to those news stories, in a separate posting . . . .

No comments: