Friday, January 21, 2011

Diseased Gays and American Catholic Center: A Response to Discussion of Ex-Gay Program of Colorado Catholic Diocese

In the past day or so, I've linked to a discussion at the "In All Things" blog of America magazine, which has been talking about a new "pray the gay away" program sponsored by the Catholic diocese of Colorado Springs.  As I've mentioned, after having found myself censored at this blog when I sought to counter some of the outrageous anti-gay rhetoric of bloggers at this Catholic blog site, I've stopped contributing to discussions at America.  This doesn't stop me from reading blog discussions and articles at the America site, however.

And I've been following the discussion of the Colorado Springs ex-gay program with interest.  And with concern.  In my view, some of the disinformation about gay and lesbian persons that some Catholic bloggers still feel free to circulate on Catholic blogs, while those responding to this disinformation find themselves censored by these same blogs, is dangerous.  It needs desperately to be countered.  It needs no longer to have the kind of unquestioned open-door welcome it receives on Catholic blogs of the center, at the same time those countering this disinformation find themselves censored by these blogs.

In the thread discussing the Colorado Springs ex-gay initiative, what concerns me in particular is the following: under the guise of offering healing to those who are gay, some Catholic bloggers continue to feel free to vent ideas about gay and lesbian human beings designed to reinforce ugly, hurtful prejudice against those human beings which leads to social stigmatization of a vulnerable minority group.  And which can even foster violence against that minority group.

I'm concerned, in particular, about the pseudo-caring discourse of gay infection that runs through the comments of some bloggers in the Colorado Springs discussion.  As Aaron T. Beck's Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence (NY: HarperCollins, 2000) notes (p. 180), leading up to the Nazi program of extermination of Jews in the mid-twentieth century was a deliberate propaganda campaign based on disinformation that sought to depict the Jewish people as diseased, and as an infectious threat to the public at large.  Beck notes that this campaign employed and built on stereotypes about the Jewish people as disease-ridden threats to Christian societies that go as far back as the Middle Ages.  

As he notes, when the Nazis gained power in Germany in the 1930s, they produced textbooks depicting the Jews and other despised minority groups as diseased, as uniquely susceptible to infection, as transmitters of illness whose loose moral lives made them uniquely prone to illness that then spread through the surrounding culture.  And this rhetoric paved the way for the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews: "This picture of the infected, poisonous bodies of the Jews not only denied them their humanity but also affirmed the necessity of their elimination."

As I noted yesterday in my posting about the film "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas," acts of violence begin with thoughts of violence and words about violence.  The Holocaust--one of the most extreme examples of the dynamic I'm describing here--began with thoughts and words about the Jewish people and other minorities as dirty, disease-ridden problems to be solved in Christian communities.  The Nazis' final solution was preceded by a rhetorical stage-setting that paved the way for the mass murder of Jews and other stigmatized minority groups by associating these groups with infection and illness, in some unique way that set them apart from the rest of society.

And that is, frankly, precisely what some of my Catholic brothers and sisters continue to do with me and other gay brothers and sisters, in discussions like the one to which I have linked above.  Under the guise of concern about our salvation and our health, these brothers and sisters disseminate erroneous, hate-filled information about the unique susceptibility of gay and lesbian people to illness.  Without ever noting the fact that all marginalized minority groups struggle with medical challenges unique to those minority groups--with medical problems that often stem precisely from the stress and discrimination with which these groups live--these Catholic brothers and sisters continue to work overtime to depict their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as carriers of illness and as uniquely prone to substance abuse.

In these discussions, no attention at all is paid to the fact that studies similar to the ones they're citing about the supposedly unique medical problems of gay and lesbian persons can also easily be found vis-a-vis almost any marginalized minority group in the U.S. Nor do the Catholic brothers and sisters citing these studies, who claim their only concern is to spread love for those who are gay and lesbian, ever seem to stop and ask why it is that so much time and energy is spent, in the social mainstream, to study the problems of marginalized minority groups.  When similar intensive focus is not given to groups within the mainstream . . . .

What might we find, for instance, if we isolated all white males earning more than $200,000 per year, and made them the focus of a study about patterns of alcohol and drug use?  Is that group ever studied as intensively as low-income Latinos, African Americans, and gays and lesbians are studied, when it comes to these issues, when it comes to studies of social problems with which we all ought to be concerned if we expect to have a healthy society?  If not, why not?

For that matter, are studies ever done to ascertain whether priests suffer from problems of alcohol or substance abuse at a level higher than the society at large? Or bishops?  If such studies aren't done, why aren't they done?

Do my Catholic brothers and sisters who want to keep the spotlight shining on me and other gay and lesbian persons, as if we alone struggle with medical challenges due to stressful lives and with attendant issues of addiction, never stop to think about what drives this disproportionate emphasis on marginalized minority communities, when these issues are studied?  Do these Catholic brothers and sisters never think at all about the prejudice that underlies the decision of the social mainstream to focus on those on the social margins as the primary cause of all social problems and all social ills?

Here's what, in my view, is going on in these discussions of the Catholic center, that continue to function as vehicles for dangerous rhetoric which can bolster outright violence against gay and lesbian human beings.  There are strong groups within the Catholic church who still do not accept even  something as taken for granted by the culture at large as the decision of the American Psychological Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.  These groups believe (and they may well be right) that they have the support of the magisterium itself in seeking to continue a discourse of disease when it comes to those who are gay and lesbian--a discourse of disorder that is all about accusing gay and lesbian human beings of being mentally unbalanced, and therefore carriers of other infectious illnesses that taint the body politic.

Those Catholic brothers and sisters who buy into this discourse of infection and who believe that they are doing a holy thing in promoting it--that they are defending the magisterium as they promote this discourse--also receive strong reinforcement from the political right, which constantly disseminates disinformation about gay and lesbian human beings as diseased.  The political right constantly disseminates this disinformation because it needs to do so, to keep stigmas against those who are gay and lesbian alive in the public at large.  It was not accidental, for instance, that a leading luminary of the American Catholic political right, William F. Buckley, Jr., argued that people with HIV should be tattooed to signal to everyone else that they are carriers of illness. 

And so, in these Catholic discussions of the center--right within the discourse space of the Catholic center, at these influential blog sites of the American Catholic center--one continues to read outrageous statements channeling the hateful discourse of the anti-gay political right, about how the APA decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder was driven by political pressure groups, by gay activist groups within the APA.  Though the Catholic tradition of moral thinking has, at its best, always stressed the need for sound moral discourse to pay attention to reason and science, these right-wing activists who still have shelter in the Catholic center completely ignore all the carefully conducted studies on which the APA decision was based, which failed to show any correlation at all between a homosexual orientation and mental illness.

And they completely ignore the consensus of all medial professional groups in the developed areas of the world--not merely the APA--that a gay or lesbian orientation is not evidence of mental illness or any other kind of illness, but is a natural psychological phenomenon to which moral judgment ought not to be attached.

My Catholic brothers and sisters of the far right, who still have entree at the Catholic blogs of the center while those blogs censor comments by gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, are determined to keep alive, at all cost, the discourse of gay and lesbian human beings as sick.  As is the institutional church itself: why otherwise would a diocese feel free to offer a program to "cure" those who are gay?

The "pastoral" outreach of the Catholic church towards its gay and lesbian children continues to be dominated by a discourse of illness, of disorder, of mental instability and other kinds of illness.  Catholics of the political right, who are strongly allied to political groups that need to keep this discourse alive in order to energize their anti-gay political base, will, of course, defend programs designed to "cure" those who are gay, as they will defend the claim that those who are gay are sick.  They have to defend the presupposition of illness on which this "pastoral" outreach is based.  How otherwise to justify these bogus (and hateful) programs of ex-gay therapy?

And, of course, those offering and defending these programs within a Christian context also have to claim that these programs are all about love, since that is what Christians are all about.  Or supposed to be all about.  All about healing and love--that's the claim of those defending these programs.

Even as these defenders of ex-gay therapy spread dangerous lies about their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as infectious threats to the general public and its health . . . . Never adverting to the fact, as they do this, that this is precisely how oppressive regimes that have plotted the death of targeted minorities have always historically laid a foundation for their violence against the minorities they single out . . . .

The puzzle, for me, is why those who control the conversation of the American Catholic center, who have to know better, continue permitting this dangerous toxic discourse of gay infection to roll forth at the center.  While they censor some of their gay brothers and sisters who try to counter this discourse and who call for more careful discussion of these issues . . . .

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