This is Not About Cake

 

Dear Christians,

Why are you so afraid of us?

I worry that you all are insistent on passing so many ‘religious freedom’ bills because you are genuinely concerned that if you do not, we, the LGBT community, will burst in through your front door and demand lodging and goods. Bills supporting religious freedom are not new, but they are being revamped to specifically deal with LGBT issues. Primarily, the issues of who uses what restroom, and whether or not businesses have to provide services to people who don’t share their morals. Arkansas, Georgia, and Kansas have all determined not to pass these laws at this time. The most recent of these was Georgia; the Governor vetoed this March 28, 2016. Georgia Governor Deal stated, “I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives.” Indiana passed their bill in March 2015, Mississippi passed theirs April 5, 2016.  Arguably the most extreme opposition on this front, legally, has been North Carolina’s recent law, which was pushed to and signed by the governor all on the same day.

I recognize that the “bathroom bills” are to keep people from being attacked in restrooms, but listen: there is no statisstical evidence that a trans* person has ever attacked someone in a restroomYou know who has been attacked in restrooms? Trans* and gender non-conforming individuals. OVERWHELMINGLY SO. Please do not continue to be ignorant about this: no one has ever reported being the victim of violence from a trans* person in a bathroom, whereas in this survey 70% of trans* people report negative reactions in bathrooms, 9% report being physically assaulted, 58% report that they have avoided going out in public because of bathroom issues.

trans-bathroom-law-south-dakota

Listen, I get it: everyone is worried that people will dress up as the opposite sex to assault someone–most of the arguments I’ve heard are that men will dress up as women in order to gain access to  women’s restrooms and assault women and children. Sexual assault is awful, always. No one trying to protect trans rights is trying to minimize this. But I have an issue with society making the trans community responsible and punishing them for these possible attacks, rather than the male community. To me, this feels the same as teaching women how not to be raped, rather than dealing with the cause and teaching men not to rape. The bathroom issue is strange to me in general because it seems so simple, if people are so terrified that others are going to be using the restroom for dubious means rather than to relieve their bladders, then businesses should just install single-stall restrooms that are accessible to everyone, rather than making it a biological issue.

As a mental health counselor, I work with suicidal people every day. And I can testify that when statistics report 41% of trans individuals have attempted suicide, this is most likely a conservative figure. When someone faces discrimination, negative reactions, and the threat of violence every day, there is naturally going to be depression, anxiety, and trauma. When you have to choose between being true to your own identity and conforming to society’s standards for you, something is wrong with society. Violence against trans women, especially trans women of color, is at an all-time high, with 23 known murders taking place in 2015 alone.

 

I understand that many people do not agree with marriage equality and do not condone my marriage. I understand that they do not want to be forced to take photographs, sell flowers, solemnize the wedding, or bake a god-forsaken (pun intended) cake. And that’s fine. I don’t want to sue those people. But these laws go farther than providing an ‘out’ for businesses that want to condemn someone’s else’s “lifestyle:” laws that allow employers of religious organizations to fire, or not hire, individuals based on their sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression. Landlords can choose to deny housing–or can kick out tenants–based on their code of ethics. Adoption agencies can choose not to allow gay couples to foster or adopt children–and conversely, Mississippi’s law makes sure that adoption agencies are NOT allowed to make this decision based upon a couple’s religion. LGBT people can be refused services at restaurants, hotels, stores, and can legally be denied access to restrooms. This is discrimination. This is ironically exactly what Christians are afraid may happen to them, to they have written laws protecting themselves and condemning others to the same kind of “persecution” that they try to avoid.

indiane

Unfortunately, nationwide, unless your state or city has specific ordinances against these discriminatory acts, LGBT are largely unprotected under the law. Larger cities generally have some type of protection for their citizens, but for those that live in more rural areas, there is not a lot of protection to begin with–now that these laws are becoming so popular, their protection will shrink even more.

I am infuriated, Christians and conservatives. Heartbroken that you will not hear the LGBT population when we try to speak with you about our concerns and fears. Frustrated that you are shielding yourself behind the law and claiming that we “got our marriage equality but that’s never enough.” Marriage equality isn’t enough: my wife and I are legally married, yes, but if we did not live in a large city that protected us, we could be thrown out of our home, denied jobs, and denied services by city workers if we were attacked (yes, that is in the law as well). It is not enough when trans individuals fear for their lives and their safety and are often too scared of police brutality to come forward when they are hurt. It is not enough when access to appropriate healthcare and mental health services is impossible for those in the community who have been kicked out of their homes and their families and are living on the streets.

Of course it is not enough. It cannot be enough until every citizen is equal under the law. We do not want more rights than you, we want equality.

 

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Your Heaven is My Hell

Dear Christian,

Hello again. Today we meet on the other side of a door that, until this week, had been left unopened: nationwide marriage equality. This was a historic, monumental day and it is a day that many in the LGBTQ+ community never imagined would come true, in large part, friend, because of you. You have put so much effort—so many arguments, so many articles filled with biased polls and inaccurate information, so many prayers, so many days petitioning or voting against us—in keeping us from gaining as many rights as you possibly could. You’ve done very well, and had many successes. But this year, dear friend, the tides have turned. Marriage equality is nationwide (notice that I call it marriage equality and not “gay marriage”), the President has formally spoken against reparative therapy, the general public is being educated on trans* rights and issues. We have a long way left to go, but we have come far.

This makes you sad. Or mad. Or, as many of you have put it, “heartbroken.” You take a public Facebook stand, proclaiming “I believe the Bible’s definition of marriage, which is one man and one woman,” you send messages loaded with Bible verses encouraging acquaintances to repent, you rally a group of friends and march in or picket a Pride Parade to tell the participants they are going to hell. You call trans people confused, you call us sinners. “But don’t worry!” you say, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!” There is still time, you imply.

Chicago Pride Parade

Here’s the thing, Christian, that I’ve been saying in my head for years. Here’s the thing that I wish you knew when trying to sell me on eternity spent with you. Your heaven is my hell. A place that shames and excludes, a place filled with those who proudly stand against my own and my friends’ rights, a place where no one may think for themselves or love who they love or be who they are? That is not a place for me. Everyone agrees that Westboro Baptist Church takes their messages too far, but you, friend, are preaching the same message, and it is not a message of love. It’s not a message that makes me want to draw closer, I want to push farther. You have tried to deny me my rights, and are still calling for it. You have stopped speaking to my wife and I upon our coming out. You have refused to be a part of our lives because you disagree with our “lifestyle.” You toss Bible verses our way when we have not asked for your interpretation of your Scripture. The murder of 9 transwomen this year alone is on your hands because you publicly state that they are confused. The countless LGBTQ+ youth who are thrown out of their homes, cannot access needed services, and attempt or complete suicide because they are told, directly or by this hate-infested culture, that they are leading perverse, sinful lives is on you. Do you see how hurtful religion is to the LGBT community? We have been shot down and shut out as a community for decades. Come on, friend, you’re killing us.

A comic depicting Georgia’s new Religious Freedom Law

You have made this life hell for people, so excuse me if I pass on an invitation to your heaven. If it is more of the same, I’d like to avoid it at all costs.

The thing is, I know all of the verses. I know your intention: you’re trying to save me from eternal damnation, which is in some ways really sweet and caring, but also forceful, unsolicited, and generally pretty ignorant. A blog on Herman Cain’s website explained why Christians’ nonacceptance of marriage equality should be seen as loving, and I have to say: I know it already. I went to a Christian college and—believe it or not—studied the six verses damning me to hell long and hard, and I’m still happily here with my wife. I’m tired of having long, circular discussions: everyone knows where I stand, and I can pretty much tell where you stand without you having to spell it out for me.

I’m not trying to win a spitting contest. I just want me and my community to be recognized as whole people who aren’t wearing “ask me if I know about your Savior” signs. We are people who deserve love, safety under the law, and peace, just as everyone deserves.

[Also, gay heaven has ice cream.]

Unbelievers—Vampire Weekend

Controversy du Jour: World Vision

In case you haven’t heard what’s been going on…

World Vision is a Christian organization run out of the state of Washington (that’ll be important in a second), and they do amazing things. They’re arguably the most famous for child sponsorship (that’ll be important, too). This past Monday, March 24–four short days ago–Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, announced that the US branch of World Vision would now hire Christians in same-sex marriages. He was quick to note that “It’s easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there…this is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.” 

When I read about this on Monday, I was torn between feeling happy about the change in policy and being really confused, because World Vision has a history of discrimination towards LGBT people. And now here they were saying that people in same-sex marriages would be allowed to be hired by World Vision, without the company endorsing their marriages or indicating that their marriages were on the same level as heterosexual marriage. Essentially, “you’re not the same as us, but we believe in unity and we’re not going to let a disagreement on a minor issue to get in the way of our organization operating better and being more effective.” That’s not the most positive message, but I was hopeful that it would cause the course of the conversation to change, and would stand as a leader for other Christian organizations to follow.

I was wrong.

On Wednesday, after severe backlash from supporters (Stearns says that a bit less than 5,000 people removed their child sponsorship because of Monday’s decision), Stearns made a new announcement that not only said “lolz jk” but took further steps backwards by apologizing to the people spewing hate, removing their sponsorships, and generally saying horrible things about gay people. He also backslid from stating that including workers in same-sex marriages would help build unity to stating that “Rather than creating more unity [among Christians], we created more division, and that was not the intent. […] Our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake … and we believe that [World Vision supporters] helped us to see that with more clarity … and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake…We cannot defer on things that are that central to the faith.”

So.

Let’s talk about business. 

I’m not a business person, so I’m not going to spend much time talking about this, other than to say that I wouldn’t have cared one smidgeon if World Vision had never changed their policy in the first place. They have standards for their employees, I get that. I have spent a number of years working for various Christian organizations, and each one had its own standards for what was acceptable and not acceptable conduct from an employee. I don’t think that World Vision’s hiring standards are absurd, and I respect their ability as a company to choose whom they want to hire. HOWEVER. They also get over 200 million dollars in governmental grants every year, and the government is encouraging businesses to have non-discriminatory hiring practices. As someone who has seen firsthand how grants can really tie an organization’s proverbial hands in certain matters, I get that sometimes grant-writers make you do things you don’t want to do. But World Vision’s reason to fight the government on this was because gay people can’t actually be Christians (I mean come on, ammirite?). 

Business-wise, I don’t think anyone would have raised a big stink if the policy never changed. But it DID change. And then it changed back after people stopped sponsoring children. And yes, I understand that it goes into a giant pot and the children affected wouldn’t suddenly be kicked out of life-saving programs, but losing 2.1 million dollars a year would have been a pretty hard loss for a not-for-profit organization. So while it wasn’t about the money…it was about the money.

Let’s talk about responses.

Y’all have probably heard all of the negative, angry responses (if not, check out World Vision’s Facebook wall Monday-Wednesday and feel the hate burning your eyes out of their sockets–and now they’re getting the same negative backlash from the other side, because apparently unity is a myth), so I’m going to share some heartbroken responses, both to Monday’s decision and then Wednesday’s “repeal.” Rachel Held Evans blogged about the scenario on Monday, and then on Wednesday she wrote what I thought was a perfect piece. “Honestly, it feels like a betrayal from every side.” And it does. I am hurt by Christians who are so opposed to my being sanctified by Christ that they would rather give up supporting an organization that would dare to hire me. I am hurt by an organization that for one small moment told me that my relationship was considered valid and valued, and then told me that I was rejecting a fundamental piece of the Christianity I claim.

Benjamin Moberg wrote on Monday out of his pain, “I am tired, friends, so tired of being hit. I am tired of being the most galvanizing symbol for evangelical Christians.” To which I say a heartfelt ‘yes.’ And his follow-up words on Wednesday ring just as true: “I am not ready to forgive those that held starving children as ransom because of who I am and I am not ready to forgive Richard Stearns for this profoundly deep betrayal. I am not ready to forgive either of them for the devastating message they have sent to gay children everywhere.David Henson also had some really great things to say.

I get that this is a hot button for everyone right now: it’s political, it’s religious, it’s personal, yada-yada-yada. But it’s also 100% about people. It’s about me, and it’s about my legitimacy in the eyes of God, in the eyes of my Christian brothers and sisters, in the eyes of organizations, and in the eyes of the world. Me and God, we’re all right. We don’t need anyone else’s approval. I know where I stand with Him, and that’s really great. I just get so tired, my friends, of having to defend myself, my spirituality, my relationship and my reconciliation of teachings in Scripture. But hey, let’s go ahead and talk about them, in a minute. First, I think it’s time for a little sex talk.

Let’s talk about sex.

It seems to me that people sit around thinking that all gay people ever do is have sex: sex, sex, sex. That is the only thing that makes up someone who is LGBT, because, after all, it is their SEXual orientation. Geez, is that all you heteroSEXuals think about? That gay people don’t fit together like a puzzle piece (I’m looking at you, old college ethics professor!)? Did you know that LGBT people actually have entire RELATIONSHIPS that are not solely (and sometimes not at all) involving sexual intimacy? I know, crazy thought! A romantic evening with my partner typically involves playing Rummy or Nerts and watching Netflix. For how obsessively straight people talk about gay people sex, you’d think there was nothing else about which they could fill their minds.

But let’s bring the sex talk back to the World Vision conversation: World Vision was (albeit however temporarily) allowing Christians in marriages to work for them, holding them to the same standards they held all of their other employees. Washington (I told you it would be important) allows same-sex couples to be legally married. World Vision was saying, “that’s fine, Washington. That’s fine, same-sex people. Abide by our rules and you’re welcome here.” So whatever sex these Christians were having was within the confines of a legal marriage (and I could talk ALL DAY about how if you want to argue that marriage is purely a religious thing, you shouldn’t be allowed to vote on who can do it, and if you think it’s purely a political thing, you STILL shouldn’t vote on who can do it–but that’s another talk for another day), thereby fulfilling their employee policy.

Let’s talk about love.

I want to talk about Christ’s love for ALL PEOPLE. “How can Jesus love gay people when they are constantly sinning?” one might ask. “There are so many verses in the Bible that clearly condemn homosexuality!” Well, I disagree. The context behind those verses do not indicate to me that they’re really about gay people at all. They’re about inhospitality and gang rape, they’re about the purity code and trying to build a nation, they’re about pagan prostitutes, they’re about acting against how you were created, but they’re not about modern-day homosexuality as we know it. (I know that many of you will disagree, and we can dispute this until the sun goes down, but I believe what I believe [and I respect that you believe what you believe, as well!]. Our beliefs do not have to get in the way of loving each other and treating one another with respect, kindness, and genuine interest in each others’ lives.) Regardless of the translation of these verses, there are about 75 verses about love to every 1 verse that might-or-might-not be about gay stuff. My favorite of these verses, and one of the ways that my heart feels at peace in my spirituality and my orientation, is something Jesus said. Answering the Pharisee’s about what the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).

Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you, and Jesus loves me. Jesus loves those people. He seriously actually really does love everyone. His love isn’t hidden under condemnation; he doesn’t tell people that they need to change in order to be loved. He says “go and sin no more” and knows that literally no one can. No matter what your views are on sin (what it is, what it means to stop, what counts and what doesn’t), you can pretty much be sure that you’re sinning. I’m sinning, too. And Jesus loves me, anyway. And Jesus loves my partner. And I believe with all of my heart that Jesus loves us together, and loves the family that we’re going to be, and loves that our church extends His love to everyone. I believe Jesus loves World Vision and the wonderful work they do and the staff that tirelessly work at being God’s hands and feet on this earth. I believe Jesus loves the people who were so mad that World Vision changed their policy to include gay people, and those who are so mad that World Vision changed their minds. Love, love, love. I know I am far from perfect in showing that love. We all are. So let’s all try a little harder, yes? Let’s listen, and respect, and LOVE.

LGBTQ and the Law

Recently, I’ve had a number of friends who have shown genuine surprise when they hear that gay people cannot get married in Ohio yet. So, in order to better educate those who ask and to get a better understanding myself, this is a run-down of some of the laws for and against LGBTQ people in the US.

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1. There are 17 states–plus D.C.) that allow same-sex marriage. These are Washington, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, New Hampshire, Maryland and Vermont.

2. Two states, Nevada and Colorado, allow full civil unions and domestic partnerships.

3. Oregon both allows full civil unions and domestic partnerships and recognizes out-of-state marriages.

4. Wisconsin recognizes partial relationship status, which gives same-sex couples some of the same rights as heterosexual couples.

Now, recently there’s been this big drive of federal judges ruling that bans against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional; in fact, this happened in Kentucky just over a week ago. It happened in Utah in December, as well, but then the same-sex marriage ban ban was banned…which got awkward fast.

Ohio, not surprisingly, doesn’t make it into any of these categories. Ohio does not allow same-sex marriage, does not recognize marriages or partnerships from other states, and has no other type of legal recognition for same-sex relationships. This means that a couple who has been together for their entire adult lives are still granted 0 rights as a couple. While a few years ago, Obama ruled that hospitals cannot limit gay couples’ visitation rights, there are no legal rights recognizing the other partner if there is a death. “If a couple is not married and one partner dies, the other partner is not entitled to bereavement leave from work, to file wrongful death claims, to draw the Social Security of the deceased partner, or to automatically inherit a shared home, assets, or personal items in the absence of a will” (freedomtomarry.org).

“Surely not being legally recognized in a relationship isn’t the most horrible thing that could happen! It’s not like there are other rights being denied LGBT people.” Ah, but is it the only thing? Let’s take a look.

State law mandates that employees of the state and local governments be protected on the bases of both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression–YAY. State law does NOT protect employees in the private sector from either of these things. What does this mean? If I work for a private company and they somehow discover that I am gay, I could be fired without any other cause needed. Essentially, an employer could fire me because they are homophobic and the homophobia would be protected under the law.

But that’s not too bad, right? Just stay in the closet at work; after all, straight people aren’t always announcing that they’re straight! One day I will probably tell you the story of when my best friend forced me to come out at work, but that’s not today. I’m just bringing it up to say sometimes things happen and employers find out.

“So you can’t get married and you might get fired; that still doesn’t sound too bad!” Alright, let’s keep looking.

We can’t adopt! Unless we have really, really good lawyers. I have to stop here a minute, as adoption runs in my family’s blood. I think of the thousands of really crummy parents out there whose parental rights are (or need to be)–for the good of the children–stripped from them. Then I think of all of the children who are stuck in the foster system just waiting for someone capable of loving them and caring for them, many until they age out. I could adopt without my partner being legally named as the other parent, but if something happened to me (say, for instance, death), the state could very easily take away OUR child just because they would not view my partner as the child’s legal parent. That’s stupid, guys.

Finally, there’s the issue of bullying. Did you know that bullying is outlawed in the state? Bullying in public schools and online is prohibited. Do you know what isn’t? Issues of bullying specifically surrounding sexual orientation or gender identity. Do you know where the state doesn’t prohibit bullying? Private schools and religious schools. There are new bullying cases coming to light all the time, children who don’t feel safe going to school (private or public) because they hate being called names, being pushed around, being beaten up. Some decide that they would rather die than face their peers. That should never have to go through a child’s head; it should never happen. And it is all the time.

If we tell children who either identify as LGBTQ that they are not worth protecting, and that they are deserving of the words and actions against them, they will grow up believing that to be true. And just as sad are their peers, who will see that LGBTQ are supposed to be treated differently, poorly, and will grow up continuing to treat them that way. They will vote against them. They will teach their children to hate them.