None of the groups who previously organized bus trips did so this year. And the crowd, as the headline says, was tiny. One non-attendee who sort of live tweeted the event said that she counted the entire crowd: “47 if you include the babies.” The speeches were the typical anti-gay fare: how letting queers marry is destroying society, et cetera, et cetera. Then the not-quite four dozen people apparently marched down the street and glared at the Supreme Court building.
The downward spiral of this particular anti-gay hate group has been going on for years. I’ve written before about their tax and fundraising shenanigans. The tl;dr version: small donors stopped giving to them several years ago, so they are supported by a very small number of anti-gay millionaires (most of whom demand anonymity), and have had to resort to taking multi-million dollar loans from their associates religious “charity and education” non-profit to shore up the political side. They’ve skipped filing required tax documents since then (again), but I suspect when they are finally forced to disclose again the situation will turn out to be even worse.
I should mention that in the previous years some of those buses who brought people to the march were paid for by NOM. The story I linked says “groups,” but that’s another bit of chicanery. Most of the other non-profit groups that they used to like to list as supporting them were little more than shell companies of the main National Organization. People who were board members of NOM were each listed as the president of one of the smaller groups, and the individual groups didn’t do any serious fundraising, they were supported by the national organization (in turn relying on those aforementioned anti-gay millionaires). You may infer what you wish from the fact that most of those organizations have been dissolved and there were no buses bringing folks to the march. Can’t pay for buses without money, right?
I assume that if there is another event next year, that it will soon look like the pathetic ex-gay pride event four years ago: literally the only attendees were nine employees of the organization trying to sell ex-gay therapy, and about four internet news people covering the so-called rally. Note by that point, even Fox News was unwilling to send someone to cover the event.
While it’s tempting to take some delight in the downfall of some professional anti-gay people (seriously, peddling anti-gay hate is how people like Brian Brown make a living), this hardly means that no one hates us anymore, or that there aren’t plenty of anti-gay groups out there supporting politicians who are passing laws to take away our rights. All it means is that on the topic of marriage equality we long ago passed the tipping point where a majority of Americans think queer people should be allowed to legally marry if they want. And it means that before then we also got to a point where a majority of people believe sexual orientation can’t be changed.
But there are some nuances. Polls have shown that about 10 percent of the people who think marriage equality should be legal, also still believe that queer people are either immoral, or mentally ill, or some other category of “less than” —they don’t approve of us, they don’t approve of our relationships, but they don’t think their objections rise to the level of justifying legal prohibition.
There is a more disturbing segment (but I haven’t been able to find any surveys that have asked the right question to quantify these folks; I’ve just read a lot of their opinions in various places) of people who agree that sexual orientation can’t be changed, and therefore ex-gay therapy is a fraud, but they also believe that we are irretrievably broken, or otherwise inherently flawed. So again, it’s not that they approve of us or support all our rights, it’s that they’ve come to the conclusion that therapy can’t fix us.
The war isn’t over, it’s just that the battle lines have changed. We may have won the battle for legal marriage, and the battle against ex-gay therapy, but there’s still plenty of fight to be had.
The killer’s own father said that his son had been ranting for weeks about how angry he was to see gay men kissing each other in public. He spent weeks using a fake profile on a gay hook-up app quizzing gay men to determine which gay club would have the biggest crowd and which night of the week it would be busiest. It was an anti-gay hate crime. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t also terrorism, because that’s what all hate crimes are: the intent is to instill terror in the targeted community by singling out individuals for bashing or worse.
I wrote shortly after the massacre to explain why this crime hit me so hard even though I live on the other side of the continent and don’t personally know anyone killed. My whole life I’ve lived with the fear and knowledge that there are people who hate queers enough to attack me and kill me, but I haven’t often had to think of that hatred being a danger to those around me. The killer’s father isn’t the only one who talked about what had enraged his son. Others who knew the killer have talked about his increasingly angry outbursts about gay people. Seeing two men kiss made him go kill 49 people in a busy gay nightclub during Pride month.
It’s one thing to know that bigots hate me enough to kill me. It’s much worse to be shown that some hate me enough to commit a massacre.
And it’s upsetting to know that some people who claim to be friends—and relatives who have said they love me—are unable or unwilling to understand that this killer’s actions are a symptom of society’s messed up attitudes about queer people and about guns.
That is what people who claim this is just one lone nut, or that it isn’t really about queer people, or that there is nothing society can do that will make these crimes less likely to happen are actually saying.
One year later, it’s still a gut punch.
It leaves one wondering what we can do.
- There are organizations you can donate to: Scissor Sisters and MDNR honor Pulse victims with ‘Swerlk’ lyric video: Proceeds from the song’s sales and royalties will be donated to the Contigo Fund which, “offers financial support to organizations working to heal, educate and empower LGBTQ and Latinx individuals, immigrants and people of color, as well as those working to end all forms of bigotry in Central Florida”.
- We can attend memorials: Thousands Expected At Pulse Memorial Events In Orlando.
- You can commit to acts of kindness and urge others to: Elected officials on Monday announced that June 12 officially would be dedicated as “Orlando United Day — A Day of Love and Kindness.”.
- We can remember the victims: Orlando Sentinel Marks One-Year Anniversary of Pulse Nightclub Massacre: In print, a special 16-page section; online, free access for all.
- We can try to help the healing process: Faces of healing, one year after the Pulse Nightclub massacre.
Mostly, please just recognize that this was a hate crime, fueled by our society’s abhorrence of gay people and helped by our irrational obsession with prioritizing gun rights over human rights. It wasn’t an act of anti-american terrorism. It wasn’t merely the actions of one disturbed individual. It is a symptom of very American dysfunction. It is a hate crime, and all hate crimes are meant to instill terror in the hearts of the targeted community. If you are a straight person who still insists this wasn’t an anti-gay hate crime, please answer this question honestly: was this crime a gut punch of terror for you? Was it?
I have been relieved that most of the coverage of this crime focused on the victims. Too often the coverage of mass shootings focus so much on the perpetrator that it’s as if he’s a hero, instead of a despicable excuse for a human being. I think I have managed, despite writing about this incident many times, never mention to the name of the killer. Instead, we need to honor the memories of those slain: Orlando nightclub shooting: Read about the victims.
Edited to Add: Several people have written very eloquently about the day:
But there are a few things to talk about on this year’s finalist ballot and the new rules. Mike Glyer at File 770 does some number sifting in an attempt at Measuring the Rabid Puppies Effect on the 2017 Hugo Ballot. David Gerrold, science fiction author (including perhaps most famously the Star Trek Original Series script, “The Trouble with Tribbles”) and 2015 World Con Guest of Honor sums up a lot of my throughs in a post of Facebook, part of which I excerpt here:
“My seat-of-the-pants analysis (I could be wrong) is that the Hugos are in the process of recovering from the 2015 assault, precisely because the Worldcon attendees and supporters see themselves as a community.
“There’s a thought buried in that above paragraph — that communities unite to protect themselves when they perceive they are under attack. This works well when the attack is real, such as Pearl Harbor. But it can also have negative effects when hate-mongers such as Bryan Fischer and Pat Robertson (both of whom were in fine form this week) invent a scapegoat (LGBT people) for unwarranted attacks in an attempt to unite the community around their own agendas.
“So while those who have a long history of participation in Worldcons will see this unity as a good thing — those who identify themselves as the aggrieved outsiders will see it as more evidence that the establishment is shutting them out.
“Myself, I see it as a collision of two narratives — one that is based on 75 years of mostly healthy traditions, and one that is based on a fascist perception of how the world works.
“Most important, however, is that most of this year’s ballot suggests that we are seeing a return to the previous traditions of nominations based on excellence. Most of the nominations are well-deserved, and my congratulations to the finalists.”
I would characterize the two narratives as:
- one thinks that a better tomorrow includes the notion that Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations is a good thing, and
- the other that thinks the world was a better place when the heroes were always white men, while women only appeared in stories for the two purposes of being rescued by the hero and being his reward for a job well done.
But Gerrold’s wording works well, too.
Anyway, because of the drubbing they received the last two years and the rules change, one of the puppy groups essentially folded up shop. The other, realizing that the rules made it nearly impossible for them to take over entire categories, went with a more limited ticket this year. As mentioned in one of the links above, this resulted in them naming about 7% of the nominees, and a few of their picks are complete piles of steaming meadow muffins. Which means in every category we have four or more excellent choices to evaluate and choose from. Not everyone sees this year’s ballot as good news. One puppy apologist tries to claim that this year’s balloting numbers proves that the Hugos have driven off half the fandom (here’s a Do Not Link to his post if you want to read it). Now this is a person who claims that we’ve been telling Christian and conservative fans that they aren’t welcome. Whereas all that has happened is that more than a token number of people of color and an occassion LGBT person has made it onto the ballot.
Anyway, his reasoning is dubious on a mathematical level. First, he shows that the number of nominating ballots dropped by between 42-46% in some categories, and that sounds dire. Until you remember that the number of nominators surged last year way above the usual number precisely because after news got out about how the puppies had piddled on the ballot in 2015, a bit more than 2300 fans who had not previously been voters bought supporting memberships and voted in 2015. The overwhelming majority of those new voters resoundingly voted No Award in the categories the puppies had taken over. Fewer of those fans returned to nominate in 2016 for variety of reasons, but not all of them, by any means. Again, the majority handed the puppies a resounding rebuke and we passed two rules changes that made the bloc voting scheme less likely to succeed.
Statistical analysis of the nominating and voting in 2015 and 2016 showed that the number of puppy voters was probably no more than about 250 people those two years. That many people nominating in lockstep could take over the entirety of some down-ballot categories, but it couldn’t win. The larger of the two puppy groups gave up this year—not posting recommendations, not writing their angry blog posts, and generally not bringing a lot of attention to the cause. Their 250 people could not account for more than a fraction of the 1600 nominator drop that happened this year. Most of those 1600 who didn’t participate are from that group of fans who joined for the explicit purpose of opposing the puppies, and now believe that the rule changes and so forth have taken care of the problem.
Analysis of the partial numbers we have from this year’s nominations indicates that the remaining puppy voters number between 65 and 80 people. That’s a 68% drop-off in their group, a far more significant number, I think.
There have always been fewer nominators than voters. Nominating (filling in five blanks in each category) is harder work than voting (choosing from a small list of finalists in each category). And in order to vote or nominate you must purchased at least a supporting membership to WorldCon. A lot of fans don’t have the extra money laying around to buy a membership to a WorldCon that they aren’t attending. So you have to be pretty devoted to the ideas of sci fi/fantasy and/or feel a certain amount of sentiment toward the Hugo Awards themselves to participate year in and year out. Folks who normally don’t spend those funds on that felt something we loved was under assault, and we shifted our priorities a bit to make a stand.
The puppies whipped up some reactionary anger by referring to certain past winners as being motivated by nothing more than Political Correctness, and spinning a very distorted narrative that some of their favorite authors weren’t winning because of an anti-conservative or anti-christian agenda. An angry desire to give the middle finger to so-called PC elites might motivate people to spend some money and do some copy-and-pasting once or twice, but it’s hard to sustain that anger.
I love science fiction and fantasy. I think of it as a literature of hope and imagination. Even dystopian sf, in my opinion, touches on that hope for a better tomorrow even while it portrays a dire future. I am not the only fan, by any means, who was drawn to the literature because I felt like an outsider who didn’t belong in the mundane world of the present. Sf/f has always attracted outcasts of all sorts, which is why many more fans (not just the people of color, the women, and the queers) felt it was worth defending. I know that at least some of the puppies feel as if they are outcasts, though their argument is difficult to back up with facts. White male authors still make up a disproportionately overwhelming majority of the published works, and usually a majority of the nominees for these sorts of awards. They aren’t in any danger of being excluded. I’ve voted for books and stories in the past written by people I knew I disagreed with politically, because the story was good. It isn’t the political views of the author (and not usually of the story, though some of the examples in 2015 were so heavy-handed at hitting the reader over the head with politics and religion that I started to wonder if it wasn’t supposed to be a parody).
I want sf/f to be welcoming, yes. But not so welcoming that people who have literally called for the extermination of writers who include queer characters in stories to feel welcome. Or call an author who happens to be African a savage. I do have my limits.
See, I want the awards to recognize cool stuff written by people who really love telling stories. I like it when the ballot includes stories and authors I’ve not previously heard of. I like it even better when those stories make me want to read more by that person in the future. I don’t want “inclusive” stories or “diverse” stories for the sake of diversity, I want stories that look like the real world, where cisgender people and trans people and people of color and straight people and not-straight people and people of many different religions and people of no religion and people of different abilities are all included. Not to meet a quota, but because that’s how the real world is now! Yeah, as a queer man I’m happy when I see queer characters in a story, but it isn’t enough on its own to make me vote for it.
Oh, straightsplaining again! Hurrah! Thank you, so much, anonymous straight person, for explaining homophobia to me. How foolish of me to think that my 50+ years of surviving the slings and arrows of homophobia gave me any understanding of it.
Okay, let me clarify a few things:
Fact the First: you are correct, not every gay man is a sissy. Bully for you for being so open-minded!
Fact the Second: there are actual studies that show that, while not all queer men are sissies, at least 75% of boys who exhibit the characteristics causing them to be labeled “sissy” during childhood grow up to come out as queer.
Fact the Third: no matter what their actual sexual orientation, every boy who ever lived in our society who exhibits any of those gender-nonconforming behaviors was bullied because of them.
So, whether you believe that Shirvell is a closet case or not, my assertion that homophobic bullying is part of the root of his insanely over the top obsessively vicious homophobic campaign against that college student is still valid. You’re barely technically correct that we don’t know Shirvell’s orientation for certain (though I’m 99.99999% certain that he is queer of one sort or another). But the sheer level of sissy behavior one sees in any of the video interviews Shirvell gave back when he was defending his campaign tells me that he wasn’t just bullied occasionally as a child, but quite viciously and continuously. And we know from many studies that enduring that kind of bullying is one of the sources of adulthood excessive homophobic attitudes and behavior.
While we’re on the topic of those studies: those studies also show that the more virulent an adult man‘s homophobic attitudes and opinions are, the more likely it is that their body will exhibit involuntary arousal at the sight of scantily clad men. In other others, the more homophobic, the more likely that they are a self-loathing closet case. Add that to the study above, and it’s possible that my 99.99999% assessment is too low.
Fact the Fourth: I was a sissy. My childhood bullies included not just my classmates, but many of the adults in my life: family members, some teachers, and many adults at church. Yes, during my early teen years I was verbally homophobic. In my later teen years the only reason I wasn’t was not because I had become enlightened, but rather because as I had given in to my hormones a number of times, I wasn’t willing to be a hypocrit. But I was still convinced that I was going to go to hell for giving in to those feelings. So I understand Shirvell’s situation.
I do feel sorry for Shirvell the child. I know he had a horrible experience, even though I don’t know all the details. However, he’s an adult, now. He’s been exposed to information about sexual orientation, including the medical studies that it is not a choice (and therefore, since part of the theological definition of sin is being a willful disobedience, that means homosexuality cannot be a sin). He’s had more than enough time to start coming to terms with his childhood trauma and at least make the decision not to be the kind of bully that made his childhood hell. He has very emphatically chosen not to do so. Shirvell the adult deserves not one iota of sympathy. Not one.
Fact the Fifth: Please understand, I’m not stereotyping Andrew Shirvell as a gay man, I’m stereotyping him as a self-hating closet case—and he’s given us so, so much ammunition. It’s not just about the way he prances or speaks, it’s what he says as he’s ranting about the imagined sexual depravities of the targets of his homophobic rants—he simply sounds like he spends an inordinate amount of time imagining queer sex.
And there isn’t a plausible heterosexual explanation for that.
Note: Comments on this entire blog have always been moderated. Specific commenters have been whitelisted, but everyone else’s comments sit in a queue until I approve them. And I don’t see any point in approving comments that are insulting, or obviously coming from sock puppets or—such as the comment alluded to here—indicate the person isn’t interested in listening.
I’ve written before about why this particular crime hits so hard for queer people in general, and me in particular. I’ve also written about why we shouldn’t ignore the hate crime aspect of this act of terror, and why the people who do so are perpetuating and enabling the hate that caused it. I’ve also written about why it is unacceptable to argue there is nothing that we can do about this kind of crime: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either.
All of those things are still true. And with hate crimes on the rise since November 8, even more heart wrenching.
Please take to heart the words in the graphic I included at the top of this post: “Every time you let a homophobic or transphobic joke or slur pass, you tell the speaker that you condone their speech, and you help perpetuate a culture in which hatred of LGBTQIA people is acceptable and in which violence against LGBTQIA people is inevitable.” That’s not an exaggeration. If our very existence is nothing more than a joke, that implies our lives and deaths don’t matter. Those attacks and dismissals perpetuate the lie that we deserve pain and suffering. They perpetuate the lie that we shouldn’t exist. They perpetuate the lie that our love isn’t real.
And all of those lies add up to one message that some angry people are all too ready to take to heart: that beating us, shooting us, and killing us isn’t really a crime.
Five months later, thinking about the shooting still feels like a punch in my gut. I’m a queer man who has been out of the closet for a quarter of a century. But I grew up in redneck communities during the 60s and 70s. Any time I am out in public with my husband and we show any affection, I experience a moment of fear. I check to see who is around. I am never able to be completely in the moment because a part of me is staying alert to any and all strangers around us and preparing in case they react badly. It’s a dread calculation I find myself making whenever we are out, even with friends: is it all right if I call him “honey,” or will we get harassed? Can I safely say, “I love you,” or will we get threatened?
And it isn’t just me being paranoid. There was a specific incident years ago when my husband was threatened with violence after we exchanged a quick kiss when I dropped him off at a bus stop, for instance. There have been numerous incidents throughout my life where strangers called out slurs and made threats because I was a guy wearing earrings, or purple, or sometimes I don’t know how the person decided I was a faggot, but they did.
For the last few years before this my level of dread had decreased, just a little bit. It was still there, just not quite as bad. Especially when we were in familiar places.
And then the Pulse shooting happened. It is a reminder that even our queer places aren’t safe. And the reaction afterward, as people tried to say that it wasn’t an anti-gay crime. The very same people who have been fighting to take away what rights we have trying to erase the evidence of the anti-gay motives of the killer—to try to say we weren’t targeted because of who we love—reminded me that plenty of people who don’t think of themselves as homophobic are more than willing to ignore blatant crimes against us if it suits them.
When a couple of people who I had long thought were friends were angry at me for being angry, that also reminded me that I can’t always know who will have our back.
So I’m not getting over it. I have absolutely no intention to get over it. If you tell me I should get over it, that just means you either don’t understand how real the threat to queer people remains, or you don’t care.
It took me a while to find the link to the story that didn’t include the actual video on auto-play. The first link, up at the top of this post is that link. They have some pictures, and a link to the video, but no video. Most of the other stories include the video. Like this one: Warning! The following link to the Orlando Sentinel includes some of the actual body cam footage and it plays automatically: Deputies release body cam footage from inside Pulse.
And seeing those threatening letters and such being given to gay and lesbian couples from Trump supporters telling them that they’re going to burn in hell and worse? Yeah, that isn’t helping, either.
Three months ago, an angry homophobe walked into an Orlando, Florida gay night club and murdered 49 people, wounding 53 more. It was a Saturday night during Queer Pride month, and it was specifically Latinx Night at that club. The homophobe had spent time in the days before the massacre staking out the location. He had created a fake profile on a gay hook up app before that for the express purpose (based on the recovered chats) of finding out what the busiest gay nightclubs were in his community1. It was a planned hate crime.
The homophobe decided to buy an assault rifle to kill as many queers as he could after seeing two men kissing in public. The shooter’s own father was shocked at how angry his son had become when he saw that.
Three months later, reading about this still feels like a punch in my gut. I’m an out queer man who grew up in redneck communities during the 60s and 70s. I have always had the moment of fear any time I am out in public with my husband any time we show any affection. I have a specific incident where I know my husband was threatened with violence after we exchanged a quick kiss when I dropped him off at a bus stop years ago. It’s a dread calculation I find myself making whenever we are out with friends: is it all right if I call him “honey,” or will we get harassed? Can I safely say, “I love you,” or will we get threatened?
Thanks to this shooting, there’s now a new layer of fear and anxiety on that. Not just that I and my husband might be in danger, but that our actions might set off another bigot who will go murder a bunch of queer people.
Some people will ask, “It’s been three months; are you still upset about this?” And yes, people will actually ask. I know this because the day after the massacre happened people who I used to think were my friends were angry at me for being upset about the shooting.
Other people have much more immediate reasons not to forget: Last hospitalized survivor of Pulse nightclub shooting discharged. And now that he’s finally able to leave the hospital, Pulse nightclub shooting survivor plans return to New Orleans for recovery. Even though he’s out of the hospital, he’s got more recovery to do. As many of the other survivors are still going through physical therapy and otherwise trying to recover health and mobility that was taken from them.
There’s other kinds of fall-out still happening: State slaps $150,000 fine on security firm that employed Orlando Pulse shooter. The company isn’t being fined for anything directly related to the massacre. No, while authorities (and journalists) were investigating, the psychological evaluation he had undergone to get his security job was publicized. And people tried to contact the doctor whose name was on the evaluation. The problem was, she had stopped practicing more than a decade ago, had moved out of state, and hadn’t performed any evaluations for the employer since. At least 1500 employees were incorrectly listed has having been examined by the retired doctor during those ten years.
The state agency that investigated believes that all of those people were evaluated and passed, just that the wrong doctor was listed on their records. Over a thousand times. Over the course of ten years. Isn’t that reassuring?
I mean, a single psych eval doesn’t guarantee anything, particularly one done years before. And if I’m going to be disturbed about problems in the case, it would be the shooter’s history of domestic violence. One might ask how people get jobs where they are given badges and weapons and put in charge of security at places like courthouses when they have a history of domestic violence. I’m reminded of a chilling op-ed piece I read years ago that pointed out if having been arrested for domestic violence (or admitting in divorce proceedings to abuse) disqualified people from being cops, prison guards, and the like, we’d have a very hard time staffing departments, prisons, and so forth3.
“A FELONY DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CONVICTION IS THE SINGLE GREATEST PREDICTOR OF FUTURE VIOLENT CRIME AMONG MEN.”
—according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy’s analysis of The Offender Accountability Act
Let’s not forget that all the societal forces and institutions that encouraged the shooter to hate queer people, and that afterward blames the victims for bring this thing on themselves just by being who they are, are still active in this country. Some of them are even running for high political office. Others are merely preaching in churches around the country. Though some are finding themselves less welcome with their co-religionists: Baptist Union distances itself from anti-gay pastor.
The pastor in question, Steven Anderson, is one of many who said (from his pulpit) the Pulse massacre victims deserved to be murdered. He’s not the pastor who said that who has since been arrested for molesting a young boy. But since this guy also often goes off on homophobic rants, it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets caught doing something similar. But right now he’s just trying to go to South Africa and preach. He might not get to spread his hate there, however: SOUTH AFRICA CONSIDERS BANNING U.S. ANTI-GAY PREACHER.
Not that banning one pastor from one country is going to make much of a dent in the hate: Fox News Commentator Tells Conservative Christians They Must Support Anti-Gay Hate Groups.
But enough about the hateful people. What can we do to help love to win? Well, the first thing is not to forget the previous victims of hate:
1. The political cartoon I link to above refers to the Orlando shooter as a “gay homophobe” which was widely reported, but later debunked by the FBI2. The shooter installed a gay hookup app on his phone and set up his account around the same time that he bought the weapon that he later used in the massacre. And as I mentioned, his conversations never turned into meetings. He would ask gays what the busiest club was, and if they didn’t know, stop talking to him. If they mentioned any clubs, he would ask questions about the nightclubs, and then deflect any attempts by the person he was talking to to actually meet. A few people who spoke to the press in the aftermath of the shootings, claiming to have been flirted with by him or have even had sex with the shooter. But the FBI determined that none of them had actually met the shooter.
2. I still run into people who believe that the shooter was a self-loathing gay man, and that this fact means it wasn’t actually a hate crime. First, he wasn’t gay. Second, lots of hate crimes against queer people have been committed by self-loathing or in-denial queer people. Doesn’t make it any less of a hate crime.
3. I wish I could find that specific article, but I haven’t been able to track it down. There are numerous other sources of that data, however: Research suggests that family violence is two to four times higher in the law-enforcement community than in the general population. So where’s the public outrage? for instance. Or: 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence.
It was hardly the first time I had heard condemnation of homosexuality coming from the pulpit, but the hostility of these pronouncements was much worse than usual. It was also a bit unusual for a prayer to have such a long expository lump. Not completely unheard of, but enough to make several people in the congregation shift nervously. The prayer was going on and on for quite some time.
The subject of the prayer was also at odds with the sermon we had just heard. The sermon had been delivered by a visiting preacher. The church was having a revival week, which meant that a pastor from out of town presiding of the services, and the church was having a service every night of the week, rather than just the usual Sunday morning and evening worship service and Wednesday prayer meeting. And the visiting preacher had just delivered a sermon about the unity of the church. Nothing about sexual immorality or the like.
The preacher leading the prayer was not the same man who had delivered the sermon. He was the lead pastor of the church. And the tone of his prayer sounded more like an argument than a supplication for divine favor.
I was trying not to have a panic attack. If the church had been my home church I would have been in even more distress. But this wasn’t my church. I was at this service because I was the assistant director of an interdenominational teen touring choir, and we had been asked to have our smaller ensembles take a turn each night providing special music for the service. The ensemble I led within the choir had sang two songs earlier in the service, and we were scheduled to sing one more for the altar call at the end.
Anyway, among the reasons that I was upset at this unusually aggressive prayer was that I had been, to use the evangelical terminology of the time, “struggling with homosexual temptation” for years. Not that I had ever told anyone. I was too afraid of what would happen if I actually admitted to anyone in my church or family that I even thought about homosexuality.
And I had done more than dipped my toe into the waters of temptation. There had been a several occasions during the previous ten years during which I had taken the plunge right into the deep end.
At the time of this prayer, it had been at least two years since my last plunge. And that had been with a stranger not just in another town, but an entire different country. No one I knew knew the guy—and truth be told, I couldn’t even remember his name. So I didn’t think anyone knew. But still, it seemed that the pastor was aiming all this anti-gay contempt at someone, and as far as I knew at the time, I was the only homosexual in the room.
It was not the first time (nor would it be the last) that, while sitting in a house of worship I would hear people like me described as depraved sinners and tools of the devil. But this time was the most vehement had yet heard.
Looking back on it, years later, I realize that there probably was an argument going on. The visiting pastor’s sermon about unity could be interpreted as a call for factions of the Christian faith to set aside their differences, while the local pastor clearly thought that some of those factions weren’t really faithful. But I couldn’t be objective enough at the time to work that out. I half expected someone to take me aside to stage an intervention.
Except the intervention would have involved people laying hands on me and praying fervently for god to cast the demons out of me. Which had been something I had been fearing since at least the age of eleven. And that didn’t preclude the possibility that other members of the community might waylay me and just beat me up. That very thing had happened to one of my classmates several years earlier. There had also been classmates kicked out of their homes by their families and sent “away” to stay with some distant relatives or other vague described living arrangements.
The fear of being kicked out of your home, rejected by your parents, siblings, classmates, and neighbors is something that every queer kid growing up in conservative Christian churches live with. A lot of other queer kids know that fear, as well, don’t get me wrong. But when you’re raised to believe that you are among god’s chosen, that anyone who is not a part of this community of faith means that you are destined to drown in hatred and sin, without ever knowing love and eventually spending an eternity in agony, well, it’s traumatic.
It is a bit astonishing that any of us survive it, to be honest. We’ve known for a long time that queer teens are much more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and we know that teens who come from queer-rejecting families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide queer peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
It’s not just that the haters are trying to take away the rights of adults, such as myself, who have the means to fight back. They spend years telling some of their own children that god hates them. So there was one bit of that prayer that was correct. This isn’t just a difference of opinion. This isn’t about them saying they want to drive gas-guzzling SUVs, while some of us prefer more fuel efficient cars. They are literally bullying children, sometimes bullying those children to death. And they want the rest of us dead, too: GOP Congressman Who Prayed Gays ‘Worthy of Death’ Weeks Before Orlando Still Has No Apologies.
This is why queer people need to be out of the closet. This is why we need to have Pride parades and festivals and all the rest. This is why it isn’t enough to say “to each their own.” As long as there are kids growing up being taught that god hates them, we need to call out the bigotry for what it is, and stand up for those who aren’t yet able to stand up for themselves.
Why Does God Hate Me? – Gay Short film (LGBT):
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Michael and I had only been dating about four months when it happened. It appeared to be a day just like any other. Back then he lived and worked in Tacoma. Because he worked in a bar, his “weekend” was in the middle of my workweek. He didn’t own a car, so he would often take the bus up for Tacoma, we’d spend a day or two together, and he’d take the bus back. Sometimes I drove him, but most of the time it was the bus. On this one morning, for various reasons, I drove him into downtown Seattle and dropped him off at one of the big bus stops there, and then went on to my office. When I pulled over to the curb we said “good-bye,” leaned in and gave each other a quick kiss, and he got out of the car. I drove off, sad that it would be several days before I saw him again, but happy about the day we had had.
I was oblivious to the fact that as I drove away, a random stranger at the bus stop started harassing him for being queer. Because he’d seen me kiss Michael.
One of our friends has described my husband has “the most capable guy I’ve ever known.” His job history has included working as a bouncer at a not entirely savory bar. He bikes. When he was younger, he rode bulls in rodeo for fun. He’s not a small man. He can take care of himself.
But none of that matters if someone takes you by surprise. Or if you’re outnumbered. Or if you’re just not as good as them. And don’t think that being armed himself changes that equation. You can’t shoot another person’s bullet down in midair. You can’t safely defend yourself with a gun in a location crowded with bystanders—such as a very busy street in front of a bustling office building on a bright sunny weekday morning.
Even though the guy didn’t physically attack Michael that day. Even though Michael survived the incident to tell me about it after, sixteen years later I still have nightmares about how that situation could have gone down differently. All because I kissed him.
That was only one of the nightmares I’ve had this week, thanks to the news out of Orlando.
Eighteen years later, every time we are out in public and I feel an urge to tell my husband that I love him, or to hold his hand, or give him a quick kiss, I have to do that calculation. Are we safe here? Will someone say horrible things? Will someone threaten us? Will someone do something even worse?
A friend shared someone else’s blog post about why the Orlando shooting has so shaken him this morning, which makes substantially the same points:
If I kiss Matt in public, like he leaned in for on the bike trail the other day, I’m never fully in the moment. I’m always parsing who is around us and paying attention to us. There’s a tension that comes with that… a literal tensing of the muscles as you brace for potential danger. For a lot of us, it’s become such an automatic reaction that we don’t even think about it directly any more. We just do it…
We live constantly with the knowledge that there are people all around us who hate us enough to kill us. And this event isn’t merely a reminder of that, it carries another message:
Additionally, now we just got a lesson that expressing our love could result in the deaths of *others* completely unrelated to us. It’s easy to take risks when it’s just you and you’ve made that choice. Now there’s this subtext that you could set off someone who kills other people who weren’t even involved. And that’s just a lot.
That’s why I’m personally a bit off balance even though (or because, depending on how you look at it) I live in Texas and was not personally effected by this tragedy.
This is part of why I’m taking this shooting in Orlando so personally: the constant knowledge that there are people who will kill me, my husband, and so many more because of who we love. Worse than that, there are more people who will encourage that hate. They may say they don’t hate us personally, and of course they don’t condone violence, but they also say that violence is the natural consequence of our sin. In the same breath they condemn the violence, they declare the violence a result of divine will, and apparently don’t see the contradiction in that. And there is an even larger group of people who sincerely believe they are not prejudiced against us at all, but they enable guys like the Orlando shooter in thousands of little ways, whether it be opposing hate crime legislation, or anti-discrimination laws, or any form or gun policy reform.
This is why I’m long past the point where I can be silent about the hateful rhetoric of people like Ted Cruz, the Family Research Council, the Pope, and everyone else who says that queers are sinners. This is why I can no long sit silently polite and bite my tongue (yet again) when people say that I’m the bad guy for thinking that maybe a guy with a history of domestic violence who was also on the FBI watch list should not have been able to legally buy an assault rifle with no questions asked.
If your first reaction to me or any queer person you know expressing our feelings about this mass murder is to argue with us about gun policy, or to tell us we’re over reacting, or anything other than, “you seem to be taking this really hard, are you all right?” then you may well be part of the problem.
To answer the question that some people I thought were my friends didn’t ask before launching into attack mode this weekend: No, I’m not all right. I’m mad as hell. And I have more than ample reason to be mad.
It is not unreasonable to be upset at this mass murder. It is not unreasonable to ask questions about why fairly simple, non-draconian measures that are supported by a solid majority of voters—and that have been proven to work in other countries—are constantly being opposed by absolutists. It is not unreasonable to want to hold people who have enabled the hatred responsible. It is not unreasonable to hold people who keep enabling a toxic society that turns young men into festering piles of self-loathing and anger responsible. And it is not unreasonable to hold people who don’t just enable, but encourage, the easy availability of assault weapons to people that even they agree shouldn’t have guns in the first place responsible.
I’m not all right. I’m mad as hell. And you should be, too.