Archive for Current Events
Earlier today I pointed my readers to a video and companion essay by transgender activist Joelle Ruby Ryan entitled “Casualties of Gender” in which she calls attention to the ongoing violence against those who defy society’s gender conventions. Commenting on the piece, I decried the silence with which conservative Christian leaders have met these acts of violence, which I see as giving tacit approval to the use of violence to enforce gender norms.
Tonight I read a report in the Bowling Green State University News of a rally held at there to raise awareness of violence against gender-variant people. Joelle, who founded the university’s transgender advocacy group, returned to speak at the rally. But it was a comment from a participant at the end of the article that caught my attention:
Supporters from outside the group included Henry Koch, a Bowling Green resident, and David Ordorica, a campus minister at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, who both want to see the bigotry transgendered individuals face on a daily basis stopped.
Just because a person doesn’t agree with the way a person lives doesn’t mean that person should have to put up with violence against them, Ordorica said.
“I’m here to be a conservative Christian witness to the fact that we love LGBT people and stand against violence of any kind against them,” he said.
Thank you for listening, Mr. Ordorica. You’ve given me hope.
I hope you’ll set aside a few minutes to watch this video, highlighting the five murders and one suicide of gender-variant people that received media attention in February of this year. How many victims must there be before it becomes an epidemic?
The tyranny of gender rigidity has a death grip on our culture. And this system is not merely theoretical; it has very real casualties. One of the things which troubles me the most is how few non-transgender people get involved in the fight for change. How many transgender people have to die before you will get involved? How many gender-variant youth will be brutally murdered or will commit suicide because they see no hope for a livable future for themselves, let alone a happy one?
I recognize and respect that many conservative Christians believe the binary gender system to be God-ordained and biblically endorsed. I cannot believe, however, that any of them would endorse murder or suicide as justifiable means for protecting, enforcing, or advancing that system. And yet those who speak for conservative Christians in America are largely silent on the matter of these deaths.
To those who are prone to these kinds of violent acts, that silence implies that violence is indeed justified. To the young straight man who has discovered that a gay classmate has a crush on him, the church’s silence says, “It’s okay to rough him up a little.” To a twelve year old boy who has known all his short life that he needs to be a girl, the church’s silence says, “We’ll all be better off if you’d just put the gun in your mouth and pull the trigger.” To the parents of a teenage girl who refuses to stop seeing her girlfriend, the church’s silence says, “Of course you’re justified in kicking her out of the house and onto the street.” When the voice of moral authority refuses to speak, hatred and injustice hear all the permission they need to hear.
For conservative Christian teachers, preachers, and leaders, speaking out against this kind of violence is risky. Some in your congregation will wonder if your views on homosexuality have softened. They’ll question your convictions against offering equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians. There will be talk in the corners of the fellowship hall and around kitchen tables about whether you’re falling prey to the “Homosexual Agenda.” Deacons might start receiving worried phone calls from influential church members. Some members will confront you to your face. Some will trust you less. Some will start looking for another church. The most hardened congregations will eventually suggest that maybe it’s time for you to move on, or will call for a vote to vacate the pulpit.
I recognize these risks. I’ve faced them myself. But I ask you, since when has preaching truth and justice been a risk-free proposition? And I ask you, how much risk are you willing to take? And I ask you, do gender-variant or questioning young people qualify as “the least of these” from Matthew 25?
And I remind you, as our Lord has said and will say again, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
It makes me wonder: if we can’t sit around a table and study the Bible together, what kind of communion do we have and what are we trying to save?
Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire and the Anglican communion’s only out gay bishop, on being formally excluded from the upcoming once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops at Lambeth
…until all of us is safe. And if you think gay teens like Lawrence King are safe in our schools, you’re wrong.
The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has announced that Andrés Ignacio Rivera Duarte will receive the organization’s Felipa Award, which “recognizes the courage and effectiveness of groups or leaders dedicated to improving the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) and other individuals stigmatized and abused because of their sexuality or HIV status.”
In 2005, Andrés Ignacio Rivera Duarte, a trans man, founded Organización de Transexuales por la Dignidad de la Diversidad, the only NGO in Chile dedicated to fighting for trans people’s rights, which he currently heads. He has worked with government and the local health system to facilitate the evaluation, treatment and surgery of trans people, and organized the first Rancagua debate on the Civil Union Pact. But his work is not just with high-level officials; he also provides direct support to sex workers-visiting them nightly to distribute coffee, food and information about HIV/AIDS. Himself the victim of employment discrimination, he fought a landmark lawsuit, bringing issues of gender identity into the public view, finally winning the right for trans people to legally change their name and sex in 2007.
Mr. Duarte will share the award with the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO).
For more information on transgender issues in Chile, check out Karina’s Story, a report produced in June 2006 for Frontline that explores what it is like to be transgender “in a fiercely Catholic and conservative country such as Chile.”
On Thursday a very emotional Ellen DeGeneres addressed the recent murder of Oxnard, California eighth grader Lawrence King.
Somewhere along the line, the killer, Brandon, got the message that it’s so threatening and so awful and so horrific that Larry would want to be his Valentine that killing Larry seemed to be the right thing to do. And when the message out there is so horrible that to be gay, you can get killed for it, we need to change the message.
I fail to see how anyone who considers himself to be a follower of Jesus Christ could disagree with that sentiment. And in case you wonder if that really happens, consider these recent remarks by Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, Washington:
God hates soft men . . . God hates effeminate men. If I was in a drugstore and some guy opened the door for me, I’d rip his arm off and beat him with the wet end.
When asked about his remarks later, Hutcherson claimed it was a joke. But in light of three murders of “effeminate” teenage boys in the U.S. in as many weeks, I don’t think it’s very funny, do you?
In response to the recent spate of hate motivated killings of gender non-conforming youth, Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians asks, “Where is the Church?” Where indeed. Preaching against LGBT “lifestyles” plus silence on hate crimes against LGBT people equals implicit permission to kill them. And, dare I say, complicity in their deaths. I hear echoes from Genesis: “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground…“
Where is the church? Oh, wait, there they are! They’re holding “prayer sieges” along Interstate 35! But Rabbi Rami Shapiro, writing at Ethics Daily, has some hard questions for this movement and the philosophy that undergirds it. (Rabbi Shapiro’s essay is a Crossing the T “must-read.” Really. Go read it right now.)
Wait. What’s that I hear? Could it be? Yes! There is the voice of the church! Tutu calls on Ugandans to protect LGBT community. Quote of note: “No one should have to live in fear simply because of who they are.” Amen.
On Saturday, Sanesha Stewart, a transwoman of color living in the Bronx, was murdered in her own apartment. She was 25 years old. Her accused killer, Steve McMillan, had known her for months, yet when he was arrested, he claimed to have been enraged to find out that she was what the media coverage called not really a woman. He stabbed her over and over again in the chest and throat. She tried to fight him off; there were defensive wounds found on her hands.
On Tuesday, eighth-grader Lawrence King was in a classroom in Oxnard, Calif. He was openly gay, and often came to school in gender-bending clothing, makeup, jewelry and shoes. According to another student, it was freaking the guys out. One of them shot Lawrence in the head. He was declared brain-dead on Wednesday.
It is easy to look at cases like this and think, how tragic. How random. How senseless.
But then, you forget how easy it is to kill a transgender person.
In Nigeria, 18 men who were arrested last year under Sharia law on charges of sodomy have had their charges reduced to cross-dressing, according to the BBC. As a result, they will no longer face the death penalty if convicted, but will still be severely punished. With the Nigerian (Anglican) church’s vocal opposition to LGBT rights, who will call for justice for these people? (Thanks to Elizabeth Kaeton at the Telling Secrets blog.)
Church leaders in Jamaica have rejected a plea to their government by the International Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches to act to end violence against LGBT people. One pastor called the idea of conducting a public awareness campaign to sensitise Jamaicans on the issue is “ludicrous.” By failing to condemn violence, does the church not share in the moral responsibility for it? (Thanks to Box Turtle Bulletin.)
Closer to home, Timothy Kinkaid asks, “In Response to the Murder of [Gay Teenager] Lawrence King, Where is the Voice of the Church?” He finds American Christians too busy shouting down the “homosexual agenda” to take time out to condemn hate violence motivated by sexual orientation or gender non-conformity.
In an op-ed published in today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ken Pennings and Heather Rittenhouse of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists share some hopeful impressions of the recent New Baptist Covenant Celebration:
During the three-day event, former President Carter noted that Baptists hold diverse opinions about gay people. Best-selling novelist John Grisham called for the church’s inclusion of gay people. Rev. Tony Campolo wore a rainbow-colored stole. Hundreds of participants sported rainbow stickers to proudly reveal their support for gay people.
These are positive signs, to be sure. And yet it’s important to remember that organizations like AWAB and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (which also affirms the lesbian and gay experience) were not permitted to join the celebration as “official participating organizations.” In a July 18 e-mail to these two groups, Alan Stanford, one of the Celebration’s organizers, justified the exclusion of welcoming and affirming organizations by saying, “We can not hold together the large coalition of Baptists needed to create a new Baptist voice in North America and address the issue of sexual orientation at the same time.” Individual members of these organizations were allowed to attend the event, but the organizations themselves were excluded. Stanford asked for LGBT Baptists’ “forbearance and understanding.”
In their editorial, Pennings and Rittenhouse describe why the chose to participate in the event despite the official marginalization of the AWAB:
It seemed to us that if we built a response of protest, we would only have proved that we were operating from the outside rather than persistently and gracefully demonstrating that we were, in fact, on the inside. In effect, a protest would have broken down even further the ties that bind us as Baptists.
While I affirm their “bridge-building” approach and applaud their courage for undertaking a ministry of presence at the Celebration, I question the ultimate effectiveness of this kind of “demonstration.” Their attendence may have demonstrated to some that LGBT Baptists exist, and it may have helped to put a face on what, for most Baptists, has been an impersonal issue from which they could previously claim detachment. In the Baptist world, these are anything but small achievements.
But their approach did not and could not show that LGBT Baptists are “on the inside” of Baptist life. If anything, it accentuated the ongoing marginalization not only of LGBT Baptists, but of any Baptist who speaks out for a welcoming and affirming theology. “You can ignore us, but we’re not going away” may be a great slogan, but it is a poor strategy. It may preserve the appearance of unity–it keeps people on both sides of the issue happy–but it doesn’t promote justice. It doesn’t advance the Kingdom.
Organization is the heart of activism and the engine of social justice. As Ecclesiastes’ Preacher taught, there is strength in well-organized numbers. Majorities frequently deny minorities the right to organize as a way to maintain their status, which is precisely why freedom of assembly was enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Within a culture like ours that values such freedom, the next best way for a majority that wants to maintain its status to marginalize a minority is to downplay or deny the legitimacy of minority organizations. From my perspective, this is precisely what occurred at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration–and we offered no organized response.
Shortly after the Celebration’s organizers announced they would not let LGBT-affirming Baptist organizations participate, some of our leaders began to consider the possibility of holding an “auxiliary event…to discuss gay rights and other peace and justice issues,” according to Evelyn Hanneman, who was at the time the interim director of the Peace Fellowship and now serves as its operations coordinator. Such an event would have powerfully demonstrated that LGBT Baptists refuse to be marginalized or denied legitimacy. It is a shame that such an auxiliary event did not materialize; a great opportunity was lost.
As long as we allow our organizations to be treated as less legitimate than others’, our voice will be muffled. As long as we allow our issues to be thought of as less urgent than those of other constituencies, our issues will be brushed aside. The courageous support of straight allies such as Grisham and friends of unity such as Carter and Campolo will be squandered if we don’t do more than simply show up. A ministry of presence is vital, to be sure, but it is insufficient. We must “make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.” We will never see the change we long for, and we believe God longs for, if our motto is, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going to say it too loudly if that makes you uncomfortable.”