I'm a bisexual Seventh-day Adventist evangelical Christian. I've only ever gone to Seventh-day Adventist educational school systems. I grew up in pathfinders, singing for church special music since I was three, and going to Bible camps during my summers. I still go to a Seventh-day Adventist university where I work on creating safe spaces (unofficial GSA's) nationally within the Seventh-day Adventist church. I get the Gay Christian world -- I live in it. Around the entire LGBT conversation, whether it's marriage or politics, the main contention point is religion. It's the root of the opposition and it is where homophobia was birthed.
Recently some articles have come out that had me scratching my head, then shaking my head, then just hanging my head with disappointment. I have followed gay Christian writer Brandon Ambrosino for a little while. His piece published on the Atlantic on his time spent as a gay man at a conservative Christian college was phenomenal (seriously, it's fantastic). But after an article on why he thinks gay pride parades aren't necessary in a post-DOMA world (while admitting he's never actually attended one). A transphobic article originally called Tranny;Grammar now Trans:Grammar (after which my trans writer friend, Teagan, and her trans folk vocally tweeted their disgust), and the article proclaiming that "Being Against Gay Marriage Doesn't Make You a Homophobe", I get the impression that Ambrosino is much more in tune with his Christian identity than his gay identity.
After some great rebuttals made here and here by my friend, editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Gay Voices, Noah Michelson, and a slightly uncomfortable Huffington Post live debate, I've really felt called to chime in on the conversation. Words matter, a lot. I really want Ambrosino, as well as the entire Christian community, to understand the power that words have.
In the piece, Ambrosino asserts
"As a gay man, I found myself disappointed with this definition -- that anyone with any sort of moral reservations about gay marriage is by definition anti-gay. If Raushenbush is right, then that means my parents are anti-gay, many of my religious friends (of all faiths) are anti-gay, the Pope is anti-gay, and -- yes, we'll go here -- first-century, Jewish theologian Jesus is anti-gay."
It feels that Ambrosino has some serious reservations, and understandably so, in labeling his family and friends as anti-gay. It's a hard life being a gay Christian living in the trenches of "the big gay debate." I do understand a lot of the piece from a queer Christian perspective. It's difficult when a church hasn't just minimized us to a sexual orientation, but really to their understanding of a gay sexual orientation -- which is often just disgust with the "mechanics" of gay sex. We don't want to be associated with whatever sex act has been imagined. There is so much more to Ambrosino and myself than being queer, but a lot of times for our churches, it's the defining factor. It's the straw that broke the camel's back. It's the "decision" we have made between heaven and hell.
I also think Ambrosino has a great point on how nuanced this topic actually is. Being Christian and Queer can be lonely. When I write for Christian forums I get metaphorically stoned, and when I write for LGBT publications, I get labeled as self-loathing -- there really aren't many venues for voices like Ambrosino's and my own. As Brandon states, the LGBT community tends not to think about our words, tone and intent behind our response to homophobia that truly stems from religious institutions. It's a hard role but voices like Ambrosino's are actually creating more change than voices who yell "bigots" from the outside. He's changing hearts on this topic -- but is he apologizing too much?
This is where he loses me --
"I would argue that an essential feature of the term "homophobia" must include personal animus or malice toward the gay community."
Sorry Brandon, I'm not buying it.
For those of us that work in our worldwide church with the intersection of LGBT and faith, this notion that you must have malice towards LGBT folk to be considered homophobic is extremely misleading. I have yet to meet a single Christian person who has been intentionally malicious towards gay people. Non-affirming Christians honestly, truly believe they are being loving by attempting to change our orientation, encourage celibacy, or ban us from their pews -- but to name their actions as anything but what they are would be to turn a blind eye to the epidemic of religious homophobia.
LGBT youth are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers. Those that get rejected by their family, which happens in a lot of religiously-based homes, are eight times more likely to commit suicide. I would even go as far to say that the Church acts as an extension of our family, and that rejection affects us just as much.
Christian evangelicals had a pivotal influence on the new law passed this past week making it illegal to be LGBT in Uganda. God-fearing, Bible-thumping, meant-to-be-loving Christians encouraged a law that makes it illegal for people to be who they are, simply because they breathe. LGBT students are being expelled, suspended, or discriminated against in their religious educational institutions.
There is no way to sugar-coat this: It's homophobic, and yes it's anti-gay.
During the HuffPost Live interview, Ambrosino states "I've never felt -- well -- I have felt discriminated against but that has not been the majority of my experience." What I wish Ambrosino understood is that his experience is not the rule, it's the exception. I'll even go so far as to say that his Christian, cisgender male, homonormative, and white privilege-laden life had a lot to do with the safe distance that has kept him from feeling the discrimination, whether he realizes it or not. With such a huge platform, with over ten thousand likes on an article that really truly is, in itself, somewhat anti-gay, it's so important to state the facts. Religion is the main contention point for this entire conversation and the stats show that religious people are the driving force for homophobia and anti-gay messages.
According to the Ali Forney Center, a foundation housing homeless LGBT youth:
Tragically, as many as 25% of these teens are rejected by their families, and many end up homeless on the streets. Homeless LGBTQ teens are more likely than straight homeless teens to be subjected to violence on the streets, and in the homeless shelter system. They suffer from inordinate rates of mental illness, trauma, HIV infection and substance abuse.
This is no longer a conversation on theology; it's a matter of life and death. Lives are being lost and religion is the leading cause, if not the only factor.
You don't have to be setting LGBT people on fire, picketing funerals, or even hurling slurs. I'm Christian, and I love my church. I actively work to make it safer for LGBT people at our educational institutions. It's important to have voices like Ambrosino out there to dispel the myth for Christian and queer folk that being Christian and queer is like finding a rainbow unicorn. We're here, we're not self-loathing, and we care about both communities. What I hope is that people that have these platforms, like myself and Ambrosino, will use them to better the LGBT community. That we don't shy away from the truth and the stories of the vast majority of the community. It's a disservice and an embarrassment to belittle the very real weapon that is homophobia. We should be promoting bridge-building, healing, and love -- not making excuses. After all, there is much more in the Bible about how to treat one another than there is about what we have translated to mean homosexuality.