Wednesday, December 25, 2013

It's time to end the American Family Association's one-sided conversation on gay rights

As an openly gay man living in the reddest of the Red States, I can be forgiven for spending an unhealthy amount of time thinking about Bryan Fischer and the American Family Association. Headquartered not far from where I work in Tupelo, an omnipresent voice all over the radio, with a daily tsunami of Facebook posts and tweets, Bryan Fischer and the AFA, like magnolia trees and dry counties and Duck Dynasty, are inescapable facts of life in the state of Mississippi.

Bryan Fischer, host of FOCAL POINT
When I moved here three years ago, I could not fathom how it was legal for Bryan Fischer to go on public airwaves and say, on an almost daily basis, the most disparaging and woefully ignorant things about gay people. Comparing them to Nazis, suggesting they were responsible for the Holocaust, calling them a danger to public health, a threat to religious liberty, a threat to the economic well being of the United States, routinely classifying them with pedophiles, deeming homosexuality a “sexual sickness” and just as dangerous as addiction to hard drugs, talking about how we can either have religious liberty or homosexuality, but not both – day after day, the tide of myth,misinformation and just plain foolishness was hard to stomach.

But harder to stomach was the apathy of Mississippians who shrug and sigh and seem to believe there is nothing to be done even though Bryan Fischer and the AFA have earned themselves a hate group designation from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Protected by the right to free speech and freedom of religion, wrapping their myth and misinformation in religious garb and calling American Family Radio programs like Bryan Fischer’s FOCAL POINT a “ministry,” they are a monolithic entity safely removed from the consequences of their actions.

I have watched in disbelief as most local media outlets, when they report on gay rights (rather rare, to be sure), go microphone in hand to the AFA for a comment—as if there were no other religious or spiritual leaders in north Mississippi they could talk to.  I find it incredibly offensive that anyone would care what a hate group would have to say about a complex issue like gay marriage. Even more offensive is the media’s failure to seek out other voices on such issues, as if the AFA alone had some sort of monopoly on the gay rights conversation. But then the AFA has been having a one-sided conversation on gay rights since it was founded back in 1977.

When I inquire as to why no one will speak out against the AFA, I am frequently told that one does not mess with them. It’s as if they were some sort of mafia organization, as if one might wake up one day with concrete boots while being tossed into a swamp for having the audacity to have one’s own point of view.

When I started a Facebook page (Stuff the American Family Association Says) designed to document the hate speech coming out of the AFA, I was warned to be careful.

Why, I wanted to know.

Just be careful, I was told.  

Really? Am I supposed to be afraid of an organization that calls itself Christian? Are they going to break the law, or do something unchristian to me?

How very odd.

Yet I’ve noticed how silent politicians and elected officials are with regard to the AFA. I’ve also noticed that local media outlets don’t mention the fact that the AFA was designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, as if ignoring that fact of life might make it go away. Or are they afraid of offending and losing advertisers?

My Facebook page has not exactly been a rousing success. As of this writing, only about one hundred and fifty souls have been brave enough to click “like” on my page. Some people have sent private messages stating they cannot “like” my page for fear that people on their friends’ lists will find out. Are we back in grade school? Are we not allowed to have our own opinions?

Last year, a small group of hardy souls organized a protest march in front of the AFA headquarters in downtown Tupelo. We were about two dozen, in all. We were largely ignored by the media – as if a protest against the AFA right on their own front door was somehow not news, or not newsworthy.

While the AFA believes itself protected by free speech and freedom of religion, so are the rest of us. We have just as much of a right to engage in this conversation as they do. As a gay man, in fact, I would argue that I have more of a right to speak my mind than they do. This is an issue that affects me directly. This is an issue I have struggled with for decades.

I listen to American Family Radio frequently, but I have never once heard them talk to a gay man about the issue of homosexuality. What are they afraid of?

No doubt they have enjoyed their one-sided conversation on this issue. But isn’t it time to hear the other side? Isn’t it time for gay Mississippians – and there are many of them – to speak up, to speak out, to tell their stories, to tell the truth about what it means to be gay or lesbian or transgender? Might we not be allowed to hear from other spiritual and religious leaders? Is there no room in Mississippi for alternative points of view?

Bryan Fischer hides behind his microphone and religion. I wonder how comfortable he would feel if challenged to a public debate on the issue of homosexuality. Since the man talks about homosexuality almost every single day, surely he would relish the opportunity to demolish an articulate gay rights advocate like John Shore or Dan Savage.


And that’s the point.

Fischer and the AFA are, in my opinion, cowardly bullies who hide behind religion and radio dials and Facebook posts and tweets. They are interested only in a one-sided conversation. They do not seem to realize they are talking about real people, a great many of whom live next door to them, in their own communities, people who attend their churches, who rub elbows with them at the grocery store. They seem oblivious to the harm caused by their hate speech and demonization of others.

I will continue my no doubt woefully inadequate efforts to document their hate speech and provide an alternative point of view and I will do so because it’s important for young members of the LGBT community to realize that Bryan Fischer does not speak for everyone in this state.

I am not afraid of the AFA; neither should you be. We have the right to decide our own religious beliefs. We have the right to free speech and we are entitled to our own opinions. We do not live under a fascist dictatorship where the AFA talks and the rest of us do nothing but listen.

We live in a free country.

Don’t we?

We’re Americans.

Aren’t we?

Our fathers and forefathers did not fight for our freedoms so that organizations like the American Family Association could run roughshod over the rights of fellow citizens. They fought, and many times died, to preserve our right to hold our own religious beliefs and to speak our minds on issues that matter to us.

I do not believe the AFA speaks for everyone in the state of Mississippi. They may be a powerful organization and there may be good reasons to fear their retaliation. And they may well run the table on the gay rights conversation in the magnolia state. But they are not the only ones with a point of view.

It is way past time for Mississippians to shake off the dust of apathy and indifference in the face of this massive and daily assault on the rights and dignity of fellow Mississippians.

Gay people are not child-molesting, goat-buggering, disease-ridden threats to religious life and limb. We are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, created by the same God and entitled to the same rights and dignities as everyone else in this great country.

It’s high time we acted like it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

What the duck?

So, what's wrong with Duck Commander Phil Robertson going Biblical with his views on homosexuality?


Not one single, solitary thing. 

His religious views are not substantially different from many Christians all over the world, including the pope in Rome. 

But it wasn't his religious views that caused the Quack Heard Across the Globe.

Here's what he actually said during the GQ interview:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

It takes just eleven words to find the problem. When the topic turns to homosexuality, he immediately throws out the word "bestiality," linking homosexual behavior and bestiality as if they were of a piece, as if the relationship between two gay men or two gay women, between two consenting adults who love and cherish each other, was no different than a redneck having sex with a donkey. 

That's the problem.

Members of the LGBT community are no strangers to this type of talk. We are routinely classified as sexual perverts, and homosexuality, we are told, is not substantially different than sexual perversions like pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia. 

As a child growing up during the 1970s, I remember very well looking up the word "homosexuality" in the dictionary and finding it classified as a sexual perversion, "akin to pedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia, which see."

I flipped the pages to look up those other words and was horrified to learn that the crush I had on Shaun Cassidy was no different than my wanting to have sex with a little kid, or a cow, or a dead body. Pretty heady stuff for a teenager in the throes of puberty. And not only heady, but shaming. Intensely, relentlessly, mindbogglingly shaming. And embarrassing. And humiliating. And psychologically damaging. 

Does it need to be said that the love two gay men or two gay women feel for each other is substantially different than someone having sex with a corpse? Do we really need to explain how deeply misinformed, ignorant and offensive such thinking is? 

Apparently we do. 

Folks like Phil Robertson, pontificating on Bible verses and taking a stand for Jesus, routinely throw out comparisons to pedophilia and bestiality. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum is famed for talking about gay marriage as something that will lead to the "man on dog" thing. Evangelicals constantly warn that gay marriage will lead to people wanting to marry their pets, or their children, or their brothers or sisters or ... fill in the blank.

Well, you say, so what? What's the big deal?

I'll tell you what the big deal is.


Surprise, surprise, gay people want to be loved, too. They want to fall in love, experience intimacy and romance, have sex, commit themselves to each other, create families, live normal lives.

By constantly suggesting that gay love is a sexual perversion like bestiality, religious types are striking right at the heart (so to speak) of a person, hitting them right in the place where they feel, where they find meaning and hope and happiness. They are striking at the core of an individual and his or her ability to love, to receive love, to interact with the community, to be a human being. By dismissing as perversion their romantic feelings, their attractions to members of the same sex, they are killing the souls of such people. 

They are suggesting that these feelings of love and affection among gay people are disgusting and unworthy, perverted, sinful, so terrible that such feelings ought to be denied. They are doing this, not because there is any scientific or medical evidence to support it, but because they believe the Bible condemns homosexuality. They are teaching young gay men and women to hate themselves, to hate their feelings, to hate the truth about themselves, to shut themselves off from the love and affection of others like them. The psychological, spiritual and sociological consequences are predictable:  Alienation, suicidal ideation, low self-esteem, self-doubt, self-loathing, loneliness, and ultimately, despair. And as a final kick in the pants, young gay men and women are expected to believe that this is what the God of love wants for them: A life of loneliness and pain and rejection and humiliation and shame. 

Monstrous ignorance, from start to finish, as so many members of the gay community have painfully learned. 

Read those words again:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality ..."
It takes but six little words for Robertson to jump from "homosexual behavior" to "bestiality." As if they were so intrinsically linked, he couldn't mention one without the other. 

This type of talk is so common among evangelicals as to be uninteresting. But that doesn't make it right. That doesn't redeem it from being what it is: Hate speech

Hate speech is the use of words to demonize groups of people. Suggesting that two men who love each other is not at all different than a horny farmer raping his goat is demonization. It's a display of shocking ignorance and stupidity which has nothing to do with supposed Biblical teachings on sexuality and everything to do with bigotry and prejudice.

It's wrong.

Many, many churches carry on a conversation about homosexuality without resorting to demonization and hate speech. It is possible to talk about religious beliefs on homosexuality without needlessly offending people. But the moment you stray from your beliefs and start talking about gay people as being no better than pedophiles or people who like to have sex with goats, you are no longer having a conversation on your religious beliefs: You are engaging in highly offensive exercise in ignorance and bigotry. And you can, and should, be made to face the consequences. 

No one argues with Robertson's right to free speech and no one is suggesting that he is not entitled to his own religious beliefs. But when free speech turns into hate speech, and religious belief turns into ignorant demonization of others, there is a problem.

Hate speech leads to hate crimes. Gay people can and do get fired from their jobs. Some have had their children taken away from them. Gay and lesbian teens are kicked out of their homes and left to fend for themselves on the streets.  Hate speech makes it easier for society to discriminate against gay people, take away their rights, violate their persons and property. Hardly what Jesus had in mind when he said we should do unto others what we would have done unto ourselves. This is not loving your neighbor as you love yourself. 

That this hate speech wraps itself in Christianity does not give it the protection of freedom of religion. Your religious beliefs are protected, but your belief that homosexuality is somehow the same as necrophilia is not supported by the Bible (or any authority, including science or common sense). When you talk about homosexuality being the same as bestiality, you are not having a conversation on religious belief. You are being an ignorant bigot, and we have the right to be offended.