Friday, November 06, 2009

No On 1 Postscript

We won't ever have a chance of receiving marriage equality at the ballot box if our sole strategy remains trying to convince non-gays that we're just like them.

We're not.

I stopped being a grassroots gay activist more than a decade ago when the movement went picket fence. Of course I'd like marriage equality, but whoever put it at the top of the agenda whenever it was put at the top of the agenda wasn't reading the tea leaves very well.

If we don't stand up, unabashed and unapologetic, to religious fundamentalism we'll keep losing. It looks something like this:

Bishop John Shelby Spong -- A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility. I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is "an abomination to God," about how homosexuality is a "chosen lifestyle," or about how through prayer and "spiritual counseling" homosexual persons can be "cured." Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy. I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate "reparative therapy," as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired. I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people. I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality "deviant."

I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that "we love the sinner but hate the sin." That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement.

I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is "high-sounding, pious rhetoric." The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer. The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves.

I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn't. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to "Roll on over or we'll roll on over you!" Time waits for no one.

I will particularly ignore those members of my own Episcopal Church who seek to break away from this body to form a "new church," claiming that this new and bigoted instrument alone now represents the Anglican Communion. Such a new ecclesiastical body is designed to allow these pathetic human beings, who are so deeply locked into a world that no longer exists, to form a community in which they can continue to hate gay people, distort gay people with their hopeless rhetoric and to be part of a religious fellowship in which they can continue to feel justified in their homophobic prejudices for the rest of their tortured lives. Church unity can never be a virtue that is preserved by allowing injustice, oppression and psychological tyranny to go unchallenged.

In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by "fair-minded" channels that seek to give "both sides" of this issue "equal time." I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.

I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude.

I will no longer be respectful of the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems to believe that rude behavior, intolerance and even killing prejudice is somehow acceptable, so long as it comes from third-world religious leaders, who more than anything else reveal in themselves the price that colonial oppression has required of the minds and hearts of so many of our world's population.

I see no way that ignorance and truth can be placed side by side, nor do I believe that evil is somehow less evil if the Bible is quoted to justify it. I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won.

There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be.

· Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us.
· Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church.
· "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces.

We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women?

The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a "mobocracy," which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote.

The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture's various forms of homophobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.

I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the "Flat Earth Society" either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United Sates on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union.

I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church's participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day. Indeed I feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those we designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people.

Life moves on. As the poet James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: "New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth." I am ready now to claim the victory. I will from now on assume it and live into it. I am unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.

This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.

Maine has a People's Veto -- which ought to be vetoed because it's a waste of the work (and by extension our tax dollars!) that our legislature performs -- so the law the legislature passed would surely be put before the people in short order. Why didn't the legislature take steps to limit the kind of issues the People's Veto could address before undertaking the legislative effort to pass marriage equality legislation? Why spend all that political capital passing a controversial piece of legislation without a safeguard against the People's Veto?

Despite what I've already said and what I'm about to say, that remains the crux of the matter, at least here in Maine. Putting the cart before the horse tends to end badly.

Still, I did my part for No On 1, and up until the weather broke on Tuesday morning, I thought Mainers would actually do the right thing. We're known for being a libertarian live and let live kind of place. The Way Life Should Be boasts our motto. But I was deluding myself, and I knew it, trying to keep hope alive.

People don't vote for other people's equality just because it's the right thing to do. Fear doesn't need to be more convincing than reason, but our campaign didn't give people enough reasons to vote No.

The opposition runs the same fear-based strategy and the same ads in every state, even with lies and falsehoods, and gets the same kinds of religious institutions, (who are never challenged with any real action to strip their non-profit status for being so blatantly involved in politics) involved in peddling the smut they peddle, and they win every time. "Those fucking faggots and dykes will never get what we have!" remains the subtext, though it isn't very subtle.

Where were the ads from No On 1 arguing the economic boon to our relatively poor state if marriage equality passed? Nowhere.

Where were the ads batting down "the gays are going after our children" with a critique of the Catholic Church and all the children it has abused for centuries? Nowhere.

Where were the ads appealing to Catholic voters that reminded or informed them for the first time that Catholics weren't allowed to marry in Maine when the state was part of Massachusetts? Nowhere.

Where were the ads that spoke directly to seniors in the voice of seniors, such as the WWII vet who gave powerful testimony at the legislative hearing? Nowhere.

Where were the ads showing the men and women unable to claim their beloved's bodies from funeral homes because they weren't legally "next of kin"? Nowhere.

Where were the ads declaring separate but equal unconstitutional? Nowhere.

Where were the ads buttressing the arguments for marriage equality from the Iowa supreme court ruling? Nowhere.

Where were the ads showing, at last, that marriage between one man and one woman has, in fact, not been the only marriage model throughout history? Nowhere.

The ads No On 1 did run were lovely. But they were all about projecting an image of family that most straight people won't allow themselves to see no matter how many times we project it. And quite frankly, as I posted them on my blog in the lead up to the vote, all I kept thinking was, "I already saw this ad in another form. How many fence sitters is this version going to persuade?"

Why didn't I take my ideas to the No On 1 campaign? Well, I did. Even before ads started running. You see, at the legislative hearings, I encouraged the coordinators to do more than just put a friendly family face on gay marriage. That we needed to confront assumptions with more than just stories of responsible, tax-paying, community-involved GLBT families. I got a few "thank you, but we got this" kind of responses.

One thing I know about the picket fence GLBT movement: once the leaders make up their minds on the best way to get as many people to like us as possible, they will continue to beat their heads against the same wall and get the same result.

The organizers of No On 1 made up their minds at least three years ago that this was the way to go, despite the results in 31 other votes around the nation. I applaud their efforts and the efforts of all those who poured blood, sweat, tears and cash into this campaign. But trying to convince folks who think we're deviant that we're not with poignant and compelling stories and images of GLBT families simply isn't going to do the trick. It's time to start holding up a mirror, as has Bishop Spong, to the Catholic Church, the religious fundamentalists, the fearmongerers and the hateful. Unabashedly. Unapologetically.

And when we lose, we need to stop blaming other oppressed groups or pointing fingers at this president. Forget all the exit polls that make this knee-jerk reaction so tempting. I wanna see a poll that measures the attitudes of GLBT citizens on marriage equality. There's an assumption we're all for it. I wanna see a poll that tells me how many registered GLBT voters stayed home on election day because the issue simply doesn't resonate with them. Did the leaders who made this a top agenda item over the past few years even research their own large and diverse communities to see how many of us even care?

I cringe to say it, but we're cowards. We also tend to be jaded by entitlement. Not a great combination for getting results. We refuse to change a losing strategy and confront the key issues head on, and we have a hard time looking in the mirror when we fail. Until we muster up the guts to do more than just promote how "normal" we really are with pretty pictures, I hope we take a break from marriage equality and unite with other movements to dismantle corporate control of our elected officials.


Liza said...

Craig, I totally agree. Picket fence, indeed. The heteronormative gays, who are the face of the gay movement, spend all their capital on trying to conform to a corrupt system, intstead of challenging the very system that pollutes the entire world.

Back in the days when I came ( and that's waaay back) out we were hell bent on changing that system by not cooperating with it, by building our own institutions, our own radical theories. Anti war, anti racist, pro populist, pro environment,and pro Queer, we did a bang up job of creating a universe of Queerdom. Out of that came much beautiful culture and activism.

Now...we (or I should say they) have been bought by the marketing of the American Dream, which as many of us know, the path straight to hell.

Trying to convince religious nuts and Catholics (the vatican donated how many hundreds of thousands of dollars to the no on 1 campaign?) and right wingers that we are just like them, we might be putting our time and energy to bringing them down. But, as you say, not we, but they, the picket fence Gays, are cowards. And uneducated in Queer history as well.

Thanks.Liza (in Vermont, where we can marry but I chose not to)

liza said...

That should be "back in the days when I came OUT"

MrJames said...

“It takes no compromising to give people their rights. It takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no survey to remove repressions.” - Harvey Milk

Thanks for all the thoughtful reflection. There is much to think about.

Craig Hickman said...

Thanks Liza for your snapshot history. So on point.


Mr. James, Harvey Milk said it best. "It takes no money to respect the individual."

It's time for us to apply that truism to ourselves.

Craig Hickman said...

One more thing about the movement that Harvey Milk led:

It was grassroots and it was powerful.

And he never backed away from confronting fundamentalists to their faces and revealing their hypocrisy with sickle-sharp humor.

Not since the movement upon which our very lives depended finally forced the state to stop allowing us to die without answers or treatment has the movement been anything other than window dressing.

We need to learn the lessons of our history and the history of all movements for change and get on board.

Being "well behaved" just ain't gonna cut it. Neither will divide and distract.

Never has. Never will.

When suburban GLBT families are willing and courageous enough to organize peaceful sit-ins in some important local symbol of their communities as a way to let their communities know that this right is really that important and they will keep the focus on it EVEN BETWEEN ELECTION SEASONS then I'll scale back my criticism.

When they can convince their non-gay allies to participate and do the same, then i'll scale back my criticism.

Writing checks does not a movement make. A single-faceted approach does not a movement make

And we're beyond marching on Washington. I can't actually remember the last one that was more than just a show. They've become cliche.

We need to take the best of the past and create new tactics for the future.

jmcleod76 said...

Bishop Spong always has a way of saying so clearly exactly what needs to be said. Thanks, Craig.

maryanne said...

Thank you Craig, for this great post.So much to think about, and I do see connections to adoptee rights movement issues as well, and those who are not willing to stand up for a clean, no questions asked open records bill, but try to satisfy our right wing opponents, which is a hopeless and dishonorable task. Marley calls them "deformers" and I agree.

muriel may campbell said...

Hey Craig,
Having very little time to blog these days (but still try and expand my awareness of others, i still lurk and dabble in the written) If i could write like Douglas Adams, I would put pen to paper, otherwise, i would bore myself...
Having said all that, have to comment on everything you observed as well as the Bishop Spong...
his thoughts or resolution could have been pried out of my own head...
one picture is worth a thousand words...
meet me at your wedding picture...
go on...
humor me...

and some people still think that the gays and straights are completely different...

zackboston said...

I sympathized when you said that you took your concerns to the organizers and they were rather condescending.

This isn't the first time. You should know there is a long history of this --- I participated in the "Maine won't discriminate" campaign over 10 years ago when I was living in Belfast.

As part of the Belfast Friends Meeting, we disagreed with the tone and degree of matching ugly politics that was then thought to be the most effective strategy by the guys in Portland who were running the Maine Won't Discriminate campaign. We decided to continue attending MWD meetings (I was the rep from our Meeting) but also pursue another path.

We organized a "Listening Project" a community survey technique developed by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We partnered with the most conservative fundamentalist churches and pastors in town to come up with a survey about why people were afraid of having hate crime laws apply to lgbt folks and went and listened to over 300 folks in town.

MWD fought us every step of the way and called us traitors, among other things. However, as we listened to people ask questions, we saw that they changed their minds without us ever saying a word. And by the middle of the project we had volunteer listeners who came from both sides of the issue --- they had been moved by their participation as speakers and wanted to listen.

Even tho the vote went to repeal the hate crimes legislation, Belfast voted to keep the hate crimes legislation. And even more powerful, we discovered that both sides were concerned about the safety of children because there was an issue of a religious leader sexually abusing children in Belfast. Our efforts were able to separate the fear of pedophilia from the lgbt issues. And the church asked us to do a listening project within the church to effect healing in the parish.

The other issue came up was the city guys disdain for rural folks who weren't always on board with corporate organizing. I attended a MWD organizing session in the Belfast Library where the guys from Portland came with this clock-timed corporate facilitation style that made a whole group of largely apolitical rural lesbians who came out for the event. They felt so disrespected by the process that they left in the middle and I had a long session with them out in the parking lot --- they were working class farming type folk who felt left out by the style of the Portland guys. When I tried to do some mediation with the MWD guys they blew me off as well.

So, know that there is a long history and that unified efforts might not be the answer in Maine until a cultural change comes within the Portland organizing community.

zackboston (from jjp)

Craig Hickman said...

susan (zackboston), thanks for that overview of Maine activist history.

rikyrah said...

this is a good post, Craig.

I see all of your points, and see where they wound up short, in taking their fight to folks. I don't see why, when they can see who the enemy is, and the money they're willing to spend, that they don't shine the light so bright on them, they'll scatter like roaches.

zackboston said...

oops craig, in case you were not there, ten years ago, we were in a similar situation, except around hate crimes legislation.

hate crimes legislation and credit/housing antidiscrimination laws had been passed by Maine government to protect lgbt. But the religious right had targeted Maine and got a referendum on the ballot to re-exclude lgbt from hate crimes and discrimination in maine. ultimately, the religious right was successful, as they were in last week's election. but not in belfast where i did my organizing.

Michelle said...

I wanna see a poll that tells me how many registered GLBT voters stayed home on election day because the issue simply doesn't resonate with them. Did the leaders who made this a top agenda item over the past few years even research their own large and diverse communities to see how many of us even care?

Craig, I took a break from reading blogs and come back to read this.

This post is great.

This is all so personal to me. So so personal. I hope it's okay for me to get this personal.

So, I'm in a different situation now then I was last we spoke, when I was posting on Jack and Jill during/after the Obama election.

I was in an abusive relationship. From a perfectly dominant-culturally acceptable woman. She was all nice and mild-mannered and acceptable.

Seven years of abuse.

And from that space (and others), I could not understand why my liberation would come from getting the right to be married.

I know that I don't fit the pretty picture in so many ways, and this is one of them. There are others.

I viscerally resented the portrait the movement painted of what our lives are supposed to be. Having to be so perfect by mainstream standards.

I didn't feel like I had to do it because the movement said so. But still -- the deception of it all bothered me so very much.

In the movement's frame: What can't we talk about? What do we have to hide? What of our actual lives gets lost in this framing, this marketing spin?

Hidden: All the messiness. All the stuff that isn't pretty.

And now. I finally got out from under the abuse. That is done.

And now. I've met someone. And this amazing woman would probably not fit the image-bubble projected by this movement. She externally shows the not-fitting more than I do. I "pass" as someone way more acceptable and normal than I actually am. But that's cover. I don't fit that bubble either.

And for the first time in my life, I'm thinking ... "Oh, this is why people want to marry other people." Not that I have any plans in that direction (way too early to be thinking such things), and not like it's possible where I live anyway.

But it's just, wow. So this is what all the fuss is about!

And even so, even so. From this emerging understanding, I'm really trying to see it from the marriage rights movement's perspective.

But I still can't.

My liberation (or whatever it is) is just not bound up in whether I can marry. It is just not.

Not that it's completely unimportant. But on a personal level, my experience is that it's the quality of connection that opens things up for me -- as a lesbian, as all the things I am.

And politically, there are so many other things that move me more than this.

So -- I appreciate and agree with your political/strategy critique.

And personally, I think this marriage-rights movement does harm to some members of our own communities too. It erases aspects of our lives and our humanity.

PS I tried to email this comment to you first to ask if you thought it was correctly on-topic. But the address I have no longer worked. So I'm posting it. I apologize if it's not on-topic in a useful way.

Craig Hickman said...


I was thinking about you just the other day wondering how you were.

Thanks for sharing your story and perspective.

My email address has changed. It's in the sidebar under the link "Contact Me".

I'd post it right here but the bots will harvest the address more easily and use it to fill my inbox with spam.