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Posts Tagged ‘homophobia’

I wore a lot of buttons in high school, but none of them excited so much comment as the pink triangle.  At the time it was rare for anyone who wasn’t gay, lesbian or bisexual to wear the symbol, and national progress toward justice was slow.  The Supreme Court had just ruled sodomy laws constitutional, and the right to marry was a distant dream.  The AIDS epidemic in the United States was at its deadliest moment, and the enduring image of the time, created by AIDS activists, was a big black poster with a pink triangle and the words “SILENCE = DEATH.”

pinktriangle
The pink triangle itself came from Nazi concentration camps, in which gay men were identified with a pink triangle on their shirts.  Tens of thousands were imprisoned, many were killed, and some were not released even at the war’s end.  (Lesbians were not identified by pink triangles, but many were arrested for “antisocial behavior” and made to wear black triangles in the camps.)  In the 1970s, the triangle began to appear as a symbol of gay pride and a warning of the dangers of oppression.

During the 1990s, the pink triangle began to fade from use.  The rainbow “welcoming flag,” celebrating diversity, appealed to straight allies as well as bisexual, lesbian and transgender people.  It was a less harsh, more positive symbol, a way of saying, “all kinds of people are welcome and valued equally.”  Today the pink triangle seems all but consigned to history.

With the news of draconian anti-gay measures in Russia, Nigeria and Uganda, a new ban on gay sex instituted by the Supreme Court of India, and nouveau Jim Crow laws proposed in Arizona and elsewhere, I wonder if it might be time to bring back the pink triangle.  While the world has made great progress in the struggle for equality, the current backlash is proving powerful and dangerous.  In the United States, measures permitting discrimination on the basis of “religious freedom” will inevitably prove unable to withstand constitutional scrutiny by even the current Supreme Court.  More pernicious are the American religious extremists who have given up on the United States and turned their energies toward countries that offer no such protections, or who have weak governments in need of distraction or scapegoats.  Ironically, both Russia and Uganda have couched oppressive new laws as reactions to colonialism by Western gay culture when the truth is exactly the reverse.

I love the welcoming flag, and fly it proudly – but maybe we need to hold onto the pink triangle as well.  Maybe we need a reminder of the cost of hatred, in real human lives and livelihoods.  Maybe we need to remember that silence really does equal death, and the worst thing we can do is remain silent in the face of oppression.

Our voices matter, and we can save lives.  Sometimes what matters most is a word of encouragement and welcome to a teen just coming out.  Sometimes it’s our support of equal marriage rights, and equal protection in housing and employment.  At other times we need to raise our voices for those around the world whose sexual orientation places them in far more immediate jeopardy.  We can do this not only by campaigning against anti-gay laws, and supporting sanctions towards nations (and states) that pass them, but also by calling to account those who would export hatred.

I pray for a world in which a symbol like the pink triangle is can be a historical curiosity, when people are simply regarded as people, whoever they are and whoever they love.  I believe in my heart that such a world is both possible and likely – but it will take years of work, and history must never be forgotten.

Meanwhile, it’s time to find that old button.

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On Monday I posted an open letter to Michelle Shocked in the wake of controversy about remarks she made at a San Francisco concert.  That letter has been viewed about 1300 times so far, easily a record for this blog.  On Wednesday evening Michelle Shocked released a statement denying any intention to spout homophobia, saying that her remarks were misunderstood, that she was describing the opinions of other people, and that her statement about tweeting “Michelle Shocked hates…” was a prediction of how she would be misinterpreted.  She says that she supports the LGBT community and marriage equality.  Included in her statement:

“I am damn sorry. If I could repeat the evening, I would make a clearer distinction between a set of beliefs I abhor, and my human sympathy for the folks who hold them. I say this not because I want to look better. I have no wish to hide my faults, and  – clearly – I couldn’t if I tried.”

I am glad to take her word for what she meant to say.

The same evening, audio from the concert has been released.  (The relevant part begins at 4:40.)  To be honest, it’s really hard to say what she was trying to get at.  Members of the audience seem confused as well.  In my letter I tried to be very careful to speak from a place of concern, rather than judgment.  Hearing the audio, I remain concerned.

Here is the full text of her statement.

And here is my original post of the open letter responding to the initial news reports on Sunday, with the update added at the top.

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Update – 11:46pm, March 20:

This evening Michelle Shocked released a statement denying any intention to spout homophobia, saying that her remarks were misunderstood, that she was describing the opinions of other people, and that her statement about tweeting “Michelle Shocked hates…” was a prediction of how she would be misinterpreted.  She says that she supports the LGBT community and marriage equality.  Included in her statement: 

“I am damn sorry. If I could repeat the evening, I would make a clearer distinction between a set of beliefs I abhor, and my human sympathy for the folks who hold them. I say this not because I want to look better. I have no wish to hide my faults, and  – clearly – I couldn’t if I tried.”

I am glad to take her word for what she meant to say.

The same evening, audio from the concert has been released.  (The relevant part begins at 4:40.)  To be honest, it’s really hard to say what she was trying to get at.  Members of the audience seem confused as well.  In my letter I tried to be very careful to speak from a place of concern, rather than judgment.  Hearing the audio, I remain concerned.

Here is the full text of her statement.

And here is my original post of the open letter responding to the initial news reports on Sunday:

Dear Michelle,

We haven’t met.  Or rather, we have, twenty years ago, but it was rather fleetingly backstage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival and you wouldn’t remember.  That was the year that you sang “Kumbaya” and reminded the audience that “Kumbaya my Lord” meant “Come by Here, my Lord.”  You were right, by the way – that song was always meant to be an invocation to the Divine.  I interpret that word differently than you do, but you were definitely right about the origin of the song.  Maybe I’ll write about that some other time.

You’ve made some news recently, and for no good reason.  Your comments at a recent concert that you fear the world would be destroyed if gays were allowed to marry, and that your fans could all go tweet “Michelle Shocked says God hates f–s”) – well, they lived up to your chosen name.  It’s not even so much the views you decided to express, as the venue, and the manner of your doing it that has left so many of us outraged, speechless, and also worried for you.

I mean it.  Because a rant like that, in the place you chose, speaks of profound spiritual pain.  It is one thing to believe that homosexuality is wrong; many do.  I disagree, but it remains a widely held belief, especially among adherents to more conservative religious movements.  These are your views, and you have every right to express them.  But to phrase them as hate speech – and it was you who brought up the word “hate” – at a concert in San Francisco, of all places, speaks of deep inner turmoil.

Your words are not those of a woman comfortable in her own skin.  They do not speak of the strength of your faith, or of your idealism, or of your values.  They seem spoken more to reassure yourself and the world that you are not, in fact, the bisexual woman you once believed yourself to be, or the lesbian so many of your fans believe you to be.  They seem an attempt to claim an identity and hold on to it, when so much both within and around you threatens to pull it apart.

I don’t know if this is really what is going on.  Maybe you just don’t like people making assumptions about you as a person or an artist.  I get that – I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister as well as a folk musician, and I’m always afraid that people will stay away from my concerts because they think I’m going to preach at them (more than folksingers usually do) or that I won’t be able to get away with singing one of the saltier old ballads, because some folks can’t separate the music from the musician.  I’d like to just be me, and sing the music I love.

You’ve got it far worse; I understand this.  And you don’t want anybody else – not a record company, not a manager, not your fans – to tell you who to be.  And maybe you’ve got some things you believe in that you want to say.  That’s fine.  But before you say them, please let me suggest that you spend some time in prayer.

Yes, I said prayer.  One of the most powerful teachings of your church is that ordinary human beings can commune with the divine – and you need that.  You need to step away from the whirlwind of public and private identities, of fear and anger and self-doubt.  You need to let go of all of that for a while.  If you’re going to speak the truth of your soul, you need to be grounded.  So pray, and read the Bible that you place your faith in.  You won’t find hatred there, but you will find a Jesus who spent a great deal of time with people who were and are considered “sinners,” and who nevertheless respected them as human beings and as his friends.  Pray – not for absolute answers, but to still yourself and open yourself to the God of your belief.

You hurt a great many people with your comments, not least yourself.  But maybe this experience can move you forward.  Maybe it will help you find the right people to talk to about your spiritual crises.  Maybe it will help you ask for help in your emotional life.   You said yourself that “truth is leading to painful confrontation.”  Maybe the truth is your own spiritual crisis, and the confrontation is with yourself.

I don’t know, but I do know this much.  The only way to respond to hatred is with love and compassion.  And Michelle, though I don’t know you, and I detest everything you said at that concert – you have my love and compassion.  I offer you that much.

After all, isn’t that what Jesus would have done?

Love,
Dan

PS:  I still love Short Sharp Shocked, and always will, no matter what you say about anybody.  That album is brilliant from beginning to end.  Would that any of us could reach such heights of artistic genius.

Note:  Please remember the guidelines for comments in this blog.  As my friend at Sermons in Stones puts it, “Disagreement is welcome; disagreeableness is not.”  Comments that are not civil, or that express hatred for any person or group of people – including religious groups as well as the LGBT community – will be blocked.

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