April 28, 2007

Colorado Springs: Home Base for Homophobia?

It sure seems that way at times, especially since that city is the headquarters for James Dobson's Focus on the (Straight) Family.

Not everybody there is happy about that image, especially those who are trying to attract business to Colorado Springs:

Mike Kazmierski wants the world to know that not everybody in Colorado Springs - home of Focus on the Family, the anti-gay-marriage amendment, the anti-domestic-partnership initiative and Will Perkins - is a flaming anti-gay-rights activist.

"We're really very diverse," said the president of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp.

As they travel nationally trying to attract new industry, the question comes up all the time," said Jay Patel, a member of the Diversity Forum along with Kazmierski. "They are constantly having to apologize and try to rectify that perceived image."

Kazmierski said the reputation of the Springs as intolerant is widespread. "But like the misperception that Colorado Springs is covered in snow eight months of the year, it's wrong."

Ted Trimpa, a partner at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and a prominent gay activist, agreed.

The image of the Springs "is stuck at where the city was three or four years ago," he said, "and it's a little unfair."

While Focus and other conservative religious organizations still wield tremendous political power in the community, "the dynamic has changed," he said. "People within the Republican Party there have started saying no to extremism.

"We actually may be reaching a tipping point."

Trimpa said gay-rights leaders have an obligation to help the city become genuinely diverse.

"I tell my gay friends we have to let go of the notion of the epiphany.

"There is not going to be a day when the opposition wakes up and says, 'You're right. We're so sorry."'

Instead, the strategy should be one of building mutual respect, he said. "We have got to move to respecting where they come from and at the same time building our own power base."

Could Colorado Springs be a tipping point where right-wing extremists lose their influence in favor of a balanced approach where all people are accepted?

Let's hope so. It would be wonderful to see the city known for being a trendsetter in acceptance rather than bigotry.

April 27, 2007

Indianapolis Billboards Stir Debate

Faith in America and the Jesus Metropolitan Community Church in Indianapolis, IN combined resources to put together an ad campaign with 22 billboards and 1,000 yard signs in the Indiapolis area that contained slogans (and Bible references) such as "Jesus affirmed a gay couple."

Their goal was to get people engaged in discussion and debate about the issues they are raising. Given some of the opposition reported in this article from the Indianapolis Star, mission accomplished.

"Most people right now think the debate over homosexuality is between those who love the Bible -- conservative Christians -- and those who want to throw the Bible out -- godless homosexuals," said Jesus Metropolitan pastor Jeff Miner, who is gay. "That is not reality. This is a debate between people who love the Bible."

Boy, I've learned that lesson first-hand at my church, Believers Covenant Fellowship. There are gay and lesbian members there, especially Apostle Dale Jarrett, that love the Lord and His word as much as any straight person possibly could. I've learned a lot about loving God from him and other GLBT members of my church family.

Other ministers remain certain that the Bible consistently says homosexuality is sinful. In Genesis, the story of Sodom's destruction decries homosexuality, said the Rev. Bob Taylor, of Colonial Hills Baptist Church, a Northeastside congregation.

The billboard campaign doesn't worry him, though, Taylor said, because the Bible is so clear on the issue. "People will always find an excuse to do what they want to do."

That's true, especially when it comes to hating GLBT people.

More on African-American Churches and Homosexuality

This article from the Southern Poverty Law Center profiles several of the more outspoken opponents of homosexuality in the African-American church.

Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of a 25,000 member church near Atlanta:

"The problem today and the reason society is like it is, is because men are being feminized and women are being masculine!" he roars. "You can not say, ‘I was born this way.' … I don't care what scientists say!"

The crowd erupts in "amens," laughter and clapping.

Eddie Long is just one example of a growing number of powerful, politically active African-American pastors who are increasingly aligning themselves with the white evangelical Christian leaders who have been building a religiously based anti-gay movement for more than 30 years now. Like their white counterparts, these black anti-gay preachers routinely identify the so-called "homosexual agenda" — not poverty, racism, gang violence, inadequate schools, or unemployment — as the No. 1 threat facing black Americans today. Often, they take their cues from white Christian Right hard-liners like Traditional Values Coalition chairman Louis Sheldon, who told TV pundit Tucker Carlson in January 2006 that homosexuality is "the biggest problem facing inner-city black neighborhoods." Sheldon later delivered the same message to the Congressional Black Caucus, this time accompanied by Bishop Paul Morton, a black anti-gay minister from New Orleans.

Some black ministers have been attracted to the white-dominated religious anti-gay movement by the money and power of white Christian leaders, not to mention "faith-based" grants under the Bush Administration. But it's also obvious that a segment of the black community in America has long had its own negative attitudes toward gays and lesbians. "I'm sure [black ministers] are being co-opted, but they don't need a great deal of co-optation," is how the Rev. Peter Gomes, chaplain of Harvard University, put it to the Village Voice in 2004.

"I think they come to the prejudice on their own."

Sadly, white power brokers like James Dobson aren't the only ones willing to sell out African-American ministers like Eddie Long are also getting their cut and their flocks, particularly any GLBT members, are the ones getting the short end of the deal.

April 26, 2007

"Normalizing Homosexuality"

That's a phrase I've seen recently creep into right-wing rhetoric, so their connotations are obviously negative. Actually, I think developing a sense of normalcy regarding homosexuality in our society would be an important and wonderful step forward.

This is an excerpt from a column written for The Christian Post by former political operative/fellon now evangelist Charles Colson.

They are called “Personal Statements on Being Different.” One of them, from “Esperanza,” reads: “I’ve known for a long time that I am a lesbian.” As a little girl hearing fairy tales about a princess, Esperanza says she knew that, when she grew up, “I would marry the beautiful princess, not the prince.”

Another story involves “Portia,” a boy who grew up feeling like a girl. He changed his name and told his high school principal that he was a transgender. The understanding principal gave him an ID card with his new name on it. Now, “Portia” writes, “I speak about transgender concerns at school” and help other transgender youths get through “the challenges they face.”

These stories are part of the new Montgomery County, Maryland, health classes on homosexuality.

These so-called “personal statements”—all supportive of homosexuality and other disorders—are just the beginning. Students are also told that homosexuality is “innate” and permanent—despite much evidence to the contrary. They are taught that the homosexual lifestyle is not only to be tolerated, but also celebrated. Students are told about “transgendered persons” and so-called sex-reassignment surgery.

.....kids are encouraged to identify their sexual orientation early.

I took the liberty of deleting some of Colson's inflamatory/inaccurate statements because without them he is describing the best way to avoid another generation of anti-gay bigotry--by education. I'm proud to be a resident of Montgomery County and support their progressive actions regarding education about homosexuality. The organization Teach the Facts.org has also had a lot to do with this cirriculum.

Here is how Colson concludes his piece:

We need to make sure our children hear some real-life “personal statements” about homosexuality: by those who overcame same-sex attraction, left the gay lifestyle, and entered a joyful—and healthy—new life.

Now THAT's a fairy tale!

Lots At Stake For the GLBT Community In Congress

Along with the hate crimes legislation, the Matthew Sheppard Bill, that I have been writing about, a bill also just got introduced in Congress that would ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

From the report in the Boston Globe:

If Congress passes the bills, gay-rights advocates say, it reflects a dramatic change in the national political landscape. In the dozen years Republicans controlled Congress, GOP lawmakers paid little attention to the gay-rights agenda and kept some gay-friendly legislation from even being considered.

"For millions of Americans, it's a very important affirmation of their lives, and we're not talking about [just] symbolism here," said Representative Barney Frank, a Newton Democrat who is openly gay. "We are talking about real problems that exist in people's lives."

If anyone in Congress has earned the right to pop the cork on a bottle of champagne if these bills get passed, it is Rep. Frank who fought the good fight for equality with very little tangible support for a long time.

"We need stricter enforcement of present [anti discrimination] law, not a new law protecting special classes of people and not others," Cantor said. "Here in this Congress I feel it is not our duty, nor should it be our business, to distinguish between different kinds of murder. Murder is murder."

A group of African-American clergy members rallied on Capitol Hill yesterday against the hate crimes bill, which they said was akin to granting special legal protections to a class of "sinners."

Several of the ministers said they feared the measure could lead to prosecution of church leaders who preach against homosexuality if, for example, a church member were to commit a hate crime against a gay man or a lesbian after listening to a sermon that denounced homosexuality.

Well, then, perhaps they shouldn't preach a message that could stir anyone to violent acts against another person. Amazingly, these ministers showed up in DC to speak out for their right to do just that!

How can anyone claiming to be a Christian and seeking the will of God think that Jesus would want that type of message preached from the pulpit from where He is supposed to be exhaulted?

That is clearly people seeking their own will (to hate homosexuals) ahead of God's will, one of the primary definitions of sin.

April 25, 2007

"Ex-Gay' Leader Expresses Opposition to Federal Hate Crimes Bill

Alan Chambers, the President of Exodous International, a ministry that claims to be able to lead homosexuals into a straight lifestyle through "the Gospel of Jesus," has weighed in on "The Matthew Sheppard Bill," which would extend federal hate crimes protection to cases based on sexual identity:

"[R]eally what we're saying is this legislation is unfair, because it means that I was more valuable as a homosexual than I am today as a former homosexual," Chambers told reporters before he began visiting on Capitol Hill April 17. "You know, this law would give special protection to those who are gay and lesbian, yet it doesn't give any protection to those who are children. That's saying that a gay man is more valuable than a child, is more valuable than a grandmother, is more valuable than the majority of Americans. That's just not fair."

"The bill is "primarily being pushed by those in the homosexual activist community, really as a reinforcement that homosexuality is valid, that they need protection, and that's just not the case," said Chambers, who left homosexuality 15 years ago and has been married for more than nine years. "[Homosexuals are] protected as much as I am protected under the Fourteenth Amendment."

First, there is no such thing as a "former homosexual." There are homosexuals like Mr. Chambers who are leading a straight lifestyle. The number of cases of ex-gay leaders being caught in gay bars are too long to list here.

Of course, no one is assigning "value" to a person based on their sexual orientation, or in Mr. Chambers' situation, their current practice. In fact, hate crimes legislation, like that which punishes lynching of African-Americans or church burnings with extra penalties, are designed to prevent minorities from being treated as "less valuable" parts of society. History is littered with examples of violent acts committed against individuals or groups because they are different. Such is currently the case with the GLBT community.

Homosexuality IS valid and they do need protection. Just the fact that someone with the bully pulpit like Mr. Chambers can even question the validity of an entire group of people only, in my opinion, serves to reinforce the need for them to be protected by hate crime legislation accross the nation, not just in a few friendly states.

Thanks to Jesus Politics for the tip.

April 24, 2007

Even Safe Havens Not Free From Discrimination

Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, is a nice little atlantic beach town that I've had the pleasure of visiting several times. It is also very friendly to GLBT residents and visitors:

"There's a good sense of community here, both gay and straight," said a man who recently came out of the closet and moved to the town, long known across the East Coast for its gay enclave.

Gays and lesbians elsewhere aren't so lucky.

Across Delaware, incidents that gay and lesbian advocates say amount to discrimination occur every day.

A teacher asked to remove a rainbow sticker. A male nurse subjected to rude comments by a doctor. An office worker who watched as his openly gay supervisor was fired. There could be as many as 500 complaints each year in the workplace alone, according to one analysis.

Members of Delaware's gay community -- estimated at 24,000 -- hope they can sway Senate leadership this year by convincing a majority of Democrats in a key committee to sign on.

The bill would bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in such areas as housing, public accommodations, insurance and employment, putting Delaware in line with 17 other states, according to the civil rights organization The Human Rights Campaign of Washington, D.C.

You can bet the GLBT population of Rehoboth Beach will be keeping a close eye on events in Dover, the state capital, to see if the life they enjoy within the friendly confines of the city limits can be extended throughout the entire state.

"Gays and the Black Church"

I thought this was a very interesting article from the site BlackNews.com. He tracks the public dialog about tolerance toward toward gays in the black community back to former NFL star Reggie White (an ordained Pentacostal minister) and the intolerant remarks he made about homosexuality before the Wisconsin state legislature in 1997.

The article cites poll results that show the Africian-American community remains overwhelmingly opposed to same-sex marriage, and that the numbers really aren't moving.

The writer also walks through the process where supporters of a state constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage in Virginia used black ministers to help them pass it.

Here's how the article is summed up:

".....the few black ministers that preach a message of tolerance even as their church’s hemorrhage with dwindling memberships and collections should be applauded. That’s the true Christian message; a message that many Christians seem to have forgotten."

Amen to that.

April 23, 2007

Free Speech Not Always a Two-Way Street

Among the hysteria some right-wing organizations are using to campaing against The Matthew Sheppard Act (the pending hate-crimes legislation being considered in Congress), one of their main scare tactics is the perceived loss of First Amendment right--some claim that this bill will restrict what can be said in public, even from a pulput, and open preachers to criminal charges under this Act (ridiculous).

Those same people are not screaming about First Amendment rights in this case in Indiana, however. Amy Sorell, the newspaper adviser at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School, has been suspended ever since she allowed an article that encouraged tolerance of homosexuality to be published without prior approval from the school's principal.

Let's clear a couple of things up:

This is not a process issue. There would not have been a problem if the subject had been almost anything other than homosexuality. The process is being used as an excuse to punish the adviser.

There will be no fundamentalist outcry about First Amendment rights being restricted, not because they aren't, but because of the subject matter. The right-wing does not want limits on expression, but only regarding content that supports their beliefs. Right-wing operatives like the Alliance Defense Fund will be sitting this case out.

Stan Pflueger, president of the Fort Wayne chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian and Gays and a graduate of the school district, said he was disappointed with the school system's reaction.

''The spirit of the article is just asking people to consider what your previous beliefs were about this particular subject,'' he said. ''There's a difference between tolerance and agreement.''

Isn't that what school is supposed to do; make kids think?

I think I would have really enjoyed having Ms. Sorell as one of my teachers.

April 22, 2007

A Speaker Supporting the Federal Hate Crimes Lesiglation

Miguel De La Torre blogged at Ethics Today about his participation in a press conference held in Washington, DC, where several hundred clergy gathered to demonstrate their support for the proposed Hate Crimes legislation currently before Congress. The entire transcript is worth reading, but here are some highlights:

"My Lord and Savior, through words and deeds, has taught me to stand with those who are oppressed. Today, the Congress has an opportunity to redress some of the oppression faced by our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters. Today the Congress has an opportunity to be used by the Almighty as an instrument of salvation and liberation.

"Some Christians from the far Right will attempt to paint these as special rights for gays and lesbians, asking where will it all end. I'll tell you where it ends. It ends, in the words of the prophet Amos, when justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an everlasting stream."

Regardless of what stance Christians take on the issue of homosexuality, all Christians can agree that violent acts against anyone need to be punished by our civil society.

As a Christian, I cannot imagine why the body of Christ would even think twice about supporting these laws.

Neither can I.