• Stephen M. Larson

Fighting Homophobia - part 6

At this point, midway through his "Q Health" column "Pride '06: Fighting Homophobia In Your Midst" in the June, 2006 Prairie Flame, Dr. Jeffrey Chernin shifts from dealing with family and friends who refuse to or cannot accept homosexuality to strangers who say or do things he considers offensive. But first he wisely cautions his gay and lesbian readers to think first of their own safety.

I wholeheartedly agree with him. Unfortunately, there are those who cannot think of any other way of confronting homosexuality than with violence. While Dr. Chernin and I may differ on the fine points of our definitions of "homophobia", I will readily agree that it does exist, and that these people are the embodiment of homophobia at its worst. They are in the minority, for which both sides can be grateful, but that makes little difference when emotions are involved. Any hope of dialogue between gay activists and those who disagree with homosexuality would be severely damaged by another Matthew Shepard.

Dr. Chernin describes an incident in which he saw a man selling anti-gay bumper stickers and books in a Texas airport. Feigning interest, Dr. Chernin spoke with him for a while, and the man explained that his organization wanted to ship all homosexuals to an island. The man assured Dr. Chernin that he could always spot "a queer". At the end of the conversation, Dr. Chernin announced, "I want to let you know that all this time you've been talking to a faggot", then walked away.

My initial reaction to this is, "Right on, Dr. Chernin!" As I said, he and I differ as to what constitutes a "homophobe", but I think here we would be in complete agreement. I have great difficulties with right-wing groups that advocate the banishment, ostracism, and sometimes even death of homosexuals, especially when they claim themselves to be Christian.

There's a particular church out of the heartland of the U.S. -- I refrain from naming them to avoid accusations of persecution as much as to avoid giving them any more publicity than they already have -- which makes a point of travelling about staging protests outside of other churches and organizations they perceive as catering to gays. Their tactics are, while legal, emotionally brutal. Some of their signs would be deeply offensive to the average person, let alone one who is gay or lesbian. They even picket military funerals, claiming that these soldiers have died as punishment from God for being part of a country that accepts homosexuals. "Distasteful" does not begin to describe what I think of these practices. They have, at best, a warped understanding of Christian love.

A year or two ago, that church sent a group of protestors to our own town, where they picketed a church that had the temerity to "allow" a practicing homosexual to be part of its congregation. This local church did not affirm the man's sexuality, but neither did they turn him away, welcoming him as one more person in need of Christ. I was amused when I read that one of the members of this local church, when confronted with the picketers, told them, "He may be a sinner, but he's our sinner!"

The thing is, as long as people disagree on the origin and acceptance of homosexuality, whether from a religious or secular perspective, there will always be the potential for confrontation. One of my goals is to keep the disagreement in the realm of dialogue, at least as far as I'm able. Personally, I don't understand why homosexuality generates the kind of passionate reaction it does with so many conservatives and Christians. There are issues far more threatening to the world and to spirituality and even to interpersonal relationships than who has sex with whom. The cynic in me (which I try hard to tame, with varying degrees of success) can't help wondering if homosexuality is a convenient bugaboo that allows some people to avoid thinking of other problems such as a crumbling justice system, an ecosystem that is threatening to collapse, or a culture that celebrates rampant materialism and consumerism. After all, those kinds of problems require personal commitments and acknowledgment of personal responsibility from everyone, regardless of politics or religion, while homosexuality can be compartmentalized into "their problem, not mine".

Then I look at myself, spending six blogs so far, with more to come, on this topic, and not a single one on any of the other issues.

It's not easy to escape that mindset, is it?

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