Thursday, December 16, 2004

There's Nothing Right About the Religious Wrong

By Steve Charing

Religious fundamentalists have been attacking gays and lesbians since, well, the times of The Old Testament. It didn’t just begin when the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts handed down its historic and controversial decision whereby it ruled that gays and lesbians cannot be prohibited from marrying in that state.

It just seems that way.

President Bush has derided the ruling by "activist judges" in Massachusetts and the ensuing maverick marriages in San Francisco, Portland, and towns in New Mexico and New York State. Since then, gays and lesbians have been in the crosshairs of relentless attacks — both covert and overt — by the religious right. This was manifested during the recent elections when voters in 11 states overwhelmingly voted for amendments to their constitutions banning same-sex marriages. Moreover, many political observers concluded that in the pivotal state of Ohio where such a measure was on the ballot, the increase in voter turnout helped President Bush. This is due to the fact that among those voters, "moral issues" (abortion, gay marriage, etc.) were paramount in their minds.

The tactics used by Republican activists during the campaign were of the scare variety: inserts, leaflets, whispered sermons in churches, as well as misleading radio ads in largely African-American populated areas. Most propaganda asked the same inflammatory question in one form or another: "Do you want two men who live down the street kissing each other in front of your children?"

Emboldened by the final election results, the religious right sees an opening for an all-out attack on gay people in the legislatures in the form of prospective appointments to the federal courts and the Supreme Court. They also see President Bush as owing them and therefore an instrument to achieve their goals.

The first post-election shots have already been fired. Fueled by these anti-gay victories, around 70 pastors announced they are planning to stage a large demonstration in Annapolis to ensure that same-sex marriage is never permitted in the Free State. Why this vitriol? It’s all about the sin of homosexuality in the minds of these religious fundamentalists.

To be sure, the Bible, and Leviticus 18:22 in particular, calls homosexuality an abomination, which makes it a sin. But so are a lot of other practices in Leviticus. A woman wrote a letter in The Baltimore Sun denouncing the pastors’ proposed demonstration by saying, "On a recent Sunday, my husband had bacon for breakfast. He trimmed his beard, pulled on a sweater made from wool and nylon blend, and went outside to rake leaves. Typical weekend activities? Yes—and they are all forbidden in Leviticus." She went on to point out that people in Maryland enjoy eating crabs, planting more than one kind of seed in the garden, getting tattoos, and marrying women who aren’t virgins. These are also "forbidden" activities.

Let’s be clear: The religious right’s opposition to same-sex marriage or other aspects of the "homosexual agenda" is based on bigotry, pure and simple. The Leviticus reference to homosexuality is merely an exercise in cherry-picking scripture to suit bigoted impulses. Though they will deny it, most of these Bible thumpers intensely hate gays and deplore any validation of the "gay lifestyle," whatever that may be. Their revulsion is so deeply rooted that they consistently oppose hate crime legislation, measures to ban bullying in schools and other actions to protect gays. If they had their way, they’d have us locked up in camps. Some are outwardly advocating killing gay people. The Internet is full of such commentary; check out for example.

The religious right is too close-minded and intent on destroying progress for lesbians and gays if they cannot actually eliminate them. It will be nearly impossible to convince followers of the right otherwise. One hardly ever hears these fanatical hypocrites condemn the other practices prohibited in Leviticus. The Bible thumpers must have winced when slavery was done away with as the Bible was never "amended" to reflect God’s "new views."

Why don’t we stone adulterers while we’re at it? Probably it is because they’re heterosexual.
Why is it that Jesus never uttered a disparaging word about homosexuals, let alone stoning them? Perhaps these fundamentalist Christians should pay more attention to the teachings of Jesus.

Aside from their general contempt for homosexuality, the religious right’s arguments against same-sex marriage largely center on the tradition of marriage of being between one man and one woman. That had not always been the case in some civilizations. Yet they erroneously believe the prospects of same-sex marriage would ultimately destroy it as an institution. They ignore the fact that heterosexuals themselves are destroying the institution as more than half of all marriages fail.

On the other hand, all gay people are trying to do is fortify marriage by showing they want to be a part of it. In Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages have been occurring since May, not a single heterosexual divorce in that state has been attributed to gay and lesbian weddings.
Disappointingly, we cannot count on the very group of people whom we helped forge civil rights victories decades ago to be amenable to equality for lesbians and gays. Many culturally conservative African-American ministers are joining hands with the same religious right who had used Scripture to endorse slavery. It is shameful that a group whose people who had been subjected to so much discrimination in the name of God would, itself, promote bigotry against others.

I cannot think of one factor that undermines the institution of marriage more than the proliferation of out-of-wedlock births. People who produce these children side-step marriage and procreate anyway, leaving single mothers to cope with the daunting responsibility of raising children by themselves. According to the Brookings Institution, each year about one million more children are born into fatherless families. Of these, approximately two-thirds are African-American — a decidedly higher proportion than the general population.

If they are sincerely concerned about the durability of marriage, instead of condemning gays, why don’t these black ministers rail against out-of-wedlock births? Why don’t they protest the economic conditions that make marriage a poor option for many African-American males? Why do they disenfranchise so many gay African-Americans thereby contributing to the "down-low" problem? Why don’t they use their pulpits to correct some of the social wrongs in their own communities instead of demonstrating, as these ministers plan to do, against gay people from marrying?

The answer is homophobia. They teach it in the churches and they teach it at home. With the Bible being waved around and passages used selectively to defend bigotry, it is a formidable task to persuade the religious right that they are wrong.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Gay or questioning youth find safe haven in Howard County group

By Steve Charing

The coming out process has always been a life-altering experience. But for a teenager or young adult, it can be even more traumatic. Besides coping with the potentially devastating backlash from family members and friends, young people must also endure the reactions from classmates, teachers and school administrators. This is a very tricky and sometimes risky period for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or questioning youth.

Despite noble efforts to improve the situation, the world is still not completely safe for GLBTQ youth. Family members occasionally reject these young people out of hand. Harassment and bullying, notwithstanding emerging policies to halt that behavior, still occur in the corridors of schools. Friends may abandon them.

Many of these young people—confused, frightened and alone—are under great stress. Some let their schoolwork slide. Some drop out. Some turn to drugs. Some, tragically, try to take their lives.

Most, however, prevail during this struggle. They gain the love and respect from their families, friends and classmates. They endure and go on with their lives with a major burden lifted from their shoulders. They’re the lucky ones; not all are that triumphant.

Fortunately, there are support and educational groups to help youth trying to come to terms with their sexual orientation. Locally some excellent resources exist. Baltimore has SAIM—Sufficient as I Am, a program run by the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore. Montgomery County has PRYSM—Protecting the Rights of Young Sexual Minorities, which was founded as the student chapter of the Safe Schools Coalition of Montgomery County. In Washington, DC there is SMYAL—the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League.
Howard County has its own successful group: the Rainbow Youth Alliance. Founded in 1998 by Colette Roberts who also founded and still heads the Howard County Chapter of PFLAG—Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays—the RYA is the only youth oriented gay group in Howard County for GLBTQ youth ages 14-22.

The well-organized and well-run group, which is affiliated with PFLAG-Howard County, usually has between 10 and 20 young people involved at any one time. They meet on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays each month at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7426 Cradlerock Way, in Columbia and have two facilitators, Erin Foley and Barbara Trimmer.

The meetings are held in an atmosphere of confidentiality and are designed to discuss school issues, coming out to parents and friends, teacher attitudes, healthy relationships, dealing with opposition and all the concerns faced by gay youth. According to PFLAG Chair Colette Roberts, "Our Rainbow Youth Alliance is the only safe place in Howard County for GLBTQ youth and their friends. We are determined to provide these young people with support, encouragement and social interaction."

Through the use of speakers, films, authors and invited guests, the meetings present a forum for interactive discussions on a variety of topics of interest and importance to the young participants. Says Ms. Roberts, "With RYA they can meet other young people with the same or similar concerns, and learn how to cope with parents, school, and even how to deal with any hostility they might encounter."

Given that there is an age range from 14 to 22, it may be challenging to find topics that can be of interest to such a broad spectrum of young adults. Facilitator Erin Foley feels that the RYA programs can bridge the gap. "We try to keep the discussion topics and activities universal to GLBTQ youth, that is, gay marriage, safe sex and health topics, GLBTQ culture and popular media, school/work issues, coming out etc."

On June 8, several members of the group made their own presentation during the monthly PFLAG-Howard County chapter meeting. A diverse panel from ages 16 to 22 offered their own coming out experiences. They also explained the contrast of being closeted vs. coming out at school or work and spoke of transgender issues (by one of the members). In addition, a guidance counselor from a Howard County high school discussed school administration issues and added his perspective.

While few on the panel experienced negative consequences during the coming out process, most related very positive and uplifting stories. Nonetheless, there are GLBTQ youth who have had a difficult time in coming to terms with their sexuality.

Ms. Foley points out, "We do have members of the group that are not out to their families or who do not support them as a GLBT person, although not many." To address the needs of those in that situation, she explains, "We try to reach out by providing them a safe place to talk and socialize with their peers, which helps them know that they are not alone. If they are in need of professional attention, we have a referral list of therapists that specialize (or gay affirmative) working with the GLBT community."

The kids drew rave reviews from those who attended the PFLAG meeting. Colette Roberts was among those who were impressed by the strength of the youth. "I was thrilled to see so many kids and to hear the eloquence of the panel—they were wonderful."

Sexual orientation has long been a factor in many suicides among young males. With more positive visibility, society’s growing acceptance of homosexuality and support groups like the Rainbow Youth Alliance, it is no surprise that the Center of Disease Control reports a 25 percent reduction in these suicides over the past decade.

Ms. Roberts beams at the success of the Rainbow Youth Alliance. "We work hard at educating them on issues like HIV/AIDS and other care, but we also give them a place to relax and have fun. Most of all, we want them to be proud of who they are—we are definitely proud of them!"
Meetings are confidential, safe, free and open to all. For more information about the Rainbow Youth Alliance and PFLAG-Howard County, you may visit their website at

{NOTE: Since the publication of this article, Ray Sheets has joined Erin Foley as co-facilitator.}