Today, many Americans are celebrating what was once unthinkable: LGBT couples marrying in the conservative bastion of Utah, making it the 18th state where same-sex couples can wed. This victory comes on the heels of marriage equality in New Mexico, highlighting incredible momentum towards fair and equitable legal treatment of LGBT Americans.
The old bigotry, however, lurks right beneath the surface. We saw a glimpse of such vile prejudice, when apparent religion scholar and Duck Dynasty reality star, Phil Robertson, gave us theology and anatomy lessons.
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
Much like last year’s Chik-fil-A dustup over similarly offensive comments, social conservatives came out of the woodwork to defend their loathsome views in the guise of free speech. That font of wisdom, Sarah Palin, tweeted:
“Free speech is endangered species; those ‘intolerants’ ‘hatin’ & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all.”
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, whose state hosts Duck Dynasty, remarked: “I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment.”
Such faux support of liberty and opportunistic cheerleading for free speech contrasts sharply with barbaric efforts to strip LGBT people of their humanity overseas. While social conservatives largely recognize that they have lost their fight to severely torment gay people at home, they seem determined create a living Hell for gay people abroad.
Whether it is in Russia, Jamaica, Uganda, Ethiopia, or Nigeria, anti-gay forces are engaged in a zero sum game to destroy LGBT people and support brutal, authoritarian measures to do so. This is not happenstance, but a strategic plan for fundamentalist Christians to branch out into developing nations and influence their leaders. Author Jeff Sharlet vividly makes this point in his book, The Family, where he discusses the plan of the group’s leader Doug Coe:
One day, Coe believes – not yet – America (and Old Europe, too, the Germans and French and Italians who drifted from Christ once their prosperity was assured) will wake up and find itself surrounded by a hundred tiny God-led governments….Uganda, made over as an experiment in faith-based initiatives by the Family’s favorite African brother, the dictator Yoweri Museveni.”(P.223)
As we applaud the fruition of our plan to gain legal recognition in The West, we have to ask ourselves if we have won a major battle, only to fall behind in the worldwide war?
This week, The Family’s pet project, Uganda, passed eliminationist legislation that essentially outlawed the existence of LGBT people. The Anti Homosexuality Bill provides a fourteen-year jail term for one convicted for the offence of homosexuality; and life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” which means getting caught having sexual relations a second time. The law also forces citizens to turn in LGBT people to the police or face jail time.
This creates a vigilante society and puts families, employers, teachers, friends, ministers, and landlords in the position of rooting out the supposed gay menace. It could also lead to false accusations leveled against anyone for malicious purposes, therefore potentially affecting every citizen of Uganda.
In Ethiopia, religious groups backed with Western money are working to legalize the death penalty for homosexual acts. According to a chilling expose in Newsweek magazine, “Ethiopia’s War on Homosexuals:”
But, while Ethiopia prohibits foreign LGBT-related activism, it welcomes international religious groups that preach homophobia. Thus, “religion is used as proxy for discrimination,” explains Ty Cobb, director of Global Engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, by groups who “couch hateful rhetoric in faith-based terms.”
Last year’s anti-gay conference and others like it are organized and funded by United for Life Ethiopia, an organization that receives funding from the U.K. and U.S. In May 2013, United for Life Ethiopia hosted a workshop during which police told government officials, religious leaders and health professionals that “homosexual family members and neighbors” were likely to sexually abuse children. A representative from the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality announced that the council was making “promising” progress in convincing the government to introduce the death penalty to punish “homosexual acts.” United for Life Ethiopia’s president, Seyoum Antonius, has made it clear that he won’t quit anti-gay advocacy until Ethiopia adopts the death penalty. One of his rallying cries is, “Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!”
In Nigeria, the Senate passed a draconian bill that would crush the lives of its LGBT citizens:
“Any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offense and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment,” the draft states. It also would ban adoption by same-sex couples and would jail people who “aid and abet” same-sex marriages.
In other words, LGBT people can’t exist or if they do they can have no life or shot at happiness. Such laws go beyond demonization and venture into the sadistic realm. They are carefully designed to humiliate, injure, and ultimately “disappear” gay people from society. They promise social death, imprisonment, and an insecure, precarious, outlaw existence that often leads to actual death – whether through improper medical care, homelessness, imprisonment, violence, or suicide.
This is classic eliminationsim defined as: “The belief that one’s political opponents are a cancer on the body politic that must be excised — either by separation from the public at large, through censorship or by outright extermination — in order to protect the purity of the nation.” (In Jamaica, for example, LGBT people aren’t even safe in sewers, as American fundamentalists, such as Peter LaBarbera, work to keep buggery laws on the books)
What I find fascinating is how quickly U.S. “Christians,” who love to invoke our founding fathers, abandon core American values such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association, including the right to petition government. Just look at the way these alleged lovers of liberty are salivating over Russia’s rightward turn.
Why would they celebrate a petro dictatorship that brutally punishes political opponents, controls the media, decrees that criticism of the Orthodox Russian Church is verboten, strong arms countries away from the West with threats of cutting off heat in winter, and has stripped LGBT people and their allies of the right to advocate and speak freely?
This ignoble embrace of undemocratic regimes proves the fascist leanings of our opponents, their love of totalitarian systems that celebrate their views, and highlights the viciousness and outright violence they are capable of at home, if they could only get away with it.
It is obvious that these new laws or impending bills have crossed a bloody red line and placed LGBT people in grave danger. They cruelly – and unrealistically — demand that gay people survive outside the purview of humanity. They are expected to surrender any possibility of contentment, family, privacy, and the generally recognized right to find love or sexual intimacy. Basically, LGBT people are told that they can only exist if they erase all that makes them human beings.
Traditionally, the LGBT community has been a peaceful movement. But, such peace depends on the right to organize and petition governments to change laws and influence social conditions. When the gay community has been unfairly singled out, targeted for violence, and denied proper recourse it has rightfully rebelled. The iconic example is the 1969 rebellion at The Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, where patrons fed up with police raids responded with bricks and bottles.
We find ourselves at this critical juncture because our opponents have already conceded they can’t win if LGBT people are allowed to come out, tell their stories, lobby, and educate. The only way fundamentalist Christians can suppress progress is to strip LGBT people of their citizenship and ability to use the legal and educational process to fight injustice. Dagmawi Woubshet, a gay Ethiopian English professor at Cornell, put it this way in the Newsweek article:
“There’s complete silence around LGBT experiences (in Ethiopia) because there’s no forum for stories about the violence meted out by the state and family members on a day to day basis. My biggest fear is that these religious organizations are monopolizing the conversation and perpetuating a fear that’s becoming impossible to combat.”
American anti-gay activists and their counterparts overseas don’t want a true dialogue. What these theocratic thugs want is a biased monologue where LGBT people and their allies are pointedly excluded from the conversation. It is critical to stifle the voices of gay people if the objective is to lie about their lives.
This push to ban LGBT people from the normal rules that govern society started with arguably unconstitutional amendments to U.S. state constitutions that prohibited same-sex marriages. It has now expanded to erasing social and legal rights for LGBT people in foreign nations. Despite decades of professing “love,” it appears that the Religious Right’s only abiding principle is that it will callously inflict whatever harm on LGBT people that it can get away with.
We should not simply accept these harsh policies as a new status quo, lest they spread, as Doug Coe suggested they would, to encasing Western Europe and North America in a fundamentalist cocoon. Western nations should declare these eliminationist campaigns illegal, illegitimate, and vow not to respect any law that singles out sexual minorities for cruel and unusual punishment. No country has a right to invoke sovereignty to maliciously impose the social death and torture of innocent people.
Similarly, LGBT people stuck in these countries are under no obligation to follow such travesties of justice. These hostages-by-birth should not be required to walk like sheep into the prison dungeons and death chambers of persecutors posing as Christians trying to “sexually cleanse” society. LGBT people under attack are fully entitled to a vigorous self-defense to protect their personhood and families from policies created to inflict ruin. When emigrating, they should be legally immune from legitimate actions taken in self-defense.
From the outside, we must unrelentingly push back:
1) We should never concede religion or values to these hateful charlatans. And, we should not allow them to lecture The West on how superior their families are. Each time self-righteous promoters of these laws, at home or abroad, invoke faith we should abruptly cut them off and say, “What you are doing is backward and barbaric. It is an excuse to commit murder, not promote morality. It is not genuine values, but pure viciousness that victimizes innocent people who have caused you no harm. It is not pro-family, but ugly fanaticism that actually destroys families. It is pure garbage disguised as the public good, and rubbish masquerading as religion. It is heinousness in the guise of the holy.”
2) More direct action is needed. We should be in the faces of any fundamentalists at home that are peddling death and destruction of our brothers and sisters overseas. The campaigns of these homegrown tyrants should be publicized and they should be made to feel every bit as uncomfortable, vulnerable, and despised as LGBT people are in the countries they have blithely targeted with their insidious lies.
3) To the extent we can, let’s fund LGBT organizations in these persecuted countries. However, that will not be enough. Such groups are limited in what they can accomplish because they have been expelled from the rules of civility and society. Imagine the hurdles the LGBT community would have faced in America absent the First Amendment?
4) Given that these laws take the fate of LGBT people out of their own hands, diplomatic pressure must be firmly applied. Modern countries should tighten the screws and loudly condemn or place sanctions against nations with eliminationist policies. One small example is the Obama administration sending a third-tier delegation, sprinkled with openly gay individuals, to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
5) The West must take a more active role in countering the expansion of Russia. By now, it should be clear that Russia is a belligerent actor that intends to bluntly resist The West’s vital interests. This includes opposing diversity, democracy, and separation of church and state.
However, this week the EU and the US made a historical blunder. They inexplicably allowed Russia to co-opt Ukraine for a mere $15 billion in loans and a discount on natural gas prices. Talk about penny wise and pound-foolish! This critical nation of 46 million people was sold down the river for peanuts. We will spend significantly more than $15 billion in military muscle and surveillance technology to clean up this monumental mistake. This was Russia’s Louisiana Purchase, while the far wealthier nations in The West, sat back and allowed this land grab to occur.
It is imperative for major LGBT rights advocates in the United States – such as the Human Rights Campaign — to think globally and have a long-term strategy, much like the Religious Right. They have to think beyond narrow gay rights legislation and begin to lobby geopolitically, urging lawmakers to support policies and countries that protect LGBT citizens. While we gained rights in the small states of Utah and New Mexico, we surrendered the future of millions of LGBT Ukrainians and placed them in the clutches of Vladimir Putin’s homophobic Russia.
Of course, it’s not like Ukraine is particularly pro-gay. However, had the nation moved westward, it would have ensured that LGBT people would have been able to educate. When we are able to make our emotionally convincing, as well as rational case, over an extended period of time, justice inevitably prevails. Ukraine’s lurch to the East has substantially complicated the road to acceptance for LGBT Ukrainians.
6) If police or violent mobs begin to round up and terrorize LGBT people, we have to consider the prospect of creating a resistance or defense. No other group in the world would allow their people to be systematically jailed and murdered without providing a defense or exit strategy. Efforts should be made to help LGBT targets protect themselves or escape persecution through emigration. Either way, saving lives should be the highest priority.
It is terrific that we are succeeding at a breakneck pace at home. But, we also have to ask ourselves if The Family’s Doug Coe isn’t also achieving his goal of surrounding The West with virulently anti-LGBT fundamentalist regimes?
If we don’t urgently address this vital question, our inaction will likely backfire in the future and render our hard-fought achievements mere Pyrrhic victories. In a world that is increasingly interconnected, LGBT people simply cannot succeed long-term in a sea of increasingly violent hostility that renders us subhuman and worthy of social and actual death.
In Utah, LGBT couples lined up to marry – which was unthinkable even last week. One couple that rushed to the clerk’s office to wed was James Goodman and Jeffrey Gomez:
“We knew it was just something we had to do,” Mr. Gomez told The New York Times. “This is my home, and I never thought I’d be able to get married here. I feel like a real person.”
Gomez’s comment to the press was telling. Whether it is the denial of marriage licenses at home or brutal, dehumanizing crackdowns abroad, the most vociferous antagonists all have the same mission: To shame and stigmatize LGBT individuals so they don’t feel like real people.
The very core of the LGBT movement is a refusal to surrender dignity without a fight. In 2014, we may face existential threats in backward corners of the globe, and we have no choice but meet these challenges with vigor and vitality. We cannot allow evil to triumph and we must vow to hold those who commit unspeakable crimes against humanity fully accountable.