Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Duck, Duck...Whoops.

Okay, there are words in my head, so I'm going to put them down before me and weigh in on this whole Duck Dynasty thing.  I don't want to.  It feels like a waste of time, but I also feel compelled.

Let me begin by saying that I don't watch Duck Dynasty.  I don't hunt.  I don't like guns, and I'm not a big fan of excess facial hair, so it's never even been on my entertainment radar.  Frankly, I've got enough problems keeping my own whiskers in check...I don't need to look at someone else's.  I didn't know who Phil Robertson was until last week, and frankly I just don't care who he is.  He is of absolutely no interest to me, and I don't give a damn what he believes or what hate he spews across the airwaves.

Oh, wait...I do care about that.

Not about him specifically, but about all those like him, about the millions who are influenced by him.  About the "Christians"--and practitioners of other religions--who believe as he believes and who pass those beliefs on to their children.  It's an epidemic, a virus that gets under the skin and into the mind.  It poisons the very fabric of the world to the point that India has re-criminalized homosexual sexual activity.  Uganda has made it punishable by life in prison.  Russia has made it illegal to even mention the existence of any relationship other than a heterosexual one to minors, and a number of countries reserve the right to execute their homosexuals simply because they ARE homosexuals. The foundations who have failed to have same sex marriage outlawed in the U.S. Constitution (It can't happen now, folks.  Thirty-seven states would have to ratify it, and the 17/18 states who have legalized same sex marriage clearly won't, giving them a max of thirty-three.)  have started making their moves in more vulnerable countries such as the ones I mentioned a moment ago, using millions of "Christian" dollars to enable gross human rights violations.  Russia is threatening to go so far as to take the children of homosexuals away from them, terminating their parental rights.

Now, personally, I tend to believe Robertson was suspended by A&E more for his racial slurs and his insinuations of Christian-superiority-to-any-other-religion than anything else.  I mean, it's 2013.  At this point, we should all acknowledge that blacks fought damn hard for their civil rights and that they bloody well deserve them.  He also implied that non-Christianity is responsible for every major conflict in the last few hundred years, forgetting (I guess) all the major wars Christianity DID influence, and that (contrary to his belief) Christianity played a huge role in the Third Reich (Geez, Phil, can't you do a little research before you judge?).

Even if his anti-gay comments did play a role in prompting his suspension, however, it's not a free speech issue.  Freedom of speech in the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom from government persecution for stating a belief, and it was actually largely enacted to protect the rights of minorities (gasp!).  It doesn't guarantee protection from punishment by employers, or from backlash by the public.  I'm a Grey's Anatomy girl (much more my speed than guns and beards), and as such I know that the actor who played Dr. Preston Burke was fired in season two for anti-gay slurs.  Now, the public didn't get up in arms about this and defend HIS "freedom of speech" (probably because they were too busy watching Duck Dynasty), but the truth remains that it happened.  He spoke his beliefs, and the network canned his ass because stating said beliefs went against his non-discrimination contract.

My employer has similar guidelines that we were all made aware of when we were hired, and we're made aware again every time there are updates to those policies.  If we violate them, it's our own damn fault and my employer has the right to fire us.  Since I live in Alabama and don't have equal protection under the law here, they can also fire me for being a lesbian.  Thankfully, however, they don't seem inclined to do that (possibly because it would take six months to train my replacement).  It's business, and that's how business works.  He was suspended, not for being a Christian, but for using racially demeaning and discriminatory speech in a public capacity.  You represent your employer, wherever you are and whatever you are doing at the time.  Violate this at your own risk.

Now, I believe Duck Dynasty makes A&E a lot of money, and money is what they ultimately love.  Therefore, good ol' Phil will probably get his job back in short order, and he'll probably make A&E even more money than he was making them before, and his whole family will probably get a raise on the $200,000 an episode they're already making.  In a few weeks, this whole thing will be as forgotten as Paula Dean and whatever she may or may not have said about black people.

Except by me, and by the millions like me, because there IS a problem with the Robertsons of the world which has absolutely nothing to do with their right to say whatever it is they want to say and everything to do with their choice to exercise that right.

The "Christians" of this type (and I place this doubt on the word because I know real Christians.  I know beautiful, God-loving Christians who spend every day working to make this world a better place, and these people are NOT them) zero in on sexuality and gender identity like they are the end-all, be-all and source of all sin in the world.  Granted, it's not just "Christians".  It is the practitioners of many faiths and religions around the world, but I'm focused on the Christian aspect of things because I grew up (and still live) in the deep American South, in the heart of the Bible Belt.  Christianity is huge down here, and homophobia comes to children as easily as breathing (Well, maybe not breathing.  Breathing is instinct; hatred is taught).  Some of them misguidedly believe this hatred is actually love.  They subscribe to the "love the sinner, hate the sin" philosophy of living, and I believe these people know not the harm that they do even with this gentle kind of hatred.

The first of the problems with the Robertsons of the world is that they are preaching words that were written thousands of years ago and have been translated a dozen times in a dozen different ways.  The original language was Hebrew, and unless you can read that, you actually have no idea what it originally said.  Even if it was translated with exact efficiency, it reflects the values of people who lived so long ago that their prejudices shouldn't apply to a modern society who has so much more scientific information about the world around us, such as the scientifically proven fact that sexuality and gender identity are completely innate, deeply rooted in the human psyche and cannot be chosen or changed.  The Robertsons also seem to forget that (from what I remember of my Bible studies) all sins are equal in the eyes of God, and there are many, many more sins that are outdated for today's life and that we tend to disregard without thinking, if we ever knew about them at all.

Here's a short list of other things listed as a sin in the Bible, most of them punishable by death, either by stoning or burning alive (Does that sound like a society whose laws are actually still applicable today?):

 1.) A woman being raped.  Yes, the WOMAN shall be executed for being raped if it occurred in a city, since if she had objected (by screaming for help), her screams would have been heard and she would have been rescued.  Hence, if she didn't get rescued she clearly didn't object.  (Um...yeah. Okay.)
2.) Divorce.  Also, marrying someone who has previously gotten divorced.
3.) Raping a virgin woman who is engaged to someone else.  (If she isn't engaged, all you have to do is pay her father a small penalty and then marry her...and gee isn't that just wonderful for her?)
4.) Lying about your virginity, if you are a woman.  (Guilty until proven innocent, and boy is that innocence just impossible to prove, especially if a man is judging your virginity on whether or not you bled on your marriage night.  Not all women bleed, and of course once he's slept with you, you no longer have proof that you were a virgin beforehand...)
5.) Incest, and I only mention this because it includes marrying your brother's wife after your brother has died.  So if you take comfort in your loss and find love again together, you shall both be put to death. 
6.) Perjury.
7.) Ignoring the orders of a judge.  (As in, trying to fight against a decision like the one the New Jersey or Utah court made to legalize same sex marriage...)
8.) Trying to convert people to a different religion (Sorry, missionaries...).
9.) Being a drunkard.
10.) Murder, unless you beat your own slave to death.  In that case, you'll only be punished, not executed.  If the slave survives the beating, you'll only be punished if you damage his teeth or eyes.
11.) Not being circumcised, if you're a male.
12.) Engaging in sexual activity with a woman who is on her period.
13.) Consuming blood, which includes eating rare meat.
14.) Cutting your hair or shaving your beard (guess the Duck guys are okay on this one...).
15.) Cutting or tattooing your skin (I'm going to guess that piercing is equivalent to cutting, since it divides the skin, so say goodbye to those ear piercings, ladies.)
16.) Having the audacity to go to church if you're disabled. (He who has a blemish, is blind, is lame, is broken of hand or foot, etc...)
17.) Wearing cloth woven of two different fabrics.  (Poly-cotton blends, anyone?)
18.) Eating shellfish, pig, rabbit and many other delicious meats.
19.) Arrogance.
20.) Breaking the secular laws of your land. (Presumably this includes non-discrimination laws.)
21.) Love of money.
22.) A woman wearing a man's clothes, or a man wearing a woman's clothes. (It's a credit to the misogyny of our society that we think nothing of the first and everything of the second.)

Boy, I included only the ones I think are frivolous or ridiculous (and mind you, that's definitely a matter of personal opinion), and I still ended up with a pretty long list.  This isn't my way of saying everything in the Bible is total crap, but it IS my way of saying maybe we're taking some of this a little too seriously, all sins being equal in the eyes of God.  Jesus personally never said anything against homosexuality (not that I could find, anyway), and what he DID say is that the most important of all the laws is to "Love thy neighbor as thyself".

Also, "Judge not lest ye be judged."

Jesus kept company with prostitutes, beggars, lepers, and "sinners" of all kinds.  In fact, the only people Jesus didn't like keeping company with were those who were filled with self-righteousness and believed they were above any kind of sin.  He also wasn't a really big fan of preaching or of praying in public, making all the public sermons Phil Robertson has engaged in over the last many years (and I've read the transcripts of dozens of them over the last week, and listened to them as well, so I can say with certainty that his anti-gay slurs are not at all limited to simply paraphrasing scripture, and that he's also been pretty guilty of promoting both racism and misogyny in his sermons and Bible Study classes as well) questionable at best.  Jesus was a socialist.  He believed, above all else, in loving people, in helping the poor, the hungry, the needy, the downtrodden and the persecuted.  These things were most important to him, something the "Christians" who spend their time espousing the evils of the LGBT community seem to forget.

I'll move past what I consider to be either the knowing or ignorant hypocrisy of people like this and move on to the actual damage inflicted by these lessons and this viewpoint.  Discriminating against homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender and agender, and asexual, individuals--about 6% of the world's population when you include the asexuals in the statistic--is harmful because they can be nothing other than what they are.

That's right.  They cannot change.

Legitimate, objective science has proven a dozen times over that sexuality and gender identity cannot be changed.  We may not know the exact origin of sexual identity yet, but we know it is developing from birth and even before.  We know it is deeply, deeply rooted in the human psyche, and we know that there is no such thing as an "ex-gay".  "Ex-gay" therapy does NOT work.  It is not actually possible to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity, through religion, psychology, surgery or any other means.  We are who we are, and if you don't believe that, then ask yourself one simple question:  When did you first decide you were going to be straight?

Did you make a decision when you turned eighteen, or fourteen, or three, that you were going to be attracted to the opposite sex, and that you were going to make a life with a member of that sex?  Or was being attracted to the other gender simply a part of who you were, of who you became as you grew and developed?

It is not any different for a gay person or a bisexual person, or for a male mind in a female body.  These concepts may be confusing for you to understand.  They aren't what you know; they aren't what you are.

As confused as you may be, you have no idea how much more confused or anguished someone is who actually goes through the experience of realizing these things about himself, or herself.  Take me, for example.  I grew up in south Alabama.  I still live in south Alabama, and I heard about the abnormality, the sin, and the disgusting nature of homosexuals a thousand times before I entered high school, and a thousand more before I graduated.  The only people I was brave enough to come out to in high school were two friends of mine, twin girls who were also LGBT and came out to me before I came out to them.  Sex and sexual attraction are only a small part of sexuality.  It encompasses everything about you, and everything about the way you view and interact with the world around you.  When I came out to him and introduced my girlfriend (now my wife) to him, my father told me he'd suspected I was a lesbian from the time I was three.  There was just something about me that seemed different to him.  Not bad, not depraved or wrong, just different. 

I was lucky.  My father was supportive.  My sister and brother, they supported me.  My mother...she was embarrassed and thought it reflected badly on her parenting skills.  She thought it was a phase.  Eventually, though, she came around and now she supports me as enthusiastically as my other relatives, from aunts and uncles to distant cousins I've never met.  I have a wonderful family of open-minded and, yes, largely Christian individuals.

In the South, however, the whispers against homosexuals and our rights are largely propagated by the Christian community.  Many are not so lucky with their families as I was.  Only 5% of the world's population is homosexual, bisexual or transgender, but conversely 33% of the homeless teenagers living on the streets in America are LGBT.  One third, because they've been kicked out by families who believe they are condemned to the depths of Hell simply for being what they are.  Societal stigma and the constant commentary about how we're going to Hell (no matter in how loving a voice the words are said), how we're abnormal and God can "fix" us, results only in psychological damage and anguish, depression, mental illness, and disproportionately high rates of suicide and suicide attempts by LGBT individuals.  We all learn eventually what many churches refuse to believe or to teach--we cannot change.  And believe me, many of us try, with or without the aid of those "ex-gay therapy retreats".

We are who we are, from birth, and we cannot change.  Telling us we are damned for something we have no control over damages us internally.  It breaks children, destroys millions of fragile teenagers and pre-adolescents the world over, and it causes irreversible damage. 

Even quick research can determine the position of the legitimate scientific community on sexuality and gender identity.  Homosexuality was taken off the list of mental illnesses in the 70's, over forty years ago, and there are only two major studies (and these two are widely cited) that even support the "theories" that homosexuality is depraved, immoral and largely caused by childhood abuse or overbearing mothers, and that homosexuals are abusive parents who teach their offspring to be gay, and both of these studies were biased, non-scientifically conducted, paid for by anti-gay foundations and have been completely discredited.  Objective scientific studies have actually found that family cohesion is higher in families with same sex parents because of the open-minded nature prompted by the parents' social situations and that, as I have said again and again, and will continue to say, we cannot change.

There is no such thing as an "ex-gay".  Even several of the "ex-gay" organizations themselves have come out and admitted this recently.  Their most "successful" individuals are men and women who still struggle daily with what they cannot change and simply avoid most contact (even innocent) with members of the same sex, and most people (largely minors forced into it by parents who have all the control) spend years attempting to recover from what they were put through in these programs.

Even if we never go into one of these programs, we can be damaged.  I was damaged.  I came out in college, and I--a meek, terrified, non-confrontational young woman--was verbally attacked (though thankfully not physically, as my brother was beaten into unconsciousness at his college over his sexuality) by a dozen students there, on multiple occasions.  At the job I worked all through college, I had pamphlets put into my locker daily.  Some of them were advertisements for a local "ex-gay" group who claimed they could cure me of this affliction.  Others quoted all the Bible scriptures that condemned me.  Others were simply inflammatory sermons that quoted nothing and condemned everything about me, even while preaching about how much they loved me.  When I finally figured out who was doing it, I reported the abuse to my boss, who eventually fired the employee.  I wasn't the only gay individual working there, you see, and I wasn't the only one being harassed.  It was an uplifting moment, especially since I live in a state in which sexuality and gender identity are not defined as traits that are protected from discrimination.

Worse than the tangible abuses, though, are the insidious societal implications.  From early childhood we are taught that this is not normal.  This is not desired.  This is not acceptable.  This is a sin.  This is something to be embarrassed by.  This is something to be kept hidden, and this is something to change.  This is something about us that God hates, even though he loves US.  These things are taught in many churches, and are a large part of the reason I became disillusioned with church, and disenchanted.  I haven't been in years, and in many churches down here I simply am not welcome.  My family is not welcome, and many people don't consider us a family at all, just a gross parody of what is true and righteous.  These things are taught by the language we use, language that has kids laughing at something they consider stupid and saying, "Man, that is so GAY."  It's taught through whispers, sideways glances and facial expressions when a same sex couple is brazen enough to hold hands in a supermarket down here.  It's taught through the simple words of people who say, "I don't mind people being gay, but I believe they should keep it to themselves and not shove it in our faces."

It is taught by the law itself.

I am a second class citizen.  I do not have the same rights as my neighbors, my friends and relatives, my coworkers.  There are a thousand rights that go along with the right to get married, and I have none of them.  I have a wife, and we have a daughter together, a child we struggled to have and who we love like nobody's business, and I have no legal rights to her.  My wife and child are not protected under my health insurance, and if one of them goes to the hospital, there is no law saying I have to be allowed into the room.  After all, I'm not family.  And that IS the basis my former employer used against me during my wife's pregnancy.  I was not family, and therefore I could use none of my paid leave (or even unpaid) when she went into labor.  I exercised my right to free expression, and I quit.  My next job gave me a week off when she went into labor, no hesitation.  I still work for them.

My employers aside, what do these laws teach me, or teach my children, or teach ANY children?  We live in a country that promises equal rights and protections for all, and yet I do not have all of those rights, or those protections.  These violations of the U.S. Constitution are the reasons our nation's founders worked so hard to keep religion and law separate from one another.  Make no mistake, this country was founded not on Christianity, but on both freedom OF religion and freedom FROM religion.  The arguments people make about the inclusion of religion in the foundation of America are largely fabricated.  The phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was added in the 1950's, for instance, just like "in God we trust" on the money we print.  The truth can be verified with a simple internet search.

One person's religious beliefs, by the very foundation of our society, are not supposed to affect the rights of another person.

And yet they have.  They do, and they will continue to do so for some time, though I believe not forever.

"Christians", men and women who are supposed to love all people, who are supposed to help the poor and feed the needy, who are supposed to refrain from judgment and leave all of that to God, these "Christians", these Robertsons of the world, are the ones who are contributing so heavily to the death, destruction, physical and mental anguish of their fellow human beings, of my brothers and sisters.  My brother literally, since he had such emotional trauma from trying to come to terms with his sexuality that he didn't come out until his mid-twenties.  He went through depression and drug addiction, and though he has recovered and grown into an amazing man, these traumas would never have happened to him if people were loving, were compassionate and non-judgmental, were all the things their religion teaches them to be and that they refuse to embrace when it comes to simple sexuality.

If sexuality other than hetero is a sin, it is one that harms no one but the "sinner".  There is no gay agenda.  There is no recruitment process.  Just as there is no such thing as turning a gay person straight, there is no such thing as turning a straight person gay.  It's not a disease; you can't catch it.  It has always affected about 5% of the population--and it spans dozens of mammalian species, not just humans--and that number seems neither to rise nor fall, no matter the society involved or its laws.  It is what it is, and what it is affects no one but the individual involved.  Children raised by homosexuals are no more likely to be homosexual (or bisexual, or trans or agender) than any other children.  Sexuality and gender identity are things that are completely apart from the situation in which a person is raised.  They simply are.  They don't decrease the world's population or impede procreation.  They don't spread disease.

They harm no one.

Why then are so many people so determined to destroy us?  What threat do we pose to them? Make no mistake that the violence is one-sided.  The so-called "militant" gay movement is a myth.  We seek only equal rights and protections under the secular law.  Some of us are Christians, and those who are have already made their peace with God.  They need not the approval of the church, only His, and they believe they have it.  They will find churches who believe the same.  There are no hate crimes committed by homosexuals on Christians because they are Christian.  There is no law preventing Christians from worshiping or from being Christian.  There is no impact on the institution of marriage caused by allowing same sex couples to participate in it.  It has no impression on the rights of others and does harm to no one.  

There is no threat from the LGBT community, whether overt or covert. 

There is a threat, however, to me and mine.  Because of the beliefs rampant in society, I have reason to fear my daughter going to school.  I have reason to fear the bullying she could suffer for having two mothers.  I have reason to fear for the safety of my family when we go out in public together.  I have reason to fear my family getting sick or injured since they have no health insurance despite my legal marriage to my wife. 

I have reason to fear, and that alone should be a shame to the Christian community, since their ultimate aim is to promote love and peace.

Peace and equality are all I want. 

I am furious at Phil Robertson, not for expressing his beliefs but for holding them in the first place.  I am furious at a society who rises up to protect his right to spew hate speech but who fight against the exact same rights when it comes to women like the Dixie Chicks or Pussy Riot (who have been in prison in Russia for over a year, simply for exercising "free speech", a right NOT protected in that country).  I am furious at a society who defends him and others like him, who flocked to Chik-Fil-A last year to spend millions of dollars in support of their CEO's similar hate-mongering.  These so-called Christians are spending their money and their time not in food banks, not in ending war or supporting the rights of women who are arrested and executed for being raped in dozens of different countries, not in ending the sale of children into slavery even in this country, but in buying cheap chicken sandwiches in support of discrimination.

I am furious at a society like I saw in my hometown this week, who rose up in anger and hatred against a dance group called the Prancing Elites, a group of men who did nothing illegal, nothing hateful and nothing to be ashamed of.  They simply danced in a Christmas parade wearing dance uniforms typically worn by a woman.  For that they have endured physical threats, jeers and cursing, vile commentary about their sexual depravities, their influence on children and their right to life itself.  After the parade they danced in, they were also banned from a second parade to be performed on New Year's Eve, for no other reason than who they are.  And I know it's for no other reason because they even agreed to wear gender nonspecific jogging suits throughout the entire parade, and they were still cut from the lineup. 

Where is the societal fury at the trampling of their right to free expression?  Are they not supposed to have the same rights people are screaming that Phil Robertson has?

Oh, that's right.

Free speech only protects against government prosecution, not public backlash.  I said that already.  Oh, the hypocrisy of humans, though.  You see, the same people who defend Phil Robertson's rights to free expression are the ones who are screaming for the censorship of the Prancing Elites, who are demanding they be pulled from the lineup of all local events because they wear effeminate clothing and like to dance, a perfectly legal thing to do and far less harmful than spreading hate speech. 

I am an American, and as such I will defend Phil Robertson's right to state his beliefs, and I will defend the Prancing Elite's right to dress as they wish and dance like anyone else.  I will continue fighting for my own rights, for those of my family and those of people I have never met.  I will fight for a society who will one day realize Robertson's beliefs are damaging, that they are UN-Christian and extremely antiquated.  I will fight for children and teenagers who want to know why God hates them (and I do NOT believe that He does) for something that they cannot change, for something that is simply a part of who they are, for something that has nothing to do with their personalities and the good they may do for their fellow human beings.  

I will fight for humans, for that is what we all are, and that is how we all deserve to be treated.  This post represents my opinion, and I did not provide links to research or verification of the very, very few statistics that I used because I encourage you to do your own.  Learn.  Grow.  If you believe in humans and in human rights, then look up the truth about sexuality and gender identity, not the tripe spewed by men like Phil Robertson.  Don't fall into the trap of parroting doctrine that has remained the same for thousands of years and even doctrine that has changed (Same sex marriages, for instance, were performed by the Catholic church up until about the 14th century) over the years to become discriminatory. Five percent of the world is LGBT.  That's one in twenty.  One in twenty children are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.  It's so easy for your child (or children, in my parents' case) to be among them.

What will you do?  Kick them out?  Tell them God loves them, but hates what they are?  Love them, but be embarrassed by them?  Urge them to change, to just TRY to be different?  It's so easy for an LGBT youth to fall into depression, into drugs, into suicide.  All it takes is one parent with one disgusted look.  One bully at school with ignorant parents.  One brush with the beliefs of so many people, so many people who think they should go voiceless, who think it would be better if they didn't exist.

How does that feel, to be told you shouldn't exist?

It feels cold.  It's a violation that cuts through your soul and leaves you gutted.  Dying on the inside.

Unwanted.  Unloved.  Unaccepted.


Don't fall into the trap of telling someone they are less than human.  Please.

Believe in human beings.  Believe in this country that promises equality to all its citizens.  And if you do believe, share.  Share this if it makes sense to you, and share something else if this isn't good enough for you.  Counter the damage of words that preach hatred and discrimination by spreading knowledge, by spreading equality, by spreading love. 

Use YOUR right to free speech, as Phil Robertson and his supporters have used theirs.  Use your voice, and use it to teach love and acceptance.  Use it to teach peace, yes, but above all love.

Love, after all, is the most important law for any Christian to follow.  I know, because I read it in this book people seem to put a lot of stock in. 

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