Friday, March 21, 2014

Fred's Dead - Let the Hate Die With Him

The new media is awash with news of  Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps' death.  The trending comments in social media pretty much run from vengeance to schadenfreude, but most miss the most interesting details of the events.  It seems “Rev. Phelps” was no longer in charge of his “church”, Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.  There has been an apparent power struggle for control of the 50+ member congregation and during it Fred, the founder was excommunicated!  Additionally, his outspoken daughter, Shirley Phelps-Roper was also ousted from power.   The news was broken by Nathan Phelps, one of the sons of Fred Phelps Sr. who left the church 37 years ago.

Seems Fred saw the rancor brewing in his flock and advocated a “kinder approach” to church dealings.  Well, a church based on the premise that “God Hates (insert name here)”, would not be very accepting of that message.  It wasn’t and thus Fred was OUT!

So considering the history of this hate-filled place, how am I reacting to the news of Phelps demise?  Well, that is a source of some conflict.

Having come face to face with these folks on at least 3 occasions, I can say that once I filter out their incendiary rhetoric I have always felt pity for them, and then felt I needed to go home and take a scalding hot shower.   It is hard to come face to face with hate.  It is even worse to come in contact with a willful ignorance so deep that these people have managed to actually see a completely different world than the one in which we exist.

I believe the Phelps kids have been raised in what is essentially an isolated compound, cut off from anyone but their kin and others who carry their beliefs.  They have so successfully insulated themselves that their world view is skewed in the extreme.  They see a world of “sinners” condemned to burn in hell and the Westboro Baptist Church members who are “saved”.  There are no shades of grey in their world, just black and white and most specifically those who condone homosexuality and those who condemn it.

The focus on homosexuality is where I have the most problem, obviously.  From a few Bible verses in Leviticus and one dusty letter from Paul in Romans, these people have created an entire epistemology that filters reality and creates a world of fear and hate.  More specifically, their view of God is far from the New Testament God of Jesus, and much closer to a psychopathic punishing entity whose only concern is dealing out death, destruction and suffering upon those He is displeased with.  That is a sad world to live in.

The cynical side of me has often wondered if the Phelps family can actually believe in their own hatred or is it just a ploy to get attention and more specifically to draw the ire of folks who act out against them.  They self-fund their church, and much of that income comes from law suits and settlements.  Many of the family are lawyers like Phelps himself.  Traveling to all those funerals and picket lines is not cheap.

Even if I assume their motives are “pure” it’s really hard for me to rejoice in the death of their father and founder.  To face death knowing your legacy is one of being arguably the most reviled man in the country has to carry some gravitas.  Worse still, Fred is now reviled by his family and former congregants and that has to be painful, even for someone who lived with constant burning hatred.

I guess much of the pity I feel is for a man who has steeped himself in hate so much that he hasn’t got much humanity left, and that is a tragedy.  Phelps was once a Civil Rights attorney who fought the Jim Crow laws, so there is obviously a human being buried inside all that bile.

The other reason I find Phelps a pitiable figure, is the reason for his virulent anti-gay stance.  His daughter, Lauren Drain in an interview with the Advocate Magazine comes very close to saying Fred had some kind of homosexual experience as a cadet at West Point that might have sparked his fire against gays.  Though she doesn’t specifically spell it out she notes that “…something made him change his mind about the military, and in turn have kind of a crusade against sexual immorality and homosexuals.”

All speculation, but it certainly would fall in line with other rabid anti-gay crusaders who later turned out to be suffering from internalized homophobia.  The most egregious case being George Rekers, former ex-gay therapy advocate and co-founder of the Family Research Council caught traveling with a “rent-boy” on a European vacation.

Whatever his reasons, Phelps must have been living in a state of constant agitation, and if he really believed that God was pouring his vengeance on the US, constant fear of being caught up in an apocalypse. Not a good place to live.

Worse still, for a man who claimed to preach the “word of God” it is sad that he apparently never listened to the words of Jesus.  There is not one quote about homosexuality by Jesus, but a whole lot of specific warnings for straight folks about infidelity and divorce.  Even more his ministry was about God’s grace and inclusion.

Not to get too preachy, but had Phelps spent more of his life concentrating on these messages and less on finding convoluted reasons to condemn people, he would undoubtedly be a happier man and perhaps the world would be a kinder place.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The New Gay Panic - Anti Gay Bills Flood Country

As  LGBT America is in a panic over the flood of anti-gay bills that are bubbling through the state legislatures across the country, I urge you to be calm.

Calm?  Am I mental?

Nope but I have found that by approaching the issue with a little composure I have a better idea of what is really going on.

First all of these bills are so flawed it's a wonder they were ever brought to a vote.  The most recent one in Kansas was declared by the Senate President Susan Wage(R) as "too flawed to fix".  She urged waitihg until next year to revisit the issue. So what exactly is the issue?

Well, if you take these bills at their face value, they are a license to discriminate against anyone whose behavior or lifestyle is somehow at odds with your religious belief.  IN other words if you claim it's against your religion you can refuse service or housing or anything including fire protection,

medical care or whatever.  Funny but I am hard pressed to find a religion or sacred text that condones that kind of behavior, but that's not my problem.
The real issue in these bills is not one of religious "freedom" and contrary to what it seems I believe it is not to reinstate the "Jim Crow" laws of the 1950's.  This whole coordinated effort, (and it is coordinated  make no mistake), is designed  to change the framing of the issue of "equality" and bend using pretzel logic into one of "religious freedom".

Why would anyone do that?

Well just look at the latest polls.  American's are more and more comfortable with full equality for LGBT citizens including marriage and job discrimination.  That is a pretty good sign that the Right-Wing is losing the culture war.  In other words, the world is changing and the Right-Wing is upset because they see themselves going the way of the dinosaur.  As the younger generation matures, a generation who grew up on Will and Grace and Queer as Folk and Ellen, they find it natural to view LGBT folks as pretty much not only no big deal, but pretty ordinary.

So imagine you are a fundamentalist or a Republican or both.  You see the change catching up with you.  You see the "arc of history" bending toward a justice you want nothing to do with.  You might even be having a crisis of faith since the old "it's in the Bible so it's true, word for word" is just not working anymore.

More importantly, if you are a politician, you find your "go to" tactic of holding up a boogieman to frighten the faithful and raise money and votes.  You have successfully used fear to line your coffers and get elected and now that there is less to be fearful of, well you need to put the fear back into your troops.  What better way than play on that crisis of faith they are already sensing and tell them they won't be able to "believe" anymore.  They won't be able to "practice their principals" which include being hateful and bigoted and that will put the fear of God in them for sure.

When people, even the religious right if they believe in freedom and equality, they will say of course they do.  But when you get specific, do you believe in equality for gays or immigrants or anyone who is not white?  Well the answers get more sketchy.

And that is the distinction that these bills are designed to play on, in a way that is politically correct, at least to the far-right.  If you called these the "right o be a bigot" bills, they would fail, but wrap it in the Bible and call it "Religious Freedom Bills" well who can be against that?  It works both ways.  Even progressives believe in religious freedom, it's in the constitution!

So thought these crappy laws are falling one by one we must not fall victim to the reframed issue.  Don't call them "Religious Freedom Bills".  If you do you are buying into their framing and that is a losing tactic.  Call these what they are, Bigot Bills, Jim Crow Redeux, Discrimination Promotion Bills.  That is what they really are and we must not let anyone forget it.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Time For A Gay Think Tank?

The idea the LGBT people are recruiting has never gone away.  Why?  I would guess it is a combination of just plain ignorance and fear that gay=predator.  First of all let me get this out there, of all the gay men and lesbians I know (and that’s a lot), none, repeat NONE are pedophiles.  Most, like me, find children charming in small doses.  As far as sexual attraction goes, no way!

So why does this myth persist?  Well our friends at the Family Research Council are one reason.  They continue to promote the idea that LGBT folks are all out there trolling for children.  Their “research” is completely false and not supported by any credible studies.  But, because they have the name “research” in their name, some believe them.

Maybe it’s time for an “LGBT Research Board”?  A think tank devoted to cranking out studies that dispute the crap FRC spews.   Even better, a serious policy group that creates and promotes progressive policies with regard to LGBT and sexual orientation matters in general.

Now I know there is the HRC and they do fine work, but they are not in the business of doing research, and a reputable source of studies and position papers on LGBT issues would be welcome in many places. 

Now, most of you know I work with the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance out of Washington DC.  Our organization does a lot of advocacy and policy work in the field of human rights.  Our overarching principal is “sexual freedom is a basic human right” a’d that is a pretty broad umbrella.  We concentrate on policy regarding sexual freedom issues, like free speech, sex education, LGBT rights and more, but we aren’t a think tank as such.

Maybe we will someday become one, or maybe we will spin one off as a separate entity, but until then there is a big gap to fill.  I urge graduate students and universities to think about doing some scientific work to reinforce the truth about the idea of “recruitment” and do some basic research into profiling real pedophiles. 
Until there is a critical mass of research and position papers available to lawmakers and advocates, we will continue to be frustrated by the bogus claims from the far right.