Guest commentary: Has the gay revolution been won? Time to redefine terms
By P. GREGORY SPRINGER
Like the boulder rolling down the tunnel toward Indiana Jones, the momentum for equal rights for LGBT people has become an unstoppable force.
Maybe you prefer to say gay people, or gays and lesbians, or (as the acronym intends) lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. Maybe you still use harsher words. Whatever the terminology, the changes in positive attitudes and freedoms have far surpassed anything I imagined as a young man, when I was convinced gay people were destined to live secret, lonely lives in the shadows.
The change has come. Gay people deserve the rights of all Americans. That's no longer the question.
Now, the question is, how are those who opposed gay equality going to behave and be integrated into the new mainstream?
First, we need a term for those people. "Homophobe" is just as inaccurate and pejorative as "homosexual" was. For now, let's just call them "The Reluctants."
Where will Reluctant people stand now that the earth has shifted beneath their feet? The change is as big a deal for outspoken and activist Reluctants — like the Chick-Fil-A founder Dan Cathy — as it is for gay people.
We are still subjected to lengthy op-ed pieces in The News-Gazette from Reluctant religious organizations like Focus on the Family who claim (with no scientific basis whatsoever) that gay people should not be parents. And at least one local Reluctant preacher I know continues to preach against gay people from the pulpit. Those people aren't likely to change their tune for a while.
In one important way, Reluctants and LGBT people have been talking past each other this entire time. One group mostly has been defining "homosexual" as a set of behaviors, while the other group has seen that same term as an core identity, as an immutable essence of their being. Behavior vs. identity. A gay man could remain celibate his entire life and still be gay, while a non-gay man, a prisoner say, could engage in any number of homosexual behaviors and still be essentially straight.
When Reluctants try to claim that gay people choose to be gay, they misunderstand. True, behaviors can be chosen, which is why gay activism began, when gay people realized they did not choose to remain alone and lonely and celibate their entire lives, unable even to date or kiss the objects of their affection.
When Adjunct Professor Kenneth Howell created an uproar for his anti-gay course at the UI, he defined and condemned homosexuality entirely on the basis of "utilitarian" sexual behaviors, leaving his class to presume what those imagined "non-utilitarian" behaviors might be. (He also failed to recognize that the same "non-utilitarian" behaviors can be practiced by straight people as well.)
Most gay people I know are more interested in cuddling and companionship. One couple I know is preparing to get married this year as a way of celebrating their 50 years of successful partnership together. Now, that's love. Only a severe Reluctant would dare or care to imagine what such lovers do in private.
Aristotle explained that the single cause as to why a man is a man is because each thing is inseparable from itself. In the entirely remarkable book "Far From The Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity," author Andrew Solomon writes that the law of identity is among the first precepts of philosophy.
"You can seek better ways to manifest identity, but you can't ask any class of people to discard their identity itself. The 20th century reached its nadir with attempts to free the world of Jewish identity, Tutsi identity, or the many identities that communism suppressed."
With much evidence to show that gay identity cannot be changed, many Reluctants fall back on a scant few verses in the Bible to argue their opposition. And in some cases, I would agree they have a point. The people described in the story of Sodom, for example, are appalling and evil, but that is a story of rape, not homosexuality, no matter what translation or interpretation you read. The true meaning of Biblical "sodomy" is rape, both heterosexual and homosexual, not mutual affection or love.
My own Christian religious lineage dates back some 400 years, and my ancestors were tortured, burned at the stake, hunted down and killed for their unwavering belief in adult baptism, rather than the child baptism practiced by the Christian orthodoxy of the time. Biblical understanding has changed again and again throughout history and today there are approximately 41,000 different Christian denominations, each with unique understanding of what the Bible says and means in their lives.
Anyone who claims "the Bible says" this or that as a means of proof already has lost my attention. For those moralists who believe they are protecting truth by demonizing and oppressing other groups of people, I would quote the American theologian Stanley Hauerwas.
"Never think that you need to protect God," Hauerwas wrote. "Any time that you think you need to protect God, you can be sure that you are worshiping an idol."
Personally, I sometimes fear I may not be able to change my attitude toward persistent Reluctants. I may never be able to forgive them for the millions who have been murdered, battered, bullied, driven out of their homes, shamed into suicide, denied access to their loved ones, separated from their children, rejected by their parents, mocked, tortured, made homeless, knocked down and mutilated, or otherwise suffered as the result of repercussions from those who heard from the pulpit that homosexuality was "an abomination."
Gay people are your fathers and mothers, your sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters, nothing more and nothing less. There's no group, no agenda, no conspiracy. The better world has changed to learn this truth, at last.
P. Gregory Springer is a local writer and teacher.