My friend David Lee on the need to stand up to religious bigots

David gave this speech 5 years ago. Seems quite relevant today.

I used to think of a leader as someone who heeds the call to pick up a sword and lead the charge. For me it has usually been a little different. Picture a group of people in a line. When volunteers to lead the troops are asked to take a step forward I usually stand firmly in my place. Then I turn around only to find that everyone else has taken a step backward. That’s how I come to leadership. The Laura Schlesinger incident of a few years ago is a good example. Early on no one, not one gay person, who worked at Paramount—and, trust me, the place is crawling with us—objected openly to their own studio producing her TV show. Of course, I said to myself, “Boy, what we need is somebody to stand up to Paramount, somebody the suits can’t fire, somebody they have to pay attention to.” Then NBC picked up FRASIER for another three years and all of a sudden I fit my own description. I think I muttered something leader-ish like “Oh, shit” and soon found myself outside those famous Paramount gates with a picket sign and bullhorn.

I now find myself in a similar position around another subject: the anti-gay bigotry of some of our major religious institutions. I keep looking around for someone, anyone to say something, anything in response to the incessant bile about of gay and lesbian people that is spewed forth daily by the some of the world’s so called spiritual leaders. I keep looking around for someone to finally say “Enough. This has got to stop!” And what I see when I turn around is a bunch of folks who have taken a step to the rear. Sadly and shockingly our major gay political groups are the most conspicuous in their silence.

And so I mutter “Oh, shit” and forge ahead.

First, let me make it absolutely clear that this is not an attack on religion. I am on a spiritual path myself. I’m sure many of you are too. What I am attacking is homophobic bigotry that justifies itself in religious belief. And the free pass that we in the gay community have given much of this stuff over and over again.

Folks, the time for polite silence is finished. We have got to start defending ourselves when attacked. And we are under a massive attack.

The Mormon Church is the fastest growing cult in the world. Every year they send out 30 to 40 thousand new missionaries. They are not trying to convince people that gays and lesbians are cool. As late as the last decade this group was attaching electrodes to gay men’s testicles trying to shock them back into the hetero fold. There is a task to be tended to here, yet the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has said nothing.

Evangelical Christians and Southern Baptists-the largest religious group in the US– are snatching up television stations by the handful. They are not doing this so that they can air Queer Eye. Have you watched these guys? We are defamed loudly and repeatedly by bible thumping bigots and yet the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is silent.

My writing partner, David Angell, with whom I produced CHEERS and created WINGS and FRASIER, and his wife Lynn, were in the first plane to hit the World Trade Centers on 9/11. I received, in my grief, an e-mail that began with the following words: Islam Is Not the Enemy. As an American I had to agree. Despite my personal loss, I knew that it was proper and good to discourage an unfair backlash against innocent Muslims after 9/11. As an American I understand that Islam is not the enemy. But what about as a gay man? Have we have forgotten that there is no sect of Islam worth noting that even tolerates homosexuality, and in countries where Islam predominates punishment can be anything from imprisonment, to torture, to disfigurement to death. Islam may not be the enemy of my country, but I’d be hard pressed to find a bigger enemy of gay people. Human rights transgressions are being carried out daily its name, but what do we hear from the Human Rights Campaign?

Nothing that I know of.

The number of Catholics in this country is increasing by leaps and bounds, mostly by immigration. The leader of this sect now sends “instructions” (his word) to Catholic politicians on gay issues. He has told them that it is their “moral duty” (his words again) to oppose any gay rights reforms. This is absolutely outrageous. The sovereign head of another country giving instructions to our government officials. Yet have you heard one word from our national organizations? Has anyone quizzed these Catholic congressmen, senators, judges and justices about whether they intend to follow these orders from the Vatican?

I’d love to hear if they have.

Don’t get me wrong. The NGLTF, GLAAD, and HRC are amazing vibrant organizations who have made tremendous contributions to the cause. But on this issue these groups are asleep at the switch.

Why?

Here’s what I think.

We as a group have become tolerant of intolerance.

Whenever anyone justifies their bigotry with what I call DHRB (deeply held religious beliefs) we roll over as if that were the end of the discussion.

We have confused respecting a persons right to hold whatever religious beliefs they chose with respecting those beliefs. The truth is there are plenty of DHRB that are simply not worthy of our respect. Can we start with the ones that have no respect for us? Can you imagine an African American respecting someone’s DHRB that the Bible justifies slavery? The right to believe it, yes. The belief itself? No way.

We are terrified to call a bigot a bigot if the bigotry is a result of DHRB. We are horrified that we might be accused of attacking someone’s religion. As if attacking bigotry hiding behind the skirts of religion and attacking religion were the same thing. The church homophobes have it easy on this one. They say the most vile, cruel, untruthful things about us, usually to raise funds, and then use their tax exempt dollars to promote anti-gay legislation. If we dare to defend ourselves we are accused of assaulting their faith. They even use the word “bashing”. What an insult. Try telling Trev Brody or any of the thousands of other gays who have seen the wrong end of a baseball bat, that someone taking issue with your religious views is equivalent to their experience.

Why are we not talking about this? Is there no one who has the guts to stand up to these bigots? Is no one willing to say forcefully that homophobic DHRB have no place or value in a civilized 21st century? What happened to the gay movement’s “bad cops”? We seem to have evolved into nothing but a bunch of flabby “soft cops.”

I find myself missing those bad cops from a decade ago, the Act Up folks.

More than anything we need to be reminded once again that “Silence Equals Death.” It is as true about homophobic religions as it is about AIDS.

We have got to start talking about religion. All of it. The good guys—and there are many–and the bad guys. It must be a compassionate discussion but we must not in our compassion shy away from the truth. Yes, it is a dynamite issue. Yes, people will take offense. Yes, the opponents are formidable. But I hope respectfully that the NGLTF, GLAAD, the HRC and our other leaders will jump into the fray. I hope that when the call comes for volunteers to lead the charge, they do not take a step backward.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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