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Bigots Come in All Denominations

Author: Jeffery Johnson
Posted: July 8th. 2012
Times Viewed: 3,833

In October 1998 (has it really been 13 years?) , the media was ablaze with the story of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man who was approached by two guys from whom he accepted a ride, only to have his head beaten in with the butt of a gun and left tied to a fence, bloody and mortally wounded. Nearly six years later in Alabama, Scotty Weaver was tortured and set on fire because of his sexuality. Sean Kennedy of South Carolina had his life cut short in 2007 when he was punched in the face because he was gay, then fell on the sidewalk, suffering brain injuries—the perpetrator would serve just over one year in prison for his crime. In 2008, Larry King was fatally shot by another student for confessing a crush on him. And perhaps you know of Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and other teens who ended their own lives in September 2010, because they could no longer bear the pain of being bullied and humiliated by their peers for their sexual orientation. These are only a few of the murders and suicides of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people—I could have listed many more names, not counting the thousands we’ll never know about.

Monotheism, the chosen faith tenet of many of the world’s ignorant, continues to preach hatred against the LGBT community. Although the Anglicans and a few other sects are beginning to loosen up and embrace us -- in addition to the founding of a largely gay denomination, the Metropolitan Community Church -- Christianity largely remains intolerant of LGBT people. In the mostly Christian country of Uganda, being known or suspected as gay could easily get you killed, as it did David Kato in January 2011. Likewise, Islam and Orthodox Judaism, estranged from the 21st century by fidelity to their holy books, still condemn gay people and their relationships. And that’s not exactly surprising, considering monotheists’ overall belief in a “truth” that is eternal, unquestionable, and unchangeable. The inability to think for oneself can have deadly consequences.

However, monotheists alone are not guilty of anti-gay foolishness. In my numerous voyages on the World Wide Web, and occasionally in real life, I’ve encountered homophobic people of other persuasions. One agnostic acquaintance told me that homosexuality is “against science.” On other occasions, I’ve come across Satanists who’ve called homosexuality “unsanitary” and “unnatural.” (Um, remember those two male penguins that mated in a zoo some years back? Did no one inform them about these “laws of nature” they were breaking? Dirty birds!) Additionally, and to my surprise, I came upon a website for a Wiccan coven that in no uncertain terms stated that gays weren’t welcome; that was only about two years ago.

Let’s talk about heterosexism in the Neopagan community. Sadly, gay Witches in the early decades of the Wiccan revival didn’t always have great experiences in predominantly straight covens. (See Margot Adler’s chapter on men’s spirituality in Drawing Down the Moon) . I pity those poor souls, worn down by the hatred of their childhood religions, who came to the Craft or another form of Paganism only to be told the same crap all over again. Apparently, though many attitudes about sexuality have changed since the days of poodle skirts and 8-tracks, some Pagans, Heathens, Witches, Wiccans, Asatruars, and occultists, along with their monotheistic oppressors, continue to cling to the illogical, outdated, foolish, and harmful belief that gay is abnormal.

Even some of the symbolism in the traditional Craft can leave a non-heterosexual feeling left out. The image of the Goddess and God as straight lovers and the description of Wicca as a “fertility cult” are fine for many straight people, but I was left wondering in my first years as a Witch why my sexuality wasn’t also acknowledged or celebrated in ritual. Even though my circle mates at the time were quite accepting of my sexual orientation, and I was in no way intentionally excluded or discriminated against, I still had a hard time relating to a Goddess and God who were apparently “hetero.”

As I mentioned earlier, I think the future is on our side. Christian churches are beginning to discard their forefathers’ bigotry. Jay Bakker, son of preachers Jim and the late Tammy Faye, has been speaking out for LGBT rights for years. Also, Randy Roberts Potts came out of the closet, and has been doing public speaking on his experience as the grandson of the late evangelist Oral Roberts. In short, people of faith are beginning to see the light of reason. I’ve even been surprised in my daily life how many times I’ve found acceptance where I expected to find closed-mindedness—people in the small community I’ve lived most of my life in who know who I am, and have no problem with me. Even the former secretary at my high school told me on Facebook that she wasn’t surprised I’m gay, and was glad I finally realized it, too! Another victory in America is the passage of marriage equality in various states, and the federal hate crimes legislation signed into law two years ago.

Still, I see in my mind the image of Matthew Shepard tied to the fence. I see images of Tyler Clementi and Bobby Griffith jumping to their deaths to escape the self-hatred the sick culture around them has nourished. I see yet another news article of an elderly lesbian’s murder, or the harassment endured by a transgendered person, and I know that we are only beginning this fight for justice and equality.

Some would have me believe that this fight can best be won by trying to not stir the pot, or “cause trouble”—good things come to those who wait. And if we stay quiet, we’ll wait indefinitely. Paganism has the degree of recognition it does today because someone spoke up! Likewise, though I’m not going to run up and down the street every day waving a rainbow flag, and though I may never be as great an activist as Harvey Milk (one of the people I admire and aspire to be like most) , I can do little things to spread the message of acceptance, whether it’s writing a letter to the editor, showing up to counter protest the Westboro Baptist crowd, or speaking out when I hear offensive slurs and misinformation about gay people in any situation.

As a gay Wiccan, I live with the double challenge of being a minority both sexually and spiritually. My experience of love and attraction is not shared by some 90% of humanity, going by statistics. Therefore, I’m not always able to relate to straight Pagans, many whose identities are based on reproduction and parenthood. On the other hand, I can feel equally uncomfortable in a group of lesbian and gay Christians, who sometimes harbor the same misinformed views on witchcraft as their straight, bigoted co-religionists. I was even told by a gay Christian that I would go to hell for leaving the church! Talk about some freaky irony!

I used to wish I had been straight. Life in some ways would be easier. I’d likely have more options for a date, and I wouldn’t have to worry whether my marriage would be recognized by any given U.S. state. Now, I see that I was destined to be gay. I have these fabulous people in my life that I probably wouldn’t have met were I heterosexual in this incarnation.

The Greek Orthodox Church to which I once belonged would have me believe I was sick, that my gayness was an abomination, a sin. The Goddess, when I encountered her, affirmed me. Her divinity permeates every cell of my body. She made me the way I am! She doesn’t differentiate between gay and straight any more than she would favor the young over the elderly, or Ethiopians over Romanians.

I am lucky. I could easily have ended up another gay suicide, but something inside of me always said to hang on, because things would get better. My message to homophobes, whether you are Satanists, Christians, or members of that Wiccan coven I found online, is that you consider the harm you cause every time you speak with a misinformed voice about the LGBT community. How many more bullied kids will have to kill themselves, and how many more gays will have to be lit on fire or tied to fences before you finally get that your bigotry is dangerous?

In this day and age, with all the information that’s available about human sexuality, your ignorance is inexcusable. That any modern Pagan, having been oppressed for his or her beliefs, would in turn oppress someone because of the way he or she loves, is hypocrisy of the highest order.

For suicidal LGBT youth:

Matthew Shepard Foundation

Sean Kennedy Tribute


Jeffery Johnson

Location: Luverne, Minnesota

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