“A heterosexual and cisgender person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBT social movements, and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.”
When I was in college in the mid 1980s, I was pre-law. I was put in charge of an internship program that was part of a free legal clinic. I was director with a small staff of interns and one of my duties was to recruit new interns. One day I was talking to one a young woman in my program about groups I could visit on campus, to speak about recruitment. She suggested the Gay and Lesbian Student Union. I said I didn’t know if I would be comfortable with that group. She said, “you don’t have any trouble being comfortable with me.” Yeah, I had no idea. Should I have? She hadn’t told me, but is it something of which I should have been intuitively cognizant? No, but that’s not the best question.
A better question is whether I would have treated her differently if I had known. I hope not and I seriously doubt it, but had just admitted to her that in my own mind, I had an issue with gay and lesbian people. They made me uncomfortable, in some way that I’m not sure I could have qualified.
Society’s attitudes were different then. It was in 1984 and I was only 23. I came from a small town with few, if any openly gay people. The Moral Majority was telling American that gay equaled AIDS, while the Reagan administration was busy not helping. So I was given a teachable moment, from which I took away, at the time, the certainty that I had a lot to learn about people and our lives together. But very little idea where or from whom I would learn it. So I promptly, conveniently, forgot about it.
In my 30s I joined what could unarguably be called one of the most conservative churches on the planet. I don’t mean purblind tight-ass, sanctimonious American conservative. (No offense.) I mean Orthodox Christian, the old church, the old calendar, liturgy in Slavonic. I didn’t go there looking for conservativism. I went looking for communion with God. And nobody there was saying anything political; no preaching against gay marriage or anything. I was just vaguely aware of the church’s stand on such matters, that homosexuality is sin.
The Orthodox Christian Church is beautiful in many ways; mystical, ancient and eastern. Completely insulated from American politics, in my experience. Conservative to the point of believing that righteous government is wielded by a God-anointed Czar. No matter how conservative you think American “Christians,” of the kind that can follow Trump and Pence, can act, they are still very liberal and humanist compared to some people I have met.
There were a few points of doctrine that I had a problem with. I believe that pets go to Heaven. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that sins are acts that separate the sinner from God and arise from our own selfishness, not from states of being. Sins are not acts that piss off other people; nobody has the right to tell you what your sins are. And certainly love can never be a sin. Acts that piss off other people are called pet peeves and crimes, which is why it’s imperative that we prevent tight-ass people from legislating their sins into our criminal legal codes. I believe that whatever your church chooses to practice, the law of the land is equal protection of the law for everyone.
There I was, though, in that beautiful church with those kind and gentle people. In my 30s, my opinion about gay rights was that people should keep their private lives private and stop demanding that the rest of us endorse their proclivities. I think that’s exactly what I would have said at the time. And of course, I was completely missing the point. I had more learning to do.
When I visited family in San Francisco in the 1990s, someone suggested we go to the annual Pride parade. I recoiled at the idea, partly because I wanted to go to Marin County, enjoy some peace and quiet and relax. There’s a place, or was, in Occidental, that makes some pretty damn fine waffles. Also I was a good Christian with no desire to watch people cavorting in the streets. It seemed to me that sexual and gender identity wasn’t a reason for a demonstration in public. After all, heterosexual people don’t do it. It didn’t occur to me that hetero people should be glad they don’t have a reason to demonstrate.
Two more decades have passed. I’ve made gay friends, transgender friends, I have a transgender loved one, and I have learned that not only was I wrong about LGBTQ people, I was wrong about the culture in which we live. “In the world there is, parallel to the force of death and constraint, an enormous force of persuasion that is called culture.”[i] That culture had persuaded me to think that some of us were normal, others not, and that I was being cool by saying that normal people should tolerate others – live and let live – and the others should fade into the background noise and be tolerated.
Culture wields power. Power is inherently paranoid and potentially destructive. “When somebody goes outside the cultural norms, the culture has to protect itself.”[ii] So the LGBTQ movement is cultural self-defense, not an uprising to overthrow the culture norms, though that may be necessary and may come at great cost. None of which would be quite so obvious to me if not for the great homophobic backlash of the Trump de-evolution.
Before Trump made America hate again, civil rights seemed to be improving. Ferguson notwithstanding, I was more relaxed. I didn’t feel like the rights and wellbeing of people I care about were in jeopardy from the society I life in. Things have gone very much awry and as always the issues of civil rights for LGBTQ persons are no less fundamental and compelling than those of persons of color. They are the issues of us all. And I’m forced to admit that my opinion of 20 years ago was really a subtle form of self-righteous apartheid.
A few things are clearer now than they were in the halcyon days of Obama: First, that a reformation is necessary to secure the blessings liberty to those whose civil rights are every bit as morally imperative as those of hetero and gisgender people like me. The reformation must profoundly change this culture. Second, the culture has it coming, by God. Third, people like me have a moral duty to take sides and speak out, and the reformation will go better for everyone if we do. “Normal is just the average of deviance;” it doesn’t exist.[iii] All life is a spectrum, and if people like Trump and Pence, and the alt-right zombie army they’re building are normal, I want no part of their part of the culture.
I’m not suggesting that churches should be required to perform gay weddings. I’m as much for freedom of religion as freedom from religion. I’m saying the right to marry is a civil right and the government should make no law prohibiting its free exercise. I’m saying that no religion or cult should have the power to legislate its creed and impose its beliefs on anyone who doesn’t freely accept that creed. This culture has been poisoned by fear and tied back to to dogmas of fear, prejudice, protectionism, and doublethink. A reformation of compassion and unequivocal inclusion will do us all a world of good.
I said that after college, I had a lot to learn. I think it’s ironic that I learned as much from the people who hate people who are different than from people who in the crosshairs of that hatred. Fascists never seem to realize that hatred and paranoia (homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia) sow the seeds of their own destruction. Even bystanders can watch bullying for just so long. Now I wish I knew then what I know now, and I wish I knew now what I don’t know yet. “All kinds of sadness I’ve left behind me. Many’s the day when I have done wrong.”[iv] But I know that everyone deserves respect and equality. Our law demands it. And while any person doesn’t have equality, no person who does should go quietly or rest easily.
[i] Albert Camus.
[ii] Robert Pirsig.
[iii] Rita Mae Brown
[iv] Jethro Tull
J. Kyle Kimberlin
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