Tuesday, July 17, 2007

When hate wears boots

I just got off the phone with a friend who was violently gay bashed this weekend. It hurt and scared me to hear some of the details, but the short story is that he was hanging out with some friends, having a quiet conversation at a bar. Apparently they mentioned being gay in the course of their conversation, and three men starting yelling that they were fags. The men got thrown out, but when my friend went outside the door a bit later, he was attacked.

He was on the ground, being kicked in the sides, while one of the men had their boot on his head, which was pressed into the sidewalk. Thankfully it appears they just wanted to scare him (into what? being straight? not leaving his house? butching up?) and weren't seeking seriously bodily injury. At least, this is what the police said when he reported the hate crime.

I wrote in a recent post: "When people think that we can choose our orientation, or we can "overcome" it and be healed (as in, made straight), they are less likely to be tolerant and loving and much more likely to be lacking in both respect and grace. Some even seem to be more likely to resort to violence. In their mind, if you don't like abuse, then you should just change."

This is the danger that I see in Exodus and others not being clear about what "change" really means. This is why I think Dr. Dobson's rhetoric about gays is so harmful, even beyond the obvious of how we hurt when we hear some of his words.

I've never been gay-bashed, thankfully, but I have experienced some mild discrimination and verbal abuse. It's ranged from being totally ignored at restaurants (to the point that other patrons notice it and sometimes say something), to outright harrassment.

I've had the stares and rude comments, and while in Santa Cruz I'd been yelled at by people driving past me (the word "dyke" was used, so I don't think they were taking issue with my driving). I spent a tense evening in a restaurant one night where my friend and I were under close observation by a table of young men. Apparently we were the subject of a lot of conversation and hilarity, but also some threatening looks. I remember trembling as I left the restaurant and ran to my truck, locking the door almost before it was closed. Another night, a friend and I were walking hand in hand downtown in Denver. We were surprised by a group of thuggish-looking young men who had suddenly turned the corner. They gave us hostile, silent looks as they split apart so we could walk between them. I think it took a while for my heart rate to return to normal. Of course, we dropped hands immediately and walked briskly to a secure location.

When I was ex-gay, I remember driving home from a counseling session one night. I flipped on the radio to the Christian station, and heard Dr. Dobson's daily radio address. He was on with John Paulk (who was still in good graces) and he was discussing gay issues (or rather, railing against homosexual activists who were trying to twist the law to get special rights). Dobson started a rant about hate crime legislation not being needed, but being part of a larger gay agenda that was trying to push our lifestyle on the general public. He said gay activists (wow, guess that would be me now?) made more of it than was really there, and in fact, during some period of time (this was 8 years ago, so I don't quite recollect) there had only been three deaths because of gay bashing.

I was thankful to hear John Paulk finally step in and say something like, "of course, three deaths is three too many." To which Dobson responded by mumbling, "oh, um, of course" and continuing on. Listening (in mounting anger) to this program, I got the distinct impression that John Paulk was being cowed into silence and was there merely to lend some legitimacy to the issue. I don't know if this is true, but it's what I remember thinking at the time. On the other hand, I had a bit of a love affair with the Paulks then, since their book and story were so important to me, so who knows.

Anyyywaay....

Even though I was ex-gay in identity (not in orientation), I was so incensed at that radio show and at Dr. Dobson. Even though I was actively working to change my orientation, I still felt gay and looked gay, and I knew I could be discriminated against just as easily as someone who was not ex-gay. Even though I knew no one in my church would agree with me, I thought that sexual orientation should be included in hate crime legislation. Especially since it is not chosen, whereas even religion is something one can choose. I had come from Santa Cruz where we had anti-discrimination laws for employment and housing, and had moved to Colorado where I could be fired for being gay (and in fact, this was a concern for me in the truck parts place I worked. I did everything I could to be seen as straight there, short of running around singing, "I'm straight! I'm straight! Straight is what I am! Yippeeeee!")

Back to my friend.

The physical damage is scrapes and bruises, but the emotional and psychological damage is usually worse than anything that can happen to our bodies. Even for me, I felt horror when hearing his story, and a sense of terror that still lingers. I have been fighting off tears for him. He's someone I care about deeply. Someone I connected with in Orlando during a conference and have seen several times since, even though we live in different states. He's someone who cared enough about me and the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference to make the trek to the conference although he is not a survivor of any formal kind of ex-gay experiences.

A hate crime bill is going to be voted on soon by the Senate. Although there are differences of opinion about it even in gay circles, I am inclined to think it is needed. Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin has put together a lot more information about hate crime legislation. If you are opposed to such legislation, will you do me a favor and at least read his post? If you are ex-gay, I want you to know it is really OK for you to support hate crime legislation, even if you are in the minority in your circles. At least give a thought to your former (or current) friends who still identify as gay. I talked to an ex-gay friend a while back who said that he faces discrimination all the time because he comes across as gay. Nobody checks your identity card when they bash ("oh, you're ex-gay? Well, never mind then!")

A little-known fact: hate crime legislation does not just cover gays, or other minority groups. The FBI’s own hate crime statistics count 935 anti-White, 58 anti-Protestant, and 23 anti-heterosexual hate crime incidents in 2005 (thanks to Jim Burroway for those stats). Those are hate crimes just as much as what happened to my friend this weekend.

I am not sure what else to say. I'm so full of emotion right now. Please keep my friend in your thoughts and prayers (he also lost his job on Monday, although not because he was gay, and then yesterday a member of his furry family died - is it true that trouble comes in threes?)

Just hold him in your heart if you can. Thanks.

P.S. FYI I asked him if I could post about this, without giving his identity. I don't want to turn people in poster children for any cause, but I really wanted to blog about this because it affected me so deeply this evening. He gave me his permission.

16 comments:

  1. Christine,

    I am sorry to hear about your friend--that is terrible! I hope they catch the guys that did it. I wish there was a way to do more than prosecute them, but get them to change their thinking.

    I have to be honest that I don't know what to think about the Hate Crimes bill. Of course, I am against hate crimes and what happened to your friend should be taken very seriously. What I have been hearing though is that this particular hate crime bill could potentially make it illegal for someone to express their views on homosexuality as not being the natural design for human relationships--or make it a hate crime to express the religious belief that homosexuality is wrong. Does the bill, in fact, jeporadize free speech?

    Say, I noticed you mentioned Santa Cruz--do you mean the good ol' Santa Cruz that I hail from? When did you live here and for how long?

    Also, in regards to your comment about change and how the idea of change can make some people less sympathetic, how do you propose that that be handled--given that some people are happier choosing that route and want to try changing, and some people experience a shift (even if its a small number). I agree that the idea of change is over-emphasized and made to look easier than it is. And, I agree that people can be unsympathetic when they just think its a choice and we should just stop being gay--as if we could. Yet, how does that get balanced with the legitimate desire for some people to pursue change? How could Exodus do things differently so that both concerns are taken into account?

    Karen

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  2. Karen. The people who tell you that the hate crimes bill will silence religious people are lying to you.

    Read the language of the bill and think for yourself.

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  3. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend, Christina. Please let him know that he is in our thoughts and prayers.

    I think I heard the same John Paulk interview, because I remember that I appreciated Paulk's comment and was shocked by Dobson's dismissive tone.

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  4. Scott, while I appreciate your strong feelings on this issue, Karen actually is someone who indeed thinks for herself, and sticks her neck out to do what she thinks is right. I have tons of respect for her and have even had the pleasure of meeting her.

    Norm! - I'm glad you remember that - I was so shocked by Dobson's tone, and yeah, dismissive absolutely describes it. Here I was ex-gay in identity and I felt so completely and utterly hurt and offended, that by being gay my life wasn't worth the same as others.

    Karen,

    If you mean Santa Cruz, CA, then yes! I am a banana slug alum. I finished my degree there, came out there, and lived there until I moved to Denver.

    Onto to the change issue and how it relates to hate crimes....

    I think if folks started being more honest about what "change" really means for the majority of folks, that would do a lot. Alan and others are starting to be more clear about what that looks like, and I'm really pleased about that. But that's often not what's presented to the general public, the media, or your average Christian.

    The problem is that Exodus' motto is "Change is possible" and there's no disclaimer under it to tell what that really means. The truth is that for most people who read that, they think it means change of orientation.

    When Alan et. al. go on TV and say "I left homosexuality" most of the public thinks they mean they no longer have a gay orientation, or that being gay was a choice, and they chose to go back to being straight.

    When people testify before a church, they say "God has set me free from homosexuality!" and don't mention that in most cases (and probably their own) they are meaning behavior and not orientation.

    Consequently so many folks who don't take the time to dig into this issue come away with some wrong assumptions. I know that when I identified as ex-gay, I spent quite a bit of time educating well-meaning Christians into what that meant. That it wasn't something I could just choose to change, say a prayer, and be done with it. I'm betting you've probably had to do the same things too.

    When Alan chambers testifies that if gay marriage had been legal when he was out and gay, that he probably wouldn't be ex-gay now (and ex-gay=good and whole, plus marriage), people get the message that in order to save the homosexuals, we need to stop marriage equality. But I think it even goes beyond the marriage equality issue. It reinforces to people that it is something that is changeable.

    I rarely hear ex-gay spokespeople talking about the years of struggle, the falls, the temptations that seem to never go away, the fact that often their sexuality is sublimated more than changed, and I've never heard anyone say that diminishing lustful/sexual thoughts might be the cause of natural reduction in sex drive as we age.

    Of course, I don't think someone's going to go to church, hear about someone who's "left homosexuality behind" and introduced his wife and kids....and go out and beat someone up.

    But it is a part of a larger system as a whole that continues to believe what they're told (without looking further into the nuances and disclaimers) and continues to draw wrong conclusions about people's lives. Namely, if you can change who you are, you shouldn't have "special rights." (Although I notice that no one is looking to remove religion from hate crime laws.) And this, for many people, can reinforce a belief that it is OK for gay people to be punished for their sins. I see it all as a larger part of a real problem in our society.

    Now, about individual ex-gays who want to change. Of course, I'd ask why they want to change, and at what cost, but beyond that, especially if they felt they could just not reconcile homosexuality with their view of the Bible, then I have no problem with them pursuing change, or celibacy. And if people feel they've had a shift in orientation (like D.M.) I really don't have a problem with that. I truly wish them well. For those who feel they need to live celibate lives, I also support them in that. I might wish, from my perspective, that they felt differently, like I'm sure you wish from your perspective that many of us felt differently. But at the end of the day, I absolutely am for folks being able to do and pursue what they want, as long as they're not harming others.

    Unfortunately, I feel that the political actions of Exodus and FOTF, etc, do harm others, directly and indirectly. And I guess that's where my problem comes in.

    You can read the entire text of the hate crime bill here, and all it is talking about (that I can see) is violent crime. I still cannot figure out where people are getting the thing about it being a "thought crime" act. Most crimes start with a thought, and it's the acting on of those thoughts that cause the problem. I don't see where the bill has an issue with someone stating they believe the Bible says homosexuality is a sin. If it is there, I am hoping someone can help by pointing that out to me (no, I'm not being snarky - it's hard to read tone online, and I genuinely wanting to know).

    For the record, I've often had mixed feelings about hate crimes because I believe all crimes against anyone, but especially violent crimes, should be prosecuted and not be tolerated. But we do classify crime in certain ways so that some crimes carry stiffer penalties. And I think that crimes that are motivated out of hate perhaps do justify increased sentences. Like anything, I'm open to studying all sides of the issue though.

    I also think that it sends a message to people that this isn't tolerated. That three guys who want to smash some other guy's head into a sidewalk just for having the gall to be gay and mention it, or look like it, might just perhaps think - wow, I don't want to get in a whole world of hurt. Maybe they'll keep themselves a little more in check (I could just be dreaming, but who knows). But then that brings up the whole issue of more government or less, which is another hornet's nest. These are complicated issues, for sure.

    Sometimes I think these things might need to be legislated in order to move society along (of course, we probably disagree on this, but I do think we need a more tolerant society, especially of people who are not hurting others, and are in relationships with other consenting adults....just throwing this in so someone doesn't comment that society should not be tolerant because we don't want murderers having pride parades and folks marrying their daughters).

    I hope this helps clarify some things, and let me know if I didn't answer some of your questions, or didn't answer to the degree you wanted.

    Thanks for commenting!

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  5. Oh, Christine, so sorry to hear about your friend. Terrible. I hope he heals up well on the inside and outside. Scary stuff and it reminds me of some of the reasons people remain silent about being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. It's just not always safe.

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  6. Christine, I'm sorry to hear about your friend also. It's very scary to realize how it can happen to anyone.

    The reason John Paulk may have been cowed into silence -- he was employed by Focus on the Family while Chairman of the Board at Exodus.

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  7. First, I wanted to say I'm so sorry to hear about your friend Christine. I think there are a lot of people in denial that gay bashing even exists. I'm going to check out the links you posted on the hate crime legislation.

    But, I also wanted to comment on this part of your comment:

    Of course, I don't think someone's going to go to church, hear about someone who's "left homosexuality behind" and introduced his wife and kids....and go out and beat someone up.

    That struck me because I think it would take that type of action - someone going to church and then beating someone up - for others to recognize the harm that ex-gay programs can generate. Something that in your face and undeniable.

    But the reality is that we all know it's much more subtle. Even if you've never been in an ex-gay program, chances are that the ex-gay "mindset" is prevalent in your church. And what's so dangerous about that is that it teaches the congegration that not only is being gay not God's best, but that it's sinful, evil, of the Devil ... fill in the blank. So it perpetuates an attitude of disdain towards someone that is gay. It's not just choosing (in their mind) to be different, it's choosing to be sinful, lustful, perverted, etc..

    So even if you're not being beat up in your church or beat up by a Christian outside of your church, you're still being beat up. You're told you're broken, you're told you're sinful, rebellious ... maybe you're not having your head put to the cement and kicked in the side, but emotionally and spiritually, you are.

    After I came out to myself at the beginning of the year, I attended a bible study with a group of local gay Christians. Ironically, several of them had been kicked out of my church years earlier. That night, people went around and shared some of the most hurtful times in their lives and how they got through them. When it got to one of the guys that had been asked to leave my church, he said that besides his father rejecting him, the hardest point in his life was my pastor rejecting him. It broke him and me in the process of listening to him. This pastor was a man I respected greatly - that he loved, that I loved - and it hit me when reading this post that he couldn't have hurt him more if he'd taken him out on the sidewalk, stepped on this head and kicked him in the side.

    To me, this is what's so dangerous. People can see a news story of someone being beat up and think "oh, that's awful - I would never do THAT" ... yet they support the actions of their church leaders when they emotionally and spiritually abuse a member of their church. I know they don't see it as the same, but how is it different?

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  8. My best wishes for your friend's recovery, both physically and emotionally. I'm also glad to hear that the police that handled your friends attack were so ready to investigate it as a hate crime. In some cases (like the incident at the beginning of last month in my city), the police handling such an attack are too willing to try to write it off as a fight between drunks or a case of someone "being in the wrong place at the wrong time" (as if that's an excuse for being victimized). Which just further underscores the need for such legislation.

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  9. Christine, I am so very sorry to hear about your friend. I will keep him in my prayers.

    Regarding the hate crimes legislation, I used to be against it... just in general. The idea of a hate crime to me was kind of ridiculous, for kind of the same reason you stated. Any violent crime should be prosecuted, regardless of motive. I can't exactly remember what happened to change my mind on this issue, but now I see hate crimes as a sort of (sorry to use this horrific buzz word) "terrorism". If you attack someone for no other reason than their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc... it seems the motive is to terrorize anyone else who has those characteristics in common with the victim, and that is why these crimes deserve special treatment (in my opinion, anyway.) Just my 2 cents.

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  10. Christine,

    I just tried to leave a comment, but it didn't seem to take--so trying again. Thanks for sharing your comments. I will have to look into the Hate Crimes bill more closely.

    Also, I wonder what way ex-gay ministries could advertise their resources for those who want them. I agree that it is not always apparent in the advertising the extent of struggle that is involved and the reality that some do not change. I don't care for the "Change is possible" slogan. I am not sure yet what would be a good replacement. I believe that people need to know the resource is there--it was a life saver for me. What the gay community has to realize is that not everyone is going to just "accept themselves"--that there are folks like me who have very strong spiritual beliefs about the reality of this issue and we need help and encouragement living in congruence with our beliefs. Much of my depression stemmed from cognitive dissonance--not living congruently with my beliefs.

    As for Santa Cruz--so you are a slug! I have worked at UCSC since fall 2000 when I moved back here from Portland, OR. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz. If you are ever visiting, let me know.

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  11. Christine - I started reading your blog after seeing you in GMAC several weeeks ago. I just wanted to post and say how much I have enjoyed it and how sorry I am about your friend being attacked. I personally think the hate crimes bill is a great idea. Unfortunately, my congressmen here in the south don't think so... but I wrote them anyway!

    I have never been ex-gay, but my parents are super religious (love Dobson), so I have definitely dealt with that mentality. Good for you for speaking out about it!

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  12. I'm really confused as to why "change" is even as issue when it comes to physical violence. Am I missing something?

    This just goes to show me -- yet again -- that the issue is not on sexual morality but on people who are "different" -- frankly who "look" gay which means in a lot of vocabularies: aren't masculine or feminine enough.

    Picture a living together straight couple (you don't have to look far in our society to find them). Then, picture a group beating the couple up because they are "sinful" or "living in sin". Don't think so.

    Christine, your ex-gay friend had it on the mark: *He* could be beaten up just for looking gay. And, he knows it. Celibacy, sexual behavior are not the issue.

    And Exodus is screwing around with this stupid legislation because it deflects *their* ministry failures.

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  13. Christine, I'll keep you and your friend in my thoughts.

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  14. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. I live in a small town that is known for violent crimes of assault, especially against LGBT people. I had to explain to someone just today why I'm afraid to walk home alone at night, after having "dyke" screamed at me. It's so sad that any of us need to live in that type of fear and even scarier when our reasons for the fear come true.

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  15. I am so sorry about your friend, and I will keep you both in my thoughts and prayers as well. Thoughts of healing, thoughts of justice. I blogged at mine just yesterday about, among other things, why L'Ailee is into guns and martial arts. It's horrible. And I'm tired of the right wing trivializing it. When a rich white straight man is mugged and beaten, nobody ever tells him it was all his fault for strutting around the place in his designer suit and carrying money in the first place, you know?

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  16. Christine, we haven't met yet (I'm also Lacuna on GCN) but I just wanted to let you know how much you and your ministry and your example means to me. I'm a young man struggling with my homosexuality and my faith, and I identify so much with your experiences and I think you are just a wonderful blessing. Thank you for sharing your story because, I speak for myself but I think I also speak for many others when I say that it means a lot to hear it and helps more than you'll ever know.

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