There is a line between encouraging religions to reform and become more progressive, something in which I deeply believe and that I personally strive to encourage, and leaving non-religious people behind, which has become a problem in Western queer spaces in recent years.
It’s not that I think that religious LGBT folks shouldn’t be included in queer spaces, rather that the effort within queer spaces to be inclusive towards religious people is disproportionate and can be downright exclusionary towards non-religious people. As Greta noted, being an atheist in queer spaces means receiving far less encouragement and acceptance than being queer in atheist spaces.
I’ve personally experienced queer-religious intersections that have made my atheist self rather uncomfortable. When I volunteered for the No on Prop 8 campaign, the local dispatch center was a church. At on-campus LGBT events, many of the speakers were religious and talked about their god as if everyone believed in that sort of deity. It seems that it has become more important to appease the “we’re Not All Like That!”s, straight or queer, than it is to accommodate the approximately half of all LGBT people who aren’t religious.
The worst experience I had was at a local conference about mental health and LGBT issues. Fully half of the panels were about religion, and every panel had a representative of what was euphemistically referred to as “the faith community.” To their credit, the conference organizers included me as the token atheist. I tried to represent those of us LGBT folks who have been harmed by religion and want no part in it. However, I found myself the subject of subtle and not-so-subtle digs by my fellow panelists that went unchallenged by the moderator. The expectation was that I would agree with others’ “live-and-let-live”-style statements and accept the “teasing” I got for being an atheist lest I sound like an intolerant naysayer.
It is bizarre, to say the least, to sit in a room filled with LGBT folks and hear nothing but praise for religion and disdain for criticism of religion. Any mention of the homophobia in Christianity or any other religion was treated as if it were taboo, or at least unnecessarily hostile. I found myself feeling an odd sense of longing for the openly-homophobic Muslim I had encountered on an interfaith panel I had done at a local high school. He at least acknowledged the anti-queerness in his faith rather than pretended it didn’t exist and wasn’t relevant to the discussion.
What I experienced locally seems to be indicative of a national-level issue. Despite the fact that — again — nearly half of all LGBT-identified folks are non-religious, Creating Change has many, many sessions about religion and faith but few-to-none that are explicitly for the non-religious. If Creating Change focuses on religion and perhaps outright reinforces religious privilege without having much in the way of secular representation, then where is the non-religious half of the LGBT population supposed to go to find community? You’d think that “the largest annual gathering of activists, organizers, and leaders in the LGBT movement” would care about all LGBT folks, not just the half that claims a religion.
As per the British Alex Gabriel, the issue is not limited to the United States.
Many in queer communities have histories of religious abuse, whether ordinary queerphobia or physical, sexual or emotional varieties: the mere presence of guests in holy orders, even entirely friendly ones, can make an event a no-go area. There are apostates from all forms of religion who feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in LGBT groups that have been godded-up, as I did at university. There are atheists and believers alike with reservations about God-loves-the-gays theology who feel expected to keep quiet. There are undecided people who feel put on the spot, pressured to be louder and prouder. There are people who want to discuss religious queerphobia without attaching endless caveats, or who just want to hear it acknowledged.
Welding together religion and queer identity is a false economy. Communally, it makes us more exclusionary rather than less; politically, it writes off queer people and others who’ll never be godly enough, pushed to the margins by religious structures.
Just as I cannot decouple my feminism from my atheism, I cannot separate my radically political and anti-assimilatist queer identity from my atheism; gender and queer issues were part of why I doubted and eventually left Islam. Although queerphobia can come from non-religious sources, that much of it stems from religious beliefs is self-evident — unless you’re going to outright deny what people say about their own motivations, Reza Aslan-style.
Why should we atheist queers have to capitulate to religions, the very institutions that have vilified, demonized, abused, tortured, and murdered us in the name of their beliefs? Our views on the harms of religion have the realistic precedent. The (a)historical revisionism that casts Jesus as a queer ally and depicts religion as benign at worst and helpful to LGBT causes at best is factually dubious and actively exclusionary.