I thought I’d reached something resembling peace about being an atheist in the LGBT community. I’m not happy with the high level of vociferous religiosity in the queer community, or with how non-believers in that community get dissed. But I also realize that the atheist movement has only been getting serious visibility and organization in the last few years, and it’s just not realistic to expect the entire world — queer or otherwise — to jump overnight from ignorance and bigotry to understanding and acceptance.
But then I got this email from Dick Hewetson, who read my Being an Atheist in the Queer Community piece, and made this point:
As you have, I have discovered that freethinkers are consistently my friends. Yet the [LGBT] movement people seem reluctant to acknowledge all the support they receive from atheist and humanists groups. But they will gush all over an individual congregation or clergy person who stands up for us. I just find it tiresome.
And I got mad all over again.
I got mad, because until I got his email, the “gushing” issue hadn’t occurred to me. And now I can’t get it out of my mind.
Why is it that, when religious leaders and groups finally come around and say or do something marginally nice about queers, the LGBT community falls all over itself in gratitude… but the godless community, one of the staunchest and most vocal supporters of queer rights outside the queer community itself, gets almost no recognition for their support?
Why is it that leaders and organizations in the LGBT community are bending over backwards to do outreach to religious groups — including religious groups who are lukewarm on our issues at best and downright hostile at worst — but virtually no mention is ever made of reaching out to the godless community, who already runs like crazy with our issues and would almost certainly love to run with them some more?
I want to give you a little taste of what this support looks like before I move on. I want to give you a sense of just how supportive the atheist community has been of the queer movement… so you can get an idea of why it ticks me off so much when that community get ignored or dissed.
From Ebonmuse at Daylight Atheism, Hate-Crime Laws and Loving the Sinner:
The question is, given the demonstrable falsehood of their stated premises, what’s the real reason why religious right groups are so adamantly opposed to hate crime laws? If it’s true, as they say, that they “hate the sin and love the sinner”, one would think that they would support laws that give LGBT people more legal protection against crimes of bias.
The obvious answer is that they truly do hate homosexuals and want to preserve their right to discriminate against them.
From Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist, You Say We’re Redefining Marriage? You’re Redefining Love:
I say this to the religious people who oppose marriage equality:
You think we’re redefining marriage?
How can you accuse us of that when you’ve done something far worse?
You redefined love.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin”? PleaseâŠ
For you, “love” means making sure gay people cannot adopt a child who needs a home.
For you, “love” means stripping away the marital status of gay couples who were legally married in California before Proposition 8 took effect.
For you, “love” means accepting someone only if they never act on their sexuality.
From PZ Myers at Pharyngula, Priorities:
We really do have a screwed up culture. Carrie Prejean, Miss California USA, could publicly argue for continued denial of civil rights to gays on air, in a beauty pageant, and pageant officials were unperturbed. Now that semi-nude modeling photos of Prejean are emerging, they are considering revoking her title. So flaunting her bigotry is no big deal, but posing in lingerie makes them clutch their pearls and squeak in horror?
From Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, Orson Scott Card Goes Off the Deep End on Gay Marriage:
Until a few years ago, I’d never even heard of Orson Scott Card. I’m not a science fiction reader, so I’d never read his many books, some of which my friends tell me are quite good if you like that genre. But after watching him make a complete fool of himself over the last few years with his ignorant ravings on evolution and homosexuality, I find him to be one of the most contemptible writers I’ve ever come across.
You really must see the absolutely unhinged claims he makes about gay marriage in an article in the Mormon Times, wherein he calls for outright revolution if the government allows gays to get married.
And finally, from Zee Harrison at Black Woman Thinks, Homophobic Jamaican Prime Minister:
Here is an example of the damage caused by ignorance, religion and politicians who profit from maintaining the status quo. Dangerous. I know these views are prevalent in many societies not just Jamaica, but for the Prime Minister to promote homophobia and then clumsily try to squirm his way around it with a pile of words that could be described as nothing other than bullshit is revealing.
All of these bloggers are — to the best of my knowledge — straight. And these excerpts are just a drop in the bucket. All of these bloggers write frequently and at length on queer issues… as do many, many other non- queer atheists. I didn’t have to dig for these links and quotes: every one of them was posted just in the last month. (BTW: If you have other examples you’d like to link to — from your own atheist blog or from others — please feel free to quote them/ link to them in the comments.)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Of all the communities and worlds I’ve been a part of, the atheist movement is by far the one where I’ve felt most strongly that straight people had my back. It’s the one where I’ve felt most strongly that straight people were not only supporting and accepting of my queerness, but passionately and pro-actively concerned about queer rights.
And it ticks me off that they’re not getting recognition for it.
I want to illustrate this point with a story. And, in an irony that I’m sure you’ll all find vastly entertaining, the story I want to illustrate it with comes from the Bible.
You all know the story of the Prodigal Son. Son demands his share of his dad’s inheritance; squanders it all on weed and strippers and video games; gets stuck working as a fry cook in a McDonald’s. Son slinks back home to Dad, says he knows he fucked up, says he doesn’t expect his old room back but asks if he can sleep in the garage. Dad embraces him, throws a big barbecue to celebrate his return. Dad’s other son, the non- prodigal one, gets pissy and resentful, pointing out that he’s been a good son and has worked hard for years in Dad’s chicken processing plant, and yet Dad never threw any barbecues for him. Dad says, “Chill out, dude. Your brother’s back. Be happy. Here, have a burger.”
Now, I’ve always thought that the older brother had a point. Yes, he’s being a little pissy; yes, he should celebrate and be happy that his brother came home. But he has a point. If he’s telling the truth — if his father never did throw him any sort of party or give him any recognition of his hard work and devotion — then that’s messed up.
Don’t get me wrong. Of course the prodigal son should get a party. The messed-up part isn’t that the prodigal son is getting a party. The messed-up part is that the non-prodigal son never did. The messed-up part is that the son who consistently does the right thing without being asked gets less appreciation than the son who acts like a big dumb jerk but then comes around.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
I’m not saying that the LGBT community shouldn’t be reaching out to religious groups, shouldn’t be expressing appreciation when said groups help us out or come around to a more queer- positive outlook. I’m saying that the LGBT community should also be reaching out to the godless community… and should be acknowledging the extensive support that the godless community has already given and continues to give.
And I’m kind of baffled about why they don’t.
The generous part of me thinks that many leaders and organizers in the LGBT community just don’t know about the atheist community. They know about atheists, of course — in recent years, we’ve been increasingly hard to avoid — but they may not know that we’re a community and a movement, one that’s increasing in both size and organization practically every day. And they definitely may not know how passionately and actively queer- positive that community is.
But when I’m in a less generous mood, I feel like they just don’t give a damn. Atheists already support them. Why should they bother to reach out to us, or even acknowledge us? And atheists aren’t — yet — a massively powerful and well- organized political force. Why should they go to any lengths to make alliances with us? What good can we do them?
I know, I know. I sound churlish and petty. That’s the problem with being the prodigal son’s brother. If you don’t say anything, you’re a doormat; if you do say something, you come off sounding churlish and petty.
So in the interest of not just griping churlishly and pettily, I’d like to make some specific, positive suggestions of what kind of atheist recognition and outreach I’d like to see from the queer community.
I’d like for non- atheist queers to not assume that all queers have religious beliefs. In public or semi- public forums (speeches, conferences, panel discussions, email forums, etc.), where the community as a whole is being addressed, I’d like to not hear general exhortations to pray, or references to “our Creator” or “our spirituality,” or whatnot. I don’t pray, and I have neither a creator nor a spirituality. (If you want to talk about your own religious beliefs, of course I’m totally fine with that — just please don’t express them in a way that assumes that I share them.)
I’d like for non- atheist queers to learn about the most common bigoted myths and stereotypes about atheists. I’d like for them to not perpetuate those myths. And when they hear other people perpetuating those myths, I’d like for them to call them on it.
When LGBT organizations do outreach to religious organizations, I’d like them to at least consider doing outreach to atheist and secularist organizations as well.
When LGBT organizations are putting together panels and conferences and whatnot and are working to get diversity, I’d like for atheists to be part of that diversity mix. Especially if they’re trying to get diversity of religious faiths… or if religion is going to be a central issue of the panel/ conference/ whatever.
When LGBT leaders speak publicly about the diversity of spiritual belief in our community, I’d like them to include queers with no spiritual beliefs as part of the picture.
I’d like for LGBT organizations and bloggers to have at least a couple of major atheist blogs on their radar. Pharyngula at a bare minimum — or, if Pharyngula is too snarky for them, Friendly Atheist. I’d like them to read the blogs, send good stories their way, put them on their blogrolls, give them some link love.
I’m sure there’s more. (If you can think of more, please speak up in the comments.) But that’ll do for now.
Because you know what?
We’ve been good sons.
We’ve been helpful and supportive. We can be even more helpful and supportive if the LGBT community works more directly with us.
And we deserve our barbecue.
Other stories in this series:
Being an Atheist in the Queer Community
How to be an Ally with Atheists