I Am … Was … Speechless

For the first time in a long time, I am speechless. I have been for awhile, that’s why I haven’t written anything here since March 29th. I have been absolutely drained, indignant, and exhausted. I was feeling like my work as an advocate was irrelevant and ineffective. It’s not that I became weary of writing, I still love it very much, but I was torn that there was so much going on in my own movement that I disagree with, and I was particularly torn over what I will discuss in a moment. It’s hard to criticize both sides, it makes you feel alone. Then last week, I received a message from a former schoolmate and friend who reminded me that what I’m doing as an advocate is important. With that being said, let’s talk about the more troubling reason I have been speechless … the mind-numbing absurdity of the religious right.

It’s very easy for those of us who engage in pop culture, as progressives, to become blind to the dirty religious underbelly that still permeates our culture. We see progress, laws passed to protect us, backlash and swift consequences for laws that harm us, and our world continues to get better. But behind it all, behind every “religious freedom” bill, and in response to every celebrity who speaks out for us (thank you Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and others), there sits the brooding and plotting bitterness of the religious right. Every day, the most outspoken evangelicals take to their radio and television shows, their websites, and the publications who print their material, to spew more misinformation and hatred about us … and they have become so comical, so cartoonish, yet so dangerous, that I was left speechless.

By now, everybody knows about North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” HB2. For those who don’t you can Google it, I will not give it anymore credence by posting a link. In a nutshell, this bill keeps all counties and cities in North Carolina from enacting anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBTQ+ people. It actually prohibits municipal governments from extending non-discrimination ordinances to LGBTQ+ people! HB2 is the result of the irrational fears and panicked reactions of those furious over their loss of privilege, as they take to the streets screaming about “religious freedom.” Arguments for the bill were (are) few, focusing mainly on the debunked “allowing Trans people to use the restroom that best matches their gender identity will make way for pedophiles and other perverts to just say ‘I’m a woman;’ and get access to our wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters.” Never mind the fact that sex crimes have not gone up in places where Trans people are protected while they pee. Never mind the fact that nearly everybody in North America who goes out in public regularly, has most likely shared a restroom with a Trans person and didn’t know it. Never mind the fact that most in favour of the legislation are getting their information from a book that is very obviously not an authority on LGBTQ+ issues, and its evangelical messengers who are just as ignorant as their congregants.

As soon as there were consequences from companies like PayPal … as soon as celebrities like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr started cancelling shows in North Carolina … as soon as politicians decided to veto discriminatory legislation in their own states … the loud and proud religious opponents of equality absolutely lost it. And they continue to lose it! Their anger is manifesting in more and more outrageous claims. Some of these claims are getting so outrageous that I have personally spoken with fans of these people who are starting to raise their eyebrows and question what is being said. This is unprecedented. In my experience, it’s very rare for a follower of any popular evangelist to question what that evangelist has to say. This is a good thing, but at the same time, we have to stay on guard. There are, after all, still many who believe it, and more fear means more risk of violence.

I wonder what it’s like. What is it like to live everyday in fear of what you have never encountered, a fear that only exists because of what a minister told you, or what you think you read in the Bible? Even when I was an evangelical Christian, I wasn’t as out of touch and afraid as these people are. It has really begun to reach a different level. America is boiling over, and it’s causing turmoil beyond her borders as well. Angry evangelicals, the ones who seem to have forgotten how to form a coherent thought or argument, are influencing the impressionable, and violence toward gay, lesbian, and transgender people the world over is going up at the very time it was starting to go down. This is a particularly scary time for Transgender people, who are being subjected to such an obscene level of misinformation that walking out the door can cause an anxiety attack. And all of this is happening because extreme conservatism is in its death throes, and Christian extremists are scrambling to ruin as many lives as they can before the ship goes down.

I have had two reactions to the comical, yet dangerous behaviour of these people over the past few weeks. The first is to laugh. When I hear a full grown adult crying about how they can no longer exercise their religious freedom to oppress others, I find that so pathetic that it’s funny. The second is to become altogether angry and sad. Their rhetoric, as cartoonish and silly as it is, is doing real damage. My fellow Trans people are being killed in droves, my fellow LGBTQ+ people hunted down and murdered all over the world, and all because of the lies of people who use religion to gain dominance. That’s what this is all about, after all. Christians in the west have had the upper hand for so long, that the thought of losing it scares the hell out of them (pardon the pun). So many of them say “I do not condone violence. I am not a hater. I do this out of love.” These are the same people who support Uganda’s laws that punish homosexuality with jail time, and Russia’s reluctance to act in any way respectable. They say nothing of the “corrective rape” of lesbian women going on in so many countries, and some have even gone so far as to praise the actions of ISIS when they throw gay men from rooftops. At the very least, they stay silent on all of the harm, preferring instead to use their voices to say we’re wrong. If this is love, I don’t want it.

If you think you don’t support violence, think long and hard about what initiatives you do support. Learn about the beliefs of those who do support direct violence against me and people like me. Anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs and rhetoric is standard everywhere. It’s all in the same pot, and if you go around condemning me, I am going to see you as just as dangerous as the gun-wielding psycho hunting people like me in Russia. My desire to live, my instinct toward self-preservation, keeps me from differentiating between you and the predator in Africa waiting for the opportune moment to rape an LGBTQ+ person. I know you don’t want to be lumped in with those people, but your rhetoric is the same. And I know it’s the same, I have spent the last three years learning that it’s the same. I know very well the minds of those who wish me harm, either directly or indirectly. Don’t you dare tell me this is out of love.

So I was speechless, I have been speechless, but I guess I’m not anymore. As a matter of fact, I’m more pissed off now. It’s still not safe for me to be myself in some places, and that is unacceptable.

An Open Letter To Franklin Graham

While combing through the news this week, I came across a story about how Franklin Graham, in the midst of a vile attack on the LGBTQ+ community and our fight for civil rights, has called Transgender people “predators and sexually perverted.” When are these evangelical preachers going to realize that their actions against people they fear are completely contrary to the teachings of the man named Jesus they claim to follow?

Mr. Graham:

So I’m a predator and a pervert, am I? I identify as Genderqueer, which puts me under the Trans umbrella, and at 34 years of age, I have never preyed on anybody for any purpose; nor have I ever had the desire to do so. Your hateful diatribe against me and those like me reveals a willful ignorance (you do, after all, have access to education on these issues), a fragile ego that feeds off of demeaning and degrading others, and an un-Christlike heart. You should be ashamed of yourself.

As a child, I was in awe of your father. Billy Graham and his message was ever-present in the charismatic and evangelical movements of the time. He was a powerful speaker, and I was convinced that he was ordained by God to spread the gospel. I later came to see him as a charlatan, a man who is not only dishonest, but deliberately deceptive, a man who played on the hopes and fears of people while tugging at their purse strings. You, sir, are just like him. The difference, though, and this is what makes you worse, is that you are actively campaigning to deny basic human rights; and using vile degrading language in the process.

I suppose, Mr. Graham, that you are actually quite proud of yourself. You did, after all, win your last battle to keep discriminatory policy on the books (referenced in the link above), and you are no doubt thrilled that a dozen states still have unconstitutional sodomy bans in place (as of 2014, and to my knowledge these have not changed). But while you insist upon making it difficult for us to be recognized as human beings, and as you carry on this disgusting crusade, listen carefully when I say that you are going to lose. You see, what was once a secret, what used to be dangerous to say, is no longer taboo. Of course in some conservative places, it is still dangerous to say that you are gay, Trans, or even an ally, but in most places it’s now safe to come out. The genie, as they say, is out of the bottle, and it can’t be put back in. We are out, and in the face of oppression we stand proud. That pride is why you will lose. We aren’t going anywhere, and we sure as hell are not backing down from a petty, vindictive, arrogant person like you.

I want to suggest that you sincerely try to learn about who and what we are, about the challenges we face, and about the legitimacy of Trans identity. I want to tell you that at your age it’s not too late. I want to encourage you to find it in your heart to stop fighting against humanity … but I’m almost ashamed to say that I don’t actually care if you do any of that. I am very proud of how I handle my advocacy. I am proud of my insistence on civility, my discretion with labels and ‘name-calling,’ my honesty … but I’m sick and tired of people like you. Since you’re so honest about wanting us to be treated like second-class citizens, and about wanting to deny us basic human rights, here’s a bit of honesty from me to you. I want to see you fail. I want to see your ministry investigated, to have your tax-exempt status revoked, and I want to see you fall out of favour with those who you and your father have been cheating and stealing from all these years. I want to see every piece of legislation you fight against passed, and everything you fight for struck down. And if everything I want happens, it still won’t be enough. Why? Because I could never wish enough ill will on you to match the pain and devastation you want to see levelled against us. I don’t want you put in prison for your beliefs. I don’t want to see you physically assaulted. I don’t want to see you homeless. I don’t want to see you subjected to unconstitutional restrictions on your rights and freedoms. I could never match your hatred for me, because I don’t have it in me to feel that way toward another human being.

Mr. Graham, you may think I’m a predatory pervert, but I encourage you to look in a mirror. I don’t prey on people, nor do I use them … but that’s exactly how your father got rich. I don’t publicly talk about my sexual preferences … but you seem obsessed with the preferences you imagine I have. I fight for people who are taking their own lives … while your fight is the reason they take their own lives. Stop calling us predators and perverts, Mr. Graham. You’re obviously projecting all over yourself.

 

Equality Is Everyone’s Business

Outspoken Ally has a new, simple, mantra. Equality is Everyone’s Business. As a society, we tend to relegate certain discussions to certain social groups, holding fast to this idea that issues of equality – whether they be issues of gender, sex, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc – are appropriate only in certain contexts. While it is right to prefer appropriate language (ie: what you might say to young children vs a room full of adults), the topic of equality belongs to all of us, in every context, with no exceptions. We each have a social obligation, as members of the human species, to ensure the equal and fair treatment of everybody. None of us are exempt from that, and none of us have any more or less responsibility toward one another. Equality is everyone’s business.

I was recently challenged with “it’s not happening to me, it’s not even happening in my country. Therefore, it’s none of my business. It doesn’t affect me.” The topic of discussion in this case was the Ugandan anti-gay law, and when I answered this guy with “oh, but it does affect you,” I got a quick and snappy “no it doesn’t.” It was hard to get through to him, but it was worth the effort. You see, I believe that when others are oppressed, for whatever reason, it affects all of us. It’s not that we necessarily suffer in any tangible way – the killing of LGBTQ people at the behest of a Ugandan news rag has no bearing on my employment, financial situation, or family life – but do we not possess empathy? If your only reason for reacting to injustice is to protect your own interests, you miss the fundamental interdependence that sustains us as a people. We are not individuals operating alone, we are a collective that works best when unified. Failure to respect that fundamental truth is, in my opinion, both dishonest and selfish. Empathy, when acknowledged, channels co-operation, and it is vital to our human nature. It matters a great deal to me that we consider our capacity to feel for and help others, a moral obligation.

Equality is everyone’s business. That’s why I want to encourage you to get involved, and I want to take that journey with you. I’m looking for passionate people to write blogs affiliated with Outspoken Ally, called “OA Blogs.” Here’s how it works: You email me, expressing your interest (josh_osborne@icloud.com). I respond with a list of only 6 guidelines for OA Blog writers, and ask you for a short piece as an example of how you would write. Then, we set you up with a blog, and I put up a link and description of that blog on a soon-to-be-created ‘OA Blogs’ page on this site. There will be no deadlines, and I only ask that you keep within the 6 simple guidelines that I send you. In addition, it doesn’t matter where you live. You can blog from anywhere in the world!

As a part of the Outspoken Ally effort, these OA Blogs are intended to help those looking for strength and encouragement, and to educate those looking to be informed. Here are the topics I need bloggers to write about:

: Living Trans
: LGBTQ+ Dating (possibly a forum?)
: Living the Patriarchy: A Woman’s Experience
: Growing up gay/lesbian in the evangelical community (also a possible forum?)
: The struggles and triumphs of a gay/lesbian/queer person today
: LGBTQ+ issues in pro sports
: Misogyny in pro sports

Those are the OA Blog topics I’m looking for, and I am also open to suggestions if you have another idea! Let me know: josh_osborne@icloud.com.

I should give recognition to the absence of racial topics in the list above. The reason for that is that racism is being battled in thousands of ways by just as many qualified people. I simply feel that Outspoken Ally can’t really do much to contribute to that discussion, as it has been going on for so long and has so many passionate and outspoken champions already. That being said, if you have something important to say about it, email me! I’m open to an OA Blog on racial issues, it is, after all, also an important matter of equality!

You may not feel comfortable writing, preferring instead to be a quieter voice in this fight. That’s okay. We all have our own ways of standing up for our fellow human beings. If you do feel comfortable writing, I hope you consider joining Outspoken Ally. Although small as of yet, Outspoken Ally has made a difference. The precious few who have found encouragement and strength in what continues to be written here, matter a great deal to me. Being a voice that means something to them is why I do this, and those numbers will grow as more people are brought into the effort. Remember that, no matter who you are, equality is YOUR business. Equality is Everyone’s Business.

Thoughtful Words From Coretta Scott King

On April 1st, 1998, Coretta Scott King said these thoughtful words: “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood. This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.”

The widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King knew all too well the effects of bigotry, repression, and victimization. Throughout her life, she was an important person in campaigns for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights … Human Rights. Her words quoted above are words that cannot be repeated or stressed enough, and they say something beyond their appearance on the page. What these words say is that there are people in this world who understand not just what equality means, but what equality is.

At a time when nations are split by prejudice and bigotry, we have to understand that equality is a way of life in which all people are afforded the same rights and freedoms. Beyond that, equality requires an acceptance (not tolerance) of diversity and difference. It requires us to throw away our biases and focus on humanity. With those we do not understand, we must engage. With those we fear, we must approach in kindness and humility. With those in power, we must respectively question. The condition for this way of life, and in return the result of it, is understanding. To understand equality is a wonderful thing, but to understand one another is what equality is all about. Coretta Scott King knew and understood this. Until all of humanity follows suit, equality will exist only as an unobtainable ideal … an ideal that sits useless when un-adopted. All we need do is ask ourselves if we are willing to let go of our biases and prioritize the dignity of others over our notions of them.

What Being an Ally Means to Me

When I began researching issues related to the LGBTQ community, I had no intention of getting to this point. I knew that my background in anthropology would be of great benefit in gaining an understanding, but I never imagined that I would speak at a conference about the relationships between Christianity, Homophobia, and Pop Culture. I never thought I would address auditoriums full of students in Middle and High Schools, and the last thing I imagined was that I would eventually have my own company dedicated to the fight for social equality. When I began, I wanted to be a quiet ally. I wanted to understand what homophobia was, where it came from, what the societal effects were/are, how it was covered in the media, what stereotypes were perpetuated by ingrained cultural values and practices, and how did all of this play out for members of the many sub-cultures affected? While in university, I loved doing research. I wanted to research all of this so that I could speak up with knowledge whenever homophobia reared its ugly head in my presence. I quickly realized that, for me, that wasn’t enough.

I have respect for those who speak up when homophobia presents itself. It takes courage for a person working in a discriminatory atmosphere to speak up and go against the ideological grain in their respective environment. For me, however, that just wasn’t going to work. In the first few months of research and writing, I realized that I had the skills and knowledge needed to inspire change on a grand scale. When I read the story of Matthew Shepard, I was moved to tears. When I read about Gwen Araujo, Angie Zapata, and the many more who lost their lives for no reason other than the hatred and fear of difference, I realized that I had to put those skills and that knowledge to use. I am a caucasian, heterosexual male living in North America, and there is absolutely nothing about me that suggests that I deserve better treatment than any other person.

For me, being an ally means fighting for my brothers, sisters, and those who identify in a wonderful plethora of different and deeply personal ways. It means fighting for my fellow human beings. It means understanding the privilege given to me by my sexual orientation and the colour of my skin, and saying “NO. I do not accept the premise that all people are not deserving of that same privilege.” My personal path as an ally means using the academic strengths that I have worked so hard to develop to fight for those who cannot or will not speak out.

The most important thing about being an ally, and I feel this should be the same for all allies, is inspiring change in the cultural dialog. Homophobia, in fact all discrimination, is dependent upon societal paradigms. Paradigms are dependent upon the cultural discussion. The cultural discussion is dependent upon us. When we change our speech and actions to include all people as equals, we begin to change the hearts and minds of those around us. This means avoiding homophobic jokes, no matter how lighthearted they may seem. It means challenging the double standard when people say “I accept gay people,” and then launch into a conversation about how it is inappropriate for Sesame Street to present Ernie and Bert as a romantically involved couple. Humanity is not black and white, it is a kaleidoscope. To allow ourselves to engage in discriminatory language and behaviour, no matter how subtle, is unacceptable. We all love our children. When we expose them to gratuitous violence and oppressive gender roles, yet shield them from love, what message do we send?

An ally is a person who is not a member of a given minority, but who stands in solidarity with them. Being an ally does not necessitate being on the front lines in the fight for equality, but it does necessitate making your support known in whatever way you feel comfortable. Being an ally has become my life’s work, it is my passion … and I am honoured to have been welcomed into this fight by those who share that passion.

We Fight Together, And For That I Thank You

There is a frightening presence in our society, one that is far more destructive and hateful than what most people realize. That presence is the massive number of evangelical churches teaching that homosexuality is an immoral choice, a sin, a perversion, a deviance, a lifestyle, a purveyor of AIDS, and a demonic practice. Spreading these lies from the pulpit are people like California’s Reverend John MacArthur, who speaks with pure hate and backs himself up with false and discredited statistics. I will address all of those in a later post, but for now I wish to address some of the wonderful people who are fighting against this terrible agenda of a perceived scriptural condemnation of their very personhood.

Last weekend I spoke at a conference for LGBTQ teachers, high school students, and allies. The people I met at that conference truly inspired me. My talk was called “Lifting the Veil: Christianity, Homophobia, and Western Cultural Perspective,” and it was very well received.

Current numbers suggest that homophobic Christians are still in the majority in North America, and on the rise in Africa. This is not a good thing, but I have been able to sleep much better after meeting some of the next generation who are going to be fighting for acceptance both beside me and long after I’m gone. At the conference I met LGBTQ and allied youth who have been belittled, bullied, and harassed. I met a person who was thrown out of her church after coming out, and another who couldn’t understand why her church would hate her LGBTQ friends. No matter what their story, all of these young people had one thing in common: A refusal to give up. These were impassioned youth unwilling to lie down and disappear, unwilling to conform because certain religious communities say so. The educators who came were equally inspiring. When I was a child, I never knew any adults who did not condemn¬†homosexuality as all of the horrible things mentioned above. To see educators fighting for equality and acceptance within the school system is something that makes me tear up with happiness. (I will also add that I am beyond encouraged by the number of Christians I have met who do not adhere to traditional teaching, but rather practice love and faith-based acceptance of LGBTQ people)

Throughout my research and observation I have cried, screamed, shouted, laughed, danced, and raged. Of these, I have cried the most. I have cried over the murders of people who were transgender, the murders and suicides of those who were gay, the excommunication of LGBTQ people from churches, the condemnation from my own family for doing this work … and now I have cried with joy because of the wonderful youth, parents, and educators who are passionately holding their heads high and speaking up. To those people reading this who were at the conference, and to all others reading this who may be LGBTQ or allies, I salute you. ¬†Thank you for your passion, thank you for your resilience, thank you for your conviction, and thank you for your love. We fight together, and for that I thank you.

Why Bother?

I have lost count of how many times I have come across this question: “We have world hunger, poverty, little children being abused, war, and terrorism. Why are we wasting our time talking about homosexuality when we have these bigger issues?” There is no doubt that people facing any kind of harm in this world must be protected and advocated for, and there are people who work tirelessly for almost every cause there is. My cause is equality and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. Today, I am going to answer that question.

Some will be reading this unaware that in many places LGBTQ people are currently being hunted down and killed (like animals). Some people do not know that verbal harassment, as a result of societal prejudice, has driven the suicide rate among young LGBTQ people higher than it has ever been. Others are unaware that the LGBTQ community is statistically the most at-risk minority on the continent of North America. Many people do not understand that the daily life that heterosexual people take for granted is not so easy for LGBTQ people, who in many places must be forever aware of their surroundings for fear of attack. While it is true that we have many important and pressing issues facing society, it is not true that the plight of the sexual minority is any less important. Through the casual use of words like “faggot” and “homo,” to heterosexism, to condescending gender roles, western society has become a hostile environment toward people who do not fit within the sexual norm.

I have found that people who come forward with the question of “why bother” are, in every case, uninformed on the issue. This can change, as the wealth of information now available is growing. It’s up to all of us to educate ourselves. It is unacceptable to speak in a world full of information, having never sought that information. It is intellectually lazy to pose a question without having taken the opportunity to seek the answer, before laying bare our ignorance. It is arrogant and simplistic to downplay the plight of one group of people because you deem the plight of another to be more important.

The murders of Matthew Shepard, Gwen Araujo, Brandon Teena, Angie Zapata, and countless others demonstrates the need for knowledge. The numerous attacks carried out by mindless idiots who think that LGBTQ people are dangerous demonstrates this need as well. Most arguments used against homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and other LGBTQ issues, were also used against interracial marriage and the abolition of slavery. Have we learned nothing from that civil rights movement? I’m sure there were people in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s day who felt there were more pressing issues as well.

The point to be made here is that we all have a societal responsibility. By virtue of being social animals, it is up to all of us to work for the common good, the acceptance and betterment of those who are downtrodden. Our species has not survived for so long by harming and killing each other, we have survived in spite of it. Through cooperation and mutual respect, we have built a global society, one that is connected and carries the potential for harmonious coexistence. As long as we hold the view that one group is undeserving because somebody else is suffering also, we miss the point. Where people are at-risk (dying, being killed, being abused, being treated as the “lesser”), there must be somebody to stand up. Why stand up for the LGBTQ community when people are dying in Africa? Because the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, and questioning people are also precious.

Happy National Coming Out Day.