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.

Terrorism

The subject of terrorism has a stranglehold on western society. Every day we watch and read about groups like ISIS wreaking havoc with horrifying acts of torture, degradation, and murder; while using religion as their justifying crutch. We see it with governmental powers as well; states that occupy and attack what doesn’t belong to them, citing their “God-given right.” What we fail to recognize in the midst of all this is the terrorism happening right here at home. Evangelical churches and organizations that campaign against the rights of others seek the same ends through different means. While innocent villagers, farmers, and captives are the victims of terrorism abroad, innocent LGBTQ+ people are the victims of terrorism right here within our own borders. What’s more, those same organizations send money and support to victimize the sexual and gender minorities in other countries as well. Hiding behind religious freedom, we see through ISIS … but hiding behind that same freedom, terrorism moves along unfettered in the west.

Terrorism – The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

Violence – Behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something.   1.1 Strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force: ‘the violence of her own feelings.’

Intimidation – The act of frightening or threatening somebody so that they will do what you want.  (oxforddictionaries.com)

Groups like the American Family Association, Focus On The Family, and the thousands of anti-equality churches are, by definition, terrorist organizations; yet nobody is talking about it. We talk about bigotry and ignorance, about close-mindedness, and the Southern Poverty Law Center has labelled many of those organizations as “Hate Groups,” but we tiptoe around calling them what they really are. They use strength of emotion to drive their hate, and hide behind political protection of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” They hold morality hostage and drive their followers to do heinous things against LGBTQ+ people. They give money to anti-gay bills in other countries. They sign petitions to stop positive educational initiatives. They protest in front of court houses to deny equal rights. They are bent on committing cultural genocide against those whose views and values differ from their own. They are so much worse than mere hate groups. Churches and organizations that actively campaign against social equality epitomize the very definition of terrorism.

Why aren’t we talking about this? Because we are afraid to. We have bought into two mantras: “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” and “we have to respect the beliefs of others.” The problem is that an opinion that’s inherently harmful to both those it’s directed at and those who hold it, must not go unaddressed – and beliefs are only worthy of respect if they stand for the good of humanity. Respecting beliefs because they are beliefs puts us in serious moral trouble, when it comes to the belief that a gay man deserves eternity in a lake of fire just for living honestly. We face an even greater moral dilemma when it comes to the terrorism we are all too familiar with. I know many people who say “we have to respect the beliefs of others,” but not one of them respects Sharia Law. What about the ISIS militants who believe it’s morally correct to throw gay men from rooftops? What about the Ugandan lawmakers who believe God wants them to throw a man in jail for 10 years just for being gay … and what about your neighbour who feels that God has called him/her to donate money to an organization that supports the Ugandan government in that decision? My guess is that you don’t respect the beliefs of the Ugandan lawmakers, but you will make excuses for your friend. The trouble is that while one seeks to commit the atrocity, the other seeks to fund it. They seek the same ends through different means. Their beliefs are exactly identical, and you face a moral conundrum when you show respect for an immoral belief; regardless of who holds it.

If you disagree or are uncomfortable with equating home-grown anti-equality groups with ISIS, I understand. We have been conditioned to see terrorists as an evil ‘other.’ We kill for freedom, they kill to oppress. What we need to do is ask ourselves ‘what’s the difference?’ What’s the difference between ISIS throwing gay men from rooftops and a church petitioning to stop equality education in our schools? Sure, one is extremely physically violent, but they are both acts of terrorism. They both breed fear and a reluctance to speak out. They both keep LGBTQ+ youth in the closet, and in doing so, cause suicide. They both encourage oppression. They both foster a culture in which difference is met with animosity. They both aim to impose their own social and legal standard based on religious belief and misinformation. Look back up to the definitions of terrorism, violence, and intimidation. Everything fits.

We have to stop handling hate with kid gloves. I know the word “terrorist” conjures a very specific image for us, but we have to realize that terrorism takes many forms. Terrorism uses violence and intimidation to achieve political and ideological aims. This applies as much to those who wish to impose the Islamic state as it does to those who want to use fear tactics and fund violence in the name of Jesus. What’s the difference between taking an innocent life and creating a culture in which that life is defined as an abomination worthy of God’s wrath?

No more excuses. No-one is entitled to act on the disastrous ‘opinion’ that others deserve to die, and beliefs allowing for that outcome are NOT deserving of respect. The active anti-equality campaigning of evangelical groups and churches IS terrorism. If you were forced to look at the brutalized bodies, the carnage of mass beatings and shootings, the horror in the faces of the victims before they die, the pain in the lives of those who can’t come out, the struggle of those who go well into adulthood before accepting who they are … you would see that clearly. We all would. If you had to live it … alone and afraid of what would happen if your secret was found out … you would see it clearly. We all would. Terrorism keeps its victims in line out of fear. We easily identify it elsewhere, so again ask yourself “what’s the difference?”

We owe it to those we’ve lost to call this what it is. It’s terrorism. To call it by any other name is not good enough.

 

ISIS Is OUR Monster

Once I again, I have had to read the heartbreaking story of ISIS militants throwing a gay man off the roof of a building and then stoning him to death. It seems as though I am confronted with the sickening stories of what these base animal dirtbags have done on a daily basis. Killing hostages in horrifying ways and filming it, attacking via strategically placed militants in foreign countries, taking control of land, oil, and other resources that provide a steady stream of income – it’s like something out of a movie. Not only is ISIS organized and wealthy, they are also successfully recruiting from all over the globe, and I’m disturbed by the fact that the discussions around what should be done about this threat are completely missing the mark. We have to understand that ISIS exists because of the military actions taken by western governments, and the solution to dealing with them lies within our capability to act against our status quo. In other words, understanding ISIS and how to eradicate it, requires us to look inward.

Now, Outspoken Ally is NOT a political project. The only reason I am writing about ISIS is because they are a legitimate threat to social cohesion. This is not a terrorist organization isolated to a part of the globe that most of us will never set foot on. They are recruiting in my country. They are believed to have committed murder in my country. ISIS is not exclusive to the Middle East. They are everywhere, and many of us are reluctant to say anything, because you never truly know your neighbour (for those of us who would otherwise speak up, anyway). This hesitation is understandable. We are, after all, talking about a group that has demonstrated a willingness and ability to enact devastating violence toward those who speak out against them. I am sick and tired of this, however. I’m sick of their hatred, their tactics, their savagery. I’m sick of their ignorance, their hypocrisy, and their manipulation. We are talking about a group of militants led by a man who was disowned by Osama Bin Laden, because he was too violent. We are talking about a group that makes headlines for throwing gay men from rooftops, burning people alive, and a myriad of other horrible brands of torture and killing.

Our Part
Going to Iraq was a huge mistake. We may have gone with the best of intentions, but when western militaries stepped onto Iraqi soil, people took up arms to defend their land against what was perceived as an invasion. In the Middle East region, The Taliban, Al Qaeda, and yes, ISIS, were all formed in response to western military action. There is just no way around the fact that we created this monster … but … the monster is out of control, and it has to be stopped. Now hear me out, because the solution I’m about to propose is going to be one of a humanitarian nature, rather than military might.

ISIS has crossed borders into Syria, gaining control of land and resources as they go. Although they control through fear, they also employ tactics long understood by other powerful criminals – cartel leaders like the infamous Pablo Escobar, for example. The tactic is simple: provide the locals with a better quality of life – give them better homes, food, and creature comforts – and you can do whatever you want, secure in the knowledge that nobody would dare blow the whistle. In addition, you can hide important leaders and figures within your organization among them. People are terrified of ISIS, yes, but people will also protect their meal ticket. What the west has always failed to do is instil loyalty in the people of the countries they enter into. When we leave, the oppressive terror regimes remain. Give a starving person food, and their loyalty is to you; not to those who bombed the hell out of their land, built a school, said “you’re welcome,” and called it a day. It’s for this reason that we have to look at ourselves and realize that we have the capacity to take that loyalty away from ISIS. We can turn the people against them, we just have to get past our desire to retaliate to violence with violence. The only violent act I would condone in this case is to cut the head off the snake … but we can’t expect those harbouring the leader to give him up, not when he is giving them food, shelter, etc. No, we have to be better than them. We have to provide more, and make it last. We have to protect them. We created this problem with violence. ISIS rose to power as a response to our violence. It will take decades, but I believe we can fix this by correcting our violence with compassion and generosity. Without an enemy to fight, ISIS will lose purpose.

“Wait a second. Have you gone mad?!”
So at this point, a lot of you are shaking your heads and saying “no, no, no! What about religion? ISIS is a militant Islamic group, have you gone mad?! They are bent on purification, cleansing the world, imposing the Islamic state, in accordance with their religious beliefs! Even if we do what you say, they will keep striving toward their religious agenda!” This is a valid point. ISIS is a militant Islamic group, and they do claim to be doing all of this in the name of Allah. We created the situation under which they rose up, but the west is in no way responsible for their religious extremism. The religious component is a concern, it is after all responsible for the ideology that makes these assholes capture, torture, and throw gay men from tall buildings in the first place. The problem of ISIS, though, is much too big at this point. You see, we fight Christian fundamentalism because it’s worth fighting. Christianity is responsible for countless atrocities, but the ideology is still at the surface, it’s accessible and can be approached. Islamic extremism is a different animal. Islamic extremism is excessively violent, excessively political, and excessively ideological. In the case of ISIS, the tactics they use to enforce their political and ideological values have to be taken down first. The underlying belief is secondary to the reality that people are being killed very rapidly. Every day, week, month … more and more people … countless people.

We have to wake up
I’m not advocating for us to send peacekeepers in unprotected, that would be naive and just plain stupid. We need military support for this to work, but ISIS is very powerful on the ground, and airstrikes pose too great a threat to civilian life. By trusting our gut instinct (go in and thrash the hell out of them), we are needlessly losing lives; both our military and their civilians. It’s the wrong approach, but we’ve been creating and fighting enemies this way for so long that we’re convinced it’s the right way. If we could just step back and look, we might be able to see what we’ve been doing: every time we use violence against another nation, we lose. Parents lose their children, we lose our brothers and sisters. We lose human lives, and for what? To prove a point? To show we’re stronger? To prove, in some way, that we’re right? Nothing changes. We dealt with the Nazis, and I’m glad we did, but we did nothing to help abolish hate. We seized overseas oilfields, but we still face an impending fuel shortage. We threaten to sanction Russia, but we have no strategy for attacking fascism. These are real problems where we need both military support and practical solutions, but what do we do instead? We throw more and more money at developing weapons, hundreds of millions of dollars to develop new and innovative machines designed to carry out one job – KILL. We have to wake up. If you create a problem by using violence, the answer to fixing it is likely NOT more violence.

ISIS is OUR monster, the direct consequence of sending our military in to meddle in the affairs of others. We have to fix this problem we created, and the way to do that is to take away the support they depend on for survival. Gain the trust and loyalty of those who harbour them, turn their associates against them so there’s nobody left to buy their oil, starve them out. By using violence against them, we’re just angering more people already feeling disenfranchised, and growing their numbers. Violence is counterproductive to unity. Violence is counterproductive to the end goal of equality. Violence is not going to solve the ISIS problem. We created it, we can control it. We just have to be smart about it. Put the gun down. Let’s look inward and do this one right.

Too ideological? Perhaps … but I believe it.