Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is Tennessee Really That Bad?

Tennessee has been getting a bad rap lately. From the passage of anti-gay legislation in the last session of the state legislature, to the current issue regarding Gay-Straight alliances in East Tennessee schools, or anti-gay assault in West Tennessee, national (and international) communities have lambasted the state as a haven for bigots and religious extremists.

Though this perception of Tennessee may in fact be true; it gives us a very one sided perception of a state that has so much going for it. Though extremists may run the state, and though there are many people who harbor anti-gay views, Tennessee is, in fact, one of the most progressive of the Southern States. To paint a picture of Tennessee as a place where only those with hate in their hearts live, is to paint those equality minded residents with a brush that does not do them justice at all.

Within this state are individuals who work day and night to advance the interests of equality and equal protections for gays and lesbians. It was through these individuals efforts that the Metro Council of Nashville/Davidson county enacted its anti-discrimination provision (which was overturned by the state legislature). It was through the efforts of dedicated allies in the fight for equality that the issue of Sequoyah High School's drive to ratify a gay-straight alliance has gained national press. And it is through the outspokenness of individuals such as Jerry Pittman Jr. and Dustin Lee that we can address head on the issue of hate-crimes in this state. These past few years we have seen a profound shift in how we are dealing with anti-gay bigotry, for instead of staying in our closets, we will not take the degredation of our community sitting down. Instead we will stand and fight! Tennessee is getting a bad rap, not because anything "new" is happening, but instead because we are actually doing something about what is going on, we are fighting against the forces of bigotry and hate. And, as everyone well knows, when the fight happens, the push-back is that much stronger.

This coming weekend, the City of Memphis and the Mid-South region will be celebrating its annual Mid-South Pride. In the city which is known for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  and encapsulates the reality of the civil rights struggle firsthand, LGBT people will cry out for their civil rights to be recognized. Only blocks from the National Civil Rights museum, we will celebrate our community, and the impacts that we have made in this, and every, Mid-South city. In recognition of our struggle for societal acceptance, Memphis mayor A.C. Wharton issued the a statement commemorating our celebration, a snippet of which follows,
"Mid-South Pride Festival and Parade is an annual, multicultural and educational event in Memphis that highlights the continued need for better understanding, respect, fairness, justice and equality for all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, in the crusade to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices"
Though Tennessee may treat its LGBT citizens with condemnation and hate, it is not hopeless. Change does not come easy, but even if it did, change that comes with sacrifice is that much sweeter. Let us rejoice that we are seeing change happen each and every day in this great state.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Thoughts On John Smid's Revelation That He Is A Homosexual

On his blog, former reparative therapy organization Love In Action director John Smid, has written a startling piece detailing his change of heart in regards to the effectiveness of reparative therapy. Though Smid has issued formal and public apologies to many that he has harmed through his work (myself included), this is the first time that he has made some of the statements that he made in his post. Writing to an unidentified reader, Smid dissects the reality of the ex-gay movement, giving the victims of his ex-gay theology and practice much needed closure,  yet one that can have serious and negative repercussions to the LGBT community and our goal of full legal and social equality. 

In his post, Smid makes some startling claims, one of the most preeminent being when he discussed "changing" from homosexuality to heterosexuality, 
 Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual. I have met some women who claim that is the case but then again, male sexuality and female sexuality are vastly biologically different so this would not be a fair comparison.
This was not the only shocking thing that was stated by Smid, for, further into his writing, he states bluntly that "I am homosexual". For one of the former major leaders of the ex-gay movement to say this is quite astounding, and shows a man who not only has thought through his sexuality, but one that is willing to deal with the consequences of his new-found comfort with his sexual orientation. 

Though I am glad that Smid has stated that he has never actually met a man who has experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual and has come out as a homosexual, the rest of his writing gives me a bit of pause. Maybe this is because I myself was subjected to this mans program for eight months, and as such, have trust issues in regards to statements that he makes. Though I have formally and internally accepted the apology that he has given me, I still approach his thoughts with a grain of salt.

The main danger that I see in Smid's writing, and one that I think has a very large potential to harm our movement as a whole, is this notion that he as a homosexual, is having a successful marriage with a heterosexual woman. Though I am not in the position to judge his relationship with his wife, he also make the statement that, 
I have met men who find their transformation to include marriage to a woman and having a family and it is something for them that is a wonderful life experience.  I’ve met some who find their transformation to include satisfaction in living a single life in Christ and His calling.  But, I’ve also met some who experience transformation from sexual promiscuity to  a faithful gay relationship that is truly, in their experience,  a great blessing to their relationship with Christ. Oh, I understand the controversy in all of this.
Why is this statement, as well as Smid's acknowledgement of his homosexuality and living in a heterosexual marriage, important? It is important because Smid, though most likely not realizing it, has given fuel to the fire of religious organizations such as the National Organization for Marriage, the American Family Association, and the Family Research Council in their quest to demonize and undermine any advances in equality for the LGBT community. 

Years ago, one of the main critiques of the marriage equality movement by those who were attempting to "preserve traditional marriage" was that LGBT made the "choice" to be gay, and that if we wanted to, we could choose to be heterosexual. This is what drove organizations such as Exodus and Love In Action to even exist. Though there is still a large following of that position (see the recent controversy with Herman Cain) many in the Religious Right have gotten wise to the science that backs up the immutablity of sexual orientation. Now, instead of going against the scientific community by claiming that our orientation is changeable, they state that our actions are changeable...and that if we wanted to, we could "act" heterosexual and marry someone of the opposite gender. Why, they ask, change such a fundamental institution such as marriage, for people who are "choosing" to have homosexual sex or be in a homosexual relationship? 

Smid, in his discussion on his blog, presents us with a claim that bolsters this new "action" definition of change. In coming out as a homosexual who is successfully married to a heterosexual woman, as well as stating that he knows of many homosexual men who are also in heterosexual relationships with women, Smid is playing into the hands of our enemies. He is, albeit unintentionally, giving credence to their idea that we are seeking "special rights" because if we really wanted to, we could act as heterosexuals. 

Though his overall message is one of respecting the personal choices of individuals, being non-judgmental, that gay people can be Christians, and accepting the reality that he must be open to changing his views and not be trapped in the fundamentalist bubble, his story goes farther than that. Many within the LGBT community (especially the Memphis community) have the right to celebrate this chapter in the tragic novel of the Love In Action program, but we must also remember what this post is actually saying. Instead of bolstering our claim that our orientation is immutable, thus we are being discriminated against, Smid is opening the door for those on the Right to say that we have brought this discrimination upon ourselves for "choosing" a homosexual partner. 

Maybe I am cynical but I would only be comfortable with Smid's recent post (and the subsequent consequence of it that I have shared), if he came out unequivocally on the side of LGBT equality; stating that to deny same-sex couples the benefits of marriage and other legal protections is not only legally wrong, but that is violates every standard of Scripture. Though organizations within the Religious Right may then twist Smid's words regarding homosexual's marrying heterosexuals, it would then be clear where Smid stands on the matter. 

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