Mixed Messages Can Lead to Violence

Jack Drescher, MD

January 11th, 2010

Uganda\’s government is now considering the passage of antigay laws that would, among other punishments, impose life imprisonment or even the death sentence on those who engage in homosexual behavior.

Equally disturbing, and as reported in Box Turtle Bulletin and now in the mainstream media, was the role played by American evangelical Christians, including members of a so-called ex-gay movement that believes homosexuality can be “cured.”  As noted in a New York Times editorial last week, these Americans were part of a process that initiated this hateful legislation by giving a series of talks in Uganda last March to “thousands of police officers, teachers and politicians in which, according to participants and audio recordings, [they claimed] that gays and lesbians are a threat to Bible-based family values.”

The evangelical Christians who went to Uganda are now saying, somewhat disingenuously, that they had no idea their condemnatory words might lead to such a violent outcome.  What could they have been thinking?

Typically, many antigay activists, while condemning homosexuality, claim they actually love the sinners (gay men and women) but hate their sins (the act of engaging in homosexual behavior).  For example, Focus on the Family for many years sponsored a series of antigay workshops around the country called “Love Won Out” where motivational speakers claimed that homosexuality could be “changed.”

For gay people, whose same sex attractions feel like an essential part of who they are, this is not a loving message. For most gay people, hating “homosexuality” means hating gay people.  Similarly, not all heterosexuals who hear the mixed message of love and condemnation can psychologically separate “homosexuals” from their homosexuality. Violent gay-bashers, for example, often attack people who they believe “look gay” or who may just be walking around a gay neighborhood. This unitary frame of mind appears to have shaped the legislation being considered in Uganda:  Want to stamp out homosexuality?  Stamp out the “homosexuals.”

Is antigay violence an inevitable outgrowth of moral condemnations of homosexuality?  Not always.  In the wake of a growing international outcry, many American evangelicals who oppose gay civil rights in this country are now condemning the Ugandan legislation\’s harshest measures.

However, one lesson “traditional values” advocates might take from this experience is that claims of “loving” gay people while condemning their homosexuality can lead to the kind of violent responses being contemplated in Uganda.  Do the preachers of a mixed message of love and hate bear responsibility for the hateful acts that may ensue?  Now that they have seen some of the consequences of such messaging, they do from now on.

The author, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, is Emeritus Editor of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health.


January 11th, 2010

The mentality that you can love the person, hate their sexuality is so destructive to gay people, especially if you’re young. I’ve never met anyone who can so easily separate themselves from their sexuality that they don’t take insults or condemnation of their “lifestyle” personally. I think that these antigay activists need to understand that before any progressive dialogue happens. Saying “no offense” before you tell someone you hate them doesn’t negate the damage.

I really believe that for society to prosper, it’s citizens need to feel invested and part of their community. By creating such a divide, it tells people that they can only be included conditionally and doesn’t give them a reason to strive for improvements. Why do the work if you can’t enjoy the rewards? I’m still not sure how people don’t understand this.


January 11th, 2010

“However, one lesson “traditional values” advocates might take from this experience is that claims of “loving” gay people while condemning their homosexuality can lead to the kind of violent responses being contemplated in Uganda.”

They don’t need to learn that lesson. They already know perfectly well that they can incite violence while still pretending to just be trying to ‘save souls’. It’s the entire reason they went to Africa.


January 11th, 2010

“Is antigay violence an inevitable outgrowth of moral condemnations of homosexuality? Not always.”
Perhaps not, but those moral condemnations provide nothing but justification for people who are looking for an excuse to commit violence, while serving no constructive purpose.

“In the wake of a growing international outcry, many American evangelicals who oppose gay civil rights in this country are now condemning the Ugandan legislation’s harshest measures.”
This does not impress me. Not one of those “many American Evangelicals” spoke up until he was publicly badgered into saying something, and most of them are still solidly behind the bill’s other prohibitions (which can hardly be described as benevolent).

Priya Lynn

January 11th, 2010

Martin said “but those moral condemnations provide nothing but justification for people who are looking for an excuse to commit violence”.

I agree, once you’ve labelled someone a wrongdoer you have little justification to deny their being punished.


January 11th, 2010

Let me expand a bit on what I said before.

I would listen more charitably to the voices of moral condemnation if, and only if, they were as adamant in their assertion that their understanding of morality applies ONLY to their congregations as they are in their assertion that gay people simply cannot meet that standard of morality.

That is, I might not be as angered (although I would probably be saddened) if the message were explicitly stated as, “We don’t believe that a properly observant Catholic (Baptist, Orthodox Jew, Shi’ite Muslim, whatever) can engage in homosexual acts. However, we don’t concern ourselves with people who don’t claim to be observant Catholics (or whatever).”

Unfortunately, the message is inevitably delivered in conjunction with assertions about the speaker’s ownership of the One True Faith (TM), and it’s just as inevitably coupled with a demand that everyone – not just members of the One True Faith (TM) – comply.

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