The Problem Of Lukewarm
April 15th, 2013
Dan Savage’s New York Times book review on Sunday takes Jeff Chu to task for his new book, Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. Chu was raised Southern Baptist, became an accomplished journalist, married his husband (his mother refused to attend the wedding and cries herself to sleep because her gay son is “lost”), and still admits, “There are still moments when I wonder whether my homosexuality is my ticket to hell.” Chu spent a year traveling across America, meeting with preachers and ministers across the religious spectrum, and with gays and lesbians who struggle to reconcile their faiths with their sexualities. As Chu recounts those stories, Savage accuses him of going soft on the more hateful elements of Christianity while reserving his “sneering takedowns” for other Christians who embrace people in all of their sexualities:
There were moments when I wanted to throw this book across the room. In fact, there were moments when I actually did throw it across the room. Chu’s nuanced and surprisingly sympathetic portrait of Westboro Baptist Church — which rose to prominence protesting the funeral of Matthew Shepard, with members waving signs that read “God Hates Fags” and “Fag Matt in Hell” — sits in sharp contrast with Chu’s sneering takedown of Metropolitan Community Church, a gay Christian denomination founded in Los Angeles in 1968. While Chu succeeds in humanizing the members of Westboro Baptist (a minor miracle), he dehumanizes the members of M.C.C. He complains bitterly about an older man at an M.C.C. service who winked at him; another hugged him a moment or two longer than necessary. If encountering a couple of creeps in the pews means an entire church can be dismissed, what do we do with the Roman Catholic Church, where ordained creeps have molested countless children?
Chu goes easy on Exodus International, the largest “ex-gay” ministry in the country, despite the harm the group does to vulnerable gays and lesbians, particularly gay children. He gives an approving nod to the sneakily homophobic Marin Foundation, an evangelical group that shows up at gay pride parades holding signs that say, “We’re sorry!” and offering hugs to paradegoers who have been harmed by religion. But Andrew Marin, the group’s founder and public face, has urged his followers to target Christian teenagers struggling with “same-sex attraction” because they’re easier to talk out of being gay. Marin has refused to say that gay sex isn’t a sin, and he seems to believe that gay people can change their sexual orientation. The more you learn about the Marin Foundation, the more it looks like Westboro Baptist in the drag of false contrition: God hates you — now with hugs! Chu blasts M.C.C., but Marin gets a pass.
It’s that second paragraph that drew a very quick response — not from Chu but from Marin. Marin’s work has focused on building bridges between the LGBT community and conservative Christians. But as a self-described bridge-builder, Marin has pointedly refused to answer some rather critical yet simple questions about his beliefs: Is homosexuality a sin? Is being gay a choice? Can gay people change? Should gay people change? His refusal to address those questions has naturally raised a lot of red flags among many in the gay community, your’s truly included. After all, these are some pretty fundamental questions which are not difficult to answer for most of us. But Marin argues that if he were to answer these “yes/no questions,” it would destroy his ability to remain in that middle space, which he calls “living in the tension” between full LGBT acceptance and condemnation. Marin’s response to Savage’s remarks is, characteristically, quite charitable before Marin contrasts his methods to Savages’s:
Dan and I have two completely different philosophical approaches to social change; both with the same goal–-that everyone, regardless of orientation, gender, race, color, creed or religious affiliation (or not), will be able to live safe, loved, dignified and cherished lives. I feel the crossroad lies in the view of what is deemed as an “acceptable medium of engagement.” This is not a new debate throughout the world’s history. Two of the more well known examples:
Martin Luther King Jr. believed that the only way for sustainable, structural societal change to happen was to build bridges between the oppressive white folks and his African-American community. And although later in life Malcolm X’s framework for social change began to align more with MLK, the majority of his public rhetoric was was strongly advocating for the necessity of African-American’s to overthrow the oppressive white “devil” and implement the same system of oppression upon whites as they had done to his people for centuries.
Nelson Mandela believed that the only way for sustainable, structural societal change to happen was to build bridges between the oppressive white Afrikaners and his black African community. His wife, Winnie, is famously noted for completely disagreeing with him. And during the intense years of apartheid, she strongly advocated for an overthrown white Afrikaner government where black Africans could then implement the same system of oppression whites had done to her people for centuries.
In neither of these examples am I suggesting a comparison between the American Civil Rights movement, the South African Apartheid and the modern LGBT equality struggle. I am rather viewing these examples through a lens of cultural engagement. I am also not saying that I am MLK or Mandela, and that Savage is Malcolm X or Mandela’s wife. But what I am saying is that for centuries culture wars and societal disconnects are perpetuated by these same two ideologies — both of which have their movement’s leaders and followers passionately believing their medium of engagement as the best way forward, thus causing many public disagreements. [Emphases in the original
Marin denies that he’s comparing himself to MLK or Mandela, or Savage to X or Winnie, and I’ll take him at his word. I’ll also set aside his completely misguided reading of the gangster thug Winnie Mandela, who cheered vigilante “necklacing” and who has for decades been implicated in the murder of two young activists in her home. But Marin also gets it very wrong when he describes King as a bridge-builder between “oppressive white folks” and African-Americans. If King had followed Marin’s example of bridge-building in 1963, we would have expected him to express no opinion about segregation, to say that both sides have valid points about voting rights, and to argue that while the kind of change African-Americans were seeking might be inevitable, the time might not be right.
But of course, King said none of that. He had some very strong opinions about all of those things and he possessed no qualms about expressing them. And he expressed them most pointedly in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, which he wrote exactly fifty years ago this week. The entire letter is worth a read, but I want to direct your attention to the section where King addresses white moderates — who saw themselves as “bridge-builders” of the day, and their reluctance to engage in the most fundamental questions:
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
These aren’t the words of an on-the-one-hand-this-on-the-other-hand-that bridge-building guru who lets everyone be right and refuses to allow anyone to called out on their bigotry and who, above all, just wants everyone to get along. King was not a bridge builder, certain not as Marin defines it. King was a fighter, fighting to take that bridge so he could walk to the other side to the land of freedom.
And I think it’s instructive that King speaks of the tension between the fight for civil rights and the reactionary forces aligned against it, much as Marin speaks of “living in the tension” and has even named his blog for it. But King described that tension as being a “necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace… to a substantive and positive peace,” and he directs his frustration for white moderates who would suggest that the tension is an acceptable status quo, for now. Marin seeks our appreciation for committing to live in that tension, perhaps forever, rather than hastening its transition to positive peace.
I appreciate that Marin’s goal, which he expressed so eloquently, is for everyone, LGBT or otherwise, “to live safe, loved, dignified and cherished lives.” I do believe his sincerity when he says that he loves, without question and qualifications, his many gay friends — of which he really does have many who are willing to make themselves known (quite unlike so many others anti-gay folks who claim to have “many gay friends,” who wind up remaining invisible). Apologizing to gay people on behalf of others who aren’t apologizing, as Marin has at Chicago’s Gay Pride parade, is a nice gesture despite its obvious limitations. If Marin can challenge conservative Christians to rethink their approach to gay people, whatever their motives may be, then that is, as they say, a step in the right direction. And if Marin can provide a non-condemning and authentically Evangelical experience for LGBT people, whatever the depth of that acceptance may be, well that, too, is better than the way things were before.
And who can argue that building bridges between the LGBT community and conservative Christians is not a laudable task? I couldn’t, but that didn’t keep me from feeling uncomfortable and distrustful about the whole endeavor. And until now, I’ve been unable to articulate why I felt so distrustful.
But thanks to Marin’s invoking the examples of MLK, now I can. And it’s the problem I have with a lot of people who try to build bridges. Too often, the bridge is treated as a destination when it’s really just a way of going from one side to another. But I think Marin doesn’t just see his bridge as a destination, but he confuses himself, the bridge builder, for the bridge itself. A bridge is an inanimate, unthinking thing, with no values, no conscience, no answers, no sense of purpose except one: to go from one side to another. And so Marin, like a well-built bridge, thinks that it is his duty to remains as mute as that bridge. Bridges are useful conveyances, and even though their utility is limited, I use them whenever I can. But there are two things we must remember about bridges. First, after we cross them, we leave them behind. And second, the only bridge we remember from the Civil Rights era is the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.
Marin’s example shows us that the problem isn’t a lack of bridges. Bridges are metaphors and we aren’t lacking in metaphors. What we are lacking is clear and honest communication, based on mutual respect (which doesn’t have to include mutual acceptance) and aimed toward the goal of mutual understanding (which doesn’t have to include mutual approval. Sorry, but there are some things I just won’t approve, but I can understand them much better than I do now.). This is the kind of communication which begins with some very hard but honest answers to very important yes/no questions. And by the way, just because the questions are in a yes/no form doesn’t mean the answers have to be. They can be “maybe,” “it depends,” or even “I don’t know,” as long as the answers are honest. But refusing to answer altogether comes across as sneaky and manipulative, as though that person was following a strategy to achieve a goal he won’t reveal. We’ve seen this pattern too many times before to dismiss it just because Marin wants us to.
I disagree with Savage when he says Marin is “sneakily homophobic,” only because I don’t believe that is Marin’s intent. And I don’t believe the Marin Foundation is “Westboro Baptist in the drag of false contrition,” although I get where Savage is coming from. If Marin believes that homosexuality is a sin and sinners go to hell — two questions Marin hasn’t answered — then the only difference between him and Westboro is that Westboro built their own bridge directly linking the starting point of the first premise with the destination of the second. I don’t believe that Marin believes those things, but only because Marin himself is willing to allow me to believe anything about him, including something that may not by true. And this conversation is far too important to be misled by falsely-held assumptions.
And this brings me to the real problem I have with Marin. He is much too lukewarm to be praised or condemned, “neither hot nor cold.” Instead, we see him giving refuge to those who “love the sinner/hate the sin,” which, when you think of it, is just another way of telling people where “their place” is. The “sin of Sodom” and the “curse of Ham” are only four chapters apart in Genesis, and millions have suffered because people spent centuries weaponizing those two chapters. And they were helped along, sometimes unwittingly but sometimes tacitly, by others who were neither hot nor cold. I wish he were one or the other, because then I could at least know who I’m talking to. If he is on the side of the angels, then he’s in danger of getting on the Angel of Revelation’s bad side, who also didn’t like lukewarmedness: “I will spit you out,” that angel told the Church of Laodicea, as one would spit out lukewarm coffee. King didn’t think much of those lukewarm whites of his day either: “Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection,” he wrote from his jail cell. And so they were lost to history, spat out, as it were, as will be their modern-day counterparts.
Dan Savage Discusses Impact of Merle Miller’s 1972 “What It Means To Be A Homosexual”
January 17th, 2013
As featured in today’s Daily Agenda, it was forty-two years ago today when Merle Miller’s landmark essay, “What It Means To Be Homosexual,” appeared in The New York Times Magazine. In other venues, Dan Savage has describe it as a kind of an “It Gets Better” video of its day. The piece generated some five thousand letters to The Times — nearly two thousand in the first six weeks alone — nearly all of them from gay people. Later that year, it was published again in book form as On Being Different. Penguin Classics re-issued it again last year (available in paperback and on Kindle) with a foreword by Dan Savage and afterword by Charles Kaiser. The clip below, which was posted today, features Savage talking about the importance of “What It Means To Be Homosexual” then and now.
Dan Savage and Brian Brown’s Dinner Conversation
August 22nd, 2012
The video you’ve been waiting for has been posted online
Brian Brown Accepts
May 29th, 2012
From the NOM Blog:
Dan — I accept and will look forward to debating you at your dining room table. As I said in my challenge to you, anytime, any place.
While I appreciate the invitation that you have extended to my wife, she will not be able to attend. She is a full-time mom with seven beautiful children and an eighth on the way.
Dan Savage invited National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown to a debate at Dan Savage’s dining table, with the New York Times’s Mark Oppenheimer serving as moderator. The original invitation included having Brown’s wife and Dan’s husband also at the table. A date and time will be announced later, giving Savage time to redecorate his living room and dining room for the occasion.
Dan Savage Proposes Venue for His Debate with NOM’s Brian Brown
May 23rd, 2012
Earlier this month, the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown, in a fundraising letter and blog post, challenged Dan Savage to a debate:
Let me lay down a public challenge to Dan Savage right here and now: You want to savage the Bible? Christian morality? Traditional marriage? Pope Benedict? I’m here, you name the time and the place and let’s see what a big man you are in a debate with someone who can talk back. It’s easy to make high-school girls cry by picking on them. Let’s pick on someone our own size!
Where? My dining room table. Place? Seattle, Washington. Here’s the deal. We can fill a room with my screaming partisans and your screaming partisans and we’ll both play to our respective peanut galleries and I think both of us have a little bit of grandstander in our souls and we will work that and I think that will create more heat than light.
And so what I’d like to do is challenge you to come to my house for dinner. Bring the wife. My husband will be there. and I will hire a video crew and we will videotape sort of an after dinner debate. The trick here is you have to acknowledge my humanity by accepting my hospitality and I have to acknowledge yours by extending my hospitality to you. And I’m willing to do that.
The New York Times’s Mark Oppenheimer will moderate the debate. amd the unedited video tape will be posted online. Brian Brown has yet to accept the response to his original anytime/anyplace challenge.
Meanwhile on Twitter…
May 8th, 2012
It looks like someone want’s Dan Savage to pay attention to him.
Well, This Will Be Fun
May 4th, 2012
Dan Savage Was (Mostly) Right
May 2nd, 2012
Let’s skip the preliminaries and jump straight to the heart of the controversy, shall we? Dr. John Corvino, author and philosophy professor at Wayne State University, made a similar argument five years ago — no, strike that — ten years ago, about Leviticus 25:44-46:
Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
and Ephesians 6:5-9:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Ten years ago, Corvino addressed those passages:
Faced with such morally troubling passages, the reader has one of three options:
(A) Deny that the passages really endorse slavery. But this seems rather difficult to do, especially given the references to “property” in the first quotation, which was allegedly spoken by God himself.
(B) Maintain that the Bible contains no error and concede that slavery may be morally acceptable. Not surprisingly, few believers take this approach (though the case was quite different 150 years ago, when slave-owning Christians often cited these passages). This option ought forcefully to be rejected. Surely one should have more confidence in the wrongness of slavery than in the inerrancy of the quoted text. Which leaves us with
(C) Acknowledge that the Bible contains some error. To admit this is not to claim that God makes mistakes. Perhaps humans have erred in interpreting God’s will: after all, one should not confuse complete faith in God with complete faith in human ability to discern God’s voice.
Corvino warned that if historical context isn’t used to aid in terpreting the Bible, using “Biblical passages to condemn contemporary homosexuality looks much like using them to support nineteenth-century American slavery.” Five years ago, he returned to context again, but said:
I’m not convinced that any amount of context is going to help the slavery passages. I think when we look to those passages, we have to admit that the prejudices and limitations of the Biblical authors crept into the text. And if they did that with respect to slavery, it could happen with respect with homosexuality.
Which brings us to the latest outrage over columnist Dan Savage, who said this at convention of high school journalists two weeks ago:
The Bible. We’ll just talk about the Bible for a second. People often point out that they can’t help it, they can’t help with the anti-gay bullying because it says right there in Leviticus, it says right there in Timothy, it says right there in Romans that being gay is wrong.
We can learn to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about gay people, the same way (applause and cheers)… the same way we have learned to ignore the bullshit in the Bible about shellfish, about slavery, about dinner, about farming, about menstruation, about virginity, about masturbation (applause). We ignore bullshit in the Bible about all sorts of things. The Bible is a radically pro-slavery document. Slave owners waved the Bible over their heads during the Civil War and justified it. The shortest book in the New Testament is a letter from Paul to a Christian slave-owner about owning his Christian slaves. And Paul doesn’t say Christians don’t own people. Paul talks about how Christians own people.
We ignore what the Bible says about slavery because the Bible got slavery wrong. Sam Harris in Letter to a Christian Nation points out that if the Bible got the easiest moral question that humanity has ever faced wrong — slavery — what are the odds that the Bible has gotten something as complicated as human sexuality wrong? One hundred percent.
The Bible says that if your daughter is not a virgin on her wedding night, or if a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, she shall be dragged to her father’s doorstep and stoned to death. Calista Gingrich lives. And there is no effort to amend state constitutions to make it legal to stone women to death on their wedding night if they are not virgins. At least not yet. We don’t know where the GOP is going these days.
People are dying because people can’t clear this one last hurdle. They can’t get past this one last thing in the Bible about homosexuality.
One other thing I want to talk about is…. So you can tell the Bible guys in the hall they can come back now because I’m done beating up the Bible (Cheers and applause). It’s funny, as someone who’s on the receiving end of beatings that are justified by the Bible, how pansy-assed some people react to that (Cheers). I apologize if I hurt anyone’s feelings, but I have a right to defend myself and to point out the hypocrisy of people who justify anti-gay bigotry by pointing to the Bible and insisting we must live by the code of Leviticus on this one issue and no other.
Aside from the last paragraph (which I’ll get to in a minute), there is very little different from what Savage said and what Corvino has said through the past decade. The only substantial difference was not a substantive one, that difference being one of tone. Savage used the word “bullshit” – twice! – which is a well-used exclamation that the kids (and more than a few adults) use these days when confronted with utter nonsense, that nonsense, in this particular case, being the Bible’s instructions on purchasing, owning and being slaves, instructions which, if a teacher or leader were to try to impart today, the audience would scream, “bullshit!” At least, so I would imagine.
Where Savage truly did err, of course, was in calling those students who walked out on him “pansy-assed.” And for that, Savage was wrong, and for that he apologized. “My use of ‘pansy-assed’ was insulting, it was name-calling, and it was wrong,” he wrote. “And I apologize for saying it.” As well he should. As the face of the most widely-recognized anti-bullying campaign, Savage’s turning to name-calling was incredibly inappropriate. And to use a name — pansy-assed — with all of the undertones of disgust for effeminacy, well the irony, if you can call it that, is striking.
(Savage also erred factually: the shortest book of the New Testament is the Third Letter of John, which doesn’t have anything to do with slavery. He may have been thinking of Paul’s letter to Ephesians 6:5-9) or his letter to Colossians 3:22-4:1, or, perhaps, of Paul’s shortest book in the New Testament, his letter to Philemon, a slave-owning bishop of Colossae, to whose congregation Paul’s letter to Colossians is addressed. But anyway.)
Savage’s apology was very specific for calling the walkouts “pansy-assed.” But he didn’t apologize for using the word “bullshit” to describe those ideas written in the Bible which, if they would have come from anywhere else, would have elicited cries of “bullshit!” should anyone ever attempt to seriously propose them today in 2012. He only described his choice of that word “regrettable.”
It is regrettable, but only because it gives anti-gay Christians an opening (as if they really needed one) to cry foul over the larger point that Savage was making. And let’s not fall into the error of ignoring that it really is that larger point that they’re upset about, and not the dingle-dropping. He’s used worse words than “bullshit” in other contexts and Brietbart.com didn’t lead with an entire page devoted to it. And that wasn’t the issue for the minority of students at the conference either: if you look at that video above, you’ll see that the walkout started before Savage dropped his first poo.
The walkout started when he said he wanted to talk about the Bible.
And that’s what anti-gay Christians are really upset about. They are happy to talk about the Bible until they’re blue in the face. But when someone like Savage reads the Bible — something that I thought countless self-described Christians were all praying he would do — and describes some of the passages he found in it, then all aitch-ee-double-toothpicks breaks loose.
Which is very surprising. Is pointing out that the Bible got it wrong on slavery really that controversial? It certainly isn’t controversial among the growing numbers of Christians who also believe that the Bible got it wrong on homosexuality. Nor is it controversial among the very many more Christians who are still trying to sort out what they think about the Bible’s take on homosexuality. Nor is it controversial, when it gets right down to it, among those Christians who condemn gay people with the vigor of Paul. Their denominations all denounce slavery as an unmitigated evil and in other strong terms that the Bible’s authors didn’t have the moral foresight to mention. Even the Southern Baptist Convention — whose sole reason for existence is that they broke away from their northern abolitionist counterparts over the validity of these very passages — formally apologized in 1995 for getting it wrong by using the Bible’s defense of slavery as a defense of slavery.
So now we’ve learned some valuable, if conflicting, lessons. It turns out that Savage isn’t allowed to read the Bible after all. Or, if he is, he isn’t allowed describe what the Bible says. Or if he is allowed to do that but only in a way that affirms its complete inerrancy, then that would mean that if he runs across someone describing the proper and righteous way to own slaves, his only logical response would be to call it the Inspired Word of the Unchanging Almighty.
You know what I call that?
Bullshit. And regrettable.
“It Gets Better” Needs Some Muscle Behind It
October 27th, 2011
Canadian comedian and commentator Rick Mercer responds to Jamie Hubley’s suicide:
Dan Savage agrees:
So: yes to that assembly, yes to confronting the kids who abused Jamie Hubley. Since the beginning of the project I’ve called for bullies to be arrested and prosecuted. If it’s a crime for a 16-year-old kid to beat up a little old lady in a shopping mall, it’s a crime for for a 16-year-old kid to beat up queer kid in a high school. Parents whose kids are being assaulted need to go to the police first, school administrators second.
Dan Savage: It Gets Worse For Kids Before It Gets Better
August 17th, 2011
Dan Savage spoke with Salon’s Kerry Lauerman:
One of the things I like about your podcast so much is you do spend a lot of time talking to people outside urban elite areas — you spent a lot of time last year talking about Constance McMillen, for example – where life for gays hasn’t evolved that quickly.
One of the things that was a wake-up call for me last year before the “It Gets Better” campaign — why we launched it, my husband and I — was when I was sort of unaware how bad it was getting out there. You know, in the Greensburg, Indianas, and the Topachakees, Californias, where Constance McMillen was. What I didn’t realize before those suicides opened my eyes, was that as it was getting better in New York or San Francisco or Seattle, it was getting worse out in the sticks, out in mega-church land. Because those of us who are out and urban and fully integrated into our work lives and families, our existence has made it impossible for queer 14-year-olds to fly under the radar in a Greensburg.
When I was a kid, and I was odd, the default assumption was that I was odd, not that I was gay. Now when a kid is odd in a Greensburg, gay or straight, the default assumption is gay. Because my job requires me to be in constant communication with people all over the country who are writing in to “Savage Love,” calling the podcast, I think I’m a little more conscious of what’s going on out there in the boonies — but even I didn’t see that. And that’s a bitter pill for those of us my age to swallow. Us out there leading our lives and being successful have actually kind of made it worse for 14-year-old gay kids in Greensburg, Ind.
Well, made it worse, but that’s part of progress, right?
Absolutely. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t have lived this way, or we shouldn’t have come out. And the people who are most responsible for making it worse are of course anti-gay politicians and anti-gay preachers, and parents, teachers and peers who are persecuting these kids. But we’ve created a kind of hyper-awareness about sexuality and sexual orientation that has let to hyper-scrutiny about those things, in places where people weren’t on the lookout for it before. Everybody’s on the lookout for it now.
I think this exchange highights two important issues. First is that while it’s impossible to overstate the importance of gay visibility, there is an inevitable backlash element that goes with it, and that backlash is probably disproportionately borne by gay youth. Adults suffer too, but youth typically have far fewer means with which to cope and may not have a supportive network of family and friends to rely on. I think Savage’s observation that the old default of “odd” is now a default of “gay” whether the kid is actually gay or not is very perceptive.
But the other thing here, just below the surface, is that there is something of a divide within the gay community between those living in gay meccas and the rest of us living elsewere. There is a huge part of me that would love to live in San Francisco, L.A., D.C. or New York. I love visiting those cities, but I also know how easy it is to get caught up in a bubble and loose footing with what’s really going on elsewhere in the country. If people in gay meccas talk about gay communities outside of their bubble — and that is a big if — the talk too often goes in one of two directions: either that of course gays everywhere enjoy the freedoms found in the meccas, or that of course gays everywhere else are being burned out of their homes or cowering in their basements. That’s why I believe that living in a retrograde state like Arizona is actually an advantage to me. I do think that if I were to move to a major gay enclave, that I would develop a sort of laryngitis and lose an important part of my voice that comes from living in an area where we can’t take a lot of things for granted — but also where we aren’t exactly powerless rubes living in constant fear in our semi-closeted existences.
Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign has done more to unite the gay community across all areas of the country than any other project I can think of. Yes, it sucks to be a gay kid in Greensburg, but the downside of increased visibility means that it also sucks to be a gay kid at a prestigious urban university. There are gay bashings in Greenwich Village, but gay visibility will take yet another step into the spotlight with pride celebrations in Bedford Suyvesant and in Santorum’s back yard in Allentown, PA, this weekend. And in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District, where gay suicides have been met with a collective shrug, three hundred brave souls showed up for the first gay pride event there last weekend. It is getting better, but with each advance there is a backlash and our youth are bearing the brunt of it. And as Savage’s interview demonstrates, part of making it better is for opinion-makers to spend much, much more time outside of the bubble.
No GOP IGB Videos?
July 29th, 2011
Dan Savage reacted to personal attacks from the National Republican Senatorial Committee over the “It Gets Better” campaign by saying that “not a single GOP elected official can bring himself or herself to make a video.” I actually found that to be very shocking. Sure, we know that things are very bleak on the national level. I can’t think of any GOP member of Congress who has participated in or made a video. But what about at the state level? Any elected GOP officials in a state legislature or executive branch? What about the county level? Mayor of a major city? Township trustee? Village council person?
I’m sure there’s some out there. I can’t believe that there is “not a single GOP elected official” in a video. So here’s a crowd-sourcing challenge: go find them. Just three rules: 1) they have to be identified by name in the video, 2) they must have a speaking part, and 3) those holding office as a result of a nonpartisan election (i.e. their party affiliation did not appear on the ballot, as is sometimes the rule for local positions) do not qualify.
GOP Group Attacks “It Gets Better” Campaign
July 28th, 2011
Last Friday, the entire Massachusetts — minus one — posted this YouTube video for the “It Gets Better” campaign against LGBT bullying and suicide. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) was conspicuously missing. According to Marie Diamond at Think Progress:
Sen. Brown (R-MA) was invited to be in the video, but declined. When asked about the decision, Brown spokesman Colin Reed said it was because Brown’s “main focus right now is on creating jobs.”
The LGBT leaders, including two Massachusetts lawmakers, agreed that Sen. Brown’s refusal to participate in the video sends a disturbing message to the staggering number of LGBT youth who are being bullied and harassed every day. They also said the snub was simply the latest in Brown’s long record of “being anti-LGBT friendly,” in the words of Jennifer Chrisler.
LGBT activists and political leaders in the state recalled instances in which Brown worked against marriage equality and anti-discrimination efforts. That criticism has gotten under the skin of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, whose communcations director Brian Walsh went on the attack personally against Dan Savage:
If, as the old saying goes, you’re known by the company you keep, than the voters of Massachusetts deserve to know who Democrat Party operatives are teaming up with to spread outrageous attacks on Scott Brown’s character.
It’s truly reached a new level of desperation in their efforts to tear down Scott Brown, but we look forward to hearing whether state and national Democrat leaders agree with Dan Savage’s long history of lewd, violent and anti-Christian rhetoric. Given their press conference call today, one has to presume at this point that they do.
I am not the IGB project. The project has had the reach and impact that it’s had thanks to tens of thousands of people from all over the world who’ve participated. [A]nd no one who participates is required to crawl into bed with me. ..:
Savage notes that among those who have participated from all walks of life from all over the world, “not a single GOP elected official can bring himself or herself to make a video, or participate in the creation of one. No GOP elected official can risk being seen letting bullied LGBT kids know that life isn’t high school and that it will get better for them.”
Why it’s never smart for a politician to whine about how badly he’s treated
July 27th, 2011
If you don’t want people to say mean things about you, don’t go into politics (or blogging). And when they do (and they will) it is never smart to whine about the mean mean meanies who are so mean to you. Not only will you gain no sympathy or new support, but then everyone will be repeating all those mean things and chuckling.
After Santorum’s vile statement in 2003 in which he discussed his support for anti-gay sodomy laws in terms of bestiality and incest, Dan Savage decided to have a little fun. He held a contest for a new definition for “santorum” and the winner was:
- The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex.
A Spreading Santorum webpage was set up for tracking the extent to which the new definition could be detected in culture and it was clever enough that it drew web traffic placing it as the first listing when “santorum” was googled. And so there it sat as the first result through the rest of Rick Santorum’s term as Senator and his failed reelection bid.
But with his presidential campaign, there was a pretty good chance that eventually “Rick Santorum for President” along with news articles about the campaign would have gotten the traffic necessary to push the aging joke off of the front page. And it likely would have, were it not for the actions of two people.
First, Savage encouraged his readers to go back and select the link to keep it active in the Google search matrices. Enough responded to keep Savage’s santorum link in place ahead of the candidate’s page. In fact, the campaign site was fourth, after a Wikipedia article and another site’s reference to Savage’s definition.
But the real boost to Spreading Santorum came from none other than Rick Santorum himself. On July 18 he went on a radio show to complain about the way he was being mistreated by Savage and in addition to some recent comments also noted the website. And then someone with a whole lot of hero worship and no political sense must have advised the next move: Santorum sent out a fund raising letter with the following sentence:
Remember this is not the first time Savage has attacked us on our stance of supporting American values. Savage and his perverted sense of humor is the reason why my children cannot Google their father’s name.
And when this letter was published on Politico on July 20, which turned into articles in the media, just what do you suppose that people did? Obviously they set out to find out why you couldn’t google “Santorum”.
But July 22, the presidential campaign link had dropped to eighth place behind:
The campaign site has now moved back up into sixth place. But Savage is goading Rick Santorum, threatening to make his first name into a vulgar word as well. I guess now we’ll have to wait and see if Sen. Santorum is so very incredibly stupid that he bites at the bait.
Dear Abby Channels Dan Savage
March 9th, 2011
Seattle Stranger advice columnist Dan Savage has been getting a lot of press lately as the 21st century uncensored version of Ann Landers. His frank advice pivots around three important rules: Full disclosure of any and all information of relevance to a sexual partner, autonomy and reciprocity. Toward those ends, he has given tacit and explicit approval to all sorts of marital and sexual arrangements — but only as long as all three of those principles remain intact. As an example (and the most talked about one), he has endorsed non-monogamous relatinships for those who want it (autonomy), whose partner is okay with it (reciprocity), and after full communication of ground rules, concerns, worries, fears, and anything else that comes to mind (full disclusure).
This is the kind of advice you don’t see among mainstream advice columnists, until today that is.
Dan Savage Has A Bone To Pick With the White House
October 11th, 2010
Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” video project, launched in response to what is now being called the “September Suicides,” has been so successful that it has maxed out its YouTube channel at 650 videos. So now there is a dedicated web site where the project can continue to grow and flourish.
The phrase “It Gets Better” has become something of a catch phrase, and all kinds of people, famous and obscure, are helping to spread the message. It’s really great to see everyone rallying around the kids who really need to hear it. It’s become such a popular cause that even the White House has jumped on the bandwagon. To which Dan Savage responds in his typically demure way.
ABC News Covers Recent Suicides
September 29th, 2010
Here is ABC New’s extra web coverage of Dan Savage’s YouTube project, “It Gets Better”:
And speaking of “It Get’s Better,” here’s another contribution from a Muslim gay teen. He grew up in a Shia Pakistani family, and he says to hang in there. It Gets Better:
Dan Savage On Defining the Institution of Marriage
November 11th, 2009
Pat Robertson: Gays are Gay Because They Were Abused
June 10th, 2009
Televangelist Pat Robertson advised a mother of a gay son that she needs to understand what causes homosexuality before she can begin to understand how do deal with the “problem.” Robertson is convinced that most people are gay because they were abused by “a coach or guidance counselor or some other male figure.” Here’s the video and transcript:
TERRY MEEUWSEN (co-host): This is Theresa. This is difficult. She says, “How should we, as parents of a homosexual son, handle the ongoing challenges facing us, such as staying true to our faith and following the commandment to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’? This is very difficult for us.”
ROBERTSON: Well first of all, he’s not your neighbor, he’s your son. That’s a different thing. You owe him, you know, advice and counsel and guidance. You’re his parent.
First of all, you didn’t say how old he is. Secondly, I am not at all persuaded that so-called homosexuals are homosexuals because of biological problems. There may be a very few, but there are so many that have been made homosexuals because of a coach or a guidance counselor or some other male figure who has abused them and they think there’s something wrong with their sexuality.
So you need to get deep into why he is what he is, instead of just saying, “Well, he’s a homosexual so how do I handle him, and how do I be Christian?” Well, I think you ought to tell him, “Listen, son, you know, here’s what the Bible says about this, and it’s called an abomination before God, so I’ve got to tell you the truth because I love you.”
That’s what I think. All right, what else?
MEEUWSEN: And then you do that — you love him.
ROBERTSON: You love him, of course you love him and you accept him. You love him, but at the same time, you can’t let him just go, you know, he’ll wind up…
MEEUWSEN: Without knowing truth, yeah.
ROBERTSON: Well I mean, if somebody’s on their way to hell, they’ll… I mean you’ve got to love them to rescue them.
This is an extremely common belief in evangelical circles, that gays are gay because they were sexually abused. Some would have you believe that sexual abuse is a universal formative experience among gay people. Focus On the Family’s Melissa Fryrear always makes a point to tell Love Won Out audiences that:
“I never met one woman who had not been sexually violated or sexually threatened in her life. I never met one woman. And I never met one man either, that had not been sexually violated or sexually seduced in his life”.
Fryrear, of course has been told publicly and privately by many gay and lesbians that they have never been abused. But not only that, I reported on the very painful heartbreak that some parents experienced upon hearing her confident and pointed assertion that their sons and daughters have certainly been abused — even though before attending the conference these same parents had no reason to suspect that their child had been abused.
Yet that bone-chilling fear is essential to the ex-gay message. Without fear, they have nothing. And because of that, I am willing to bet a steak dinner that when Fryrear speaks at the next Love Won Out conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan this coming weekend, she will repeat those same cruel words yet again, and she will induce once again unwarrented fear and heartbreak in yet another crop of unsuspecting parents.
Not only is the myth of gays-abusing-children as a form of recruitment cruel, but it simply isn’t true. Researchers have looked long and hard at the gays-as-predators myth and have found nothing to support that belief. It’s not out and openly gay people who are abusing young boys in large numbers, it’s men who steadfastly say they are straight — and research bears them out in their claims. They are married or have girlfriends, they are fathers and step-fathers, who no one would even think twice about being gay. And when researchers look at their adult romantic sexual attachments, they are almost never interested in other adults of the same sex. Those are just the cold hard facts, whether Robertson, Fryrear, or anyone else wishes to acknowledge the truth or not.
But on a logical level, it doesn’t add up either. Dan Savage responded to Robertson’s latest tirade by blowing the myth this way:
Who’s raping all these Christian kids?
Not openly gay people. Fundamentalist Christian parents don’t allow their children hang out with openly gay men and women. Openly gay men do not get hired to work as a guidance counselors at fundamentalist Christian middle schools; out lesbians do not get hired to work as coaches at a fundamentalist Christian high schools; openly bi graduate students don’t get to serve as dorm captains at fundamentalist Christian colleges. So it isn’t out gay men and women—openly gay coaches and counselors and youth pastors—who are raping all these Christian kids and leaving them “confused” about their sexualities. Most fundamentalist Christian kids have never met an out gay or lesbian person. Which can only mean…
All these Christian kids are being raped by straight-identified, nominally-Christian coaches and counselors and youth pastors and dorm captains.
If you buy into Robertson’s theories on origins of homosexuality then you have to embrace a highly unflattering picture of Christian America.
Saddleback’s New Definition, Courtesy Of Dan Savage
January 28th, 2009
Gay sex advice columnist and author Dan Savage isn’t known for holding back against people he views as enemies of the LGBT community. Angered by anti-gay comments made by former Senator Rick Santorum, Savage named a rather disgusting and previously un-named phenomenon relating to anal-sex after him. Performing a Google search on “Santorum” turns up Savage’s definition as the top item.
And now we get to Savage’s recent anger with Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. What is a “Saddleback” exactly? Savage wasn’t sure it had any definition so he took it upon himself to create one. After polling his readers Savage has announced his new definition of Saddleback / Saddlebacking:
Savage finds this new definition apropos because of Warren’s ideological promotion of abstinence-only programs which not only don’t work, but result in teens substituting anal-sex and oral-sex believing they aren’t “real” sex.
Dan Savage’s Silver Lining
August 1st, 2006
I’ve always agreed with conservatives when they say that protecting marriage is in children’s best interests. It’s partly why I want to protect — or more properly, extend — marriage to everyone, including gay and lesbian couples, because their children deserve these same protections.
But marriage isn’t just about children; people who cannot procreate get married all the time. But if opponents to same-sex marriage insist on putting all their eggs into a single child-filled basket, they’re bound to find more than a few of their eggs crushed.
Columnist Dan Savage has an excellent op-ed piece in last Sunday’s New York Times about the recent rulings on same-sex marriage in New York and Washington. He believes that both courts’ reliance on arguments about procreation is the key to turning these setbacks into future victories:
A perverse cruelty characterizes both decisions. The courts ruled, essentially, that making my child’s life less secure somehow makes the life of a child with straight parents more secure. Both courts found that making heterosexual couples stable requires keeping homosexual couples vulnerable. And the courts seemed to agree that heterosexuals can hardly be bothered to have children at all — or once they’ve had them, can hardly be bothered to care for them — unless marriage rights are reserved exclusively for heterosexuals. And the religious right accuses gays and lesbians of seeking “special rights.”
Even if you believe that marriage plays a special role in the lives of heterosexuals with children (another point I’m happy to concede), can it not play a similar role in the lives of homosexual couples, whether they’re parents or not? Marriage, after all, is not reserved for couples with children. (Perhaps it will be soon, if courts keep heading in this direction.)
Read the whole thing while it’s still available.