Religion at Pride and Conflicting Access Needs

The relationship between sexual orientation is complex, conflicted, and messy as hell.  At most Pride parades, you’ll run into both religious queer people marching with their churches and assholes with megaphones using God as an excuse to browbeat people.

There’s a good Twitter conversation here about the role of straight, religious allies: https://twitter.com/foodtruckpastor/status/878775871175368704

I did like that other people were suggesting the same thing I mentioned here, the idea that Christian allies can help by distracting the haters quietly and politely and getting them to put their megaphones down.

But @IrishAtheist pointed out that an awful lot of LGBTQ people are victims of spiritual abuse and don’t want to be anybody’s mission field, no matter how affirming they are.

It’s complicated because religion can either be a huge positive or a huge negative, depending on your own experiences. At my first Pride, one of the things that was the most meaningful for me was seeing a big rainbow flag on the church near where the parade started, and all the affirming church groups marching.

But I’m a little unusual as ex-fundamentalists go, having never experienced direct spiritual abuse. I absorbed a lot of toxic and harmful theology, but I attended those churches on my own, rather than being taken to church by my parents. That made walking away from fundamentalism, if not easy, at least a lot less complicated, and it meant I never really considered walking away from Christianity all together.

But queer atheists and agnostics are a minority in multiple ways, and too much religious expression can make them feel unwelcome, particularly if they’ve experienced spiritual abuse about their orientation.

For talking about this issue, I really like The Unit of Caring‘s concept of competing access needs, which I found out about from Brute Reason. Here’s the basic idea as the Unit of Caring explains it:

Or (and here’s the example I am scared to share) I’m gay. And sometimes I wonder, ‘would the world be a better place if gay people didn’t exist?’ Telling me ‘wtf is wrong with you’ is really not helpful for enabling me to work through that question. And if I ask it in my campus LGBT center, or on tumblr, it is likely that my need to have that conversation is going to have a big painful collision with someone else’s need not to hear questions like that entertained seriously.

I need people who will think about my question and give me honest answers, to the best of their ability. I won’t be able to get over this question until someone reaches out to me with a genuine spirit of respect and curiosity so we can talk about the answer.

On the other hand, the needs of other people to not be around serious conversations about whether they deserve to exist is really valid and really important. There should be safe spaces where my question is prohibited. There should be lots and lots of spaces where my question is prohibited, actually. Everyone in the world should have access to spaces where my question is prohibited.

But if my question is prohibited everywhere – if it is a universal norm that no decent human being will have a conversation with me about this – then it will keep lurking in the back of my head, unanswered. Or, even worse, I’ll turn for answers to the people who are willing to ignore this universal norm, the people who don’t care about being regarded as decent human beings, and I’ll internalize the things they are saying because no one else is in that space countering them.

And if a ‘safe space for asking really weird hypothetical questions without being judged’ exists, I can go there and ask, and people will take me seriously and I’ll know that they’re trying to give honest answers.

People can have valid and completely incompatible needs. It doesn’t make either person bad or wrong for having those needs. It doesn’t even mean they can’t be friends or should never interact; it just means that they need *separate* places to have those needs met.

My need to have my identity as a bi Christian affirmed and supported is real and valid. So is the need of LGBTQ victims of spiritual abuse to have queer-friendly spaces where they won’t have *anything* religious pushed on them. We’re not going to get those needs met in the same spaces, but that’s okay. Ideally, a large city’s Pride would have multiple events with multiple different focuses.  Maybe there’s a queer atheist/agnostic/secular humanist meet-up, and there’s also a queer interfaith religious ceremony, and those things are nowhere near each other.

Engaging with the fundies at Pride?

Last year’s Baltimore Pride was my first Pride event.  As I’ve mentioned before, it was *awesome.* Also as I’ve mentioned before, I was, shall we say, emotionally unprepared for the fundamentalist jerk-weasels with the bullhorns, and may have overreacted a small bit to their presence. (That is, I got into a shouting match about how God is love and they’re the ones who need to go read their Bibles.)  This was less than helpful, both because it stressed me right the hell out and because it kept them lingering at our part of the parade, rather than moving on to bother someone else.

It occurred to me afterwards that an absolutely wonderful thing allies could do to show their support would be to divert and distract these folks. Not by yelling at them or making a big scene, but just by quietly asking them some questions. Basically play the role of someone who’s interested in what they have to say, and see if you can get them to engage with you, one on one, quietly.  Because every minute they spend looking up some passage in Leviticus for you and answering your oh-so-sincere questions is a minute they’re not yelling hellfire and damnation at someone who’s hurt by it.

The giant downside of course, is that you’ve taught them that yelling hate gets them the kind of attention they want. And they will, of course, spin the story such that you were a person suffering from same-sex attraction, conned by the liberal media, who they rescued from the flames of hell. But, then, lying liars who lie will claim that they used to be gay and God fixed them, or whatever they need to claim to try to convince people that their hate is a holy cause. So, I’d be wary of saying things that agree with them or sound like you’re convinced by their cherry-picked passages.

This is just an idea I’m tossing around in my head.  It seems like it might be worth attempting, to make Pride events a little safer for people who’ve come out of (or are still in) oppressive religious environments and just need one day to be who they are. I’m not sure if giving the haters even that much validation is a good thing, though.

LGBTQ Fat PRIDE!

For the first time ever, my local area had a Pride march!  We had a small rally with three speakers who represented a range of ages and experiences, and then we marched a short loop.  I carried the bi pride flag, which made me ridiculously happy.  We had at least 50 or 60 people, a pretty good turnout for the first year, especially when a lot of people went up to Capital Pride instead.

After the ugly reception that a prior Pride event had gotten (people felt the need to tear down flyers and to put up anti-LGBT religious signs in their cars near the event), I was worried we’d be catching some kind of flak from the religious haters.  Particularly as motivated as they were to cause a stink about library sex ed because (gasp!) the teacher was queer.  But, there was no pushback that I saw.

For me, the best moment was when one of the speakers, a genderqueer teen, talked about the depression he’d* gone through as a kid. He mentioned how part of accepting himself was accepting being fat as a good thing and reclaiming that word.  I applauded, he pointed at me and grinned, and it turned into a round of applause.  I was really happy to be able to kick off an outpouring of support for a fat teen, that yes, it is okay to be fat, your body is awesome, and you are awesome.

*He was introduced by someone who knows him personally using he/him pronouns, but he didn’t actually say those were his pronouns. I’m going with he/him/his based on the info I have. So, awesome genderqueer teen, if you happen to be reading this and you go, “Wow, that’s me…but those aren’t my pronouns!” please let me know & I’ll make corrections.