Tuesday, April 26, 2016

It’s About Power and Privilege, NOT Safety

It’s About Power and Privilege, NOT Safety
By Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
My father was a public school teacher in the South in the early days of desegregation. Arguments against desegregating the schools included the need to protect “women and children.” Racists perpetuated unsubstantiated fears that racially mixed classrooms and playgrounds would result in “women and children” being harmed. There were no data used to support the notion that diversity increased danger, but facts never deter the fear mongers.
In my coming out days, gay teachers could be fired, gay people in the military could be expelled, gay people in schools, parks, or bar parking lots could be assaulted (often with very little help from law enforcement). Gays were preached against in pulpits, denied jobs and housing, cut off from their families, and forbidden access to youth organizations, and all because they somehow were seen as threatening. I once read in my hometown paper an editorial that said gay people “infested” public restrooms like roaches. To protect the children, we were told, we had to dehumanize, demonize, and ostracize gay and lesbian people. “Sodomy laws” criminalized our very expression of affection in multiple states, and marriage equality was a fantasy that almost no one actually entertained. Gays were a danger, the anti-gay narrative insisted, and for the safety of our families we had to treat same-gender loving people badly.
Now that gay characters are featured on television dramas and comedies, marriage equality is a reality, gay athletes and journalists often “come out”, and many faith communities embrace (and even celebrate) same-gender loving people, the idea of tormenting gay people in the name of public safety seems archaic, foolish, and even cruel. But homophobia is still with us, rest assured.
Now, the infamous “bathroom bills” are in the news. Once again, a community is targeted, vilified, demonized, and excoriated. Again, women and children in particular are being “protected” by dehumanizing an entire group of people, namely, transgender people. The targets change over time, but the tactics of hate and division remain sadly the same.
And again, there are no data to suggest that accommodating transgender people gives cover to dangerous predators. However, by demonizing and targeting transgender people, these “bathroom bills” are making transgender people less safe in their own communities. If we can see “the Other” as something less than human, then cruelty toward “the Other” will certainly follow.  It always does.
The unfounded arguments that minorities are more dangerous or more prone to anti-social behavior aren’t new; they are time tested weapons of bigotry used to dehumanize people in order to create hysteria that protects the privilege and power of the majority for a while longer. It’s time we see through the mendacity of such arguments (and legislation), and demand fair and equal treatment for all people, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, or physical ability. Letting people use the bathroom won’t pose any extra danger to our communities, but teaching generation after generation to hate, will.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

We Must Not Be Silent

My dear friends,
By now you have undoubtedly heard about state legislatures once again dehumanizing and demonizing same-gender loving people and people who do not fit into false gender binary constructs. It is heartbreaking.
It was naïve to think that peddlers of bigotry would quietly accept the SCOTUS marriage equality ruling and it was myopic of LBGT organizations to not prepare us for such eventualities. Nevertheless, we cannot be silent as states continue to devalue their LGBTQQIA citizens.
To the councils and legislatures of municipalities and state halls of government, we must raise our voices with the prophet Amos to say, “Let justice roll on like many waters!”
To houses of worship and those who preach a pugnacious piety rather than a liberating gospel, we must raise our voices with a contributor to the Book of Isaiah to say, “Sacred space is to be a house of prayer for all people!”
To the holders and keepers of power and privilege who use every means at their disposal to enforce bigotry, division, and oppression, we must raise our voices with a legendary liberator to say, “Let my people go!”
To those who use religion, tradition, and sacred texts to demean and diminish the Queer children of God, we must raise our voices with an early church writer to say, “God is love and WHOEVER lives in love lives in God and God lives in them.”
Dozens of anti-LBGT laws and ordinances have been proposed in the last several months in multiple states and municipalities. These laws claim to protect religion (though people remain free to worship wherever and however they choose), privacy (while publicly demonizing LBGT people), and personal safety (portraying LBGT people as predatory, violent criminals lying in wait to harm innocent victims); but in truth, these laws are little more than attempts to legalize discrimination against people who have suffered throughout history for simply being different from the majority. These hateful laws do not advance liberty but deter it and people of conscience and character, courage and conviction must resist these attempts to oppress Queer people.
Of the many proposals to legalize and legitimate discrimination, North Carolina takes the lead in passing what is widely regarded as the most sweeping anti-LBGT legislation in the US. Justice workers are calling the new draconian law a “hostile takeover of civil rights.” Mississippi recently passed similar anti-LBGT legislation as did Georgia, but unlike North Carolina and Mississippi, Georgia’s governor vetoed the reprehensible bill.
We are currently in a climate where Muslims are routinely slandered, women are frequently insulted, immigrants regardless of documentation status are viewed with suspicion, transgender people are portrayed as a threat, and gays and lesbians are continually called “sinful” for their love and attractions. What is worse is that this despicable climate is encouraged by various political and religious leaders. It would be absolutely immoral for us to be silent in this growing climate of hatred.
Some political leaders, some religious leaders, some business leaders, and some community leaders are speaking out, and God bless them for it. It is now time that we all speak out. With our charitable giving, our spending, our speech, our votes, with every tool at the disposal of decent people, we must try to turn the tide of hatred and honor our national pledge that affirms “liberty and justice for ALL.”
I can promise you that the leadership of Sunshine Cathedral will not be silent while LBGT people and others are constantly vilified and attacked. We will with as much fervor as ever affirm the sacred value of ALL people, and we will declare boldly and consistently that religion used to promote discrimination is misused. We will not passively allow religion to be the weapon used to oppress LBGT people or anyone else. 

In the name of all prophets, preachers, and poets of Justice, we will not be silent. Your continued, faithful, prayerful support of Sunshine Cathedral will help our collective voices be heard. Our work is not yet done...
Your fellow laborer in the vineyard of justice,
Durrell SIg 
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister