Homophobia: An Attack on My Family
By Kristina Grace K.
The Personal is Political
In my years as a facilitator for workshops training people how to be better allies to the LGBTQ (that’s Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) people in their communities, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who was against homosexuality and wasn’t religious. Even if they were not religious in any other facet of their life, religion was their way of defending their own fear and biases against homosexuality. I believe that there is little to no biblical evidence to justify the link between anti-gay attitudes and Christianity.
As an anarchist, I feel that arguing whether or not queer folks should be allowed to make their own romantic decisions and be free from fear of discrimination, harassment, abuse and murder using a source as old and mysterious as scripture to be moot. Scriptures have been used to justify atrocities like slavery and colonization along with noble-hearted causes like women’s equality and animal rights. Let’s face it, you could argue just about anything using the Bible if you wanted to. How you interpret the Bible says more about what kind of person you are than it says about what the Bible actually says. But as a Mormon I also understand that those Mormons who grew up in the church may need a new way of looking at the scriptures commonly used to back up anti-gay prejudice as doctrine. We cannot forget that while ongoing revelation is a reality for us, it is not our job as members to follow prophets blindly and without serious prayer and scrutiny. Why have a process in place to sustain church leadership if the idea was to just submit to them? Former LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated, “With all their inspiration and greatness, prophets are yet mortal men with imperfections common to mankind in general. They have their opinions and prejudices and are left to work out their own problems without inspiration in many instances.”
Clearly the claim of prophets of the early Church that black men would never hold the priesthood was uninspired and incorrect. The lesson then is to understand church historical attitudes on political topics and how they change with time. The claim that “it wasn’t the right time” before the 1978 “revelation” on the priesthood was obviously a nice way of saying that leadership and/or membership of the Church wasn’t ready for black male members to have the same authority white male members did.
For further examination of the most commonly used Biblical passages to defend anti-homosexual attitudes please refer to the list of sources at the end of this article. As for the Mormon canon of scripture, there are no passages in the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, or the Pearl of Great Price to validate or justify personal prejudices against homosexuality; an interesting concept for a book written “for us in our day”.
I have met several Mormons in the past few years since I joined the church who have a close friend or family member who is gay or lesbian. According to a national survey Pew Research Center released in 2007, 41% of North Americans have a close friend or family member who is homosexual. Like other studies on familiarity and tolerance for homosexuality, it also showed that “people who have a close gay friend or family member are more likely to support gay marriage.” An article written by the Human Rights Campaign also summarized two studies released in 2006 by saying, “Not only are more Americans becoming familiar with the lives of GLBT people, but as they become more familiar, they are more supportive.” Perhaps that accounts somewhat for my own attitude on the topic as I grew up in a home with queer parents.
Evidence-based studies of gay and lesbian parenting consistently present data in favor of the ability of queer parents to raise well-adjusted children. In an examination of 21 studies, researchers Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz of the University of Southern California reported “findings of no notable differences between children reared by heterosexual parents and those reared by lesbian and gay parents…”.
Researchers studied factors such as children’s overall well-being, self-esteem, psychiatric disorders, couple and peer relationships, behavior, gender identity, adjustment, and parental stress. Incidents of emotional stress experienced by children raised in homes with same-sex parents were the result of anti-gay and homophobic harassment and bullying. But these same children who experienced anti-gay harassment “also reported greater well-being, more nurturing, and a greater tolerance for differences.”
Scientific proof aside, the experience of having queer parents is enough for me to justify the right my mother had to raise me. Nobody in all their bible-thumping, sign-swinging fervor could ever sway me to say otherwise. I never considered anything to be “wrong” with my family until much later in life when other people tried to point it out to me. What I ended up learning was that we made people uncomfortable. We didn’t fit into the culturally built box labeled, “FAMILY”, and therefore our existence as a family unit was threatening.
I think many people don’t believe that they have any connections to families like mine. It makes it easier, after all, to put forward money, time and energy to fight against my family if you believe you have nothing to do with me. Somehow, anti-gay language gets away with creating the false image of gay people being disconnected from family. As if our family isn’t just that—a family. How ridiculous and absurd to assume that those of us who love our queer family members are somehow influenced by Satan. How adverse to the gift of agency, how detrimental to individuality, and how unfriendly to freedom it is to create laws that would physically and financially punish couples simply for who they love. How abusive it is to keep children away from healthy, loving parents for the sole reason that those parents are queer. How selfish to deny an orphaned child a stable and strong home because the adoptive parents are the same-sex.
While at times I feel I have failed my queer friends and family members by participating in the church (I am a recent convert), I also feel like I was attracted to Mormonism for a purpose. Though it is very difficult for me to constantly practice patience with the members in my ward or stake on these issues, things often look bright. I seem to be meeting more people who have close ties to a LGBTQ person which means that more LGBTQ people are feeling comfortable with approaching their LDS friends and family members. As an ally and a daughter to a very amazing woman, I cannot give up in trying to soften the hearts of the Saints. To abandon the church when it shows ignorance or weakness does little to change attitudes. I must gather the strength to move forward in faith.
A Letter to Potential Allies
Each community is different and thus, has different needs, weaknesses and strengths. There is no one way to combat homophobia and transphobia, so don’t expect anyone to give you the answer. There are some suggestions I can make, though, coming from my own experiences. I do not speak for queer or trans folks. I do not speak for children of queer or trans folks. I only speak for myself. The first thing for me to do was to take responsibility for my own education. I have to make the initiative to read, ask questions, and create my own ideas about something. Then I have to choose whether or not to act on those ideas. That is the essence of self-liberation. What I know can set me free.
I also have to understand some basic questions that often get pushed aside like, “What is the difference between gender, sex, and sexuality?” and “What is an ally?” I have to unlearn what I have been taught about groups of people: queer, trans, Mormons, anarchists, etc. I have to become conscious of my role as an oppressor and ask how my actions and words affect others. What may seem basic is usually quite radical.
Some communities need slow, detailed explanations focused on these “basic” themes. As a Mormon I have the responsibility to listen for on-the-sly homophobic or heterosexist comments and speak up! If I don’t open my mouth then I let that person know I agree with them. I also need to integrate myself more into the culture of the church, to be present. This is the fundamental principle of coalition politics and how real change happens, when I move outside my comfort zone. I also need to listen to the voices of LGBTQ Mormons.
As an anarchist I have to understand that lots of people are starting at square one. Some people have never had to think about homophobia and even more have never even heard the word, “transgender.” I must be prepared to talk to these people. I must also not assume that so-called Anarchist spaces will automatically be safe spaces for queer and trans folks just as I should not assume that all queer and trans folks are anti-capitalist, anti-war, anti-racist, anti-sexist, or anti-statist.
Here’s that list I promised to help get you started.
Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth by Wayne Besen, 2003, The Haworth Press
Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality by John Boswell, 1980, The University of Chicago Press
Coalition Politics: Turning the Century by Bernice Johnson Reagon, 1983, Rutgers University Press
My Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein, 1998, Routledge
Peculiar People Edited by Ron Schow, Wayne Schow & Marybeth Raynes, 1991, Signature Books
Same-sex Dynamics among Nineteenth-century Americans: A Mormon Example by D. Michael Quinn, 1996, The University of Illinois Press
What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak, Ph.D., 2000, Alamo Square Press
For the Bible Tells Me So, 2007, First Run Features.