Pride Month Musings

June is Pride Month. It wasn’t so long ago that today’s widespread recognition of–and support for– Pride would have been unthinkable. In my adult lifetime, there have been few changes in social attitudes as swift or as welcome as the legal and social acceptance of LGBTQ Americans.

That said, progress inevitably invites blowback. We are particularly seeing it in punitive legislation directed at transgender Americans. But we are also seeing continued opposition to gay equality from the same Christian Nationalists and religious fundamentalists who are determined to ignore America’s history of racism and other bigotries.

The good news is that anti-gay attitudes are far less pervasive among young Americans; in fact, sociologists and scholars of religion attribute much of the exodus by young people from fundamentalist congregations to distaste for their theological homophobia. Among older, conservative, religious Americans, however, LGBTQ citizens still encounter considerable bias–and when sexual orientation is coupled with HIV, no matter how well controlled, considerable stigma.

It’s tempting, during Pride month and especially during the local celebrations and parades, to focus on the considerable progress made by the gay community, and that progress is well worth celebrating. But it’s important to couple the celebration with recognition of remaining challenges.

For that matter, the contemporary lessons to be drawn aren’t  limited to LGBTQ issues.

Over the years, Black Americans, gay Americans, Jewish and Muslim Americans and other minorities have achieved significant legal protections: civil rights and anti-discrimination laws, and (in the case of LGBTQ folks) recognition of same-sex marriage have all gone a long way to level the legal playing field.

Hearts and minds have proved to be a harder nut to crack.

Too many Americans approach issues of inclusion and equality from a “zero-sum” perspective. The fear of “replacement” (more on that in upcoming posts) is an example. The evident calculation is that If “those people” get rights, my rights have been correspondingly diminished. The history of the gay rights struggle provides an excellent example; remember the hue and cry over “special rights”? The argument was that laws requiring equal legal treatment of gay men and lesbians were really an award of “special rights,” and the implication was that straight people didn’t have those “special rights.” 

When the Founders hammered out the U.S. Constitution, one of its most significant breaks with the past was the establishment of a legal system that would evaluate citizens based upon behavior, not social status or identity. Even when America hasn’t lived up to the principles set out in our constituent documents—and we frequently haven’t—the  official American vision has been one of a society in which group identity is legally irrelevant, a society where an individual’s conduct is the only proper concern of government.

In other words, in America, individuals are supposed to be rewarded or punished based upon what they do, not who they are. Race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and similar markers of group affiliation are supposed to be irrelevant to our legal status. No matter how meaningful those affiliations may be to us personally, the government may not award or restrict our rights based upon them.

Although they seem unable to understand or accept it, that basic element of America’s rule of law protects Christian Nationalists as well as members of minority populations.

The larger challenge we face is how to internalize that legal premise. How do we socialize our children into a worldview that sees other human beings as other human beings, and accepts or dismisses them individually, based upon their actions and behaviors–evidence of the content of their characters–not on their skin color, their sexual orientation or their theological preferences.

We have a way to go…

Happy Pride Month.

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Christian Karma

Yesterday’s post referencing religious exemptions from child neglect and abuse laws joined a number of prior posts considering the intersection of religion–usually, but not always, conservative Christianity–with legal and constitutional requirements of civic equality and public safety.

Given that ongoing focus, you can understand why a recent headline in the Washington Post caught my eye. It read “White Christian America is Dying,” which turned out to be an interview with the author of a just-issued book titled “The End of White Christian America.”

The book (eulogy??) was written by Robert P. Jones, founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Jones’ analysis is particularly timely because–despite having been written before Trump entered the Presidential race– it offers an explanation of The Donald’s support among white Evangelicals.

As Jones noted in the course of the interview,

Trump’s appeal to evangelicals was not that he was one of them but that he would “restore power to the Christian churches” if he were elected president. This explicit promise, along with his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, signaled to white evangelical voters that when he crowed about “Making America Great Again,” he meant turning back the clock to a time when conservative white Christians held more influence in the culture. Trump has essentially converted these self-described “values voters” into “nostalgia voters.”

If PRRI’s research is accurate, there are not nearly enough of these “nostalgia voters” to elect Trump or anyone else; furthermore, their ranks are steadily–and rapidly– diminishing.

According to PRRI research, young adults between the ages of 18 to 29 are less than half as likely to be white Christians as seniors age 65 and older. Nearly 7 in 10 American seniors are white Christians; fewer than 3 in 10 young adults are in that category.

Some of this, obviously, is due to large-scale demographic shifts — including immigration patterns and differential birth rates.  But Jones notes that the other major cause is young adults’ rejection of organized religion–they are three times as likely as seniors to claim no religious affiliation.

It is notable that the decline measured by PRRI is not limited to mainline Protestant churches, which was the narrative a few years ago. Membership in Evangelical congregations and suburban “mega” churches has dropped substantially as well. As a result, the white evangelical Protestants who made up 22 percent of the population in 1988 were down to 17 percent in 2015.

Looking ahead, there’s no sign that this pattern will fade anytime soon. By 2051, if current trends continue, religiously unaffiliated Americans could comprise as large a percentage of the population as all Protestants combined — a thought that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago.

The obvious question is, what has caused this precipitous decline?  PRRI’s answer to that question prompted the reference to karma in the title of this post.

When PRRI surveys have asked religiously unaffiliated Americans who were raised religious why they left their childhood religion, respondents have given a variety of reasons — stopped believing in teachings, conflicts with science, lack of time, etc. — but one issue stands out, particularly for younger Americans. About 70 percent of millennials (ages 18-33) believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. And 31 percent of millennials who were raised religious but now claim no religious affiliation report that negative teaching about or treatment of gay and lesbian people by religious organizations was a somewhat or very important factor in their leaving.

In other words, every time self-identified “Christians” use religion as an excuse to marginalize gays and discriminate against LGBTQ citizens, they increase the rate at which their churches decline. (Karma really is a delightful bitch…)

Someone should tell Mike Pence, Curt Smith and Micah Clark….

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Sending a Message–Updated

Back in 2000, I wrote a column for the Indiana Word about the use of legislation to “send a message.” Following passage of the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill, it seemed appropriate to revisit the points raised.

After all, hateful Hoosiers who want to discriminate against their LGBT neighbors can already do so with impunity–Indiana’s civil rights laws do not protect gay citizens. Same-sex marriages may be legal in Indiana, but gay Hoosiers can still be denied services, refused employment and/or fired just for being gay. So to the extent that SB 101 is aimed at permitting discrimination against members of the gay community, it’s totally unnecessary. Unless, of course, our lawmakers want to “send a message.”

As I pointed out back in 2000:

With all due respect to all the folks who want to use the General Assembly instead of Western Union, such an approach to lawmaking is wrongheaded and dangerous for a number of reasons.

1.) It trivializes the law. When the legislature passed measures to criminalize private sexual behavior, for example, no one seriously believed that the local constable was going to come into every bedroom to check for violations. Such measures were justified because they “sent a message.” And indeed they do, which brings us to the next problem. See Paragraph 2.

2.) Such laws send different messages to different people. Before they were struck down, sodomy laws “sent a message” to gays that they are second-class citizens. Laws making women submit to multiple “counseling sessions” or vaginal probes in order to obtain abortions signal legislative contempt for women, not respect for life. See Paragraph 3.

3.) They promote pandering. When lawmakers know perfectly well that they are engaging in a meaningless gesture, the urge to satisfy extremist constituencies can easily be justified; after all, where’s the harm?  Indiana, like many states, passed the Defense of Marriage Act to “send a message” that satisfied the Christian Right; lawmakers defended their actions to rational folks by pointing out, quite correctly, that the law hurt no one, because at the time there was no gay marriage to refuse to recognize. It was a model example of “Law as an Empty Gesture.” Of course, to gay citizens, it sent a different message. See paragraph two.

4.) “Messages” inconsistent with Constitutional values distort the balance of power in our legal system. When this original column was written, in 2000, lawmakers had just authorized posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings. Of course, that was patently unconstitutional, and lawmakers knew it. When I asked a State Representative why he and others were voting for a measure they knew would be struck down, his answer was candid: “We all have to go back and justify ourselves to the voters in Mayberry. Let the Courts take the heat.”

When lawmakers engage in this sort of unethical game playing, it feeds hostility to the judicial system, which must protect individual rights by voiding such improper and cynical measures. That hostility further erodes respect for law, and that brings us full circle. See Paragraph 1.

In the case of SB 101, we might add another likely consequence: although the measure doesn’t change Indiana laws that apply to gay folks, it may well encourage “religious” refusals to serve or employ Muslims or blacks or other Hoosiers who currently are protected under the state civil rights laws. It will almost certainly spawn expensive litigation. And it seems likely to cost Indianapolis (whose citizens by and large opposed the measure) several conventions and the economic benefits that those conventions bring.

Because the General Assembly did, indeed, “send a message.” And a lot of people received it.

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Well, Lookee There! I Actually Agree with Eric Miller. Sort of.

In one of the recent missives sent out by Advance America, Eric Miller gave the reasons why he is (surprise!) supporting Scott Schneider’s “Religious Freedom” bill.

For one thing, it’s because that bullying government (the one that makes it possible for folks to do business) shouldn’t be able to make retail establishments treat gay customers the same way they treat other members of the general public on whom they depend for their livelihood.

Okay–I know you will be surprised when I say that isn’t the part I agree with.

And there was something about transgendered use of bathrooms–for some reason, the “Christian” right is absolutely fixated on bathrooms. I don’t agree with that, either–I don’t even understand that.

Here’s the part I agree with: “A church should not be punished because they refuse to let the church be used for a homosexual wedding!”

I totally agree with that. So does every U.S. court that ever addressed the issue. There’s this pesky little clause in the First Amendment called the Free Exercise Clause, that for some reason Eric Miller must have missed in law school–and among other things, it absolutely protects churches from having to perform rituals that are contrary to their beliefs.

I’m sure that when Eric Miller learns about that bit of what we lawyers call “blackletter” law (so called because such legal principles are so settled and foundational), he’ll amend his fundraising email.

And pigs will fly…..

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One of the Many Reasons Elections Matter

Yesterday’s post focusing on GLBT rights reminded me that we’re heading toward June and Gay Pride. As we prepare for the annual Pride celebrations, two things are clear: 1) GLBT Americans are winning the fight for civic equality, and 2) the nature of the remaining threat to that equality has changed.

I won’t belabor the first observation; anyone reading this blog can recite the “wins.” Same-sex marriage is recognized in more and more states, Fortune 500 companies are falling over themselves to be welcoming–to extend benefits and institute policies mandating fair treatment. Popular culture and even pro sports are accepting their no-longer-closeted celebrities.

All of these indicators point to a sea change in the attitudes of average Americans, and that change is confirmed by survey research. The days when coming out meant risking ostracism from friends and families, or difficulty getting a job, aren’t altogether over, but we’re getting close.

The threat today comes from the Neanderthals we keep electing–the theocrats who insist that America is a “Christian Nation,” who reject science, who believe women should be “subservient,” barefoot and pregnant, and that GLBT folks should be closeted (or worse).

Just a couple of examples:

A couple of days ago, the Indianapolis Star revisited a controversy that arose a couple of years back over allegations that a Ball State University Assistant Professor was teaching creationism, aka “intelligent design.” BSU’s President, JoAnn Gora–somewhat belatedly–issued a letter confirming the institution’s commitment to science, and its recognition that intelligent design is religious dogma, not science. (To do otherwise would have massively degraded the value of a BSU degree.)

Subsequently, the Indiana legislature’s God Squad made threatening noises; the explicit message was that requiring faculty to teach real science in science classes “violated Academic Freedom” (!) and the implicit message was that it would cost the University when the time for state appropriations rolled around. Last week, the Star reported that the professor involved was promoted. Whether he is still teaching Intelligent Design is unclear.

Indiana’s legislators aren’t the only ones waging war against genuine academic freedom, diversity and modernity generally. South Carolina’s not-ready-for-this-century lawmakers voted to slash funding for two of the state’s largest public colleges in retaliation for the introduction of books with gay themes into the schools’ freshman reading programs.

In February, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted to cut $70,000 — the entire cost of the offending programs — from the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate.

These two incidents—which, unfortunately, are anything but isolated—should sound alarm bells.

Red state legislatures are dominated by frightened old heterosexual white guys whose unspoken motto is “Stop changing the world, I want to get off.” The broader society is making its peace with complexity, diversity and inclusion, but these lawmakers, and the Rabid Righteous base that elects them, is waging a last-ditch effort to turn back the clock.

These guys—and they are almost always guys—are able to be elected thanks to a combination of voter apathy, vote suppression and gerrymandering. Those who go to the polls in states like Indiana and South Carolina are opting for candidates who reject science, progress and inclusion in favor of a constricted and literalist religiosity.

In 1966, Richard Hofstadter wrote Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. That anti-intellectualism–characterized by the elevation of sloganeering over analysis and “biblical truth” over complexity, evidence and education—is  still with us; it characterizes the Tea Party and too much of today’s GOP.

It poses a threat not just to GLBT folks, but to all of us; it’s a formidable barrier to our ability to create a sane and tolerant society.

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