P-FLAG

A voice of Love in the Face of Hate

A Sermon Delivered at

First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church

on

August 9, 1998

by

The Reverend Craig C. Roshaven

All Rights Reserved

Copyright 1998

 

Accompanying Reading:

"God Save the Christians"by Arthur Hoppe. July 20, 1998 San Francisco Chronicle

 

In the past few months we have seen a renewed attack on the rights and dignity of our gay brothers and lesbian sisters.

High profile politicians such as Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Senate Majority Leader, publicly proclaim that homosexuality is a sin and a sickness, comparing it to alcoholism, sex addiction, and kleptomania.

The nomination of attorney and philanthropist James Hormel to the ambassadorship of Luxembourg was stopped simply because he is gay.

Representative Joel Hefley of Colorado sponsored an amendment to overturn President Clinton's executive order banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in the Federal workforce. It came up for a vote just last Wednesday. Representatives Granger and Frost voted against Hefley's amendment while Armey and Barton voted for it. It failed.

A series of full page ads last month in the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today attacked same-sex marriage and stated that sexual orientation is a choice because it can be changed with God's help. These ads were paid for by 15 Christian conservative groups closely aligned with the national Republican leadership

In a bizarre twist, the ads sponsors say they took them out because they are tired of being called bigots and homophobes. In other words, they are claiming that their freedom of expression is curtailed when President Clinton and others call their thinking on the subject of homosexuality "backward."

The headline over the July 15 ad in USA Today read "In defense of free speech." It complained that Reggie White, the Green Bay Packer's football star, had been castigated as stupid, backward, and homophobic, after he stated that homosexuality was a sin in a speech to the Wisconsin legislature.

Dr. James Dobson reports that his organization has been harassed for its stand on homosexuality. He claims that caskets have been brought to the front door, bricks thrown through windows, and bomb threats made. Despite this harassment he writes, "we will not return evil for evil."

He and other Christian right leaders claim that they, not homosexuals, are the victims of hatred and intolerance, and that it is the homosexual movement that is driven by hatred, not the Christian right.

Of all the outrageous claims made against our gay brothers and lesbian sisters, it is this one that has outraged me the most. I don't believe that Dobson and others believe they are the victims of hatred and discrimination. I think their claims of being victimized are cynical, calculated ploys designed to confuse the public about who are the real victims.

Dobson and his allies are confusing freedom of speech with freedom from criticism. They need to be reminded that freedom of speech includes the freedom to criticize--even if it's religious beliefs that are being criticized. Does freedom of speech mean one can't call a bigot a bigot?

I believe this recent spate of attacks has occurred because of the increasing influence of the Christian Right on the Republican party. In April, Ralph Reed, the former director of the Christian Coalition, Gary Bauer, the head of the Family Research council, and other Christian Conservatives visited Capitol Hill. The purpose of their visit was to demand that Lott and other Republican leaders push their conservative social agenda or else they and other Christian Conservatives would withdraw their support from the Republican party. Apparently their lobbying effort succeeded because since then we have seen the agenda of Christian conservatives enacted in congressional action and rhetoric. The purpose of all this anti-gay activity is not to help homosexuals but to vilify and demonize them in an effort to re-energize the Christian right support for Republicans in this fall's congressional election.

California Assembly Speaker pro tem Sheila Kuehl is a Democrat and a lesbian who has built bridges with conservatives in the Legislature. She offers this analysis of what is happening.

"The Republican Party has always relied on demonization as a very important part of its fund-raising and its political agenda. And once red-baiting and communist witch-hunting fell by the wayside, they needed to cast about for a new and effective demon."

Her analysis is backed up by Mel White who worked as a writer for Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for many years. White, after years of denying his homosexuality, finally accepted his sexual orientation and eventually came out. He is a now a community minister for the Metropolitan Community Church. In his autobiography, White wrote that as the threat of Communism diminished it was quickly replaced by the threat of homosexuality in the speeches of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and other Christian conservatives. Sheila Kuehl is right. The Christian right and the Republican right need credible demons if they are to raise funds and remain in power.

PFLAG's policy statement to the Radical Right sums up what is happening in these words:

This statement is addressed to all right-wing political and religious leaders who accuse our children of child abuse, recruitment, and sexual depravity.

These accusations and distortions are not supported by facts or research. We conclude that they are made with the intention of exploiting our children and family members in order to further fund raising efforts, to provide a platform of aggrandizement for people who would otherwise fade into obscurity, and to satiate their obsessive need to preach a gospel of hate and discrimination. This epidemic of hypocrisy must be stopped.

On July 10, 1998, soon after Trent Lott's comments on homosexuality and sin, the New York Times ran an editorial titled "The History Behind Trent Lott."

The editorial noted that over the last twenty years Evangelical Christians have flooded into the Republican party, particularly in the South. They have transformed American politics with a potent block of votes, energy, commitment, and an unwillingness to compromise on certain domestic social issues.

The Republicans began to seriously court the Southern Vote in the 1964 Presidential Election by playing to the issues of race and segregation. But they soon discovered that concerns other than race: school prayer, abortion, and opposition to gay rights, also had the power to win over and energize Southern conservatives. Religious conservatives have so much clout in the party now that their leaders can press their case on these issues with Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. The effect has been plain to see.

In Greenville, SC, the pastor of the Choice Hills Baptist Church said homosexuals are "a stench in the nostrils of God." Being anti-gay has become politically fashionable in South Carolina. But near Lancaster, South Carolina, a lesbian named Regan Wolf was twice beaten unconscious and tied spread-eagled on her porch. A spray painted message said, "Jesus weren't born for you, faggot."

( More news on Regan Wolf: July 15, 1998 NewsPlanet SC Bash Victim Charged with Hoax )

The editorial concludes with this statement,

"American history is replete with examples of the connection between the politics of bias and violence…The party of Lincoln, which freed the slaves so long ago, should not be sowing the seeds of a new hatred on Southern ground."

The voices of hate must be met with the voices of love and reason. I applaud the NY Times for its incisive and courageous editorial.

We must all speak our truth--that love between people of the same gender is just as good as love between people of different genders. We must speak our truth in love: Every person has inherent worth and dignity.

A recent letter from the Chair of the Religious Relationships Committee for the Boy Scouts of America gave Unitarian Universalists an opportunity to speak their truth. Because we condemn discrimination against homosexuals, the BSA will no longer recognize the Religion in Life Award or the Love and Help emblem that has long been awarded to Unitarian Universalist Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts respectively.

UUA President John Buehrens responded by writing

Surely the Religious Relationships Committee of the Boy Scouts of America cannot intend to tell a religious group what we may teach with regard to our own religious principles. We teach our youth, as a matter of religious principle, that discrimination against people simply by virtue of their belonging to a particular category of human being is wrong. We cannot be expected to ignore the question of discrimination against gay scouts and leaders in our guidance to boys studying our religious principles and history.

We will not acquiesce in such discrimination. We will not stop distributing a Religion and Life manual that reflects our religious principles. We will not stop providing Religion and Life awards and Love and Help emblems to Scouts and Scout leaders. If you and the BSA honestly believe that it will promote or defend Scouting to refuse our awards or to have Scout officials tear them off the uniforms of boys, I think that you are sadly mistaken. Most Americans will see such actions for what they are: blatant discrimination against children on the basis of their religion.

We must not be silent. The voices of love must be heard.

In 1972, Morton Manford was physically attacked at a gay rights protest demonstration in New York. His parents, Jeanne and Jules Manford, saw the attack on a local newscast and witnessed that the police stood by and did nothing to stop the attack. Their outrage soon turned into activism.

The response to Jeanne's public appearances, which included a 1972 Gay Pride March, convinced her of the need for a parents' group. The following fall, 20 people gathered with Jeanne and a sympathetic minister for the first meeting. In the following years, through word of mouth and in response to community needs, similar groups began forming around the country. After the 1979 National March for Gay and Lesbian Rights, representatives from these various groups met for the first time in Washington, D.C. In 1981, they decided to create a national institution, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays P-FLAG. The First PFLAG office was established in Los Angeles, California in 1982,

In September 1993, the word Families was added to the name. Their statement of mission now reads:

Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays promotes the health and well-bring of gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons, their families, and friends through:

PFLAG provides opportunity for dialogue about sexual orientation, and acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.

Now, 17 years later, PFLAG has chapters in over 400 communities with more than 70,000 members. In the beginning, their mission was to support parents whose children had come out to them. It is difficult for many parents to cope when they learn that their son or daughter is gay. Often, the parents will go into the closet themselves, making every conceivable effort to keep up appearances and keep their child's sexual orientation a secret from their friends, family, and colleagues. What do you say when relatives ask if your son or daughter has found someone special yet? Who is it safe to tell? How do you reconcile conservative religious beliefs that label your child a sinner when you know that he or she is a good and moral person?

A mother from Athens, Texas tells how she felt physically ill when she accidentally discovered her son was gay. She cried for weeks and told no one except her husband. She especially struggled to reconcile her conservative religious beliefs with her son's sexual orientation. Finally, desperate for help, she called directory information for San Francisco, California to get the number for the Gay Alliance in that city. She asked them if there were any resources for parents. They gave her the number of the national PFLAG office. She learned from them that there weren't any PFLAG affiliates in Dallas at that time. Once the Dallas Chapter formed she regularly made the 130 mile round trip in order to attend. Although she still hadn't told most of her friends in Athens that her son was gay, she nonetheless believed in the mission of PFLAG so strongly that she appeared and told her story on a cable television talk show.

Providing family support was the primary goal in PFLAG's early years and is still an important aspect of their mission. Soon, however, it became obvious to parents that support for their children requires more than simple acceptance within the family. In 1996 there were more then 2,500 anti-gay hate crimes reported, most of them violent attacks, committed in 9 major U.S. cities. According to the FBI, more than 11% of the hate crimes reported in 1994 were committed against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals. In addition, 95% of those attacks, such as the one reported by the NY Times against Regan Wolf in S. Carolina, were committed against individuals.

Another troubling consequence of anti-gay myth and hate filled speech is the high percentage of gay and lesbian teenagers who have attempted suicide. Gay and lesbian youth are at least three times more likely than heterosexual youth to commit suicide.

In the face of such facts, it is obvious that support for gay, lesbian, and bisexual children requires more than acceptance by their family. It requires countering the destructive myths, lies, and propaganda surrounding homosexuality in our society. Project Open Mind, a national awareness campaign conducted by PFLAG, helps to dispel the myths about lesbian, gay, and bisexual Americans and counter hateful attacks. PFLAG has grown to become of the most powerful voices countering the anti-gay rhetoric of the Radical right.

PFLAG is a voice of love in the face of hate.

The Fort Worth Chapter of PFLAG started out just a few years ago in December of 1990 when Rita Cotterly and two parents met in the Catholic Renewal center located on the grounds of Nolen High School. From that small start, the group moved to Dr. Cotterly's education center. In December of 1992 Sandy Moore, who was the leader of the Dallas PFLAG chapter at that time, encouraged the Fort Worth group to become an official chapter. At about that same time they began to meet here where they have been meeting on the first Thursday of every month since. The group rapidly grew, but, sadly, Sandy Moore is no longer with us. She died of cancer last month.

Over the years the Fort Worth chapter has have helped many parents understand and accept their son's or daughter's sexual orientation. They have written letters to the editor, local and national political leaders and legislators. They have marched under their own banner in Gay Pride parades. They have offered a voice of reason and love in the face of fear and hate.

When a first time visitor comes to a PFLAG meeting they are given a packet with a number of helpful brochures including:

After a short business meeting and sometimes a presentation by a guest speaker, this PFLAG chapter usually breaks up into small groups to discuss issues of common concern.

The local chapter is just one of 400 such communities around the world. They provide a invaluable service in helping parents, family, and friends of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people, understand and accept their family members sexual orientation. They provide a supportive and loving community from which the attacks of the ignorant and the hateful can be effectively met and countered.

The parents, family, and friends of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals know the cost of such hateful speech from Robertson, Falwell, Kennedy and others. In the face of hate, they respond with a voice of love.

With the recent rise in the level of anti-gay rhetoric and legislation introduced, it can seem like we are going backwards instead of forwards.

Although the level of anti-gay rhetoric and introduced legislation has increased, it is not all clear what the outcome of this struggle will be. I don't believe our fellow citizens are interested in legislating hate and exclusion. I believe we are too fundamentally fair as a people to allow one group to endlessly scapegoat another. The majority of citizens are unwilling to endorse hate as a family value.

I believe that the influence of the Christian right on the Republican party will ultimately backfire and hurt the GOP.

The infamous Amendment 2 to the Colorado constitution which barred state or local governments from adopting gay rights laws was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Anthony Kennedy, certainly not viewed as a liberal on the court, wrote the majority opinion.

So much has changed since that fateful summer night at Stonewall in 1969. Gay bars are now commonplace and free of police harassment. RuPaul, a black drag queen and gay man, serves as a spokesperson for a mainstream line of cosmetics and has a regular show on VH-1. Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang, Elton John and other openly gay musicians sell millions of records and enjoy widespread popularity and acclaim. We even had, albeit briefly, a sitcom on a major network with an openly gay actress portraying a gay leading character.

Walt Disney, Xerox, Apple Computer, and many other major companies offer equal benefits to gay and lesbian employees and their partners. Thanks to the current administration, Gay and Lesbian Federal Employees are now protected against some forms of discrimination.

Gays and Lesbians are routinely called to pulpits of Unitarian Universalist congregations across the land. The senior pastors of the First Unitarian Church of Austin, The First Unitarian Church of Houston, and Community Church of Plano are all openly gay men. We encourage and perform weddings, also known as ceremonies of holy union, for gay and lesbian couples in our congregations who want to enjoy the benefits of a public commitment to one another. I call such ceremonies weddings even though they are not legally recognized by the state. They may not be married in the eyes of the state but the state has no jurisdiction over how we view them.

Other mainline Protestant Denominations continue to struggle with the issue of gay clergy and same-sex marriage. However, as long as the struggle continues, it shows that neither side has a clear upper hand. The Christian right justifies its condemnation of gay and lesbians by a selective reading of the Bible. But if Jesus has any message for us today, it most certainly is not one of judgement and condemnation but of acceptance and compassion. How would Jesus act? is a question many sincere Christians struggle to answer. I don't see how anyone could believe this man who touched the unclean, ate with those that others condemned, and refused to condemn adulterers and prostitutes, would judge and condemn gays and lesbians. If the Christian Bible has any consistent ethic, it is an ethic of love.

We have come a long way. But we have a long way yet to go. The current epidemic of hypocrisy must be stopped.

Let us answer God's call to love our neighbors as ourselves. To those who claim that it is unbiblical to love gays and lesbians, I would answer that we are called not to be correct, but to love.

Let us join with PFLAG and thousands of people from all walks of life to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people.

Let us teach our children that being gay, lesbian, or bisexual is simply another means of expressing love.

Let us write our legislators and leaders to protest anti-gay legislation.

Let us speak the truth in love in the face of hate.