23 June 2009

Democratizing The Dallas Principles (Part One)

Dallas Principles

Gay people are so damn apathetic and unmotivated! That's been true as far back as the time of German Gay Rights pioneer Magnus Hirschfeld, who complained bitterly about it. I expect it to be true through the end of my remaining years on this planet. By eagerly embracing slurs and stereotypes, gobbling up crumbs thrown our way by politicians, and giving the religious Right Wing a free pass to abuse us, we all but invite bigotry and discrimination!

I can't deny though, that since the marriage equality debacle in California, the natives have become a lot more restless! Suddenly, a significant number of us seem to be in the mood for justice. We've finally allowed ourselves to get angry again: Angry at the power structure, angry at our advocacy organizations, angry at a movement pace that too often seems glacial. At least for the moment, we want to march. We want to litigate. We want to speak truth to power! We long for a new, more sharply focused strategy with non-negotiable objectives.

In this spirit of urgency, a motley group of LGBT activists met last month in a Dallas, Texas hotel. Except for former Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, longtime activist Mandy Carter, Straight ally Reverend Jimmy Creech and blogger Pam Spaulding, the names of the 24 participants were unfamiliar to me. All were distinguished in their respective fields, though, which ranged from science, politics, law and commerce to philanthropy, journalism, religion and the arts. After several days of intense discussion, the group drafted a document consisting of a preamble, a set of Civil Rights goals, a call to action and eight operating principles. Then these two dozen professionals dispersed back to their respective hometowns with a mission to publicize their manifesto.

They called it The Dallas Principles; the title references an AIDS activist manifesto known as The Denver Principles, written in 1983. The preamble reads as follows:

At several junctures in American history, the stars have aligned to deliver the promise of equal protection under the law to those previously denied. At this unique time in history, our nation must once again exercise the great tradition of making its people equal . . . those content with the way things are will be judged harshly by history. Those who do not actively advance these ideals or offer excuses will be judged just as harshly . . . we believe in the inherent human dignity of all people. No longer will we submit our children, our family, our friends and ourselves as a political tool for any Party or ideology. A new day has arrived.

Word about the Dallas Principles is spreading fast. There's now a website, and the manifesto has been heavily promoted at The Huffington Post, Pam's House Blend and many other Progressive blogs. The drafters see their document as the foundation of a revitalized, twenty-first century Gay Rights movement. Their stated goal is "achieving full Civil Rights faster". Unfortunately, their manifesto reads like it was put together too fast!

I must admit, I initially found it underwhelming. The whole enterprise struck me as pompous, and the Principles themselves failed to impress me at first reading. However, after re-reading and discussing them with friends, some are starting to grow on me. Here are all eight declarations; save for my style edits, they’re exactly as they appear at the Dallas Principles website:

In order to achieve full Civil Rights now, we avow:

1. Full Civil Rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals must be enacted now. Delay and excuses are no longer acceptable.

When I read these sentences, my first impulse was to say: “Neat trick, if you can pull it off! Just try to eliminate all the different kinds of discrimination at once!” That will almost certainly not happen! However, to the extent that this statement discourages prioritizing one issue over another, I do support it. All forms of discrimination against us are unacceptable, and all are worth the resources we spend on combating them. Who's to say that marriage equality is more important than hate crimes legislation? That open military service trumps access to adoption and foster parenting? It depends on individual priorities. We have no choice but to multi-task and tackle these problems simultaneously. What’s more, we can’t let power brokers and policymakers off the hook until every injustice against us has been reversed!

2. We will not leave any part of our community behind.

What does that mean? This declaration is nebulous. Most people will assume that it addresses Transfolk, but that’s just an assumption. Why weren't they identified by name? Who is actually considered part of our community (a term I use advisedly)? We shouldn't have to guess. Guessing can get us in trouble!

Over the years, many fringe groups have claimed membership in the Gay “community”: Hardcore sado-masochists, fetish worshippers, public sex advocates, “bareback” sex advocates, and even NAMBLA members. I don't share the values of those groups, I want no part of their unsavory activities, and I'd never support a Principle that promotes them!

3. Separate is never equal.

True, but they should've fleshed this statement out a bit more. As is, it sounds too much like a cliché.

4. Religious beliefs are not a basis upon which to affirm or deny Civil Rights.

Patently false! This is an argument for a secular Gay Rights movement, which we already have. Our crusade is all the weaker for lacking a prominent religious component! How could Rev. Jimmy Creech sign off on a statement like this? Haven’t all the sacrifices he’s made on behalf of LGBT equality been validations of his Christian beliefs?

Only one part of this statement is correct, the part about religion justifying the denial of Civil Rights; but true faith, especially Christian faith, is an excellent basis upon which to affirm them. Proof is right there in the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Love others as you love yourself (Matthew 19: 19).

The secular world has been buffaloed, tricked into believing that Scripture supports the marginalization of Gay people; that has never been and will never be true, no matter how many times Pope Ratzinger may say otherwise! What could be more powerful than a faith-based Civil Rights crusade? Look at the one Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led, how it inspired the world, and what sweeping changes it brought to our society. Look, too, at how strong the faith component has made our enemies! This ill-conceived Principle reeks of religion-phobia; I find it totally counter-productive. It robs us of Liberationist theology, an essential weapon in our fight!

5. The establishment and guardianship of full Civil Rights is a non-partisan issue.

True, although most Republicans obviously haven’t realized this truth yet! I hope when they say "non-partisan", the Dallas group isn't just thinking about the major political parties. LGBT Rights is an issue that Libertarians, Greens, Independents, et al can conceivably agree on, too. Limiting ourselves to a narrow, inside-the-Washington-beltway, two-party outreach would make no sense.

6. Individual involvement and grass roots action are paramount to success and must be encouraged.

Very true. Keep this Principle in mind, because I intend to reference it later on!

7. Success is measured by the Civil Rights we all achieve, not by words, access or money raised.

True enough, but on the other hand, just try to achieve success without devoting sufficient time to fund-raising! If raising money is as unimportant as this statement implies, the Dallas group better have the ability to mobilize thousands of eager volunteers; otherwise, its agenda won't amount to anything but words on paper! That said, I also take exception to the implication that words don't matter much. If they didn't, what would be the point of writing a manifesto?

8. Those who seek our support are expected to commit to these principles.

In other words, those who can commit to some of these Principles but not to others aren’t worthy allies? How arrogant!

The drafters seem to have forgotten that LGBT folk are a minority group! We’re in no position to dictate that everybody be on exactly the same page as we are! Many of our allies are still educating themselves about our issues: Our own relatives, for example! They don’t all have to be at the top of the learning curve, and we don’t have to compromise our goals to accept what help they have to offer. Granted, #1, #2 (with caveat) and #3 are Principles our allies must share, but insisting on 100% agreement (especially with the more questionable resolutions) is self-defeating!

We can and should seek common ground with somewhat like-minded people; otherwise, implementing Principle #5 will be impossible! This statement is much too haughty for its own good.

"Democratizing the Dallas Principles" concludes with Part Two.

22 June 2009

Democratizing The Dallas Principles (Part Two)

Dallas Principles

To be sure, some of these Dallas Principles haven't been completely thought out! The list itself isn't complete, either. A few more key concerns appear in the Goals section of the manifesto, a more specific list which hasn't attracted as much attention. Yet even there, some important issues go unaddressed. AIDS activists have criticized the lack of a statement mandating HIV education, prevention and research funding. HIV/AIDS isn't just an issue for Gay men, of course, but we've been so heavily impacted by this epidemic, it makes sense that we might want to address it in this context.

We've got more to worry about than just AIDS, though! What about breast cancer among Lesbians? What about black market silicone and other dangers to Transsexual health? What about the harmful effects of hetero-bigotry on our collective mental health? The Goals section does include a call for "affordable, high quality and culturally-competent health care without discrimination," but that language sounds too generic. I would've preferred more direct wording: There must be a national health care policy tailored to the specific physical and mental health needs of LGBT folk!

While I'm glad the Dallas group addressed education among their Civil Rights Goals, it's far too urgent an issue to have been slotted there. It should've been a Principle! Again, my wording would have been different. It's fine that they stress the need for identity-affirming instruction, free of the bullying atmosphere that exists for most Gay kids. There certainly is a need for that! However, our education-related problems aren't limited to elementary and middle schools. We have them at the college level, too! There's got to be transformative reform in our educational institutions, from kindergarten all the way up to advanced graduate programs.

That transformation necessarily involves overhauling heterosexist school curriculums, mandating sensitivity classes to address fear and superstition about LGBT identity, and demanding our inclusion in required Civics and History texts. The Stonewall rebellion should be taught alongside the Montgomery bus boycotts and the Berkeley free speech protests! What's more, every sex education class should include instruction about same-gender sexuality, and that instruction must be communicated in an unbiased way. When society remains ignorant of the presence, importance and contributions of LGBT people, we suffer for it! We must vigorously oppose religious Right Wing efforts to ban Gay topics from both the public and private school classroom!

However, we can't forget that a true revolution always begins at home: With the oppressed, and the way they think and talk about themselves. At the college level, we must insist that LGBT scholars choose a more respectable name for their discipline than "Queer Studies"; that they rid their discipline of its objectifying tendencies; and that they fully integrate it into mainstream Sociology. Intellectual segregation is just as bad as any other kind! My ideal Education Principle would read something like this: Every school must be transformed into a safe and affirming space for both LGBT students and LGBT curriculum!

What else was left out? A resolution defining the spiritual sadism of "ex-Gay" ministries as torture.  A resolution condemning passivity in response to religious Right Wing attacks. A resolution decrying sexual exploitation of our LGBT incarcerated. A resolution demanding senior living facilities that welcome LGBT elderly. A resolution denouncing media conspiracies of silence around closeted public officials. The proliferation of counter-productive Gay media (i.e. sexual slurs on magazine covers, quasi-pornographic images, and race-baiting headlines like "Gay Is The New Black") should also have been addressed. In my opinion, though, the most glaring omission from The Dallas Principles was this statement: The equality movement must always be conducted with dignity!

Whenever we confront the oppressor, we must do so in such a way that commands respect! That means not giving our enemies permission to speak of us with sexual slurs or think of us as crude stereotypes. It means no nudity or flamboyant costuming, no vulgar displays or self-indulgent behavior. I'm not suggesting we should turn out in business attire, but if the objective is speaking truth to power, it's not helpful if what we wear (or don't wear) gets more attention than what we say! And what we say about LGBT equality should always be serious, not peppered with "f*gsploitation" humor (got that, Max Mutchnick? Are you listening, Tom Ammiano?)!!! Inviting ridicule is not an effective way to deal with bigots!

Our role models should be the Civil Rights demonstrators of the 1960s who, despite their outrage and impatience with injustice, seldom conducted themselves in a less-than-dignified manner. The nobility they displayed turned them into international heroes. Dignity in battle: I believe this principle to be of such importance, the others are all but worthless in its absence!

Crucial omissions notwithstanding, reaction to The Dallas Principles has been mostly positive. Most people seem to think they're a step in the right direction; hundreds have already signed on to the document. The manifesto does have its detractors, though. Veteran activists Michael Petrelis, Jewelle Gomez and others denounce the Principles as an elitist attempt to take control of the Gay Rights movement. This quote taken from Petrelis's blog sums up the latter opinion:

I don't see much new in the so-called Dallas Principles . . . also, I find it somewhat arrogant that twenty-four Gay leaders (mostly from the coasts) can secretly meet in Dallas and come up with something the community is supposed to automatically buy into. Definitely not very transparent, when that's what everyone's complained about (in regard to California's) No on 8 campaign . . .

I don't know how secretive that Dallas meeting was, but its clique-ish approach to strategizing leaves much to be desired. The twenty-four participants didn't just forget to solicit input from rank-and-file LGBT folk. It was intentionally done! "We didn't seek to turn this into a convention," they claim on their FAQ page and add, with more than a hint of hauteur, that their, uh . . . convention "grew out of conversations among like-minded individuals." Of which there could only have been twenty-four? Bullsh*t! The manifesto's popularity suggests otherwise.

What was so odious about making the adoption of Principles a more inclusive effort? Couldn't there have been small-group strategy meetings staged in cities all over the country? International activists might've been invited to take part, too, and their contributions would doubtless have been invaluable. A tad more inclusiveness would've shielded this endeavor from charges of elitism. However, the drafters seem to have almost cultivated an elitist aura around themselves. Despite their lofty rhetoric about uplifting the LGBT "community", they clearly didn't want us involved in mapping out the future of our own struggle. I guess they didn't trust us enough. Or maybe "trust" isn't the correct word to use here . . . maybe I meant to say "respect"?

Yet the Dallas group assumes we trust/respect its membership, enough to let them steer our equality movement. Do we? I certainly don't! However, I do have respect for their agenda. I respect it so much, in fact, I think it should be expanded upon.

What's to stop multiple groups of twenty-four from writing their own manifestos? Why can't there be twenty-four drafting conventions staged across America? What if hundreds of like-minded people got together and brainstormed liberation strategy in every region of these United States? What if they were delegates chosen by ballot to represent each region's concerns? And what if the delegates convened in churches, symbolically reclaiming territory that's been in enemy hands for far too long?

Then, when these multiple manifestos were written, what if we gathered those documents together and merged them? (A conference committee comprised of delegates would perform the task.) What would we see in this blend of diverse voices? I think we'd see what democracy is all about, more forcefully than any Civics text could describe it. We'd see reborn the kind of resolve that produced our nation's Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Most important, we'd see with crystal clarity what it is we all really want and need from our governments, our schools, our news and entertainment media, our religious institutions, our law enforcement agencies, our health care providers, our employers, our families.

When all these LGBT manifestos had been synthesized into one coherent statement, we'd have a phenomenon like the AIDS quilt: An awesome patchwork composition that sends an incredibly compelling, unified message. No doubt the drafters of the Dallas Principles would question the need for such an endeavor; they'd complain that it was a waste of valuable time, that it undermined their efforts. I disagree. It wouldn't invalidate those efforts in any way, only refine them! Whether they realize it or not, their work needs refining! A call for sustained citizen action shouldn't be thrown together so quickly. Let's take enough time to do this job right!

I long for a list of principles that isn't just an expression of the downtown cocktail party fundraiser. It should also reflect the sensibility of the neighborhood drag bar fundraiser! In order to be workable, an LGBT liberation agenda must be truly representative; and in order to be truly representative, it must incorporate as many of our perspectives as possible. With this democratized manifesto, we'd have a grass roots agenda (remember Principle #6?) that many more of us could take personal ownership in. Ownership . . . that's a good thing, you know. If you own something, you're much more likely to maintain it!

10 June 2009

March Down Babylon (Part One)

March Down Babylon

A Gay Pride Month Feature

Lord, deliver me! There has been another "Million F*g March" in Topeka, Kansas! This second farce, like the first, purported to target that town’s most notorious citizen, the Rev. Fred Phelps. Unlike the first, it didn’t take place at the Phelps family compound. Instead, it was mounted in a park where the crazed clergyman often brandishes his infamous “God Hates F*gs” protest signs.

Chris Love, founder of the millionf*gmarch.com website, crowed to the local media about how he and his “f*gs” had struck another blow against Bible bigot terrorism. Meanwhile, Fred Phelps and his family of extremists were hundreds of miles away in Rhode Island, indulging in one of their favorite pastimes: Picketing the funeral of an American soldier! Learning about the park demonstration later that day, Phelps' daughter Shirley heaped much ridicule on it. “They need to come back when they have a million f*gs,” she sneered.

Touché! Mr. Love has yet to find anything close to a million people dumb enough to attend his marches. Last summer, 500 or so showed up. This time, only about 150 did. I suppose the diminishing numbers are something to be thankful for, but one procession of self-proclaimed perverts was already too many! How many times does he plan to recycle this sick joke?

Chris Love, Fred Phelps and Shirley Phelps-Roper deserve each other! All three are distinctly lacking in class, all three love to stage tacky publicity stunts, and all three embarrass the groups they're supposed to represent. In my opinion, Chris Love may be the worst of the three! Twisted as they are, the Phelps family members actually do believe in what they're doing. I think Love's motives are cynical and opportunistic! Dude just wants his fifteen minutes of fame (over and over again, it seems).

If he really had courage and integrity, he wouldn't be wasting resources on a senile hatemonger and his demagogue daughter, fringe elements who long ago lost credibility with the public. Instead, he'd be taking on the ones who still have power to hurt us: The big boys of the Dominionist movement! He'd be marching on Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. He'd be marching on Rick Warren's Saddleback Church. He'd be picketing the Vatican! He'd be targeting any number of popular televangelists, but he wouldn't be compromising the dignity of his marchers with a sexual slur! I think Chris Love is a glory-seeker, an ignorance enabler, and a coward. Oh, but he isn’t the only one . . . not by a long shot!

Most of us are cowards. We're so chicken-hearted, in fact, we just might be the New White Meat! What makes us so afraid? Not f*g-bashers in a dark alley. Not police harassment when we go to a bar. Not the possibility of contracting HIV. Gay Americans are terrified of the religious Right Wing!

How do I know this? I know it by the way we fail to overload email boxes when anti-Gay preachers vilify us in the media. I know it by the way we tend to melt like the rain-drenched cake from "MacArthur Park" when we debate Bible bigots. I know it by the way thousands of anti-Gay churches go picket-less every Sunday morning. I know it by the way millions of us flock like zombies to these same churches and willingly suffer psychological torture! LGBT folk have a fear of Fundamentalist religion that makes every other human phobia pale in comparison!

I was overjoyed when, in the aftermath of California's Proposition 8 decision, outraged Gay people and their allies descended in protest on Mormon temples. It was a glorious outpouring of righteous anger, but predictably, it didn't last. The Mormons began squealing about "religious persecution", and all too soon, the protesters backed off. I daresay there may still be a few of us picketing Latter Day Saints property, but a few of us just ain't gonna cut it!

We should be demonstrating in substantial numbers, outside as many Mormon churches as possible! We should be bearing down on them until they say "mercy"! But this isn't just about Mormons. The Catholics, the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the COGICs, et al . . . all of them deserve besieging every weekend! Muslim and Orthodox Jewish congregations need to feel some heat, too!

Recent revelations about Prop 8 funding prove once again that Fundamentalist churches are the source of slanderous perceptions about LGBT folk. Make no mistake about it! They are the source of claims that Gay couples defile marriage. They are the source of lies about Gay adults corrupting children. They are the source of rumors that we "recruit" others into a depraved "lifestyle"!

It's Fundie preachers who liken us to murderers, rapists, thieves, prostitutes and hard drug abusers. Their mendacious doctrine is the core reason why Gay kids are bullied, Gay Boy Scouts are banned, and Gay soldiers are forced to hide their sexual orientation; why LGBT topics can't be discussed in most schools; why Gay adoption and foster-parenting is controversial; why community leaders, athletes and celebrities who are Gay cower in the closet; why Lesbian couples aren't depicted in TV commercials; why movie projects with LGBT characters and non-comedic subject matter lack for funding in Hollywood! It's why efforts to repeal DOMA and pass ENDA repeatedly stall in Congress. Worst of all, it's why hate crimes happen to us. We're being maimed and killed as a result of this demonization!

Our worst troubles can be traced back to some church pulpit or other. These so-called houses of God are anything but! Once upon a time, Babylon was a wicked city. Now, it's a wicked church, filled with twice as much evil than that fabled city ever contained!

There are hundreds of local LGBT organizations all over the United States. Their leaders know as well as you and I do how devastating Fundamentalist church oppression is. You'd expect them to devote much time and energy to protest actions that target anti-Gay clergy. The vast majority do not. Why don't they?

What's the point in calling your group a Stonewall Democratic Club if your activities don't resemble the Stonewall rebellion at all? What good does it do to make outraged public statements about Peter LaBarbera or Tony Perkins or Fred Phelps when you ignore radical Bible bigots in your own town? How can you justify putting so many resources into Pride celebrations when demonizing doctrine gets taught within a few blocks of your Gay Community Center?  Or maybe even right next door?  What are we so friggin' proud of? The way we let the religious Right shove a boot in our asses year after year?

"March Down Babylon" continues with Part Two.

March Down Babylon (Part Two)

March Down Babylon

A Gay Pride Month Feature

Our self-appointed "leadership" has failed us miserably! Look at GLAAD, an anti-defamation watchdog so co-opted by the Hollywood establishment that it endorses some of the most offensive media imaginable! Look at HRC, a group more interested in raising its political profile than in advancing equality goals! Look at inept attorneys like Shannon Minter, so afraid to litigate marriage equality at the Federal level that they urge Gay couples to gamble justice at the ballot box! Look at has-been activists like David Mixner, with nothing to offer but limited access to policymakers and warmed-over strategies for getting their attention! Look at clueless Gay clergy like the MCC's Rev. Nancy Wilson, preachers who torpedo their own uplifting messages by stigmatizing LGBT faithful as "queer Christians". It’s a stoned heartbreaker!

If I had the power to do so, I'd fire them all! How I wish I could hire new leadership! Who I'd hire may surprise you. I'd hire people who come from a solid faith tradition. People whose faith is in God and not the Bible, and who know there's a difference between the two; yet people well-versed in Scripture, savvy enough to not be intimidated by Apostle Paul-quoting Dominionists! People intelligent enough to know that neither the story of Sodom and Gomorrah nor Paul's prohibitions against sexual perversion have anything to do with those of us Jesus Christ called eunuchs who have been so from birth (Matthew 19:12). People who, unlike our current "leaders", don't hesitate to make a strong moral case for LGBT rights!

I want leadership that knows a Civil Rights struggle is more concerned with morality than with politics! I want leaders who neither address nor refer to me with insulting names! I want leaders who can't be seduced or cowed by power brokers. I want leaders who are as infuriated by anti-Gay religious doctrine as abolitionists were by slavery and freedom marchers were by segregation; and I don't give a damn if these leaders are Gay, Lesbian, Pansexual, Transsexual or heterosexual! All I care about is that they're committed 100% to two objectives: Achieving full equality for God's LGBT children, and reclaiming Christianity from those who've perverted its meaning! These objectives are intimately connected in my mind; I don't believe they can be realized separately.

These leaders of faith must march us into battle against the religious Right Wing! For what it's worth, here's my idea for a battle plan: In every city, we should identify the worst anti-Gay clergy and picket their damn churches on a rotating basis every weekend! We don't want meager turnouts, either: There should be at least 100 people at every protest, LGBT folk and/or allies. We should schedule participants ahead of time, and have alternates who stand in when the regulars can't make it. Only in the most inclement of weather should these protests be postponed!

I'm not talking about the standard kind of protest march, though. I don't feature folks walking in circles with placards on their shoulders, and somebody yelling through a bullhorn. The media isn't much interested in that kind of thing, either. It's become a bore! Action news crews are only too familiar with those played-out tactics by now. They rate a few seconds of coverage, if that much. We've got to offer reporters something more exciting, a real production that piques their interest. We need a fresh approach to picketing! We also need something that will challenge heterosexist clergy in the most direct manner possible.

So why don't we turn every church protest into a church service? Each one could last about two hours, just like regular church services do. Let's have singing! Let's have testifying! Let's have down-home preaching! We could call these actions "counter-sermons", inspirational messages that counter the hateful rhetoric spoken inside the churches we picket. We'd be contrasting that rhetoric with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, and giving believers a choice of services to attend: Fundamentalist or Liberationist!

To accomplish this goal, we'd want to identify the most charismatic ministers allied to our movement and enlist their aid. When I say charismatic, I don't just mean good speakers. I mean phenomenal speakers! The kind who bring assemblies to their feet shouting and crying. We'd ask them to forfeit one or more weekends preaching at their own churches to come and preside over an anti-Gay church protest. We could pass the collection plate on site and offer them modest payment for their services.

Sermons are just part of the package, though! At these protests, we'd want some of the LGBT attendees to share their discrimination horror stories. Most of us have such stories to tell. They're powerful examples of the harm that's done when religion goes wrong. I daresay much of the Straight public hasn't got a clue about what we go through! This would be our chance to give them a clue. These kinds of personal histories wouldn't be unusual in a church setting: In many African-American congregations, there’s no such thing as worship services where members of the flock don't give testimony!

There's no such thing as worship services without a choir, either. The Mormons may have their massive Tabernacle Choir, but we have our many Gay Men's Choruses! We could really put their talents to use at counter-sermons. However, their repertoire would need to be tailored to the event. No solemn, stately hymns allowed! Nothing stiff-backed and proper. We'd want those choruses singing say-amen-somebody kind of music: Thomas Dorsey Gospel standards, rousing anthems, vintage freedom songs from the Civil Rights era, and Progressive selections from the songbooks of Pete Seeger, Holly Near, Sweet Honey In The Rock, Harry Belafonte and the like.

I suspect every Gay Men's Chorus has somebody in it who can wail like Aretha Franklin or Luther Vandross! We'd need those folks out front, leading the choruses and doing occasional solos. In the event nobody in the group was Gospel-trained, the preacher could often substitute, or somebody from the community known for their singing ability. Wherever you find Lesbians, Gay men, Pansexual and Transfolk gathered, there'll always be vocal talent on tap! After all, doesn't the Book of Revelations say we're destined to be singers for the Lord?

Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with Him 144,000 who had His name and His Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb.

Of course, we'd want musicians on hand; canned music at rallies is verboten! Nothing elaborate, though: An acoustic guitar or two, maybe drums and/or bass, a tambourine, a harmonica or portable keyboard every now and then. In a pinch, musical accompaniment could consist of just a tambourine player and chorus members clapping hands. The chorus and musicians could be paid out of the collection plate as well. What about some inspirational dancers, too? Those are all the rage in churches nowadays. I think counter-sermon protests could potentially accommodate all kinds of creative expression. Lord knows, there are plenty of creative people among us!

Last but not least, our protesters should make a bold visual statement with their mode of dress. The theme is obvious: What's the symbol of LGBT identity? It's the Rainbow flag! Coincidentally (or not), rainbows also happen to be the symbol of God's Holy Covenant with humankind (Genesis 9:15, 16). So rainbow stoles, the kind worn by Rev. Troy Perry and other MCC clergy, should be a wardrobe necessity for all preachers, musicians and chorus members, attendees should sport rainbow bandannas, and a huge rainbow flag should fly over every church protest. The image of Jesus Christ should be on prominent display as well!

"March Down Babylon" concludes with Part Three.

March Down Babylon (Part Three)

March Down Babylon

A Gay Pride Month Feature

Do y'all see what I'm getting at here? Faith-based aggression requires a faith-based defense strategy! We can't just show up at the church door and mount a loud demonstration. It's not enough! The Fundies will just call us godless heathen and play the victim card like they've done  countless times before. We've got to access people's spirituality! We've got to inspire the people. We've got to arouse them! We've got to pit the true God against the false god! In short, we've got to re-invent the protest action; and once we've re-invented it, I predict we'll start drawing supportive crowds. If the public knows you've got something compelling to offer, the public will turn out to experience it! Here's some cautionary advice, though, about how not to sabotage our own church demonstrations:

We should never come dressed in drag or outrageous costumes. A protest rally is not a Pride parade! Granted, some people think drag, fetish wear and partial nudity make a powerful political statement, but let's get real: that's not the only kind of statement it makes! If you want to be taken seriously by your enemies, it's inappropriate!  BTW, when I say "drag", by the way, I am not talking about the gender-appropriate clothing of Transsexual folk.

We should never come with signs and/or clothing emblazoned with profane or derogatory language. No banners that scream F*ggots Bash Back or We're Here, We're Queer, etcetera. Likewise, we shouldn't be out there yelling or singing profane words, or engaging in obscene behavior. Fundies would be expecting that kind of presentation, and they know how to effectively use it against us!

We should never engage preachers who insist on referring to us as "d*kes, "f*gs", "trannies" or "queers". In case you didn't know it, "ex-Gay" ministries teach that LGBT folk are queer! Regardless of what these words may mean to some of us, they connote abnormality to the Fundie crowd. If our counter-sermons only strengthen their prejudices, we'll have done nothing but waste our time! They'll never have any respect for us. We should also beware of Gay-affirming Fundamentalists (yes, they exist!) who believe Transgender expression is sinful. They don't actually use the slurs, but they preach them all the same!

We should never vandalize church property or engage in any kind of violent protest. I know how tempting it is to do so, especially when the pastors and congregations are viciously anti-Gay. Nevertheless, it's a temptation we must always resist!

We should never enter the churches we picket, not even if invited. Fundamentalist churches have been defiled by Satan! We'd strive to create sacred space outside of them.

We should never disparage religious faith, regardless of how we may feel about it as individuals. Denouncing faith is a losing proposition, not only in this country but in most other parts of the world!  Resist the temptation!  It bears noting that no legitimate religion on Earth espouses intolerance and hatred if properly taught. It's Fundie hatemongers that church protesters must target, not the doctrines they distort!

Counter-sermons could be one method of fighting back against anti-Gay preachers, but we can't forget that they don't just preach from the pulpit! They also access TV, radio, print publications and the Web. We can't any ignore any of the venues religious Right Wingers use to spread their poison!

A new national anti-defamation group must rise up to replace the ineffectual GLAAD! Its mission must be to monitor all religious hate speech in the media. Local branches would have the most important work to do: They'd keep track of regionally popular televangelists and religious pundits, record instances of hate speech, and publish regular reports in all the local Gay publications. Those reports would necessarily include the email addresses of TV stations, radio networks, newspapers and websites that have become vehicles for offensive speech, as well as contact information for their commercial sponsors!

Everybody would be obligated to email a complaint! It wouldn't have to be lengthy; just a sentence or two to make it clear that you won't tolerate slander! The Jewish community responds to anti-Semitism with the cry "never again", and we should echo that cry (after all, we were in the concentration camps, too)! We should never again allow lies to be disseminated about us without reacting in collective outrage! If you do nothing else, get into the habit of putting your anger at Bible bigots into words; believe me, it's both cathartic and empowering! There are additional methods we can use to strike back at religious hatemongers, but I'll leave those suggestions for others to make.

Recently in Washington, DC, a group called Clergy United for Marriage Equality made news. It held a press conference decrying efforts to ban same-gender marriage in the District. One of the group’s members, Rev. Louise Green, followed up with an op-ed piece for The Washington Blade. It’s fairly typical of the public statements we get from religious allies. She writes:

It is for religious leaders who honor loving same-sex couples to speak against the assertion that "faith" leads to only one conclusion . . . we affirm that our traditions and Scriptures teach us that wherever love is present, God is also present, and that our human capacity to love one another is a great gift. We say that the ability of two people to enter into a relationship and form families of love and care is one expression of this gift, holy and good . . . there will be heartfelt disagreement on this issue, and so we call on all people of DC . . . to engage in respectful and loving dialogue on marriage equality. As always, I am committed to such a conversation, and encourage colleagues on all sides to do the same . . . Clergy United for Marriage Equality asks for the right to perform (same-gender marriage) ceremonies within our own sense of religious integrity, ministering to those who seek our blessing. We want the District of Columbia to recognize our religious choice by offering civil sanction of same-sex unions. In this spirit, we raise our voices in the struggle for the right and freedom to marry.

I do appreciate this kind of advocacy; I'm sure most of us do. However, we need much stronger statements than this from our religious allies! They can't just say they disagree with their colleagues on the far Right Wing; they must denounce those colleagues in no uncertain terms. Fundamentalism is wrong! There can be no “religious choice” for disciples of Jesus Christ; there is only His Gospel! Why do Progressive clergy tolerate false prophecy in their denominations? Why do they value church unity over a Christian message that’s accurate and consistently inclusive?

If termites have invaded your home, does it make sense to accommodate them? Unless you root those termites out, your house will come crashing down around your ears! Fundamentalists have corrupted the foundations of God’s house! Liberationists ignore such corruption at risk of kindling the Lord’s divine wrath! For their own sake as well as ours, they must take up righteous arms against the Franklin Grahams of this world! False prophets savage the Savior’s doctrine, just like they savage His LGBT children. Marriage equality is neither the only issue here, nor the most important!

The church of Babylon has been waging all-out war on us for too long: War on our human dignity, our livelihoods, our Civil Liberties, our physical and mental health! We must make the walls of Babylon tumble to the ground, just like the walls of Jericho did. We must become like Christian soldiers, marching as to war! We’ve got to march down Babylon!

We’re not ready, though. We're demoralized, disorganized and weak! We need God’s commanding officers to guide us, arm us, and help us conquer our fear of toxic religion. Our movement cries out for the leadership of Gay-affirming clergy! I pray that they’re willing to give us their leadership. I also pray that we’ll have the good sense to follow it!

"March Down Babylon" 
was inspired by and is dedicated to Dr. Jerry Maneker.