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Pride and Prejudice: Minister accused of gay hate crimes

It’s ironic that on the day I finish editing my novel about synthesising being gay and Christian, there’s a news story on just that in the city in which my story is set. The front page of the local rag has a picture of a pastor set against the recent gay Pride parade. His email to the organisers has earned him a hate crime allegation with the police.

I felt many things as I read that story.

First was the irony that this same newspaper published the faces and names of men at a homosexual gathering which got raided to shame them. It was mentioned at a Pride event – local gay people have not forgotten how their paper treated them.  Perhaps fearing hate crimes allegations directed at itself, the paper now covers the Pride celebration like any other local event. Its tone in this article seemed to be firmly with the LGBT community and against this local evangelical minister.

My second feeling is that this paper’s article is very biased and poor. We do not know what the email of “homophobic language” contained. We are only told that the minister, Alan Clifford,  went up to a stall at Pride and offered an exchange of leaflets. His were called “Good news for Gays” and “Jesus – Saviour of us All”. Too true, I thought; for God loves gay people and is here for us as much as anyone else. Further research confirms the tenor of the minster’s views – that ‘gays’ are perverts who need curing – which has become international news. His views are upsetting, angering – and make me sad.

My next thought was regret that the Pride organisers made this email into a police affair. If I had received an email of the sort I am assuming was sent from Dr C, I would have written back, explaining my views and challenging his. I’d have directed him to George Hopper’s pamphlet “The Reluctant Journey” about a Methodist who, on exploring the Biblical teaching on being gay and actually meeting some, had a complete change of heart. He is celebrated as a supporter of gay Christian people, whilst retaining his more evangelical and Bible based faith. I hope my own book might assist with this too.

I believe that challenge and heart changing is far more productive than crime making. What the latter does is reverse the oppression, so that traditional Christians and other faiths feel they’re persecuted ones, and wonder how equality and anti discrimination works when they are being silenced. You give prejudiced people more reason to feel it, and more reason to band together – Dr Clifford is already hailed as being persecuted for witnessing. Two papers copying each other ended that the minster is anti Muslim too. But saying that Jesus is greater than Mohammed is not Islamophobic  – for Christians, Jesus as God is higher than any prophet, and banning or deriding that statement is not allowing freedom of belief. There is far more genuine Islamophobia in the media and from politicians, which I abhor.

I also note the irony that complaints about Dr Clifford being offensive to lead to investigation; but he cannot call the other side offensive and register a complaint.

I would like to see an end to all such offensives.

I’ve now read Dr Clifford’s response. He makes two other valid points – that the intention was compassionate campaigning, not to harass; and that ‘homophobia’ is a misnomer, for prejudice is not fear. Perhaps there is a little fear in anti gay sentiment, of the notion that they are set to break up the order of your society, and what being open to them might mean for your faith journey. It’s something I can relate to, but I am glad of where that journey took me and to whom I now embrace, not decry.

The other concern is – we have too much police control, and that police were experienced as aggressive at this event. Like the local paper, they have turned from breaking up gay meetings to supporting gay people. This is admirable in principle.

It seems we are now in a minefield where freedom of speech as ever is being eroded – even on matters where one sympathises. Sentiments which hurt and insult others who have perhaps already been through stress should not go unchecked – they should be challenged.  But not be afraid to broadcast a view lest it leads to a police record.

I am deeply saddened when people use their freedom of speech to curtail the freedoms of others. I cannot understand why those whose central message ought to be about love see a legitimate expression of it as an aberration, something abhorrent to be campaigned against rather than celebrated. When a faith should be about a better world – more free, more loving, more understanding – I am despondent that some preach hatred and separation instead of inclusion. I refer them to the Easter sermon that was preached in the film version of Chocolat.

It’s PR like this that harms evangelical Christianity especially – you are not serving, you are doing a disservice.

But I am sad at the other team too. Subverting and reversing freedom and anger is no way to be better understood and accepted by those not yet able and willing to do so. It’ll keep those Christians with feeling they’re misunderstood victims who must stick together and fight for the cause. It means the circle might go round again, spinning between bashing gay people or Bible bashers, depending on who has the most sway on leadership.

We don’t want any bashing. We want a world where such differences are no longer divisions, and people don’t not say or do something for fear of reprisal, but because they no longer feel it.

It also seems my novel’s message is still much needed, for both sides.

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Are gay groups the voice of the gay population?

In a word, no. I’ve never liked the word lesbian or queer but I do include bi women. I can’t speak for trans or men but I suspect some of them will agree.

Much of the talking is done by community leaders, and it’s not the voice of many of us. Note I don’t call rainbow people a community – I think we are diverse and it’s like calling women a community. There are communities about being LGBT etc but not all of us answering to those letters are in them, or feel part of them. We feel in general that a few are speaking for the whole and that those who attend Pride and similar meetings are not reflective of the non-straight population, and so are not the best place to find out what our needs and views are.

I have heard it said publicly that gay people don’t like the gay section of the libraries, bookshops etc. I’d like to counteract that by saying – thank you to those who have one for making books about gay issues easily findable. However, the books and films are of a particularly ilk – often small press/indie film studios which are low quality and the women are quite often depicted as butch and in the gay scene. I’d like to see the much broader range of books about gay people double shelved so that they’re in the main section so everyone can discover and enjoy them, and they are displayed somewhere so gay people can browse easily (same with films). By putting gay books in a gay corner, it means they get a small circulation and so are not very viable. And isn’t (or shouldn’t) the point of many gay media materials be to integrate and be better understood with/by wider society?

I’d like to illustrate with an example from two film festivals, both in the same city over the same summer. The Lesbian and Gay one showed in a 30 seater screen in the arts cinema as one off showings at obscure times, all to ‘visible’ lesbians, and you’d probably feel uncomfortable trying to go to a movie if you didn’t match the sexuality/gender. Then I went to two films at the International festival, also about gay women. The multiplex large auditoria were packed with all kinds of people. As the female filmmakers said in their Q and A, it is a story about love for everyone – but they just happen to love each other. People had come to see a good story, not a ghetto special interest film. Things like Brokeback Mountain and Tipping the Velvet prove how well a gay storyline can do if shown to a wide audience.

I’ve also heard it said that the angst ridden storylines are not reflective of us. Again, I’d like to contradict by saying that sadly for many, it is real and this is ongoing due to the community itself as much as the (happily improving) outside world. I don’t think that all the storylines should be about suffering, but generally – stories are about conflict and tension – it’s what makes them. (I say this as a writer working on publishing a book soon on this kind of subject). First love, coming of age, personal epiphanies are the stuff of stories for everyone. It’s something we can all relate to, but like a religion, it’s true that the content needs to go beyond the initial stage and reflect the rest of lives (ie sermons about conversion don’t help you move forward spiritually once you have come to faith). But for many, it is a vital and ongoing stage that happens not just to teens but people at all ages (also to friends and families).

I don’t have a problem with being gay being classed in the issue section of books; it is one, sadly, for many. And even if all society accepted it, it’s still confusing and it is helpful to know you are not alone and where to go for support should things be hard for you. And that as sexuality is fluid, it’s not a case of come out and that’s it – I say it’s pin not nail the tail on the donkey, and it’s nice to have books and films which reflect those changes too.

What has been hardest for me (and others I know) is the sense of otherness from the rainbow community. Instead of coming home, it feels like another group to have to conform to or be other there too. Despite the talk of diversity, I’ve found the gay communities I’ve met to tacitly expect conformity and to be as didactic as any religious group I’ve been part of. And many have also had prejudices, eg “real lesbians not bis”!!

I feel strongly that being gay (or trans etc) is not an identity, it is not who we are, but just one aspect of our personalities. I have found so many of the rainbow gang want it to be the distinguishing defining factor, the thing we most put forward about ourselves.

And I sense a lot of anger and prickliness from LGB etc people during this transition to greater societal acceptance, and I think that is counterproductive.

It’s also more complex than being simply an existential statement – sexuality and friendship and their changing boundaries are fascinating and not always compatible with the definition of “fact”.

I too would like to see positive resolution to any stressful story, but I also think expecting to be embraced in the short timespace of a teen novel is unlikely, sadly, for some. I know people who’ve been waiting decades for their families to come round, and I’d rather equip people to handle that not everyone is supportive from the start than to expect it and be surprised when it doesn’t happen; but to obviously encourage wider society to offer that support from the outset.

I think we are in a transitional time and there’s often clunkiness and imbalance while things change, just as equal opportunities and political correctness goes too far, they are trying to address important matters. I think some gay people are expecting too much of a change too soon, and if they came out long ago, or benefitted from more supportive modern attitudes, it might be that they cannot understand the need for some of these story lines. I’d ask them to be patient as society continues its vast shift towards acceptance.
I’d also like to ask that communities don’t dish out otherness and judgement to their own. Rainbow colours really are about the whole spectrum, so we should move on from simply shades of pink to embracing and listening to all the shades, instead of creating a double bind that causes marginalisation and confusion to continue, even in countries where diversity is openly celebrated and protected.

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Christians on Gay Marriage

This is in reponse to a post on a British Christian website during the government consultation on giving gay peole the chance to enter into full legal marriage. It was  sent to the site’s editor.

I am saddened by the “Christians Urged to So NO to Gay marriage” post on the homepage. Out of an A4 length article, there are 3 lines from a pro gay Christian  (who are prevalent). The yellowed in paragraph would suggest the site manager’s views, who is also the author of the article.

My faith journey has shown me that neither the Bible nor a deeper knowledge of God supports this view that gay people are not loved and accepted by God. George Hopper’s little book, Reluctant Journey, charts how a conventional Methodist researched the topic and came out still Bible believing but with a very different view. Rather than just study, he met many gay people and their stories of hurt and rejection also made him recast his view.

It’s well documented that the Bible passages on homosexuality – which are very few – are not about the loving and committed relationships, but forms of debauchery and abuse.

I have also firmly felt that as James Alison says in his books, God is clear that he loves all his children, not to chastise and reject and curtail the love and sexuality of some whilst celebrate it in others. If anyone claims God to be about punishment and inequality and segregation, they are not speaking from God, no matter what their source.

I wonder what really is behind the anti homosexual drive is?

My brothers and sisters, why can you not count gay people among your siblings? Do you really see them as such a threat?

The government’s new proposed laws allow faith groups to keep their freedom of speech and to have the right not to have to embrace gay people and marriage. I do not see what the fear and outrage is, therefore. But what a bitterly disappointing way to exercise one’s freedom – by taking that of another.

The family patterns many Christians seek to uphold are in fact not in the Bible. The Old Testament is full of concubines and multiple wives; and the main players of the New are apparently single men travelling in groups with men and women. To say that God created male and female is not to say that that is the only legitimate pairing. If committed loving relationships and values of love, respect and justice is at the crux of Christian family, then you have nothing to fear from gay people.

Reading The Help reminds that within 50 years, Christians felt they could justify racial segregation which often led to acts of violence. Just over 200 years ago, Christians were among those who fought to stop slavery, whilst others were slave owners. We have still not got complete equality for women. Can you not see that some things done in the name of God are not in his name? Whatever is is best, most loving, most freeing, most noble – that is from God. If it is not, then it is not. Ask yourselves whether what you do in really in God’s name and is going to add to the Kingdom or take from it.

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I Love You Phillip Morris

The trailer and DVD packaging suggests a laughathon but this is misleading. Those wanting a lighthearted, feel good escape movie will be confronted by some heavy material, including heart break and terminal illness – dying is in the first scene. And those not wanting a silly buddy movie will be wrongly put off a true story which is touching and has some important issues.

It’s those issues that make me write.

The DVD extras make no mention of a campaign to release Steven Jay Russell, who has been in prison in solitary confinement for 13 years. His crime officially is for being a repeat offending con man and escapee. However, being in Texas and under Bush’s presidency, the film hints that the real reason for this severity might be his homosexuality.

Russell says ‘nobody gets hurt.’ In fictional con movie The Brothers Bloom, another Steven says ‘the best tricks are where everyone gets what they want’. The crimes committed are mostly impersonation. Although never trained as a lawyer, Steven Russell performed very well as one. He says in the film to the judge that he didn’t want to see his client – ‘a humble woman’ – roughbeaten by the slick serial litigator for the other side. The judge saw his point – and so do I.

Reading this week about the early King Henrys of England, it emerges that the power of law came from this era – something still in force in England and therefore arguably taken to America by settlers. Many of us internationally feel angry with finance and government at present. The other pillar, law – a ‘service’ many of us can’t afford – is in cahoots with other pillars to enforce a system that often isn’t just. Law should be about justice and protecting the innocent, but so often it’s an expensive form of bullying and is more concerned about property than right. That Steven used it for his own ends is what many people do anyway. He wanted to release his partner from prison – who had served on a minor offence, so he impersonated those who had the power release Phillip. He helped the ‘humble woman’ win her case.

But mostly Steven was motivated by love. It was often twisted into materialism where Steven believed money and gifts buy happiness and that obvious status symbols are our birthright and the signs of success. His partners – Phillip at least – didn’t need that life to believe Steven loved him or treated him well, and it ultimately led to over a decade of separation. Steven made money by putting large amounts of his company’s money in high interest accounts whilst it sat there between transactions. That to me that is acumen, not a crime. It didn’t seem to be hurting anyone – unlike the financial problems of now. He lived the life of investment bankers – and yet very few of those have suffered, especially not those at the top. Instead, their country has bailed them out with public money. Although Steven took a large cut from that fund, it was interest that wasn’t being made without his resourcefulness and the company benefitted as well as him. What would have been better was to have told the board rather than do it secretly – although one asks if the board would have let him keep any of it and if they alone would have benefitted from his idea instead. It seems the fierce punishments for fraud really relates to the value put on money and possession.

Another real life conman was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can. His reward was to be head hunted for a new career that utilised his gall, not punished for it. Why is Steven Russell so different? One wonders if what really upsets the establishment is not the innocent people are duped but that their precious professions are tainted by unqualified outsiders who can ape them and do just as well. It is not that I condone con artistry – and was shocked at his feigning AIDS – but that the punishment for Steven is far too high. He has not harmed anyone. The watershed at end of the film might have changed him, as he realises that that high lifestyle is not necessary and that being a conman hides from being his real self. Instead of being able to put that into practice, he has been locked away for all but one hour each day since 1998, separated from Phillip and the rest of the world.

 His sentence is a ridiculous 144 years – the number beloved of Jehovah’s witnesses and the book of Revelations – more than most serial killers and sexual abusers.

This is disproportionate punishment and is another misuse of public money as well as warped justice.

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