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What I think of Christians at Pride

There was quite a noisy group at my recent most local LGBT etc Pride, who now have a prominent stall. They have their own uniforms – a T-shirt with a slogan which matches their banner; and then a self styled one of rainbow dog collars… for these are Christians, and several are clergy.

On one hand, it’s to be applauded that this group is there and is trying to be visible, despite the fact that some other Christians criticise them. I also overheard a flag clad woman holding the hand of another comment: I hate it when the Church tries to join in with our day.

And I – a woman on the outer edges of both worlds – understood that.

The Christians in the parade want to say: we accept you, LGBT+ people. (Often they mean just gay… I’m not sure churches have got their heads round all the letters yet.) They acknowledge that Christianity and other faiths have hitherto persecuted their gay siblings – and some still do.

I’d like to point out that the notion that same sex love as being something to decry and exclude over has come from faith groups.

Many of those who still judge homosexuals are those with a conservative faith.

So one could say that the need for Pride came out of religious prohibition, which influenced laws and morals and medicine, so that what denounces LGBT people can be traced to faith roots.

Hence, it’s brave but ironic that there is a Christian presence at Pride.

Sadly like many, I have experienced struggle in coming to terms with not being heterosexual, especially as a woman of faith. I’ve written and published a novel about it, which is available to buy from many online sources, called Parallel Spirals. There will be a sequel.

I happen to know that many of the people on the Christian stall and march are not LGBT. They’re allies, but they have not experienced the challenges of the realisation that you are other, and that otherness may not be welcome. They have not sat in a pew (or sofa with a smoothie, if you’re that kind of church) wondering if the message of God’s love and theirs will still apply if this church really knew them and who they loved. Would they still get a hug (or even a handshake) in the peace; would they still get an invite to homegroups or youth or elder groups or those endless barbecues or garden parties if the truth about them was known? Would they still be allowed their positions of leadership if it was known what they were really like? Do these church people know what it’s like to earnestly search scripture to see if they really are condemned? NO YOU AREN’T, by the way!! Do they have to hear exhortions about the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman and the inevitable family you’re supposed to have, and feel nervous and excluded? Have they had to put up with people who have – almost for granted – what you don’t, and tell you that you can’t have it – namely marriage and family?

Of course, nongay people in church have other kinds of suffering and misfitting, and it might allow them to have great empathy and solidarity with the people that Pink Pride is about. I’ve heard people speak of other kinds of otherness… it’s not only LGBT people who feel a sense of not fitting, if not exclusion, in their faith communities.

But some seem to be presumptious and patronising. Is it fair to say it’s like white people in a Black celebration saying “We weren’t slaves ourselves, but we do know how you feel”? Of course it’s their way of saying – you never should have been, and we stand with you to show we’re not part of that. We see the well-meaning as much as we might cringe at the execution.

It’s also easy for the oppressed to allow no outsiders to sympathise. Am I angry at men against  violence against women in White Ribbon? Have I not applauded those who stand with something they’re not? Would I not march in solidarity with something  I care about, and be put off if I was told that I had no right to, as I’m outside the oppressed group?

I observed this tribe within a tribe with bemusement, oblivious to how their rainbow stickers and collars seemed amongst the outre costumes, squirting their God’s love like bubbles to passers by with the proffering of a gay positive sticker and a few words…but these little interactions felt like that delicate transient rainbow film.

Or actually, was that bubble the start of a new idea, a new relationship?

So am I saying that Christians shouldn’t have a stall at Pride? Am I saying that their well intentioned solidarity is wrong? No…but am am saying: your message has to be relevant and congruent and consistent, and be aware of how it looks from the other side. Don’t pretend you easily understand when you don’t… But actually, you might. And yes, I do think my novel can help with that. Listen to LGBT people and hear their stories. It will mean really chatting – often in a way that you can’t at fast moving, raucous Prides – and really sitting with them, being prepared to follow up, and to hear how LGBT+ people feel about faith and church and what it’s done to them. And to put it right and show a better way. As I know you can.

And actually, I’m quite touched that a group gives up its day to show that solidarity for something they aren’t, risking censure from both sides, and to transform the view and relationship from judgement and exclusion into love and welcome.

 

 

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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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