Because It Doesn’t Go Without Saying

My close friend Laura (aka Laurage – I’m Hannage) posted this on Facebook last week: 7 things straight people aren’t understanding about Orlando and I’m addressing the 7th thing, that “you may think that we’re ok, that it goes without saying that you are not homophobic and you condemn the attacks and the men who shout abuse in the streets and the Senators who legislate to make our lives harder. But it doesn’t go without saying. We need to hear it. So tell us.”

I wish I had called my gay and lesbian friends two Sundays ago after the Orlando attack, but I didn’t, because I was so focused on my own shock and trying to not cry in front of my kids. We ended up telling our 4 and 6 year-olds what happened so they would understand why I was sad. A few days later, I spoke with one of my oldest friends Chris, whose wedding to dreamboat Phillip I got to officiate in San Francisco’s City Hall a few years ago. Chris made sure I read this about Islamic homophobia.

Meanwhile I attended the iftar in San Gabriel over this past weekend (the meal that for Muslims breaks the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan), where I should have been prepared with a speech and was not, as I imagined I’d be just one of many community friends attending. I wish there had been more of us non-Muslims, and in particular, members of the LGBTQ community, at the iftar. But I’m pretty sure there were none, unless I count myself as a bi woman, who never had much luck with the ladies and married a wonderful man.

It was well attended by the members of the mosque and local Muslim community – at least 100 – and when they asked me to come up and say a few words, I rambled with some platitudes, later reflected on the missed opportunity and what I might have said, then realized I couldn’t have said it anyways. I’ll return to this point.

I’m in an interesting position. Over the past six years, as part of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church community I served, I built bridges with local Muslims in LA county, establishing friendships with many of them, and I came to understand the particular fear and frustration they experience as a result of violent, extremist acts committed in the name of Islam, as well as the spying of the CIA in their mosques and personal communications. I’ve also learned a lot about Islam: what the Koran really says, the faith from a female perspective, and that, like many Americans of faith, the vast majority of Muslims are moderate to conservative and are as abhorrent of the violence as any of us.

But I’ve also advocated for the LGBTQ community throughout my life, having grown up UU, and being a UU minister. BTW, gay nightclubs are not the only places LGBTQ people can go to feel safe. The Unitarians have been performing LGBTQ wedding ceremonies for well over 40 years. So head to your local UU congregation this Sunday! But here’s the rub: we are small, and the Christian and Muslim narratives are dominant, and by and large have condemned or ignored the LGBTQ community until about the last 20 years. My friends Laura and Chris are right – homophobia remains an unaddressed hypocrisy within Islam and other conservative faiths, such as Catholicism, or evangelical Christianity.

If the true gods of these religions are gods of love and righteousness, when will that love extend to include LGBTQ people? Several times since the Orlando attack I’ve heard religious leaders condemn but not specifically mention that it was a direct attack on the LGBTQ community. This is a powerful omission. First I’d like to pick on the Pope.

Like many, I’ve been encouraged by Pope Francis’ rhetoric of standing up for the poor and the human causes of climate change, and I even picked up his new book called The Name of God is Mercy since I have a particular interest in the making of mercy. But it’s made for disappointing reading. Pope Francis, who has declared this year a “Holy Year of Mercy,” explains that the Church “cannot close the door on anyone.” That’s great, but isn’t it time to be more explicit about of whom you are speaking? If the Pope really wanted to show mercy to the LGBTQ community after this atrocity against them, he would have named the oppression and pain specific to them. It is this lack of acknowledgement that sustains the antiquated and immoral ideology that LGBTQ people don’t exist, and if they do, are not to be considered human beings.

In our phone conversation, Chris said, “I’m not psychic, but I predicted the attack in Orlando.” He and his husband, a little while ago, were discussing what the backlash might be against marriage equality becoming the law of our land. They predicted that states like Alabama and Mississippi would refuse to comply, and that is was likely “someone’s going to shoot up another gay bar again.”

Chris also points out that Catholics have stopped listening to their pope (I disagree), but that evangelical Christians do listen to their pastors. At any rate, there are much worse examples of Christian religious leaders spouting hatred-a la-Hitler. Last November, several GOP candidates attended Kevin Swanson’s “Kill the Gays” conference, including Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee. Texas Pastor Donnie Romero was just in the news yesterday for praying the wounded victims in Orlando die, and you may be gratified to learn that the hate-spewing pastor in Sacramento was just informed by the landowner that his church’s lease would not be renewed.

In this video of a pastor from Arizona, we see that he refers back to the infamous line in the Bible from Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

It’s infamous because it’s the main scripture on which religions base their condemnation of gays. But it’s only found in one version of the Bible, the King James Version, which was revised when the text was rewritten and manipulated to suit the needs of the Dark Ages.  God never said it – it was not written in the original Aramaic. To learn more about this, check out the work of John Boswell, who taught at Yale and is author of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Christianity, a book that won the National Book Award and resulted from ten years of scholarly research on the topic.

The point I’m trying to drive home here is that Islam did not invent homophobia, and in the United States at least, Muslims are more likely to support same-sex marriage than evangelical Christians.  Still, we’ve got to nudge our Muslim friends to consider how traditional attitudes don’t live up to the rights and protections of our US laws.

Here is something I’ve thought I might have said last Saturday night at the iftar:

“This is a painful time for all people of faith in America, when an atrocity occurs in the name of religion, and it should give us all pause to consider what our faith asks of us, and what it stands for. Perhaps it’s an opportunity that this attack on the LGBTQ community occurred during the holy month of Ramadan – a time when Muslims are asked to reflect on how they can better serve God. Maybe this tragedy is some holy food for thought. How might your faith be altered to something more befitting of God, widening his peaceful embrace to include all of God’s children, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer?”

If I had said this, believe me, you would have been able to hear a pin drop, and it may be true that I was a wuss for not “going there” when I had the mike. But here’s what stopped me, other than the fact I wasn’t prepared. I’ve learned in my lifetime to give the utmost respect to culture. No, I may not approve of every aspect of a different culture, much like I don’t approve of much in my own. But I respect the people and especially the friends of mine that are part of it. So, to show respect for my friends, I show respect for their culture, a universally safe bet for not being rude.

It wasn’t a time to be rude – it was a time to salve fear, show up for plurality, and show appreciation for their gesture of hospitality. They seemed to want reassurance from us as much as we wanted it from them. They wanted reassurance that they’re not hated, and even if they are, there are people like us who might have their back. The Japanese internment wasn’t that long ago – what if it came to that. What Muslims do you know that you would stand up to defend if they were carted away? It’s not that far-fetched if you consider that Donald Trump may be the next leader of the free world.

In more casual conversation at the dinner table, I was determined to pose the question to someone while at the iftar, “so how do Muslims at this mosque regard the LGBTQ community?”  But, again, I did not. It just wasn’t the time or the place. I was their guest. They fed me delicious food. How many mosques across America did what this mosque did? Inviting their city’s mayor, members of the local police, the interfaith community? They pulled it all together in a matter of days, because they wanted the world to know they condemn the Orlando attack, for which Esma Ali (my guest blogger last week) said in her speech to the crowd that there was “no excuse.”

Esma also shared some moving words of encouragement for those fasting for Ramadan. That, around lunchtime, when she gets hungry and jealous of those able to eat, she remembers how lucky she is and thinks of places like parts of China where if you’re found to be fasting, observing Ramadan, you get fired, or worse. “But we get to live in the best country in the world, where we can practice our religion freely,” she said.

It’s the same country where members of the LGBTQ community can freely get married, among other basic human rights.

Muslims and LGBTQ people have some things in common. They both need their right to exist and live in peace to be affirmed. They are both subject to revilement, civil rights infringements, violence, and murder. It’s true a lot more LGBTQ people have been murdered on American soil than Muslims, but consider elsewhere: would we be letting Assad’s war on Syria reach the heights of abject suffering it has if they were not Muslim? Not to mention our slaughter of Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis . . . Muslims get murdered regularly, and we may cringe, but we also shrug.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community came together to dialogue about their differences, as well as their common struggles? Sure it would, but since homophobia is not unique to Islam, let’s also invite the Catholics and other brands of Christianity who are not yet respecting the full humanity of the LGBTQ community.  Let’s keep in mind that the moral imperative to uphold and protect longstanding and newly established rights of the LGBTQ community is not limited to any one group.

All of us, as well, should feel moved to stand up for Muslims’ and LGBTQ people’s right to exist and live in peace and freedom – the promises of our “best country” must be defended for all who dwell here, regardless of who we love, or which god we worship.

As a religious leader, I decree it!

And as far as this great tragedy in Orlando that flavors our summer with a most bitter and nauseating taste, please share your feelings with your community, non-LGBTQ and LGBTQ people alike – your family and friends – that the attack on Orlando was an attack on the LGBTQ community, and it breaks your heart.

Because it doesn’t go without saying.

Until next time, Do the Hustle!

 – Rev. At-Large, aka Rev. Hannage Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!

5 thoughts on “Because It Doesn’t Go Without Saying”

  1. Thank you Hannah for giving us perspective. It helps that you put into words what many of us are feeling. It helps me speak my opinion with confidence.

  2. I understand your wish to have spoken differently at the iftar in retrospect, but your presence alone was a gift of support to the Muslim community, the same way your spiritual leadership is a gift to the LGBTQ community.

  3. Yes, thank you, Hannah. You have indeed given us much to think about, and to do. Whenever we converse again, offline, I would love to discuss this more with you.

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