Sunday, March 14, 2010


Prejudice against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people continues in Canada. Last’s week’s overheard conversation at the gym only confirms this. “That’s so gay” is a common derogatory putdown still milling about with the equally offensive “Don’t be a retard” (an expression I recently heard my neighbor tell his seven-year-old son). Not enough thought is put into much of what we say. And then I worry that sometimes the thought was there all along.

For the most part, I think in Canada we’ve reached a point where people have learned to be discerning about when and where to honestly disclose lingering feelings of prejudice. I was pleased to see the headline “Underlying resentment of diversity poses challenges” in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun. Obviously not pleased with the continuing resentment, but glad that someone was calling our happy, largely tolerant nation on what lingers. (I wish the article had appeared on the front page rather than being buried on B7. Typically Canadian. Let’s make a point, but not make too big a deal of it.) The article addresses our country’s predicted increase of visible minorities and diverse cultural representations, not gays and lesbians, but the message applies to all who possess a minority status. When hatred and ignorance go underground, they go unchecked and can gain momentum in pockets of society.

Of course, we have it good in Canada, compared to in many other parts of the world. In much of Africa, GLBT people live in fear and continue to face oppression. As outsiders, we can attempt to bring issues to light and to create pressure to change laws and practices, but we can quickly be dismissed as foreign meddlers. That’s why Desmond Tutu’s op-ed piece, “In Africa a step backward on human rights”, in Friday’s Washington Post is so welcome. He outlines some of the hate policies against gays in parts of Africa and rejects the religious veil under which the haters justify themselves. “I would never worship a homophobic God,” he says. Simple. Powerful. Worth a read.

As an adolescent, I did not know anything other than a homophobic God existed. I grew up very connected to church. When my family moved to Texas, routines had to be reestablished and I was the one who insisted that we attend Sunday services each week. My mother and our minister were convinced I’d study theology and become a minister as well. As Episcopalians, we were in the tiny minority in our town, smothered by Southern Baptist dominance, their churches being the only public structures to outnumber Dairy Queens. In my teen years, I witnessed hypocrisy and life changing imperatives when it came to issues of sex— so many tales of sexual awakening stemming from church camps, so many risky abortions and doomed early marriages.

In university, my religious affiliation came unwound. Funny how being exposed to diverse thought put such clear beliefs into question. Morality without compassion felt hollow, self-righteous and, yes, hateful. I cannot count the number of times I heard people limit their own thought processes as they donned holier-than-thou expressions and stated that trite phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I knew that “love” could not truly exist in the same sentence with hate.

Nonetheless, my favorite course in university was a study of world religions. In a place where I got the impression that all non-Baptists were going to hell—more than once I was befriended by a seemingly nice person who suddenly turned and grilled me on being “Saved” and “Born Again”—I was fascinated with the different views of divinity and the purpose of life.

Gradually, I pulled away from religion, in part due to feeling unwelcome as a gay man, but also on account of the troubling concept of a “moral war” and the guilt-ridden preoccupation with sin. More than anything, I felt religion impeded independent thinking. I could share a belief, but I wanted to reach it through logic and through consideration of practical implications rather than by way of “Thou shalt”.

Many people find comfort in religion. Wonderful. But religion continues to divide, to foster hatred under the umbrella of “freedom” and to justify inhumane treatment of people who are different. I am thankful that leaders like Desmond Tutu examine their religious views to ensure they are governed by love, without any trace of hate.

Homophobia continues in various degrees in Canada and throughout the world. I have become too quiet, too complacent tucked away in the boonies. An alarming gym conversation, combined with the brave, powerful words of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, may provide a much needed wakeup call.

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