Nashville Noise

Jesus-facepalm

You may have seen that a few days ago, something called The Nashville Statement (click the link, if you must) was issued by some group that calls itself “The Council for Biblical Manliness and Womanliness.” Really, I’m not making this up; that’s what they’re calling themselves. It sounds like a secret club started by the Little Rascals after they grew up and the He-Man Woman-Haters Club fell apart, not for lack of woman-hating, but because, well, sex.

gimme the high sign

As silly as the group’s name is, it’s clear that it’s supposed to sound like some respected, august body of religious leaders dripping with gravitas, who, one might assume, somberly gathered together in Nashville to contribute some profound insight into a grave and urgent crisis of our time. In reality, I suspect its list of original 150 signers – which included only a scant few more women than the H-MWHC – was far less such a gathering, and much more something like Tony Perkins having simply texted out the statement to everyone in his phone’s contact list one day, and them texting him back a thumbs-up emoji.

The statement itself is remarkable – but only for its unremarkableness.

It’s really nothing more than a bunch of the usual suspects and self-appointed mouthpieces of so-called Evangelical American Christianity repeating their harmful anti-LGBTQ understanding of the faith, as if people hadn’t already heard those views ad nauseum. The group must have been thinking that they hadn’t gotten enough media coverage lately, so they repackaged their hate and ignorance in the confession format used by many religious groups who were speaking to past historic crises.

In the days since its release, there have been countless responses and counter-statements issued – I’ve read at least half a dozen, and actually signed two. I haven’t had time to offer any thoughts about it until now, because a.) I have a day job, and blogging isn’t it; and b.) I wondered, and frankly still do, if responding to these dead-theologians-walking only served to give them more attention than they deserve. Watching the massive human tragedy unfolding in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey makes me additionally ambivalent about the appropriateness responding to these theological and moral pygmies .

One of the responses that I read was John Pavlovitz’s, titled The Nashville Statement (A Plain Language Translation). I like John’s writing, and this was a good piece, but I have to admit I was thinking based on its title, the article would be more of a point-by-point translation of the Statement’s various Articles out of religious jargon and into plain language that people other than theology nerds could clearly understand. Since he didn’t go in that direction, I thought I’d try to do that now. So here goes. The original Nashville Statement text is in lavender, the definitive gay color, just to tick off its homophobic authors; the translation follows in black.

Article 1

[NS] WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

[Translation] God designed marriage for the purpose of conceiving and giving birth to children – so you gays can’t have a legitimate marriage because you can’t have kids.

Don’t remind us that many heterosexual couples choose not to have children, and we consider their marriages valid. Same with heterosexual couples who can’t have children due to age or other biological reasons.

Don’t tell us that every day, we accept as valid the marriages of heterosexual couples who got married in entirely secular settings, or in religious traditions other than our own, and we consider them perfectly acceptable. We’ll plug our ears and say “LALALALALALALA!”

Don’t point out to us that the concept of an unchanging, universal definition of marriage in the Bible is a complete myth, or that Biblical characters’ marriages were completely at odds with modern American cultural norms, or that there are many Christians even today whose understanding of marriage is very different from our own. Plugging our ears again. Just stop it.

And don’t talk to us about gay couples who adopt, providing homes for the unwanted children of heterosexual procreation. Really, just don’t go there, because it’s better for those kids to grow up without loving parents than to be exposed to gay couples living in ways that will make the kids think we’re crazy when we claim that their parents’ lives are immoral and ungodly. Don’t show us the mountain of research that shows that kids raised by gay parents are just as psychologically well-adjusted as those raised by straight couples. Besides, we really know all those homos just want to have sex with those children, and recruit them into their immoral lifestyle.

Article 2

[NS] WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

[Translation] Sex bad, except within straight marriage, and as we define it. Any other expression of our sexual selves – man, we hate to even say the word “sex” – is absolutely unacceptable. If we have to live our entire lives saddled with guilt because we went all the way with Tammy with the big boobs in the back seat of our car after our Young Life meeting when we were teenagers; or because we’ve been secretly engaging in sex in department store men’s rooms and out-of-town gay bathhouses in order to maintain our straight conservative religious public image, then we’re going to drag you right down into the guilt-pit with us. And while those of us who are straight at least have marriage as an acceptable avenue to enjoy sex, you gays get no such option. You are, by definition, immoral, so you shouldn’t have any moral or legal way to express your chosen lifestyle. We’re going to keep trying to get you to feel that guilt, whether you interpret the Bible the way we do or not, because we make our livings by setting ourselves up as the authority figures who must be revered and obeyed in order for us to use our special mojo with God to absolve you of all that guilt that we’ve instilled.

Article 3

[NS] WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.

WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

[Translation] Despite the overwhelming, incontrovertible scientific evidence to the contrary, we still stick our heads in the sand and believe that the allegorical biblical creation accounts first composed by pre-scientific nomadic tribesman is historical, scientific fact that tells us everything we need to know about human origins, biology, and anthropology, and God’s attitude about that in complete detail.

We refuse to accept the fact that every year, in one out of every 2,000 births worldwide, the child is born intersex, with genitals that aren’t clearly either male or female. Beyond so-called intersex cases, we refuse to accept the overwhelming positions of medical, psychiatric, and other professional organizations that affirm that gender identity is not decisively determined by physical plumbing; and that it isn’t an exclusively binary reality.

We believe that the Bible mandates a God-designed system where men are at the top of the pyramid (men must be created most in the image of God, since the Bible calls God “he”), and that women must defer and be subservient to men, and that we can treat women as unequal subordinates in countless ways; while simultaneously claiming that aren’t treating them unequally at all, just differently, and we can claim that this is treating them with dignity. We’re tempted here to use the term “separate but equal,” but that language didn’t work out well for us in a previous attempt to treat another group of people “differently.”

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.

WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

[Translation] Even though we believe God is omnipotent and that God’s being and image transcends actual sex and gender, we believe that when setting out to create human beings in the divine image, he (see?) is restricted to only two options, despite the scientific evidence previously referred to regarding actual human sexual orientation and gender. It’s just a black and white issue, because of the whole Adam-and-Eve-is-science thing, so don’t confuse us with your so-called facts, by so-called experts who all graduated from godless, secular institutions rather than the good, conservative, Bible-based institutions we prefer.

Also, we have to say that we disagree with the belief that transgenderism is a now a biological reality different from God’s original plan in creation as a result of “the Fall”/the entry of sin in the world; and that we now need to establish new rules to lovingly accommodate this new reality.

We have to say that we disagree with this idea because we know that some of our Evangelical brothers and sisters have carved out this “Plan B/new reality” way to still cling to the idea of biblical inerrancy, while finding a way to justify being more welcoming to LGBTQ people.

In reality, though, we know that most (alleged) Christians who are “welcoming and affirming” to LGBTQ people have long since moved past that position. They’ve come to the shameful conclusion that there is nothing sinful whatsoever about people being, and living authentically, as LGBTQ; that this is simply part of the normal variation seen in the full spectrum of humanity – all of whom have been created in God’s own image. That is unacceptable heresy to us; you cannot believe this and be considered by us to be a real Christian. Refer to Article 10.

Article 5

[NS] WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

[Translation] As we said, gender is a black and white thing – and God doesn’t make mistakes. Don’t confuse us with medical reality. And don’t raise the question that if God doesn’t make mistakes, how do we explain any number of birth anomalies, and why do we routinely engage in surgery and other interventions in order to fix these things without denouncing them as second-guessing God’s will. Stop now, or we’ll plug our ears again.

Article 6

[NS] WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.

WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

[Translation] If we have to grudgingly admit to the reality of people being born intersex, then our advice is to just do your best to be a man or a woman – until we disagree with the way you’re doing it. And if surgeons opt to give you the genitals of one gender but you end up feeling like the other, we don’t want to hear about it. Just suck it up and act as we tell you, since it’s all just a choice anyway.

We have to say that a person’s gender identity doesn’t preclude them from living a “fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ” because a.) we don’t understand that our opponents don’t even remotely believe this; and b.) part of “joyful obedience to Christ” in our eyes is you not living as LGBTQ, since we think that’s a choice that’s contrary to Christ’s teaching. As we said, it’s a choice, and a sinful one that you need to get rid of if you want to be obedient to and accepted by Christ and God, but if you just pray hard enough and live right, God will take away from you. We refuse to recognize the appalling number of suicides of religious youth and adults who, wracked with guilt over being LGBTQ, had tried to “pray the gay away” for years – and when that didn’t work, came to believe that God had rejected them, so they killed themselves.

None of that matters, because upholding our concepts of religious orthodoxy and never admitting that we might be in error trump any evidence to the contrary gleaned from human existence that contradicts our interpretation of scripture. You just have to get right with God, the way we tell you, and God will fix you – and if he doesn’t, it’s your fault.

Article 7

[NS] WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.

WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

[Translation] Yes, we know we’ve already been making these exact same points in previous Articles. But we had one stubborn person who threw a tantrum and refused to sign the statement unless we used his language, so we threw it in here just to placate him. Plus, if we have more Articles, it makes us look like our argument is more complex and thoughtful than just saying we’re homophobic and want to be able to discriminate against LGBTQ people once and being done with it.

Article 8

[NS] WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.

WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

[Translation] If you feel attraction for someone of the same sex, it’s inherently evil and you must never physically express that attraction. You can live a “rich and fruitful life pleasing to God” just like us, as long as you deny and push down those feelings and never act on them, no matter how miserable, psychologically and physically unhealthy, or even suicidal, it may make you feel.

We uphold this belief, which is at the core of all “Reparative Therapy” programs, which have been denounced by all responsible medical, psychiatric, psychological, and other professional organizations as dangerously abusive and unnecessary; and which have been banned in multiple states as health threats. We still hold this belief because we don’t really trust in any findings based on higher learning or professional expertise when they contradict our own narrow believes about the nature, authority, and interpretation of the Bible.

Article 9

[NS] WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality — a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.

WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.

[Translation] We know that people have what we would call sinful – and others might simply call unhealthy or inappropriate – sexual urges and attractions. We choose to consider homosexuality and transgenderism as merely other forms of unhealthy, inappropriate, sinful sexual expression, because they aren’t part of what we’ve been raised and taught to understand. We refuse to consider that our ways of understanding and interpreting the Bible might be wrong, because that would create uncertainty and anxiety in our lives that would cause us to question other matters of faith that we consider essential. Without that certainty, we aren’t sure what our own lives even are, so we will force you to repress and feel guilt over your reality in order to preserve feeling good about our own.

Article 10

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

[Translation] Not only is being LGBTQ sinful, being welcoming and inclusive and approving of LGBTQ people is, too. It puts a person outside the pale of being a Christian – you simply cannot approve of LGBTQ people living full, honest, authentic lives and consider yourself a Christian, period, let alone a good Christian.

Article 11

[NS] WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.

WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his image-bearers as male and female.

[Translation] Don’t talk to us about “preferred pronouns.” We demand the right to speak to you and about you in whatever way we want, regardless of whether it offends you or isn’t the way you wish to be referred to. We will call you a he or a she, a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, based on what we believe, not what you or health care professionals say. We’ll do it while telling you we love you, and that we’re just administering “tough love.” We’ll do it, with all the smug self-righteousness of saying that we’re carrying out God’s will, and upholding God’s standards in a sinful world, because we know best. And if you don’t like it, too bad.

Article 12

[NS] WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

[Translation] This is another one of those places where we’re repeating ourselves in order to placate a cranky signatory. We’ve covered this territory already, but yes, to repeat, what LGBTQ people are doing is wrong, and they need to stop it, and God will change them if they just pray long enough, hard enough, and in the right way.

Article 13

[NS] WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.

[Translation] Really, just rehashing the same point here again. This whole thing masquerading as a confession is really just a sermon filled with red meat for our followers, and we think that the main point of a sermon needs to be repeated several times in order to drive it home, so here it is again.

Article 14

[NS] WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection, forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.

WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.

[Translation] And to us, every good sermon has to end with an altar call, so here’s ours. Cue Just As I Am, without One Plea. Or in this case, maybe not that particular hymn.

***

Religious people seem to love putting out these kinds of confessions and statements. Some of them are good. Some of them have been milestones in history. Others, like this one, are just mind-numbingly tired, boring, hateful, and counter-Christian statements made by self-righteous blowhards who want to pose as the defenders and arbiters of the True Faith.

For some reason, we religious folk seem inclined to name these pronouncements after the city that gave birth to them. This time, it was Nashville, a fact not at all appreciated by the city itself. In 1924, a group of Presbyterian church leaders issued the Auburn Affirmation, having been drafted at the Presbyterian seminary that existed in Auburn, New York at the time. The Auburn Affirmation was a scathing denouncement of the beliefs that Fundamentalists and Evangelicals considered mandatory to orthodox, true, Christian belief. The first of those teachings – the inerrancy of scripture – is at the root of modern-day Evangelicals’ harmful attitudes toward LGBTQ people and their refusal to consider what’s become obvious to so many others: that LGBTQ people, in the totality of their being, including their sexual orientation, are created just as much in the image of God as anyone else; that God blesses them in their sexual expression and their committed covenantal relationships equally with heterosexuals; that God blesses and encourages transgender people trying to become the people they were intended to be regardless of the vagaries of merely physical characteristics – and finally, that the beliefs expressed in the Nashville Statement are just reheated nonsense, served up by people desperately trying to shore up their relevance in a world that has left them and their beliefs behind.

Advertisements

Shape the Future by knowing the Past

I have some advice, from a “later middle-aged” gay man to younger LGBTQ people.

eastwood gran torino

Yes, I know that opening makes me sound like a crotchety, “get off my lawn” old geezer – but really, hear me out.
My advice to you: know your history. Not just world history or American history, I’m talking about your history – our history. Know how we in the overall LGBTQ community  got to the place we are now – by no means having full legal equality, but being far ahead of where this country was just a decade ago, and unimaginable light years ahead of where we were even when I was growing up.
If possible, seek out your LGBTQ elders, in person, face-to-face, and hear their stories. You’ll very likely learn that many of those very ordinary, boring-looking people were actually radicals on the front lines of the gay equality movement, and have stories that will make you laugh and cry, and get excited, and outraged, and energized – and very proud to have gotten to know them.
Just as importantly, learn about the legal and political battles in cultural, civilian governmental, religious, and military strands of our society, that incrementally got us to where we are today. Just as you know the names of court cases such as Roe v. Wade, Brown v the Board of Education, Plessy v Ferguson and others – for God’s sake, I at least hope you know those – that shaped our society, also learn the names and details of the cases that have made particular advances in your own LGBTQ history.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s tweetstorm supposedly banning transgender people from military service, and since it appears that the White House is actually going to try to implement this policy, it’s especially to know our history as it pertains to members of the LGBTQ community serving in the military. Of course, like so many straight allies, you were undoubtedly appalled and angered by this further descent into madness on the part of the President, and you’d be fully justified to feel those emotions. But as you do, don’t just wallow in vague thoughts that this just isn’t right, or fair. Of course it isn’t. But also know based on already-established legal precedent, the justification that Donald Trump has used to justify his decision has already been determined to be illegal and unconstitutional; and when you hear people spouting off transphobic, homophobic nonsense about LGBTQ people in the service, be ready and able to point to court precedent that establishes that they’re wrong.
Here are some people and events you should know about. Much of what I offer here is taken from The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman. I read through this book at least once a year as a reminder of where we’ve been, and I highly recommend it to you, too.
***
Know who sergeant Leonard Matlovich was. He was the very first member of the armed forces who had the courage to legally challenge the military ban on homosexuals – and not only to challenge them, but to win.
Matlovich was the model member of the Air Force, and a decorated veteran of Vietnam with an impeccable and honorable military record.
leonard matlovich - 1
Sergeant Leonard Matlovich
leonard matlovich - 2
Matlovich recovering from his wounds in Vietnam, holding his Purple Heart
In 1975, Matlovitch officially declared to his superior officer that he was a homosexual, which by government regulations made him, by definition, ineligible to serve in the military. In an attempt to challenge that ban, he requested that he not be discharged from the service, but rather, granted an exception to the rule based on his exemplary record – and the fact that the ban was, in his opinion, unconstitutional.
The Air Force discharged him, and Matlovich, with the assistance and guidance of the extremely important gay-rights pioneer Frank Kameny, sued. In Matlovich v. The United States Air Force, Judge Gerhard Gesell ruled on July 16, 1976 – my sixteenth birthday – that the Air Force policy was wrong-headed and needed to change. Matlovich was an outstanding, exemplary member of the armed forces, and absolute proof that being homosexual did not, by definition, make a person unable to serve. Despite that, however, Gesell found that the Air Force policy, while wrong-headed, was not unconstitutional.
leonard matlovich - 3
Sergeant Matlovich on the cover of TIME
Matlovich appealed the decision, and the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with him. They found that there were sufficient grounds for the Air Force to reinstate him, using their “exceptions” clause, and sent the case back to Gesell for reevaluation. However, before the case came to trial, the Air Force tried to do an end run around what they saw was likely a losing battle, by removing the “exception” clause from the regulations. Judge Gesell, outraged by the Air Force’s double-dealing, ordered that Matlovich be immediately reinstated.
Instead of accepting the ruling, the Air Force offered Matlovich a large financial settlement, including back pay, reinstatement of his pension, and additional compensation. In financial straits after the protracted legal battle, Matlovich accepted the settlement. Also factoring into his decision was his suspicion that if he was reinstated to active duty, the Air Force would just find another technicality on which they could discharge him, and then he’d have gained nothing.
This was a major moment in LGBTQ history. This was the first time a military service person stood up for their rights, and the courts recognized that there was no legal nexus between being gay and not being able to serve, even to serve with distinction. This was the first time that the courts ruled in favor of an openly gay service person remaining in the armed forces.
This was 1978.
Know about Leonard Matlovich.
See also: The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman, pp. 471-479.
leonard matlovich - tombstone
Leonard Matlovich’s tombstone. He died in 1988, a victim of the AIDS epidemic, and was buried with full military honors
***
Know who Vernon “Copy” Berg III was.
Vernon-E-Berg-3rd
Ensign Vernon E. Berg III
Following shortly after the Matlovich case, Copy Berg (the nickname came from people saying that in appearance, he was a xerox copy of his father, navy Commander Vernon Berg II) was discharged from the Navy in 1976 after an investigators uncovered evidence of his homosexuality. Berg challenged the discharge in civil court. Also heard by Judge Gerhard Gesell, the ruling in his case upheld his discharge, but warned the Navy that they were going to have to update their policies to be consistent with the latest scientific and sociological knowledge. It was strong enough language that Berg was encouraged to appeal the decision. In the appeal, the judges stated that “Broad allegations such as ‘Homosexuality is incompatible with military service’ or ‘a person with homosexual tendencies seriously impairs order, good discipline and morale,’ would no longer suffice.”
But rather than try to sharpen their rationale of why homosexuality was incompatible with military service – sensing that any new rationale would be quickly thrown out anyway – the Navy offered Berg another cash settlement. Berg took the settlement and an honorable discharge, and went on to become an artist and gay rights activist.
The Berg case was another nail in the coffin of the old, misguided, homophobic attitudes in the military. It put the Navy on notice that the old arguments were not going to be accepted any longer, and that they were going to have to get their house in order. LGBTQ individuals could indeed serve in the military without any adverse effect on morale or unit cohesion, and would not have any other negative effect on the military’s execution of its duties. It was also after this case that the military generally stopped giving LGBTQ individuals dishonorable discharges.
vernon e berg - artist
Copy Berg became a well-regarded artist. He died in 1999,
another victim of the AIDS epidemic
Know about Vernon “Copy” Berg.
See also The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle by Lillian Faderman, pp. 479-484.
***
Know who Miriam Ben-Shalom is.
miriam ben-shalom

Miriam Ben-Shalom is the first openly lesbian service member to be reinstated by the U.S. Army after she was discharged in 1976 for being gay.

Ben-Shalom took the Army to court over the matter. In 1980 a judge with the U.S. District Court in Chicago ruled that her dismissal violated the First, Fifth and Ninth Amendments of the Constitution.

The judge in her trial particularly criticized the military for the fact that it had shown no nexus between being homosexual and being unfit for military service – a crucial point of law that has reverberations to this day.

The Army refused to honor the ruling. Instead of complying, they offered Ben-Shalom a cash settlement, similar to their actions with Matlovich and Berg – but this time, Ben-Shalom refused, demanding to be reinstated. A subsequent seven-year court battle ultimately forced her reinstatement. The former staff sergeant—one of only two female drill sergeants in the 84th Division of the U.S. Army Reserve—then returned to service until 1990.

After Ben-Shalom completed the time remaining on her enlistment that she’d been discharged from, she tried to reenlist, but the Army refused. In fact, before Ben-Shalom’s attempted reinlistment,  in order to prevent them having to accept people who had openly professed to be LGBTQ, the Army had reworded its regulations to prohibit not only those who were engaging in same-sex activity, but also those who had only stated that they were gay or lesbian. This set off a completely new set of lawsuits. Ben-Shalom won the first trial and the subsequent appeal, which ordered the Army to accept her reenlistment. But she eventually lost another appeal, and the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that case. Even though she lost the reenlistment battle, she won the reinstatement battle, and actually served out that reinstatement.

Like Matlovich and Berg, Ben-Shalom went on to become a gay-rights activist. She was arrested after chaining herself to the fence in front of the White House, protesting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Sadly, in recent times she has been involved in a controversy involving transgender individuals. Ben-Shalom self-identifies as a PERF (Penis Exclusionary Radical Feminist), who opposes transgender women being able to participate in gatherings intended exclusively for what she and other PERFs call “women born of women.” (if this sounds somewhat familiar, the television show “Transparent,” season 2 episode 9, “Man on the Land” dealt with this issue). This position resulted in her being stripped of the honor of Grand Marshal of the Milwaukee Pride Parade in 2016. Regardless of this controversy, Ben-Shalom remains an important person to know in LGBTQ history.

Know about Miriam Ben-Shalom:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miriam_Ben-Shalom

See also The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman, pp. 484-488.

 

***

Know who Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer is. Cammermeyer was an outstanding army nurse and officer, a veteran of Vietnam.

margarethe cmmermeyer

Col. Margarethe “Grethe” Cammermeyer

In 1989 while being interviewed for top secret clearance, Cammermeyer had admitted that she was a lesbian – she didn’t want to lie, and wasn’t aware that in 1981, the Army had issued a new directive that called for the total exclusion of homosexuals in the military, without exception. In a subsequent hearing, her long and illustrious military career was acknowledged, but ultimately, rules were rules, and Cammermeyer was discharged.

She appealed in civil court, and in 1994, the court ruled in Cammermeyer’s favor – declaring the Army’s exclusionary regulation to be unconstitutional and stating that her record showed beyond any doubt that she was a model officer; that sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with whether a person could serve capably in the military – that the Army’s exclusionary regulation was based “solely on prejudice.” There was, judge Thomas Zilly wrote, no rational relationship or legal nexus between being homosexual and being able to serve; neither, her case illustrated, did one’s sexual orientation interfere with unit cohesion or a unit’s “ability to maintain readiness and combat effectiveness.” Zilly continued that there wasn’t and must never be a “military exemption” to the Constitution.” Simply put, members of all groups within society had the right to enjoy the same rights, and the military could not simply rule out an entire class of citizens from serving based on false claims and prejudice. The court ruled that Cammermeyer must be reinstated.

As had always been the case before, the Army appealed the ruling. But in 1995, the Ninth District Court of Appeals found in favor of Cammermeyer, upholding the lower court decision. Colonel Cammermeyer was reinstated, and served honorably until her retirement in 1997. Her story was told in the 1995 made-for-television movie “Serving in Silence,” in which Glen Close portrayed the Colonel.

Know about Col. Grethe Cammermeyer:

https://www.cammermeyer.com/

See also The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman, pp. 488-494

***

 

Why is this history important? Because out of a combination of blind transphobia and ignorance, people are trying to ignore or erase this hard-fought history. These historical legal precedents have absolute parallel with the current attempts to throw transgender people out of the service. If and when the President’s tweets actually become official policy, they will be challenged in the courts immediately. And when they are, these precedents are going to be at the center of the arguments.

To summarize, the key legal principles that these earlier cases established are:

  • The military does not have a right to simply exclude any group of the American public from service by claiming that by virtue of being in that group, individuals are automatically incapable of performing their duties, without any actual evidence to support that claim. There must be a provable nexus between being part of said group and an inability to perform.
  • The military has never shown any credible nexus between being a member of the LGBTQ community and fitness, or lack thereof, for military service. in fact, members of the full spectrum of the LGBTQ community are proving, every day, that there is no such nexus at all. In fact, the military’s own research has decisively shown that there are no significant difficulties or expenses related to transgender individuals serving.

The courts will look at these rulings and others. They will also consider the situation where, with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” members of the armed forces were told it was OK, even encouraged, to come out – and now, the current President is trying to pull the rug out from under them. That’s a breach of trust that I doubt any reasonable court would permit.

Still, these are strange times. It’s impossible to predict what the Supreme Court – and it will ultimately end up there – will decide. But if sanity and reason prevail, these precedents should assure that despite the fact that the current tenant of the White House wants to remove them, transgender members of the armed forces will likely remain right where they are – just as they should.

So know your history. And when this subject comes up in conversation, make sure others know about it, too. Now get off my lawn. 🙂

 

 

Men, Women, and (Hopefully) Culture in Transition

trans bathroom infographic

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how quickly U.S. culture has grown with respect to LGBTQ equality. A movement that for all practical purposes started only in the early 1950s, and with relatively limited original goals, has accomplished strides for full equality that those original activists would have never even dreamt was possible. I was born in 1960. When I was born, being LGBTQ was almost universally considered a mental illness, sin, perversion. It was equated with being a pedophile. It was illegal, grounds for arrest and public villification, being fired, being thrown out of one’s home, being institutionalized, lobotomized, given electroshock “therapy.”

Today, there are still very real problems with homophobia within our society. Reactionary voices in a number of states continue to try to carve out ways to legally discriminate against this segment – my segment – of our population. These attempts are often based  on religious grounds, through legislation that claims to protect the supposed religious freedom to discriminate and obstruct others’ civil rights. Sadly, the church itself is still the single most stubborn holdout and obstacle for equal civil rights for that portion of American citizens who identify as LGBTQ. The pain and injustice endured by LGBTQ people – certainly in the past and in lesser measure, even to this day – has been immense.

Without attempting to diminish the reality of the lives destroyed or at least severely injured during these years, though, it still seems truly amazing that this immense cultural shift has occurred within the single lifespan of many people still living today. Imagine the cognitive whiplash of a person who was taught as an adolescent in, say, 1955, about the supposed evil and perversion of homosexuality by way of Sunday sermons and grainy black-and-white “educational” films in school health classes, navigating a world today in their seventies where encountering out gays and lesbians, including married couples, is quite commonplace at work, around town, at church, and on television. Many who find themselves in this demographic will never accept this social upheaval, but many others have, mostly due to knowing and loving a family member or good friend who has come out as LGBTQ and made the idea less scary to them.

As members of the LGBTQ community, we really need to recognize the incredible leap that we’ve asked these people to make in their lives, and that many of them, at least, have successfully made. We need to honor their stretch, and express our gratitude to them all for having done so. In my case, that includes expressing thanks to my own two parents.

I was thinking about this phenomenon in recent days because, of course, we’re in the midst of another part of this major social shift – that of focusing more closely on the “T” component of the LGBTQ community, transgender individuals. The most visible issue in that regard is the would-be “bathroom wars” we seem to be embroiled in at the moment.

I recently read The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle, by Lillian Faderman. It’s an excellent, incredibly well-researched, and extremely readable book that taught me much I didn’t know, and reminded me of much I’d already known, or experienced for myself. One of the things that stood out for me as I read it was how much of the current situation is just a replay, sometimes identically so, of past battles fought and won in the overall struggle for LGBTQ equality. State legislators are attempting to legalize discrimination in ways that have been tried in the past and found to be unconstitutional in countless court decisions – perhaps most significantly with regard to North Carolina’s infamous HB2, in the Supreme Court case Romer v. Evans. Transgender people are being cast as pedophiles or other sexual predators, as mentally disturbed, as perverts, people dying for a chance to pounce on some unsuspecting child in a public restroom when all they really want is a safe place to pee.

Those who oppose moves to permit transgender people to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their own gender identity fall into several categories. Of course, there are those who are simply hateful, ignorant, transphobic individulas, and no amount of reason will ever steer them from their hatred.

But I suspect that many opponents are just trying to make sense out of a situation that they don’t fully understand. They aren’t inherently hateful. They really want to be fair, but like those people who have had to make that large leap of acceptance for LGB, now they’re faced with a call to make another, similar stretch for the T folk. They hear a lot of accusations, and they obviously don’t want to increase the risks of people being assaulted in public restrooms (although requiring transgender people to use the restroom of their birth sex will actually increase, not decrease potential violence, against the transgender person). But they’re stuck. This whole idea of being transgender seems odd, and maybe even a bit “icky”to them, and they don’t quite know how to make sense of it all.

I get that. To be honest, even as a gay man I had to go through a learning curve about transgender people, and I try to keep fairly up to speed with news within the LGBTQ community. It’s perfectly understandable to me if someone who isn’t swimming in that particular lake as part of their daily or weekly routine isn’t fully up to speed with regard to transgender issues. It’s to those of you in that second group of well-intentioned but confused or frustrated folk just trying to do the right thing that I offer the following thoughts.

Maybe we start by defining what transgender means – and what it doesn’t mean, as well. Two helpful references here are the GLAAD Media Reference Guide to Transgender Issues and the Transgender FAQ of the Human Rights Campaign.

There are some men who occasionally wear clothing and makeup traditionally associated with women. These are individuals who identify as heterosexual men and who do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women. These men are crossdressers (formerly known by the now-obsolete term “transvestite“). They are not transgender.

There are other men who will dress as women, often in a highly campy or caricateurish manner, for entertainment purposes. These are individuals who typically identify as gay men who, like crossdressers, do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women. These men are typically referred to as drag queens. Like the crossdressers, they are not transgender.

Transgender people are people with a gender identity different from the one that they were physically assigned, by way of physical sexual organs, at birth. These are men or women whose innermost sense of being, and of self, is and always has been opposite to the physical body they were born with. A transgender person looks in a mirror and feels like an alien within their own body – they know there’s a different person inside than what the physical manifestations indicate.

Transgender men and women will often undergo a transition process, in order to live authentically as the person they feel themselves to be. This can include hormone therapy and a battery of sex reassignment surgeries and other medical procedures, but even if it doesn’t, a transitioned transgender person is living life day to day as a person of their particular gender identity, in all aspects of their lives.

So now, back to restrooms and locker rooms.

Regarding the restrooms, many people have worried that allowing transgender people to use the facilities corresponding to their gender identity will increase the likelihood of sex offenders posing as transgender people, in order to gain access to the restrooms where they’ll prey on others. This argument really doesn’t make any sense for several reasons, but most importantly, because police departments in the locales that have permitted transgender access to their preferred restroom for some time are universal in their affirmation that there have been no cases of this happening. So the “increased risk” restroom argument is a non-issue. Despite the frothy-mouthed rantings of some, there’s simply no “there” there.

The other restroom claim is that while in the restroom, a person will actually see another person’s genitals, and that they won’t match their own, and that the person will somehow be traumatized by the incident. Consider that for a moment. All restroom usage in women’s rooms are designed to take place in enclosed stalls. Half of all restroom usage in men’s rooms are designed to take place in stalls. Virtually all transgender people, men and women alike, always use an enclosed stall. This means that if you’re scoping out another person’s genitals in a public restroom – trans or otherwise – you’re not only working really hard to do it, you’re also committing a voyeuristic crime. In other words, at that point you’re the creepy criminal in the restroom, not the transgender person.

That leaves locker rooms and shared shower facilities.

According to the best available information, transgender people make up approximately 0.3% of the population, or about 700,000 people in the United States. That number includes transgender people of every age, and those who have surgically transitioned and those who haven’t. So the number of non-surgically reassigned transgender people of the appropriate age and gender to potentially be in your child’s locker room gets smaller and smaller. Still, it’s true that in some situation, a child or youth might actually encounter an undressed, non-surgically reassigned trans person. Maybe it would be in a changing room at a swimming pool, or the locker and shower facilities at a school or health club. But if this happened, I have to ask – is this really such a big deal? Is this really something so terrible and to be avoided that it’s worth depriving the civil rights of an estimated 700,000 people?

No reasonable people shield their children from paintings, sculpture, or other works of art that portray nudity. For that matter, in many, if not most, other cultures around the world – and frankly, in parts of our own – children and youth are routinely in the presence of disrobed members of the opposite sex, whether family members or otherwise, without anyone giving it a second thought, and often for lengths of time far exceeding the fleeting moments of taking a quick gym shower or changing clothes. In these cultures, children and youth in the age range we seem so worried about are routinely exposed to unclothed people of both sexes, on regular broadcast television, sunbathing in public parks (the natives of Finland, for example, value every bit of warm sunny days and think nothing of sunbathing nude on those occasions – and of course, they also have the whole sauna culture, too), and in other settings, and they grow up to be normal, healthy, quite well-adjusted adults in the same proportion as anyone else. They’re not any more exposed to sexual molestation. They aren’t any less religious or spiritual because of it. They aren’t flooding psychologist’s offices trying to sort out lives that have been psychosexually scarred by the experience. If anything, they’re more emotionally healthy and well-balanced.

Modesty is certainly a virtue – but taken to an extreme, it can become an irrational and even harmful obsession.

There seem to be two equally significant things contributing to the irrational hysteria that so many people have with regard to transgender people, and specifically, this restroom/locker room issue. The first is simply that, compared with the rest of the world, our culture has a warped and unhealthy attitude toward the human body in general. In an odd mix,  the rigid and prudish repression of our past, combined with the current hypersexualization of our culture (itself just a reaction to that repressive past), have made the unclothed human body something inherently “dirty” in the minds of many, and certainly something to protect our young people from – as if they were some delicate creatures who have never encountered the naked humanity of themselves, their parents and siblings, their friends, in art, or elsewhere, and who would be traumatized for life if they did.

The second contributor to the problem is the phenomenon that we humans seem to need to identify ourselves as an “us”- as an identifiable culture or group – by way of the negative; by establishing some kind of boundaries specifically designed to create a  “them.” In so doing,  we not only give ourselves justification to see ourselves as superior in the equation, but we also create justification for treating “them” as something less worthy of equal treatment, something even less human. Having a “them” creates justification for violence in the name of self-protection, and gives us a convenient recipient for moral or religious disapproval and indignation, thereby taking the moral heat off of ourselves. Overlapping aspects of this phenomenon have been researched and addressed by numerous people.

R.I. Moore writes about the origins of a “persecuting society” in medieval Europe, in which both church and state set particular groups of people as undesirable – as “dangerous pollutants”. This was done for all of the previously mentioned reasons, and especially to solidify the power of the particular ruling structure. As student Hope Greenberg summarized: In each case the group is defined not by what it is or by what it does but what those in power, either sacred or secular, perceive and define it to be. That definition is refined and polished until an easily identifiable, albeit patently false, picture emerges of what then becomes the stereotypic object of persecution.” 

The anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote of the theory of “purity and danger,”and the establishment of what fit into each of those categories by both religious and secular authorities. In A Queer History of the United States, Michael Bronski writes of Douglas’ work, “[T]he founding of modern society was predicated on the creation of minority groups whose only purpose was to be vilified as unclean and persecuted for the illusion of a comprehensive sense of society safety…The idea of purifying religious and secular thought and society was at the heart of Puritan identity. (p.17)”

Students of philosophy, theology, anthropology, and a host of other disciplines are undoubtedly familiar with Rene Girard’s Mimetic Theory and the necessity for an individual or communal scapegoat, a victim singled out for persecution for the supposed good of the larger social structure.

During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson once summarized all of those academic writings, and succinctly identified the self-interest of the ruling class in all of it, in his now-famous quote: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” The same concept, made more from the vantage point of the ruled than the ruling class, was illustrated in the “My Daddy Killed that Mule” scene from the film Mississippi Burning (click image to play):

mississippi burning my daddy killed that mule

The take-home of all of this is that trans people in our society are being vilified, persecuted, assaulted, even killed, not because of any actual threat they pose to the well-being of society, or because of anything inherently wrong or ill or evil about them. Trans people are being victimized because we’ve been taught that we need a scapegoat to feel good about ourselves. [Click to tweet] Given that, then, who  is the truly “sick” and perverted group – the trans people, or the people who feel a need to vilify them?

But back to locker rooms.

I’m imagining a scenario where a a mother and daughter are changing into their swimsuits at the local public swimming pool, and in that rarest of occasions, the daughter notices a non-surgically reassigned trans woman changing nearby, and the ensuing conversation:

“Mommy, that person over there isn’t like us – they have body parts like a boy.”

“Oh, yes, that’s true.”

“Well then why are they in here with us, instead of the boy’s changing room?”

“Well, because there are some people who are girls on the inside, but they’re born with the body parts of a boy. And sometimes, there are people who are boys on the inside, but they’re born with the body parts of a girl.”

“Wow, that’s weird!”

“Well, it’s different from the way we were born, but it happens sometimes – that’s just the way things are; we don’t really know why. Sometimes, people treat them very badly, and even try to hurt them because of that, just because of the way they’re born. And that’s not really nice; in fact, it’s very wrong. Really, besides the different body parts, they’re just like you or me, and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity just like everyone else – just like we want to be respected for who we are inside, and not on what we might look like on the outside.”

“Oh. OK. So when we get out to the pool, can we go down the slide first?”

And that’s it. No drama. No trauma.

I know, call me an unrealistic dreamer. But why, why, can’t it be so simple?

I’d write more, but now I have to go to the bathroom. Thankfully, the North Carolina state legislature won’t need to get involved.