The Change You Wish To See In The World: Allies For Gays In Unlikely Places

For the most part, it’s not unfair to allege that the most powerful social forces aligned against gays in America are the Republican Party, the religious Christian community, and the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. But sometimes support is found in unlikely places, and there are people in your corner who you had been 100% sure were actually all the way in the opposite corner. This is one of those weeks.

For example, Gene Robinson has always been supportive of gay causes, being that he is openly gay. But the church he belongs to hasn’t, and when he first came out in the 1980s, he felt sure that his “life in the church was over.” But it wasn’t over, and in fact is still far from over today — he’s the Episcopal Church’s first elected openly gay bishop. While he’s announced that he will retire in 2013, right now he’s still having an enormously positive impact on his religious community. For instance, this week he gave a presentation to an adult faith community in Louisville:

“I know Jesus to be the son of God,” he told a group of about 50 people, “but what a small, limited God we would have if that was the only manifestation. I think Christians should stay away from spiritual arrogance and show more love, mercy and zeal for justice.” He called on audience members to present an alternative to the activism of the religious right, saying, “I believe that there’s a positive role for religion in the world, and we’ve already seen what not to do.”

via courier-journal.com

Progress is also being made towards a shift in attitudes in another religious community, perhaps even more surprisingly. In Utah, the new Democratic Party Chairman, Jim Dabakis, is an openly gay man – and he’s reaching out to form a relationship with the LDS Church on behalf of his party and his community. Dabakis has previously worked with the LDS Church on a Salt Lake City ordinance that would protect gays and lesbians from housing and employment discrimination – one that Utah Republicans were forced to accept without a fight when they realized their opposition didn’t have the backing of the Church. Now he’s building connections to try to make the point that Mormon and Democratic values aren’t mutually exclusive. He considers the intense anti-gay activity of the Mormon church to be the exception, not the rule of Mormon values, and doesn’t feel it reflects the feelings of voters.

…he said being openly gay was never an issue during his campaigning. “It shows how fair minded and decent people are,” Dubakis said. “Utahns are basically fair, honest, decent people…” He called voters who practice the Mormon faith a “tremendous resource” and believes they want the chance to be part of the “normal, moderate, reasonable party that we are” in light of what’s been happening in the Republican party.

via the salt lake tribune

Dabakis’ career in Utah is just beginning, and there’s no telling what progress the Democratic party might make under his influence, or what a difference it may make to have such a prominent openly gay face in Utah’s state government. At the same time, change is coming in another party – we may be seeing the beginnings of a coherent and coordinated Republican push for marriage equality.

Jeff Angelo, former Iowa State Senator, believes that the mainstream Republican party and conservative movement is wrong to oppose gay marriage.

“The opposition [to same-sex marriage] is well organized and gets a lot of media attention, but [I felt] there had to be an alternate group for Republicans that want to say ‘marriage is a great thing to promote, we’re glad that the gay community wants to be married, and we want to be supportive of that in our own political party… “We (Republicans) are pro-stable family, which marriage provides, and so when a gay man or a lesbian says ‘I want to be married’ we should encourage that,” he said. “It’s good for society and it is consistent with what the Republicans say they believe.”

Angelo supported maintaining Iowa’s status as one of the only states in the Union where same-sex marriage is legal, and opposes the rest of his party on the issue of trying to reverse the courts’ decision in that state. He’s founded the organization Republicans for Freedom, which specifically supports gay marriage, and which publicly disagrees with popular Republican opinion. Angelo says the Republicans for Freedom want to set a precedent with what they’re doing in Iowa, and hope their work there will inspire others. While at one time agreed with the party line, he’s since had a change of heart, and hopes that he can effect change in his peers for the sake of the health of the Republican party, and to convince gays who don’t consider themselves Republicans that the party can have their best interests at heart.

These are all beginnings, not things anyone can clap themselves on the back for just yet. But as Gene Robinson’s story demonstrates, the place we are now is so different and the landscape so transformed from what it was only a few years ago, that we can only imagine what it will look like in another five years or a decade. There’s more bad news every day, but it’s good to remember that we’ve gone from “You’ve gotta give them hope,” to seeing hope and slow but steady progress in the world all around us. There are still plenty of people in power – most of them, even – who refuse to acknowledge that there’s a problem, that change is necessary. But there are finally also people and organizations in power who are taking responsibility for making change happen, and that’s unequivocally good news.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 744 articles for us.

36 Comments

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    Really, the whole gay community wants to be married?! That’s gonna require one big-ass wedding cake.

    (I apologize for the snarkiness and/or cynicism of my comment in light of the optimistic nature of the above news stories.)

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        Oo, and don’t forget those little personalized cake toppers! Only, we’re gonna need one big one with several million people in it… wait. Maybe we’re still a few years away from non-monogamous wedding cake toppers. In that case, I’ll take the one with the cute butch. ;)

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        To clarify, I wasn’t being snarky at Rachel, but rather the Jeff-Angelo-Former-Iowa-Senator comment where he says “we’re glad that the gay community wants to be married”.

        And yes, there will certainly be multitudes of polygamous cake toppers atop our cake. We will have our cake and top it too!

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    Reaching out to conservative and orthodox faiths seems a double-edged sword to me. It’s great that people are becoming less determined to prevent any equality (along with fun, unicorns, double rainbows) from happening ever but I also don’t want religion in politics. At all.

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      “Everything is politics.” -Thomas Mann

      If there is one thing I learned this year in my class about political systems, it’s that this is true. Religion, upbringing, social status, gender, location, educational status, all of these (and more!) factors can be used to basically predict how a person will vote, and what they think politically. Demographics, demographics, demographics. Religion has been in politics since way before America started, and it is in our system, and it is not about to leave. Since that’s true, I say court ‘em all!

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        Actually, the enlightenment and the American constitution (as a specific example) served to remove religion from politics, so that religion could not be invoked or referenced. The first amendment, yes? Historically, we’re moving steadily away from religion playing an active role in government, where kings have a Devine right to power and all authorities are put in place by god/s. That’s a development that I support.

        Now, of course religion influences what people think about political questions, I’m not saying it doesn’t. I’m saying it shouldn’t. And that we should move towards a future where it plays even less of a role in people’s decision making.

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          Yeah, I’m with this. I would prefer religion stay out of politics as much as possible. That doesn’t change the fact that it is really involved in politics in the U.S., despite the fact that Article VI and the First Amendment were intended to protect against this. (Like, we essentially do have a de-facto religious test for public office…) However, the ideal situation is when there is no involvement between the two.

          Even the more “benign” forms of religious-involvement-with-government are wrong. Take, for example, faith-based initiatives. It isn’t popular when groups like Americans United for Separation of Church and State call out government funding of these groups, because people are like, how can you turn away any kind of charity? Well, the problem is that some religious charities can be discriminatory (e.g. anti-gay) in their criteria for who “deserves” charity. A lot of them also include proselytization or religious instruction in their “charity” and use tax dollars to do it, even when the government tries to safeguard against this. There are always loopholes they can exploit.

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        I get what you’re saying here, in that according to theory, religion operates like a political system sometimes. However, in terms of actual *policy*, the involvement of religion with lawmaking has usually led to tyranny, and therefore it is essential that free governments do not make religious considerations of any kind. And having a politician’s religious beliefs become a part of their appeal or platform is running scarily close to that. It’s getting rather close to the sort of religious test that Article VI is specifically supposed to prevent.

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      Yeah, I would agree with you. Mixing religion and politics is never a good idea, however I applaud these people for the work they’re doing. Maybe when one is trying to change the ideas of religious groups w/r/t equality, it’s kind of inevitable.

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      Same here. I have this saying that I invented (and I think it’s cleverer than it really is)- that being a LGBTQ christian is like being a vegan who orders a pepperoni pizza and picks off the pepperoni. Of course, this is incredibly offensive to a lot of queer christians. But yeah, I agree that I don’t want that shit anywhere near me.

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        Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, but I feel I do need to say something w/r/t Christianity here.
        I understand your intense dislike of a book and a Church which have been abused to condemn you. I am also offended when I go to church and listen to an ignorant, hateful pastor use his faith to compare my girlfriend and I to dogs/tables/rutabagas/etc. It is inexcusable for the church at large to dehumanize us as gay people, and then tell us (based on an incorrect interpretation of verses which have been taken entirely out of their context), that we are evil/wrong/the end of the world.
        But I also think it is wrong to judge something by its abuses. When Christians abuse the Bible to justify their own hatred and homophobia, this is an abuse of the Bible. This does not, however, mean that the Bible or Christianity are bad. It just means that people have used them to do bad things. Lots of stuff gets abused, but we still use/believe in it. Money gets abused, governmental power gets abused, medicinal drugs get abused; but this does not mean that money, government, and medicine are all inherently bad things.
        The Bible contains some of the most well-known and, in the opinion of many, best written poetry in all of “Literature”, and certainly has inspired plenty. It is also a valuable historical document, seeing as it contains the accumulation of many people’s experiences over a very large time span. It has provided comfort to people in anguish, and hope to some who were despairing. I beg of you to understand that it is a book of at least some value, and that not all those who believe in it are bigots and cretins.
        And I’m sorry. I am so. sorry. I apologize for what my brothers and sisters in the faith have used it for. I can only tell you that change is possible. I used to hate all gay people, including myself, and always took the time to let the world know it. Now, I only hope that in the rest of my life I have the time to help and comfort as many people as I previously hurt by living in such an unacceptable fashion.
        I so heart this website, and all of you guys here. You inspire me. You have such a fighting spirit, such a resilience. I only hope this community continues to flourish and defy expectations! I am rooting for all of us.

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          I gonna have to disagree with you. Fundamentalist Christians aren’t pulling bible verses out of their arses. Leviticus exists. Deuteronomy exists. The sanctions for slavery, for genocide, for the burning of ‘witches’, are all there. And while it’s of course conceivable to be a New Testament Christian, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that he had come to fulfill the law, not to change it.

          To claim that people are abusing the bible when they say the book demands the killing of homosexuals is frankly untrue. The Bible does demand the killing of any man that lies with a man as with woman kind (and people can claim a disconnect between the understanding of homosexuality between now and then if they like). The Bible does condone slavery. You are of course entitled to have your own interpretation of Christianity. But I don’t see how your interpretation is any more valid than say the Pope’s, who after all is a very well educated theologian who opposes everything from abortion to homosexuals to condom use.

          The bible is an important historical document. Not really because it contains historically accurate information (it doesn’t) but because of its influence throughout time. That’s all fine. And you’re obviously a very sincere and loving person and my aim isn’t to take away any comfort that you draw from your faith. That is not the point. I’m more than happy for people to believe in whatever they want to believe in. The problems arise when people demand that I believe what they believe or when they insist on the enactment of laws in accordance with their beliefs. This is something that I cannot tolerate. And these are beliefs that –do- have the theological backing of the Bible.

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          I agree with you to the extent that it is wrong for people to shove their faith on others, or to create a theocracy based upon it. But as far as Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers go, and Jesus’ relation to them, I think you have an incorrect impression of what exactly the Bible conveys, and what Christian theology states. When Jesus said that he had come to fulfill the law, he clearly (and this is not widely disputed, I assure you, it’s pretty run of the mill basic stuff) meant that he had come to make sure that its intent, rather than its letter, would from then on be followed. That from then on, after his resurrection, people wouldn’t have to go through a holiness code to have a relationship with God- they could have one directly through him. Hence his saying, “30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” as the sum of all the law and the prophets. This is seconded by Paul, when in Romans he states: “20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law…21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known” This, again, makes clear the new covenant. Which is exactly why it is utterly ridiculous for people to claim that the holiness code of Leviticus or Deuteronomy or Numbers has any bearing on how a christian should live their lives today. There is a reason that nowadays when I sin I don’t feel the need to bring a goat, dove, or sheep to a temple and sacrifice it for my sins- we don’t practice animal sacrifice because we live under a new covenant where the sacrifice has already been made. Therefore, the strongest condemnation of the gay community actually does not come from the Old Testament at all, but from unfortunately inaccurate renderings and interpretations of New Testament passages (which people seem to think are related to/backed up by the Old Testament ones). Anyway, my point is that Jesus did change the Law. He changed the way we live our lives completely. And to say that the Bible is being abused when it is used to condemn our community is completely true in my opinion, although we may have to agree to disagree. I don’t think the Bible was written to bring about hate. It saddens me when I see it used to that end, because it is obviously not what God wants. At all.

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          Whether the old law still applies or not is of course a theological question open for debate and while I’m not ignorant of the righteous through grace paradigm, it seems to me awfully convenient in the way it is being reasoned around. Of course, there are other things which are questionable (and/or reprehensible in my opinion) not only about what Jesus said and what other aspects of the faith implies, but as I said, you don’t have a problem with me, I don’t have a problem with you.

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          Also, I should say that Romans 3:20 makes it pretty clear that while how a person attains the forgiveness from sin has changed with the sacrifice of Jesus, it doesn’t actually change the fact that what the law describes is sin.

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          Galatians 2:19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.”

          We can passage quote and argue the points back and forth all day, but it looks like it won’t go anywhere and is only going to grow increasingly time consuming, seeing as to how sincerely we both hold our beliefs. I would like to thank you for the discussion. I also like your sunglasses in your avatar picture, but that’s neither here nor there, is it? See ya ’round Autostraddle.

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          I can’t reply to your post (for reasons unknown) but I wanted to say likewise and that discussions are always good. And thanks, they’re my favourite ones! I’m sure there will be other things for us to agree and disagree on.

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    Thanks for this article– good reminders of the positive changes out there.

    However, I do think it’s important to note that while there’s still a ways to go for gays in the Anglican communion, the Episcopal Church in the USA is one of the most LGBT-affirming of the Christian communions, and can’t really be compared to the LDS Church, which is one of the most difficult places to be a gay Christian. And the ECUSA isn’t in the same shying-away-from-the-gays league as the Republican party, either.

    (I know you weren’t making an exact comparison, but I think it should be mentioned that these three groups aren’t equivalent.)

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      P.S. I was especially interested in Dubakis’s comments. It’s interesting the kind of gay-affirming you use in different contexts, and it’s really intriguing to see how he is trying to make it understandable to LDS practitioners.

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    Hint: If gays want Mormons to be nice to them, then it would only make sense that gays should be nice to Mormons. I am a Mormon. I do not agree with much of the gay agenda, but this is a better approach than putting grafiti on our temples and threatening us. Thanks.

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      I AM SO SORRY YOUR CHURCH WAS SPRAYPAINTED!!! THAT IS SO AWFUL!!! NEVER MIND THAT YOU CHURCH DECIDED TO FUND DISCRIMINATION AND THE DENIAL OF BASIC RIGHTS. YOU POOR THING WITH YOUR GRAFFITI!!eleventy.

      one of these things is not nearly on the scale of the other. but go on, enjoy your persecution complex.

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    Ah… only with religion is it considered okay to believe in imaginary friends.

    Organized mass delusion, arguably more destructive and dangerous to others than almost all delusional people locked up in asylums… even if just by a matter of scale.

    Yay human nature…

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    In defense of queer Christians based on some of the comments:

    I am a queer Christian. Henry Rollins said to pray to a God who likes you, which has always been the case for me. I do have an “imaginary” friend in Jesus. The first person I came out to when I was twelve was Jesus in a prayer. I said something along the lines of having a crush on a girl. I’ve always felt the support and love from my Maker i.e. God.

    I know religion can be a touchy subject or even a creepy subject for some queer people. I am compassionate to that and fully understand and comprehend the hurt and pain that organized religion has caused many people; queer or straight in many walks of life, myself included.

    However, I find a lot of meaning, support, love and catharsis in my life from my personal relationship and understanding of God/JC and it works for me. I fully respect and encourage all spiritual expression whether it’s taking a walk in the park or eating a really good sandwich or attending a church, temple, synagogue etc. of a religion of your choosing. Or not. Whatever floats your boat.

    I like believing in unicorns and Carebears and gum drops and glitter and (what the hell) God and Jesus. It works for me. I totally respect that it doesn’t work for others; especially a marginalized group of people that organized religion has been incredibly unkind too.

    I’ve just always felt nothing but kindness from God or Jesus (or unicorns or Carebears or gum drops or glitter; whatevs) in my life even when life got excruciatingly painful. So, it’s hard for me to turn my back on my faith when my faith is what got me through hard times and also helped me accept who I am; a flaming lesbian woman.

    It’s like the world kept telling me, “You’re a horrible, weird person.” And, God kept saying, “You’re an amazing person.” The world kept saying, “You’re a homo and homos are weird.” And, God kept saying, “You’re a lesbian and lesbians are awesome. Enjoy!” That’s been my journey anyway.

    My point: You be you. I’ll be me. Let’s respect each other’s different perspective on things i.e. religion, sexuality. etc.

  7. Pingback: LGBT Religion News Updates for July 27, 2011 | GLAADBlog.org

  8. Pingback: LGBT Religion News Updates for July 27, 2011 | LGBT Human Rights. Gay News, Entertainment, Travel

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