Anti-Gay and Gay Rights Leaders Will Soon Break Bread

Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council, AKA one of the biggest players in the anti-marriage equality game. In a recent CNN interview, he confessed that he had never been inside the home of a gay couple before. How shocking, surprising, and totally unexpected of a complete homophobe! How weird that he has never actually interacted with gay people ever.

Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director of the Family Equality Council, saw an opportunity not to make fun of Perkins (at least not publicly), but instead to “soften hearts.” She wrote Perkins a letter and invited him into her home, where she lives with her wife and two kids, for dinner.

Chrisler, who is expecting a third child soon, wants Perkins to realize that gay people are great cooks full of laughs and good times. After all, hasn’t he ever seen My Drunk Kitchen? Chrisler, however, was clearly neither drunk nor attempting to make quesadillas when she invited Perkins into her home.

In the letter, she writes:

I watched with interest your appearance on CNN Thursday and I was struck by your steadfast opposition to full equality for the 1 million lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender parents who are raising 2 million children in our country today. It is especially concerning given your lack of meaningful and personal interaction with those families.

I, like you, am a parent. Like you, my spouse and I have shared many years together committed to our family, our community, and to making the world a better place. I imagine we share many of the same joys and struggles in doing the important work of raising our children and contributing meaningfully to our community. We attend church regularly and our children attend Sunday school weekly. We love our children intensely and feel a deep desire to protect and nurture them as they continue along their journey to adulthood. We are also anxiously awaiting the arrival of our third child, due in August, and have worked since his conception to ensure his health and welfare. This is the face of the one million families you have taken no time to get to know.

Perkins, surprisingly, accepted the invitation saying he and his wife would love to attend once they can find a good date.

This feels like one of those icebreaker questions gone bad. You know, kind of like, “who would you invite to a dinner party if you could choose eight people — DEAD OR ALIVE,” or “what stuff would you do to better the movement that actually makes you want to punch someone in the face.” Hopefully Perkins isn’t using scheduling as an excuse, and actually intends to show up. Also, hopefully it ends up being adorable. Something tells me that dinner involving lesbian moms and their children couldn’t actually be anything else.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

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  1. I think this is a great idea. Studies have shown that people who know and interact with gay people on a regular basis support gay rights almost 100%. Maybe we all should just have some people over to BBQ. We can use their hate signs as charcoal. Recycle and change mines all at once.

  2. As the child of gay parents, as a queer identified person myself, and as someone who leads COLAGE, I am appalled by this. Jenn Chrisler has repeatedly made arguments for her family’s right to equal rights based on the pretense that we (queer parented families) are “normal” – this is a dangerous and damaging road to equality she is pursuing. Women argued for suffrage based on merit and their moral force. Men got to vote because they were citizens, not because they were moral. Straight people get to get married because they’re straight, not because they’re good “normal” parents. I’ve had enough with FEC promoting a white, christian, heteronormative case for our families. ALL families deserve the legal protections that comes with equality. I want to celebrate my family’s queerness, mixed race, an un-orthodoxy…that’s what makes it so fabulous. Congrats on your white christian middle class privilege, Jenn, good luck with Mr. Perkins. I’m going to abstain from sleeping with the enemy – I don’t want his approval, I want him out of my way.

    • “I don’t want his approval, I want him out of my way.”

      This. All of this.

      My thing is you can have your views be it Christian, white/black/whatever race supremacist, nationalist, Muslim etc., but as soon as your problematic shit gets in my way, haaaa, all bets are off.

      • I’ve definitely felt this way on occasion, but the more I think about it, the more I recognize we *have* to engage with “the enemy.” I mean, we’re maybe 10% of the population at max, and in state after state, the majority has voted against same sex marriage, which I agree shouldn’t be the only goal for LGBT rights, but it’s the main issue that’s been voted on by the public. Legislators aren’t too keen on giving us other rights either, be it for adoption, employment non-discrimination protection, etc.

        So how do you propose to just move the enemy out of the way? I mean, there’s the whole ‘let’s wait for the bigots to die off’ strategy. But personally, my feeling is not, ‘grandma’s not cool with me being gay so fuck her! She can just go ahead and die.’ Didn’t any of you have family or friends who are straight and took some time to adjust to your coming out, but eventually came around? I had a ton of internalized homophobia myself, which is why it took me until my early 20s to fully accept that I’m gay, even though I’d known I was interested in girls for at least a decade. So I try to be sympathetic to those who are battling through the stereotypes and misinformation, as long as they truly are working on it. I’m sure there are lots of people out there who are just bigoted to the core, who will never be moved from their homophobia. BUT, I believe there are lots of people who *can* be swayed, though I have no idea if Tony Perkins is one such person, and I think that outreach and engagement can make a difference with them.

    • Elizabeth, I have a lot of feelings about this too. On the one hand, it’s wildly problematic for queer families (or any families, really) to have to fit into a narrow, normalized, very classified, very privileged definition of the “right” kind of family; but on the other hand, are baby steps better than no steps at all? or do you think that this is a baby step in the wrong direction?
      As much as we want to change stigma around queer families, it’s hard to do it without reinforcing hegemonic “family” structure while also not alienating the people whose minds we’re trying to change.

      • This is a really thoughtful response, and I agree with it pretty much completely. Which is to say, I agree that it can be really hard to come down completely on one side or another of this issue, because baby steps are good, because sometimes having conversations with the enemy is a good way to try to understand the worst of what you’re up against, but also because it’s troubling to think that the strategy we have that’s the most widespread right now might just be a strategy that trades one inequity for another. It’s confusing for me, because I agree with Elizabeth but I’m also moved by letters like Jenn Chrisler’s, which I think bring up valid issues. It’s just, I wish voices like hers were not the loudest and most listened to, but one of many loud and listened to voices.

        • Maybe Jenn Chrisler doesn’t identify herself as queer, just gay? I don’t know her obviously, but based on her pitch in the letter it seems like she identifies herself as a very conventional, church-going, “whitebread” person who just happens to be gay and she comes across as somebody who sincerely wants to show this man that that is the case. That’s her doing her. It’s great that other people feel queer, but it’s not queer rights, it’s gay rights and, honestly, if you’re asking for equality around marriage – pretty much the definitive heteronormative institution throughout most of history – just how queer are you? So, I feel Jenn Chrisler should be cut some slack and having a go at her because she’s insufficiently queer in how she expresses herself for your tastes is pretty much a case of the circular firing squad.

          • Yes, I agree that you do you applies to everyone, which is exactly why I’m ambivalent about the issue. I just wish other viewpoints were heard clearly in the mainstream debate, alongside (but not to the exclusion of) people like her, who are happy getting married to their wives and having 2.5 kids to take to church every Sunday because it’s satisfying on an individual level. If she wants to do that, that’s cool. Really. I just think that it’s a complicated issue, and that that’s not currently reflected in the mainstream debate.

            I get nervous whenever it looks like the trends in debate mean that we might have to qualify our existence, or our rights, by conforming to a restrictive standard that doesn’t work for everyone. I don’t think that Jenn Chrisler’s intention is to dictate anyone else’s lifestyle, which is, again, why I feel ambivalent.

            (Btw, queers for marriage equality exist. Hi! I’m a queer person who will probably get married someday. I also consider myself gay. Queer and gay aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. The cool thing about the word queer, for me, is that it’s so flexible; I’m pretty sure there isn’t a universally accepted, definitive queer doctrine. I don’t believe marriage is or should be the be-all-end-all for everyone, but the reality is that it holds tangible and emotional benefits for lots of people and anyways, to each their own.)

          • The latter half of my post got a little needlessly confrontational due to my irritation rising at what I perceived as some pretty self-righteous lecturing involving using the word “queer.” If you felt I was suggesting you couldn’t be queer and gay or queer and want to get married, I’m sorry and that’s not my view (even if I ineptly gave that impression while snarking).

          • Ah, thanks for clarifying. For me, this is really more of a who-gets-represented-and-why issue than a you-live-in-the-wrong-way thing. If my comment came off as lifestyle-policing, I can understand why it would make you mad, because I get pissed off about that stuff too.

          • Fulton,
            I worry about the “her doing her” infringing upon my rights! You acknowledge that it’s not queer rights. In fact, normative gay rights are a huge threat to queer rights, setting the whole movement back six decades.

            You’re right, marriage equality is not queer, it’s antithetical to queer, and I wish people would stop calling me homophobic for not supporting marriage (straight or otherwise), because I think it is homophobic to try to turn queers into defacto straights!

      • “It’s wildly problematic for queer families (or any families, really) to have to fit into a narrow, normalized, very classified, very privileged definition of the “right” kind of family”

        This! Thank you, Hana!

        Oh, and this:
        “As much as we want to change stigma around queer families, it’s hard to do it without reinforcing hegemonic “family” structure”

        Marry me? Just Kidding! I don’t Want to get married: I don’t want to be normative, normal, a straight-wannabe lesbian (no, sorry, “gay woman”, because “lesbian” is too political).

        It always worries me so much how LGBTQ seem like apologist conformists: I’m sorry I’m queer, please let me be “normal” just like you!

        • “I don’t want to be normative, normal, a straight-wannabe lesbian”

          Is this for real? I think you’re on the wrong site.

          • To clarify, I think it’s odd that you’re on a queer-lady (lesbian majority) site and you believe lesbians who want to get married are “straight-wannabes.” Do you realize that you just insulted a lot of people on this site? What’s bad about being non-queer-identified or monogamous? How is this setting the movement back six decades?

    • This comment has been edited by the Autostraddle Community Managerettes to make this stuff show up.

    • I appreciate your perspective on this.

      I am not appalled by Jenn Chrisler’s approach – I feel that it’s a matter of reaching different kinds of people on different levels. But I do feel uneasy about putting too much emphasis on normality, for much the same reason that I feel uneasy about putting too much emphasis on sexuality as being something we’re born with. People shouldn’t have equal rights because they’re “normal” or “natural” or “born that way”. They should have equal rights because it’s right.

      • ‘people shouldnt have equal rights because they’re “normal” or “natural”…they should have equal rights because it’s right’

        I mean, this is obviously the truth and I wholeheartedly agree, but I feel like arguing that point with people who think the queer community are immoral, evil and filthy is kind of futile? We shouldn’t HAVE to convince anyone that we ‘deserve’ to be treated as humans, but I don’t know what the alternative is in the current political climate?

        • I definitely agree that if there’s only one argument that will get through to a certain segment of people, we should use it. It’s just that I’d also like to hear a lot of other equally (if not more) valid arguments and points of view in the public discourse as well.

    • Yes, the emphasis on “we are pretty must just like you, homophobic friend!” irked me too.
      But (and here I come walking on eggshells, because I just want to further the discussion, and not offend anybody), isn’t the desire to get married and raise children a pretty conservative one anyway? I mean, marriage is an institution, an administration, a contract to put some things in your life in a certain order. It was and sometimes still is supposed to be unbreakable, and monogamous.
      Children, and their status, is/was also something marriage organizes, makes tidier, into rights and duties.
      I am very much in favor of equal rights, and I am exited because things are supposed to change about that in my country too. But contracts are contracts, and if you want to live out of this box, my guess is you shouldn’t sign them.
      If you do not desire to be a “normal” couple, with only two people, raising only their “own” children, and monogamously tied for life in law, maybe marriage is not the suitable solution. Maybe we could invent other contracts for other lifestyles, in addition to the marriage one, maybe we should abolish them all.
      Now please don’t hit me with things.

      • “isn’t the desire to get married and raise children a pretty conservative one anyway?”

        I’m going to hit you with kisses!

        Thank you for daring to voice this controversial but sensible approach. You are not alone in thinking that marriage, biologically-related children, and suburbia ever after is retrograde.

    • I’m actually an intern at the Family Equality Council. We’re not all middle class, white, Christian gays. Actually, just from the people that work in our Boston office, our staff of 20 or so is from 4 continents, we span a whole spectrum of religious beliefs and non-beliefs, and numerous different sexual orientations and gender identities. The idea that we are promoting “normalcy” for anyone is ridiculous. We want family rights and family equality. That is what we want to be normal.

      We get nowhere by being divided against each other.

      • You get somewhere by uniting a sexual minority in an ideology that doesn’t appeal to all of them. Yes, it’s good for you if we smile and wave our equal marriage flags, but it’s actually Bad for me. It doesn’t help Me that you are trying to unite us, and tell us that if we oppose your conservative view of what it should mean to be queer, that we are bad.

        • I’m not speaking for an entire sexual minority, and neither is Jenn. She’s speaking for herself and her family, to try and give this Perkins asshole some real-life experience with the people that he objectifies and demonizes everyday. We’re not pigeonholing you, we’re being true to ourselves and trying to help people that don’t have a voice out there. You do you, my friend.

  3. why does it feel like we (us queermos) are always accepting the burden of proof? like we should invite haters into our homes to be like “see how we’re totally not sex freak aliens”? even tho like sex freak aliens would be so much more awesome to hang out with…

    like i get the gesture and i’m always pleased when people can find common ground and break bread but holy jeezus, being the bigger people is exhausting.

  4. Yikes! I triggered quite the convo here, which I guess is the point :) I really appreciate everything you all said, it’s so reassuring to know that in this movement that amplifies the voices of white, upper class, suburban, educated and wealthy gays, my queermo radical buddies are still out there.
    It’s sad how our own movement can isolate us.
    I don’t believe this is a baby step – I believe it is the only step the movement has taken, the only direction we’ve set our sight on, the only course we’re pursuing, and I think it’s very dangerous.
    In fairness, I have heard Jenn make progress from her “hey white homophobic elitests, we’re just like you” stance, toward a more realistic stance that recognized that families in general have evolved, and institutions need to catch up with the reality that most youth are not growing up in the sort of cleaver-esque home Mr. Perkins says is the only right way.
    But no, Jenn does not identify as queer (last I checked) FEC had a mental hernia about even including the word in their mission statement.
    And yes, the staff at FEC are diverse, it’s not about the people who work their, it’s about the message they’re promoting.

  5. I guess for me, it’s more that she’s saying “We aren’t really very different at all. Our kids, our families come first.” It’s been my experience that when you point out the similarities instead of the differences you create a feeling of sameness that brings people together versus the wedge they would like to drive between us. It’s less about “normal” for me and more about that “sameness”. Of course this comment is being written without adequate caffein intake. So…

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