Are You Open Minded? Turning the tables on an anti-gay Charlotte Pride survey


A counter-protester holds a sign near anti-gay protesters at Charlotte Pride, Aug. 24, 2013, Uptown Charlotte. Photo Credit: Matthew Cummings/StillOut Photography Club.

Three weeks ago, Dr. Michael Brown, a leading anti-LGBT activist and religious leader in Charlotte brought 40 of his ministry schools’ students and other friends to Charlotte Pride, the city’s annual LGBT Pride festival and parade, on whose board of directors I sit. While at the event, Brown’s students and others circulated the festival area, speaking to attendees and asking attendees to complete a survey entitled, “Are You Open Minded?”

I took offense to Brown’s outreach efforts this year, calling his tactics dishonest, underhanded and deceitful. I even appeared on Brown’s radio show on Sept. 3 to discuss my disagreements with his survey and tactics. I discuss more about that experience in my latest editorial in the current issue of QNotes, hitting newsstands and online today. In the editorial, I call Brown’s outreach efforts this year a “spectacular failure.” You can read more about why in the editorial.

Here, though, I’ll run through and answer the several questions Dr. Brown’s students posed to Charlotte Pride attendees. Brown and I had meant to answer a few of these questions together on his radio show. Unfortunately, we ran out of time. Here though, I hope I’ll be able to offer a more balanced view and some more informed answers and insight I thought was missing from Brown’s Aug. 26 radio discussion of the survey results.

First, all the questions (src):

  1. 1. Do you agree with the statement “I have the right to marry the one I love”?
    Yes No
    If so, are there any exceptions? (Polyamory? Polygamy? Consensual adult incest [opposite sex? same-sex?]? Age of consent for marriage?)
    Yes No
  2. If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, should religious exemptions be allowed for those who do not want to participate?
    Yes No
    If so, does that apply to churches? Businesses? Individuals?
    If not, what should the penalty be (for churches, businesses, individuals)?
  3. If someone is not happy with their gender, should they be allowed to pursue a change of gender?
    Yes No
    If they are not happy with their sexual orientation, should they be allowed to pursue a change of their sexual orientation?
    Yes No
    If so, should they have to wait until they reach a certain age?
  4. If you could snap your fingers and change your sexual orientation or gender, would you?
    Yes No
  5. Is it bigoted to believe that homosexual practice is sin?
    Yes No
  6. Is it bigoted to say there is only one way to God?
    Yes No
  7. How would you characterize yourself?
    Male Female Other
    Gay Straight Bi Trans Other

And my answers:

Do you agree with the statement “I have the right to marry the one I love”?

Yes.

If so, are there any exceptions? (Polyamory? Polygamy? Consensual adult incest [opposite sex? same-sex?]? Age of consent for marriage?) 

Yes. All people should be able to marry the person they love, but there are common-sense restrictions, mostly protecting possible victims from abuse. Such is the case with age of consent laws and laws forbidding incest. Family law, however, should also recognize that not all families are the same; families with multiple unmarried parenting partners deserve the same or similar protections for their and their children’s well-being that couples receive. Such families may, indeed, be polyamorous, but many others are commonplace, including single parents who depend upon relatives or friends for co-parenting. Marriage alone should not be the gateway through which we determine who is entitled to the legal and social means to protect their families and the interests of their children.

If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, should religious exemptions be allowed for those who do not want to participate?

A simple “yes”-or-“no” option to this question is misleading and doesn’t provide for a full context needed for an answer. Brown’s survey provided follow-up questions where this context can be explored. See below.

 If so, does that apply to churches? Businesses? Individuals?

CHURCHES: Religious exemptions regarding marriage and any other religious sacrament or rite are already woven into the fabric of U.S. law. This nation, unlike others (as is the case in England), has no established church body entangled with government, and, as such, no government agency or official can force a minister or person of faith to conduct any marriage. Any pastor or officiant has the right to refuse to perform, conduct or participate in a marriage ceremony. In fact, many pastors require couples to meet certain criteria (e.g., faith requirements, church membership, couples/pastoral counseling, etc.) before they will agree to perform the ceremony.

BUSINESSES: For the most part, statutory and case law on business discrimination is largely settled. Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. Specifically, the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides all people the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.” Elsewhere, the act states that all people are “entitled to be free, at any establishment or place, from discrimination or segregation of any kind on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin…” In many states, these laws have been extended beyond public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, etc.) to apply to all businesses operating in the public and to protect other characteristics like sexual orientation or gender identity. In one particular New Mexico case, a photographer lost a lawsuit after she refused to photograph a same-sex couple’s wedding. Salon’s Mark Joseph Stern writes: “Legally, this ruling was correct; the photographer offered her skills solely as a business service, not as a form of personal expression. It’s the equivalent of a taxi refusing to pick up a gay couple, or a restaurant refusing to serve a gay family.” Courts have ruled that constitutional interests of fair treatment and equal access outweighs an individual right to discrimination. The reasons for such laws are clear: (1) Arbitrary discrimination, or discrimination for the sake of discrimination alone, does not represent a legitimate business interest, and (2) Government has a legitimate interest in proscribing arbitrary discrimination in the offering of goods and services, primarily in protection of free commerce and trade and the protection of individuals who may be adversely affected by mass discrimination. Can you imagine what the U.S. would look like today if private businesses had been able to continue refusing services to people of color? The same “religious liberty” arguments being used by opponents of LGBT equality today are eerily similar to many arguments used by racist business owners in the past. As the racist arguments of times past sound ridiculously hateful, silly and arbitrary today, so, too, will arguments in favor of anti-LGBT discrimination sound as equally hateful, silly and arbitrary in the years and decades to come.

[As an aside: Brown has asked if laws prohibiting discrimination by businesses would apply to a gay business owner who is asked to provide a service for an organization espousing beliefs with which she disagrees. The simple answer is yes. However, all business owners are free to refuse service for a variety of reasons which are not unlawful or arbitrary. Among those circumstances, one stands out: Businesses are free to refuse service when a customer may harass or intimidate employees or other customers. So, should a gay owner of a T-shirt business refuse service to a church which seeks to have T-shirts printed with the text of John 3:16? Most likely, no. But, should the gay owner be allowed to refuse service when the Scripture in question is calling for their death, such as Leviticus 20:13? Most definitely, yes.]

[Second aside: Many of the most recent cases regarding anti-gay business discrimination centers around marriage equality. Businesses have included wedding photographers, flower shops and bakeries. Each have claimed their religious belief that same-sex marriage is sinful prevents them from providing the service. I find such arguments from “Christian” business owners hypocritical unless they can also prove they have queried each and every past customer on their sexual practices and beliefs; for example, has the business owner provided a cake, photography or flowers for a couple who are not virgins and who have had sex before marriage, or have they provided services for a couple which intends to engage in an open, non-monogamous relationship after marrying? The only difference between these scenarios and the gay couple’s scenario is that the business owner is aware of the gay couple’s sexual orientation; the business owner may not have been aware of another couple’s actions, which they may believe to be “sin,” but they have still, even unwittingly, participated in a “celebration” of it. You might say that one can’t “unwittingly” or unintentionally be a hypocrite, and I’d agree. But, the fact that a business owner holds on to such cherished beliefs — so cherished that it prevents them from providing services to an entire class of people — and, yet, does nothing to see that such beliefs are not applied equally and fairly to all of their customers, is, without a doubt, hypocritical.]

INDIVIDUALS: Individuals are free to associate with whomever they wish. No law can force an individual to visit a particular retail establishment, stay at a particular hotel or eat at a particular restaurant. Similarly, no law can force an individual to join an organization. Constitutional rights to freedom of association and expression apply. This particular “individual harm” argument is a red herring.

If not, what should the penalty be (for churches, businesses, individuals)?

CHURCHES: Exemptions for religious institutions are already represented in most law. Next.

BUSINESSES: Most public accommodations and commercial non-discrimination laws and ordinances apply civil penalties to unlawful discriminatory practices. Civil penalties should be fair and equitable, as a faithful reliance on justice requires; it’s cliche, but it’s true: “The punishment should fit the crime.”

INDIVIDUALS: No issue here. Individuals are free to associate with whomever they wish. Next.

If someone is not happy with their gender, should they be allowed to pursue a change of gender? If they are not happy with their sexual orientation, should they be allowed to pursue a change of their sexual orientation?

Again, simple “yes”-or-“no” option for this pair of questions doesn’t give it full justice. But, simply and quickly, yes. See more below.

GENDER: Yes. The experiences of transgender and other gender-variant people are well-established medical, scientific and psychological phenomena. Book closed.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Yes, which, at first glance, may seem radical to some in the LGBT community. Though I do not personally believe sexual orientation is changeable (and most all legitimate medical, scientific and psychological literature agrees), I see no valid, legal reason to prohibit an individual from seeking to live life the way they see fit. It’s a complicated answer, I recognize. It also includes a great many questions on the veracity of claims made by “ex-gay” “therapists,” the efficacy of such “therapies” and the many ethical questions involved, especially among the many “ex-gay” therapists and groups which have been found to engage in unorthodox and potentially harmful therapeutic techniques, have failed to fully inform their clients of the body of medical and psychological research, literature and expectations on the topic, practice personal, religious intimidation and, at times, have been found to engage in sexual exploitation and abuse (here’s a good example).

If so, should they have to wait until they reach a certain age?

Again, “yes”-or-“no” won’t cut it. See below.

GENDER: Call me a radical if you wish, but I happen to believe that children are far smarter and have far more insight into their own personhood than adults often give them credit. This recent story about a young boy who personally enjoys more feminine clothing, toys and other items is a perfect example of a young person who knows his gender as he perceives it now but who is allowed by his parents to exhibit a perfectly healthy and, what should be, perfectly normal affinity for items not traditionally interpreted as “masculine.” Parents of children with gender-identity issues should consult with their physicians and with psychologists to determine the best course of action for their young people. I, for one, am not a medical expert, and, so, I won’t pretend to be. But, I’d imagine it’d be most healthy that gender affirmation surgery be considered in a young person’s later adolescent years, following puberty.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION: As “ex-gay” “therapies” have been shown repeatedly to be potentially harmful and abusive to young people, and as the medical, scientific and psychological literature is clear that sexual orientation is a mostly-immutable characteristic, such “therapies” should not be open to minors. No parent should be allowed to forcefully change their child’s sexual orientation; these are decisions for an individual to make. I support laws that prohibit the use of “ex-gay” and “reparative” “therapies” on minors.

If you could snap your fingers and change your sexual orientation or gender, would you?

Absolutely not. I am who I am today because of the unique life experiences I have encountered, many of which would not have been without my identifying as gay. There was a time when I might have answered yes, especially when I was younger and subjected to near-daily and sometimes brutal verbal and physical harassment. It’s shameful that our culture bullies young people into hating who they are.

Is it bigoted to believe that homosexual practice is sin?

Very simply, yes.

Is it bigoted to say there is only one way to God?

Bigoted? Depends, I guess, on how you apply it. I believe I have chosen a path — the one, true path for me — that leads me to reconciliation with God. It should come as no surprise to any rational person that another’s journey toward and understanding of God may differ wildly from mine or any other person’s. Is that bigoted? No, I don’t think so. But, if you’re one who thinks you can speak for God and eternally condemn, carte blanche, an entire group of people simply because you personally disagree with them, yeah, that’s a little bit bigoted. If you use such a condemnatory personal belief to legislate against entire groups of people, well, yeah, that’s extremely bigoted, and nothing short of theocracy.

How would you characterize yourself?

Gay. Male.


Comments
One Response to “Are You Open Minded? Turning the tables on an anti-gay Charlotte Pride survey”
  1. Bill Strong says:

    For an antidote to Brown’s perpetual negativity, check out the 9/14/13 NYTimes feature on a male couple in Chicago.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/13/booming/a-three-year-pledge-that-holds-still.html

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