The more advances we make in the quest for LGBT equality, the more virulent the attacks against us become. Witness Pastor Charles L. Worley of North Carolina—yes, the same state that earlier this month decisively passed a constitutional amendment banning not only same-sex marriage but domestic and civil partnerships of all kinds, a state that has shamelessly brandished its homophobic sword against LGBTs and marriage equality. On May 13, just four days after President Obama’s historical endorsement of marriage equality, this self-proclaimed Christian said: “I figured a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers. Build a great big large fence—50 or 100 mile long—put all the lesbians in there. Fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out. And you know what, in a few years, they’ll die out. Do you know why? They can’t reproduce!”
The extent seems boundless to which bigots and haters will go to wrap their hate up in the Bible, and make Christianity the medium for their message. Leading to the Civil Rights movement of the sixties (and beyond), African Americans were the targets of the lynch mobs. Lately the LGBT community has become fair game. Who will be next? For surely, when LGBT equality and marriage equality have been achieved—as they will be—those who need a scapegoat to burnish their own images will identify new prey. The social learning curve for human beings is painfully slow—and slower for some than for others.
Tuesday, May 22, was Harvey Milk Day, the celebration of the birthday of one of the world’s LGBT rights pioneers, a man ahead of his time. Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the United States (as a San Francisco city supervisor). His election was anything but a foregone conclusion; he had three failed campaigns before his victory in 1977. But he persevered. On his election, he said, “It’s not my victory, it’s yours and yours and yours. If a gay can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We’ve given them hope.” Milk never stood down in the face of opposition and hate, and he ultimately gave his life for the cause he championed.
You can read all about Harvey Milk—the man, the activist, the politician, the risk-taker, the martyr—and I hope you will. His story is an inspiration, and he contributed an enormous building block to the civil rights struggle that has followed, and in which, in 2012, we find ourselves still embroiled.
Milk was outspoken, assertive, and dogged in his quest to mainstream straight people’s perceptions of LGBTs. He converted his indignation and anger into action, and left a legacy that can make us all proud to follow him. In his day he had to contend with the hate-steeped Anita Bryant and her like. One of her choice quotes: “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.”
Today we have Pastor Worley and his kind to deal with. An angry rage in response to Pastor Worley’s vile idea is perfectly understandable. One reader suggested locking up all the haters inside an electrified fence and letting them die off; another fancied stringing the pastor up by his balls. And who can blame them? Our natural response when attacked is to lash back. But, as Martin Luther King Jr. (no stranger to unrelentingly hateful attacks, and also a martyr for justice) eloquently said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Here’s a possible response to the monstrous Mr. Worley that may just hit home while also doing some concrete good: Donate to your local LGBT organization in the pastor’s name. As Rev. Mark Sandlin writes, “Not only will it be a wonderful opposing response to Pastor Worley, but it does several other wickedly beautiful things. One, it helps fund organizations who are actively working against this kind of exclusion and bullying. Two, it puts Pastor Worley on their mailing lists!!! And, three, it can really show Pastor Worley and others what creative, non-violent resistance looks like – and that’s biblical.” If you want to help make this brilliant idea go viral, you can click on the link for Pastor Worley’s snail and email addresses, and for a huge list of worthy organizations to which you can donate.
There’s no question that it’s challenging to channel our inner Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dr. King, and Mr. Milk, all rolled into one, every time we’re struck with another vicious attack. The urge for revenge can be almost overwhelming. Indeed more than one wise LGBT activist has been moved to urge even the powerful and very effective Dan Savage to dial back his nasty rhetoric when responding to the homophobia he and his activism face every day.
The path of least resistance, fighting fire with fire, is intensely attractive in the heat (the hate) of the moment. But the high road, though longer and strewn with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, will get us to our destination more surely, and with our dignity and integrity intact.