But, here’s the thing, I also believe people are entitled to feel their religious beliefs as deeply as they want. Just as I am free to not believe, they are free to believe. I do not have to agree with their beliefs. But as long as they don’t actively condemn me for my non-belief, I will not actively condemn them for their beliefs. Sure, we can try to change minds, but in the end if we cannot – well – live and let live.
I also do not believe everyone who belongs to a church whose doctrine includes anti-gay rhetoric is themselves anti-gay. Certainly, I wish they’d consider their denomination’s dogma and examine whether it follows their true feelings. But I don’t think all Catholics or Mormons or Scientologists or Southern Baptists are necessarily homophobes even though their religions have been overwhelmingly unsupportive of LGBT people and our rights. The irony of my love the sinner, not the sin approach to deeply religious people is not lost on me.
Which leads me to the recent heated fandom debates – to put it very mildly; you should see the email folder I’ve made for all the messages – over Rachel Skarsten of “Lost Girl” and most recently Laura Prepon of “Orange Is the New Black.” Both have been tied to churches that are reportedly anti-gay. For Rachel it is the Los Angeles church Mosaic and its pastor Erwin McManus. And for Laura it is Scientology and the speculation it had something to do with leaving her show.
McManus is on record seven years ago giving an all-too-familiar kind of soft-focus anti-gay sermon about how “I don’t believe you are in a healthy place when your identity is built around who you have sex with” and other such nonsense that’ll make you grind your teeth. You can download a full podcast of his October 2006 sermon “Life’s Toughest Questions” on iTunes for free. As for Scientology, high-profile claims of homophobia in the church and from its late founder L. Ron Hubbard have been around for ages. You can get trapped in that Google search rabbit hole for days.
I am, admittedly and obviously, not really a fan of either church or leader. And that is being incredibly gracious about my opinion.
But I will also be completely honest and say that I do not indisputably know either women’s level of involvement in their respective churches. I think most people don’t know for certain. Rachel has tweeted about being at Mosaic and has also mentioned a short film she worked on with McManus in a May interview with the blog No White Noise. Laura has said in a 2007 Women’s Health magazine interview that she is a Scientologist, though it’s not totally clear if she’s still involved with the church.
But here is what we do know. Both actresses, regardless of their religions, have signed on to play overtly lesbian or bisexual roles on television shows with overtly lesbian and bisexual content. These are not shows that stumbled upon their LGBT content during sweeps week. These are shows that wore it proudly from the start. Hell, we saw hot lesbian shower action in the first 10 seconds on OITNB. Both women have promoted their shows, championed their stories and given interviews with the LGBT press, including exclusive interview by both Rachel and Laura with us big-time lezzers at AfterEllen.
Earlier this month Laura said in an interview with Canada.com:
I’m a supporter of the gay and lesbian community. I have friends who are lesbian, I have friends who are gay. It’s all about the character. Yes there are a lot of lesbians on this show. Besides the L Word there aren’t lesbians portrayed like this on television. For me, I’ve never played a lesbian before and I think it’s awesome. As a learning experience playing this love for someone on camera and having it be a women was very interesting because I’m straight and I’ve only done it with men on camera. There is a big gay and lesbian community out there and it’s good to have more relationships on television that they can relate to and I’m glad we could be a part of that.And a week ago Rachel tweeted:
What's all this noise guys? To clarify: I firmly believe in equality for all & have nothing but love for the LGBT community. Rach— Rachel Skarsten (@RachieSkarsten) August 13, 2013
Does this absolve them of their church’s beliefs? No. And I truly hope each person who believes differently from her religion would work to change its discriminatory practices. So, yes, I am disappointed in both to a degree. And you are perfectly entitled to feel disappointed and upset. But just as we in the LGBT community do not want to be prejudged as a whole, I will not prejudge their hearts. Prove to me you are not worth my tolerance.
I choose not to eat at Chik-fil-A because its CEO has made it perfectly clear that he thinks same-sex marriage will destroy families and the company has donated millions to anti-gay groups working against our rights. I choose not to shop at Hobby Lobby because the company is suing the government to not have to provide health care coverage for contraceptives, and because each July 4 since 2008 they’ve run full-page newspaper ads espousing the need for religion in the government (this year’s included pointed condemnation of Supreme Court judges as a result of the DOMA and Prop. 8 decisions). I choose not to see “Ender’s Game” because its writer Orson Scott Card actively supported an aggressively anti-gay agenda for years including his self-penned belief that marriage equality “marks the end of democracy in America,” and also sounds more than a little accidentally racist. Not that being accidentally racist is a thing, Brad Paisley.
And I choose to laugh my ass off at that decrepit relic of bigotry Pat Robertson because, you know, how could you not.
I make these choices because I believe in their core these people/organizations wish gay people ill will. They would rather we not exist altogether, but if we must exist be seen as unnatural, unworthy things.
Now, some folks may be very upset at my refusal to condemn either Rachel or Laura off hand. You are mad that they went to those churches in the first place. You are mad that they talked about their religions at all. I can see where you’re coming from. Though it should be noted that Rachel was specifically asked what projects she was working on besides “Lost Girl” in the interview in question. And so she answered accordingly.
Thing is, when we start telling people what they can and cannot say about something that matters in their lives, then how different are we than the people who tell us what we can or cannot say about ourselves? The people who tell us to keep our lives quiet and stop being so blatant and other words synonymous for “couldn’t you please just be invisible.”
I will not be invisible. But I will also not force other people to be. And if we truly are in a battle for the hearts and minds for those people and organizations that do not accept us, we will need people on our side on the inside. We need LGBT friendly Catholics and Mormons and Scientologists and Southern Baptists and everything in between. We cannot do it alone. We need allies everywhere.
Calling someone a homophobe is a powerful thing not to be taken lightly. A homophobe hates us. A homophobe fears us. A homophobe fights against us in words or actions. A homophobe thinks we truly are an abomination and wants us to be treated as such.
Certainly, one could argue that simply being a part of or participating in a church that feels we are not totally equal is in itself is an act of homophobia. It’s a thorny morale balancing act and one I myself find problematic. But life is complicated and filled with every shade of gray imaginable. Just as I choose to not support people/organizations that have a proven history of not supporting me, I also choose to see the best in people as long as I can. Guilt by association is just that.
If either woman proves herself to be truly guilty, to truly hate us in her heart of hearts, I will not hesitate to call her out. I will be deeply saddened and hurt and angry. I will be mad as fucking hell. But until that time, until they show me otherwise, I will accept their support for us at face value.
Hate can consume us, whether from others or ourselves. It’s an insidious, ugly thing that – fast or slow – corrodes our ability to feel all other emotions. I feel bad for those who have it in their hearts. I understand the white-hot rage we feel when it’s directed at us. But pick your battles, and make sure your enemies are really enemies. I may not be a person of faith, but I try to have faith in the goodness and growth of others’ hearts.
“The issue is, and always has been, [insert thing here] promoting a [insert thing here] to an impressionable, vulnerable audience.”The first is some of your arguments about why we should be condemning Rachel Skarsten, the second is Russian Sports Minister Vitali Mutko defending his country’s law banning gay propaganda. One comes from a place of righteous anger about a man who has made homophobic statements in the past, the other comes from a place of hateful anger about a country that is systematically quashing the rights of its LGBT people. I am not comparing the sentiments, which are of course diametrically opposed. But I am comparing the language which we use to justify our demands. If we start to sound like what we are fighting against, we’ve lost already.
“It is not intended to deprive people of any [insert thing here], but to ban the promotion of [insert thing here] among the young generation.”