Religious Privilege Enables LGBTQ Bashing
Religious liberty must not justify discrimination and hate speech
LGBTQ and religion
That’s a tough mix. Besides the fact that members of gender and sexual minorities often feel excluded from spiritual communities and thus from their own physical communities and families, members of powerful religious institutions go further than merely excluding.
The past two weeks provide powerful examples
According to the New York Times, bishops of the Roman Catholic Church have brazenly inticed violence in Poland. With the implicit encouragement of Catholic leaders, mobs of anti-LGBTQ protesters have attacked and beaten people for participating in Pride events or just for attending them. The protesters shouted Catholic slogans as they targeted lesbian, gay, transgender, and other queer people. Witnesses on the ground recount horrific incidences of violence, including against children.
Videos showed mobs chasing people. One ended with a young boy being stomped on by a group of large men.
Talk of the violence has gripped Poland in the days since, with endless hours of discussion on radio and television.
Even as political leaders and church officials have tried to distance themselves from the violence, the (religious) campaign against the L.G.B.T. community has shown no signs of abating.
Meanwhile in Australia, sports hero Israel Folau uses social media to call LGBTQ people “evil,” on par with “drunks, liars, thieves, and idolaters.”
According to the BBC, the former Wallabies rugby sensation was fired in May after he wrote on social media that “hell awaits” gay people. He just sued to get his position back, and he’s raised millions of crowd-funded dollars for his court case.
Folau is complaining that the terms of his contract violate his Christian religious liberty. The contract enforces a code of conduct that requires players to “to treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability.”
Folau and the violence-enticing Catholic bishops in Poland share “religious liberty” as a rallying cry. They say that their religious beliefs give them the right to morally condemn entire classes of minority human beings. But Folau and the bishops are fundamentally mistaken about liberty.
Religious liberty is often not liberty at all. It’s privilege that threatens freedom.
The last few months have been eye-opening for me as I’ve attempted to write about religious homophobic bigotry. Shortly after Christmas, I began a series of stories protesting the official homophobic bigotry of the Roman Catholic Church.
In my first two articles, I cited examples of Catholic leaders teaching and broadcasting bigoted beliefs about LGBTQ people. My stories were factual and thoroughly linked to reputable sources. My third article, based on a series of oral and written interviews, examined the inevitable consequences of bigotry from the perspective of a mother whose child was taken from her because she’s a lesbian — a phenomenon that’s more common than many people like to think.
My fourth and last article recounted an exchange I had with a Catholic lay leader who reached out to me, and who then defended his Church’s doctrines that LGBTQ people are “gravely depraved, objectively disordered, and morally evil.”
The dialogue astonished me, so I wrote an article I called Conversations with a Homophobe. I used it as a platform to call on Roman Catholic leaders to end their bald hate speech toward LGBTQ people.
I noted that it’s plainly wrong to characterize people as depraved and evil simply because they’re members of a minority.
I noted that religion must not be an excuse for that kind of plain hate speech, and that if speech of that nature were to come from anyone other than religious authority that it would almost certainly violate the community standards of media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. I gave examples of the harm done to innocent people because of Catholic hate speech. I ended with an appeal for readers to join me in outrage and to demand that Catholics stop the hate.
I never expected what happened next
My story had a pretty healthy readership on Medium for a couple days, and it’s remained in circulation. But only on Medium.
Outside of Medium, I’ve been hamstrung. The bulk of my readership often comes from Twitter and Facebook, and I’ve been unable to promote Conversations with a Homophobe on those platforms. Facebook stealthily deleted my story announcements. They show in my timeline for me, but nobody else can see them.
I only found out I’d been censored because I thought it odd that none of my usual readers were reacting to the story. Then I realized reaction on Twitter was also all but non-existent. It turns out that my call for ending hate speech was deemed “sensitive content,” and that its distribution had been suppressed.
I reached out to friends and asked them to help me promote the story. That didn’t work out so well. As you can see in the graphic above, one of my friend’s tweets was also marked as “sensitive content.” Another friend tried promoting the story on Facebook and ended up blocked from the site for 24 hours for his pains.
That’s religious privilege —
I’ve done nothing except note that official Catholic teaching uses hateful, insulting words to describe LGBTQ people like me. I’ve pointed out that those words cause inevitable harm to innocent people. I cite sources like the New York Times and primary sources from personal interviews and contacts.
My writing is truthful, well documented, and responsible. I’m calling on people to stop using hate speech. I’m calling for tolerance of minorities. I’m saying that religion is not justification for calling members of gender and sexual minorities depraved and morally evil.
But religious privilege is so entrenched and powerful that my voice has been silenced and my message suppressed. Somehow, ‘religious liberty’ in our society has begun to mean that religious authorities and doctrines must be free from criticism.
Powerful media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which effectively control the boundaries of most public discourse, view criticism of religious faith as too sensitive for their communities to tolerate. So they suppress such criticism.
The results are perverse. A member of a tiny, oppressed minority can’t call on the rich and powerful Roman Catholic Church to end its plain hate speech. I’m not allowed to call on friends and allies to help me protest oppression and cruel insults.
That kind of privilege is dangerous
If we’re to live in a free society, we cannot permit people to use religion as a free pass to mistreat and oppress their fellow human beings. We most especially can’t allow criticism of that sort of treatment to be off limits.
What would have happened to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s if white Evangelical Christians had been given a pass for their theological racism? What would have happened if people weren’t allowed to say those Christians were wrong about God mandating the separation of the races?
The Roman Catholic Church is just as wrong now as those Christians were two generations ago. They’re wrong to say that we LGBTQ people are depraved and evil. I should have the right to call them out for that. So should you and anyone else reading this article.
The danger leads to violence
The homophobic violence setting Poland on fire right now is just one one example the consequences of religious privilege. Violence against LGBTQ people is on the rise everywhere. Even in progressive nations like the UK, rates of anti-LGBTQ violence are soaring.
Rhetoric has consequences and religion is no excuse
Publicly disparaging and morally condemning people for religious reasons leads inevitably to violence. Nothing excuses religious leaders and believers like Israel Folau who believe they can use their faith to stigmatize innocent people.
Nothing excuses Catholic bishops from inciting mob violence. LGBTQ people are ordinary, minority variants of human beings. We deserve to live freely and equally, despite what anyone’s religion may claim. Religion doesn’t justify racism, and it must not justify homophobia or transphobia.