By the time Sharon Day and members of the First Nations Collective opened the opening plenary of Creating Change with a traditional prayer, faith had already played a big role in the conference. Early that Thursday morning, some participants had gathered as part of the American Prayer Hour, a protest against “The Family” and the Ugandan LGBT Death Penalty Bill. Many others spent the full day in an “Empowering People of Faith” institute, focusing on how faith communities can frame work to address racism and achieve racial justice.
The Friday plenary also included The Calling of the Names, a “lifting up” of those we have lost over the past year. This was probably a fitting end to the morning for those who spent it at the National Religious Leadership Roundtable Meeting. Before the conference was over, there were more than fifteen workshops and academy sessions addressing issues of faith and spirituality. Here is a sampling:
» Adult Faith-Based Organizing for Change in the Church: Building Relationships
» transACTION – A Transgender Curriculum for Churches and Religious Organizations
» “Would Jesus Discriminate?” Shifting the Discourse on Faith-Based Prejudice
» Homophobia in the Black Church
» Mobilizing Catholic Support for LGBTQ Equality
» Spiritual Self-Defense
» Faith and LGBTI Equality: Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk
And of course, the weekend couldn’t have ended without the Sunday-morning interfaith gathering, “Engaging the Spirit.”
Not one event—not even a simple caucus—at Creating Change 2010 mentioned or proactively included atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, brights, antitheists, or nonbelievers.
Contextually, This Makes Some Sense
Long ago, when religious organizations started revving up their epic quest to demonize sexual minorities, they played to the dualistic gullibility of their congregants. If being gay is unChristian, you can’t be gay and Christian. This was conveniently facilitated by the excommunication and expulsion of LGBT folks from these groups. See? They’re not here! What has helped maintain the stigma against the queer community is the popular belief that all queer folks are amoral and against the Church. You still see this in the constant self-victimization of anti-gay religious groups and leaders.
So, honestly, I think it makes perfect sense for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force to be proactive in helping the LGBT community reclaim their faith. Religious organizations continue to be a powerful social force in our nation, and as far as the queer equality movement is concerned, it makes a lot of sense to work towards change from within. Advocates can do their best work when they’re empowered, and I’m sure there are many who feel very empowered by the validation their faith receives at Creating Change and the opportunities they have to engage with others who are faithful.
Atheists Thrown Under The Bus
First, let’s be clear: there are atheists at Creating Change. There are probably a lot of them, actually. I certainly met a few. (And I must again comment here that the atheist community is one of the most supportive allies to the queer equality movement I know.) There are also numerous other religious minorities present that go similarly unrepresented. Speaking for myself alone, I am not a fan of the religious celebrations that take place during the plenary sessions. I think it’s wonderful that we celebrate the cultures of the First Nations Collective, but must the conference open with a prayer? I think it’s important that we remember those we’ve lost and provide strength for each other, but must we do it in such a religious fashion?
For me, these events remind me that I am still subjected to incredible religious privilege. Despite all the efforts of the conference to be inclusive and accessible, these events continue to exclude those like myself who do not subscribe to them. The message I receive is, “This is a religious conference; we are all participating in and supporting religious practice.” That isn’t the intent of the conference, and I know that, but it is a message that very much leaves me feeling ostracized and helps keep atheism in the closet. Here’s what’s really happening:
Rather than resist the religious privilege that was responsible for their persecution, the LGBT community decided to try to access it instead. The consequence is that atheists are “thrown under the bus.”
Nonbelievers continue to suffer the same kind of ostracization as we always have. In fact, the queer community has garnered much more popular favor in our nation than atheists. We continue to be the most distrusted and despised minority in the United States. But the leading torch and pitchfork-holders are the same conservative religious organizations that continue to try to demonize the queer community! It seems the LGBT movement would rather work with the pitchfork-holders than try to deprive them of pitchforks.
Must The Overlap Be Invisible?
I started this blog recognizing that the cultural forces that oppress me as a gay man and an atheist are almost entirely the same. I write about issues relating to both because the overlap is undeniable. Working to dismantle religious privilege and diminish the power that religious organizations have over society benefits both communities. I am an out-and-proud gaytheist because overcoming oppression depends upon my visibility and outspokenness.
It is disappointing that these overlaps are not represented at Creating Change, despite the conference’s concerted efforts toward inclusion. The very thesis of Thomas Saenz’s speech at the opening plenary was recognizing the overlap between the LGBT community and the immigrant community! Why must atheists continue to be marginalized by the queer movement? Is the movement so afraid of religion that they are afraid to ally with the growing nonbeliever community lest they be hit with some of the same stones?
Today I offer this challenge to The Task Force to take a more proactive approach to including nonbelievers at Creating Change and in their other work. Spirituality should not be hegemonically enforced upon the conference participants through plenary sessions. Language should be more inclusive to welcome those who are not just interfaith, but those who are without faith. Workshops and caucuses should be available to create safe spaces for nonbelievers and to provide opportunities to connect and organize.
I commit myself to working towards these changes for Creating Change 2011. Can we create change at Creating Change?