Topsy Turvy World: My Ongoing Dialogue with Peter LaBarbera

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Some days, you just look around and go… what?

Like the whole GOProud at CPAC thing. The LGBT movement really isn’t too keen on GOProud, gay as they may be. (Here are my reasons.) And the arch-conservatives and tea partiers at CPAC don’t want ANYTHING remotely pro-LGBT at their event. And so, for me personally at least, even though I don’t have much respect for GOProud’s platform, I find myself cheering on the trouble they’re causing in conservative circles. I don’t have to respect GOProud to appreciate differences they might make by subverting the way conservatives dismiss all LGBT issues.

But over the past week, I’ve had my own topsy-turvy experience. I’ve been having a civil and even respectful dialogue (if you ignore the occasional mocking quotes) with Peter LaBarbera on Twitter.

Readers know I use this blog to challenge religious right rhetoric, and I won’t pretend that I didn’t start engaging with Peter LaBarbera with the same motive. But, I’m going to give him a little credit: it’s actually been a constructive and meaningful exchange, as much as one between the two of us possibly could be. I mean, it’s no secret to him that I’m an openly gay atheist, and it’s no secret to me that he orchestrates Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, which promotes a lot of dangerous untruths about LGBT identities.

In fact, Peter LaBarbera has pretty well earned himself the ire of the LGBT community. (I’m still working on a similar reputation among conservatives.) He says a lot of things that are incredibly offensive to us (he tweeted today using the hashtag #trannycare—oy). Over at Pam’s House Blend, he is regularly referred to as “Porno Pete” for the way he always looks for ways to use queer sexuality as a weapon against our community. But in the scheme of things, it works for him, regardless of how much we make fun of him for it. As I just wrote, sexual liberation really freaks out our opponents, and whether or not he has a different motive for pursuing queer sexuality is really just a cheap joke on our parts.

And yet, I’ve found that he can actually engage in civil discourse, a quality that doesn’t apply to many of his anti-LGBT peers. We’ve actually found things we can agree on and jokes we can both laugh at (including GOProud’s Chris Barron’s regular Twitter updates about his workout routines). Today, Peter actually did me a favor. He noticed that I was debating “NGblog” about the merits of Creating Change and pointed out that it’s Nelson Garcia, a fake gay activist with a history of boyloving and pedophilia charges. In fact, Peter went out of his way to call out Garcia’s past on the #cc11 hashtag for all to see. He didn’t have to do that.

None of this changes the fact that Peter LaBarbera and I fundamentally disagree on a lot. I’m eagerly waiting to see what his AFTAH undercover reporters “uncovered” at Creating Change. (Unlike AFTAH’s conference this summer, Creating Change doesn’t limit who can attend, so I don’t know why they had to go undercover to begin with.) [Upon reading this post, Peter informed me he has been escorted out before. I personally expect that protecting the experience of attendees who support LGBT equality is paramount, though I wonder if perhaps a silent observer might be tolerated. There is certainly nothing to hide at CC.] But despite the way that he can trigger me, I feel like there is something profoundly  meaningful about the kind of dialogue we’ve managed to have on Twitter.

I actually asked his permission to preserve our exchange here on the blog, and it seems we’re both interested in continuing the exchange. Below is most of it so far up until today, but it’s still very much underway. I want you all to take a deep breath as you read it because there are certainly a lot of reasons to be frustrated by it, but I am committed to continuing to keep it constructive. I ask that no one disrupt that by resorting to name-calling or mocking (here or on Twitter), as hurt as any of us might be by things he says. Just lift your fingers off the keyboard and let the dialogue continue.

Twitter exchanges are tough to follow, but here is how our conversation has panned out so far. There have been a couple of previous short exchanges between us that I’ve omitted, and there are some loose threads included below as well, but here’s how things have proceeded. (Note: I’ve combined consecutive tweets and sorted some out for ease of reading. Twitter actually does not make this very easy to do!)

February 1, 2011

ZF: If you say gay people should be executed and then gays are executed, how is that not a connection?

PL: sorry lying dude but youve confused Christians (+ me) w/ rad Muslims who say we should push homols off tall bldgs #lgbtliars #tcot

ZF: So it’s more compassionate to just put them in jail for life? You’re the good guys because at least you don’t want death?

PL: On radio Gary Glenn listed #christian victims of #lgbt laws: what kind of “civil rights” mvt TAKES AWAY others’ rel + 1st Am rights? #tcot

ZF: Help me understand, dude. What 1st amendment rights do #LGBT laws strip you of?

PL: #LGBT Freedom of association, for starters. Freedom to live out ur rel/moral creed – the Boy Scouts of America almost lost theirs

ZF: Help me understand. I don’t recall any clauses in the laws that prohibit free association. Is discriminating a freedom?

PL: One man’s “discrimination” is another man’s fidelity to his conscience + moral/rel. code. That’s the essence of this battle. #tcot

ZF: I recognize the right of your conscience, but how does that amount to a right to exclude others’ same freedom of conscience?

PL: + btw, Zack, until you apologize for lying that I called for the “execution of gays,” there will be no exchange b/t us. #tcot

ZF: So, @PeterLaBarbera answer me concisely “No” and I will apologize: Do you support the execution, incarceration, or persecution of LGBTs? Honestly, I would love to be able to apologize for that being a mistake. Would love to call you an ally for human rights!

February 2, 2011

ZF: Peter, I’m hoping you can still answer my question so I can offer you the apology you seek.

February 6, 2011

ZF: BTW, I’m still hoping to apologize. Just answer “No”: Do you support the execution, incarceration, or persecution of LGBTs?

PL: Love how u expanded ur ? after ur erroneous claim that I supp the “execution” of #lgbt ppl. We wuld differ on def of “persecution” … Eg, would u consider denial of SSM or laws ag homo’l adoption “persecution”?

ZF: Well, supporting persecution is an invitation for violence. I’d love to hear what kinds of persecution you don’t support. What is your rationale for denying marriage or adoption to same-sex couples?

PL: see what I mean. We cant agree on terms. I bet u also see laws restricting #abortion as “persecution” of women. Hope I’m wrong…

ZF: The only different term I used was “same-sex couple,” which is accurate: not all people in such couples are homosexuals. I would be happy to engage in a debate on abortion at a different time. May we stick to the topic at hand?

PL: don’t twist my words, Zack. I’m not one of ur students. LOL. Denial of SSM is not persec. We have no agreement on terms.

ZF: I didn’t say it was. I asked your rationale so I could offer my perspective in response. I’m trying for legit dialogue here.

February 7, 2011

ZF: If you say, for example, that SSC’s are less effective at raising a child, that’s not factually true, so I’d call that pers. Also, if you say that two people WANTING to commit to marriage somehow hurts marriage, that’s also a demonizing smear.

PL: Ex of “persecution”: govt forcing private bus. owners to subsidize employee “dom partnrships” desp their bel tht homo’y is sinful

ZF: So what I’m understanding is that a religious belief in sin takes precedent over a gov’t definition of discrimination? So, it’s persecution to force someone to be INCLUSIVE, but it’s not persecution to enable someone to be EXCLUSIVE.

PL: my pt is 1 mans “rights” is another man’s “persecution.” U obv’sly define “persecution” acc to ur ideology. Dont assume its true

ZF: Well, my concern is that the 1st Amd says NOT to use laws to protect religion, while the 14th says equal rights for all… But what I hear is that you feel that preserving the religious belief is more important than protecting all people… If you’re not allowed to discriminate based on belief, is that really an infringement of the right to that belief?

PL: First Freedom, Zack. Our nation was founded by ppl fleeing rel persecution. Thank God we have a 1st Amendment. #tcot #christian

ZF: a 1st amendment that ensures our lawmakers cater to all citizens, NOT specific religious beliefs. 🙂 #tcot #atheist

PL: Youre talking about Govt coming in and forcing citizens to comply w/ ideas that are alien to US’s Jud-Chn heritage, wch = tyranny

ZF: haha, Jud-Chn heritage isn’t part of our Constitution. Equality for all and freedom FROM religion is our heritage!

PL: ur distorting history thru ur atheist glasses. The irony is atheist or ANTI-Ch’n regimes are the most oppressive + murderous #tcot

ZF: No, now you’re just attacking me for being an atheist. Read the Treaty of Tripoli, my friend! Christian-free US govt!

PL: Freedom FROM religion? They sure did a bad job w/ all those g’t prayer proclamations, mentions of God, Moses on Sup Ct walls etc!

ZF: Haha, agreed! If only we just didn’t use fear of communists to enshrine religion in our culture like we did in the 50s!

PL: # 1: Communism should b feared + stalwartly fought b/c its a murderous, anti-liberty system (Stalin, Mao, etc) # 2 follows. #tcot

ZF: Given that atheism in 2011 has NOTHING to do with Communism, I agree entirely with point #1!

PL: # 2: our Christ’y-infused + -informed govt system is our roots + is not a result of 1950s “fear of Communism” #tcot #reagan #gop

ZF: That’s a fair point too. Though it was certainly cemented then. Christianity does not inform our gov’t structure though. Christian principles have often overlapped, but our founding document prohibits infusing them into gov’t. Do you agree?

PL: Founders were more concerned w/ pot. abuses of a State Church – which is in a way what libs like u could win w/ statist secularism

ZF: And you don’t think enshrining discrimination in law is abuse of government by a group of religious believers? (What is “statist” secularism? Did you mean stalinist? Surely you don’t think that’s what any secularist actually wants.)

PL: There’s far deeper + longer history beh Jud-Christ’n (biblical) understand’g of rights than newfangled homo’y-based “rights” #tcot

ZF: That’s true! But don’t we have the potential to learn and grow? Can’t we learn new things, incorporate new understandings? Honestly, Jesus brought many new ideas that were contrary to the Old Testament past. Was that a bad thing too?

PL: Whch is to say “gay rights” are not truly “Western” (civilized) but insted really a corruption of a hist’l understan’g of “rights”

ZF: But isn’t it in civilized countries where gay rights are thriving? What distinguishes your “corruption” from my “progress?”

PL: …This explains why today we see #lgbt “rights” advancing (or being imposed judicially) at the expense of rel liberty #tcot #ocra

ZF: How exactly do #lgbt rights impose on religious liberty? I haven’t seen laws that prevent holding specific beliefs.

PL: Banning the outworking of faith (eg New Mex Ch’n photog sued by lesbians 4 not taking photos at their “commitmnt cerem’ny”) (cont) …IS the imposition of “gay rights” against individ’s “rel liberty,” no? What would u call it? #lgbt #christian #tcot #hhrs #tlot

ZF: Well, it sounds like you see the “right to believe” and the “right to discriminate based on belief” as the same thing, yes?

PL: What if I told u that u could (foolkishly) BELIEVE there’s no Creator but cannot ACT on that belief? #tcot #christian

ZF: I guess I’d be bothered by being called “foolish,” but I guess I’m not sure what that would prevent me from doing? Go on. Btw, I really do find this to be a worthwhile and meaningful exchange and hope it continues. Mind if I blog our thread? Also, I’m looking forward to seeing how your AFTAH undercover reporters’ #cc11 experiences compare to my own! Anyways, tell me more about what it would be like if I could not act on my atheism. What would it prevent me from doing? [He gave his blogging okay via DM.]

PL: so lets say u as a very committed atheist artist r approachd by a Ch’n to paint a giant mural message, “Atheism is evil” (Cont) …Should u be compelled (by the gov’t) to work on that mural – even tho ur an atheist – under, say, a “Christian Rights” law?

ZF: Well, I see where you’re going, but is it the best example? Art is about expression, not belief; artists can’t be compelled. I don’t think an artist of any identity should be compelled to paint a certain view; otherwise it’s no longer art.

PL: Elaine H, #christian photog is an artist w/ a busin. Was it persecut’n 4 her to b forced by NM law to shoot a lesb ceremony? #tcot

ZF: She offered a public service, a business like you said. Her photos are skilled, but do not represent expression. It’s no different than a Christian landlord refusing to rent an apartment to someone openly gay. It’s just discrimination.

PL: Says who? Says Big Brother (or Big Gay Brother) gov’t? #tcot #ocra #christian

ZF: It’s blatantly refusing access because of identity. How is that not discrimination? (See “lunch counters circa 1960.”)

PL: Wait a min: Do I have a “right” 2 rent an apt fr a gay landlord? Or a “right” to b a membr or even a leader at an #lgbt org? #tcot

ZF: I have a right to rent an apartment. It doesn’t matter the landlord’s SO. Everyone is welcome as members of #lgbt orgs. You have a right, just as I do, to NOT be discriminated against for your sexual orientation. Unfortunately, I actually do NOT have that right in many states. I can be fired or refused housing just for being gay.

PL: + I can be hired or not hired for being (too) straight, right? (+ lets face it: there’s no rash of “gay” firings these these days! Sorry, typo: that was supp to be “Fired or not hired [by an #lgbt employer] for being (too) straight”…

ZF: I suppose you could be fired for being straight if the laws aren’t there. Does that mean you’d support SO protections? But gay firing still happen all the time, and are still legal in 34 states.

ZF: Let’s face it, discrimination based on race, gender, and religion, and we have protections for those (which I also support). For the record, I would not support an atheist or gay person discriminating against a Christian. The actual numbers: 37% of GL people reported workplace harassment, 12% losing job for SO (2008). Also, elderly lesbian couples are TWICE as likely to be living in poverty as elderly op-sex couples.

[msvavirgo: I was one of both the 37% and the 12% in case you need to put a face to the statistic]

PL: So wld u supp a Chn taking a lead’p role at your campus atheist club – like #lgbt cases try’g 2 sue way into #christian clubs? … Note: the #lgbt students are “suing” using campus “sexual orientation” nondisc codes… #lgbt #christian

ZF: There is no reported case of infiltration. I agree that all people should be eligible to be members and run for offices. If a group is foolish enough to vote someone into position who doesn’t support the group’s mission, it’s their prob. But a Christian who is committed to the work of an atheist group would be great, just like straight allies in an LGBT group!

PL: No I dont demnd right to b hired by @GOPROUD altho then I could get live daily workout updates fr narcissist @ChrisRBarron 🙂 #gop

ZF: As for the workout updates, there’s another point upon which we very much agree. 🙂

So that’s where things stand today. Peter informed me that he would be unavailable to tweet much today, but that he is interested in pursuing the conversation. He has also expressed interest in hearing about my coming out experiences (I shared my posts about arriving at “gay” and “atheist” with him and invited questions), as well as having a discussion about what we each consider to be “adult,” i.e. inappropriate for young people to discuss. Certainly, I will have some critical things to say as he starts reporting on Creating Change from the AFTAH perspective, but something about this exchange still seems somehow fruitful.

As the Zeitgeist dwells on the concept of “civility,” I’m kind of proud that Peter and I can demonstrate a civil exchange, despite how profoundly we disagree.

And I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

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