I usually do not speak directly to Christian anti-gay activists. I do not waste time addressing people who are too deafened by their prejudices to listen. Occasionally, though, I feel compelled to speak directly to their opinions. The following post has content from an email I sent to Ian Boyne after the airing of the Religious Hardtalk segment on abortion and homosexuality featuring Shirley Richards and Wayne West.
One does not need to be an agent of “The Homosexual Agenda” or a “gay sympathizer” to recognize the inconsistencies in the arguments made by Wayne West and Shirley Richards in the above segment of Religious Hardtalk. It was almost painful for me to watch as Boyne relinquished (suppressed, perhaps?) his journalistic acumen and allowed the two to regurgitate anti-gay propaganda.
When he did muster the energy to ask challenging questions, he hardly pushed. West and Richards sidestepped his questions, ignored them, or answered in ways that furthered their agenda.
TVJ’s editors completely proved my point that they did not give a rat’s ass about my safety when they did not cover up their censorship from the week before. I know the program was taped before the secularism segment aired, but they should have thought of the inconsistency they created before deciding to delete what would have been a truly groundbreaking moment. (I will always be bitter about what happened.)
At the top of the program, Wayne West made the outrageous claim that atheists have no basis for morality. We are amoral. “Unable to justify discriminating against any behaviour, the atheistic worldview means that all things are permissible.”
Boyne did not challenge him on this lie. On his erroneous belief that morality lies only with God, and that everyone who rejects supernaturalism abandons their sense of reason and justice.
Boyne introduced to West the fact that significant segments of Christianity accept homosexuality as normal. West dismissively responded that you can find “people who call themselves Christians” accepting just about anything. This is illustrative of the kind of thinking that drove me from the church. What does the Christian father of a gay daughter who is struggling to reconcile his love for his daughter with his religion think when he hears this statement? He isn’t a ‘true Christian’ if he understands scripture in a way that allows him to support his daughter as she comes to terms with her alienation from the society.
West suggests that Biblical teaching is fundamentally opposed to the inclusion of gays and lesbians as equals, even while an overwhelming amount of research in psychology shows that homosexuality is not perversion but a persistent variant of human sexuality. Does he realize he is making the Bible’s teachings less palatable for those who know gay people and will never accept that we’re somehow biologically and spiritually inferior?
I know many people who rejected Christianity after first failing to reconcile teaching on homosexuality with reality. The indoctrination often starts to unravel after that one lie…so aggressively reinforced…is rendered anachronistic.)
Boyne dedicated the majority of the program to making the case that homosexuality is unnatural, unhealthy, and leads to disastrous public health consequences.
Of course, the entire conversation was about male homosexuality. It’s so much easier to use gay men as scapegoats and props in spurious arguments against homosexuality.
Defenders of the Westshirlian perspective seem to have a manual which describes the appropriate uses of all body parts. Appropriate use is limited to primary function. Heterosexuals and homosexuals who have anal sex are using the anus for a purpose it was not designed for. According to Richards, “The anus is an exit point” and “Eyes are for seeing.” And let me guess, the mouth is for eating? This logic.
For the record, anal sex works. Beautifully. Men can be aroused by stimulating the skin between the scrotum and anus and around the anus. In addition, the prostate gland in men is an erogenous zone that can only be reached through penetration. Weh god put it deh fah if him neva expect mi fi use it?
One of the more ridiculous claims made by Richards was in the promo for the show: Homosexuality is worse that adultery and fornication because it is an unnatural act. First of all, homosexuality is not an act. It’s an innate and powerful attraction to some people of the same gender. Our repertoire of sexual acts extends far beyond penetration of the anus. Given the fact that the vast majority of Jamaicans are heterosexuals, one would think the negative consequences of adultery and fornication are far more deleterious and pervasive. But, no. Homosexual sex is worse because of some arbitrary designation that it is unnatural.
Three decades after GRID was first named, West and Richards are still using HIV to stigmatize and demonize homosexuals. As a testament to his scientific background, West stated that it is not coincidental that HIV became a global pandemic after the Stonewall Riot and the emergence of an “aggressive LGBT agenda” that called for repeal of sodomy laws. I imagine American Christian activists employed this same reasoning in the 80′s and 90′s before realizing there were other high-risk groups whose sexual behaviour was not always unnatural. While Blacks represent approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population, the latest CDC estimates (2011) show that they account for almost half of people living with HIV in the U.S. (46 percent), as well as nearly half of new infections each year (44 percent). I think it’s time the U.S. criminalizes sex with and between Black people!
Boyne noted that West is a scientist to affirm the authority of his opinions on the epidemiology of HIV transmission. But it really doesn’t take an epidemiologist to make sense of statistics about the prevalence of HIV. Homosexuals are a tiny minority (which makes the amount of effort that goes into marginalizing us oh so ridiculous, by the way). Yes, anal sex is high risk. Yes, prevalence rates are generally higher for gay populations. Yes, UNPROTECTED anal sex is 18 times riskier than unprotected vaginal sex. Risk decreases significantly when men use lubrication. When they use a condom. And when the HIV positive individual is using anti-retroviral drugs. Yes, 49% of people living with HIV in the United States are gay men. But every cultural context is different. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV pandemic has ravaged entire societies, the primary drivers of the virus are heterosexuals.
The stigmatization of HIV as a gay disease makes prevention difficult for both homosexuals and heterosexuals in Jamaica. Heterosexuals don’t believe they are at risk, and gay people are afraid of being implicated as gay if and when their positive status becomes known by their families and friends. Because of the buggery law, the government also cannot openly support targeted prevention and treatment strategies for gay men—they are forced to do so covertly, less because they care and more because of the stipulations of foreign donors who fund many HIV interventions.
The comment concerning the (mis?)use of tax money to fund HIV prevention efforts (for gay men, I presume) was a very low blow. Do these Christian activists have a heart?! Do they actually think the buggery law lowers the incidence of anal sex between men? People are having sex with or without government approval. The question is can we afford to withhold critical information that gay men (and others) need to protect themselves? And I also wonder if we know that gay people pay taxes, too?
In any case, the slap in the face was really to international donors. In 2011, the Jamaican government contributed $346.7 million for the HIV/AIDS prevention program ($248 million in 2010) which funds programs for heterosexuals and homosexuals. Contrastingly, between 2004 and today, the Global Fund granted about USD 63 million for HIV prevention and treatment in Jamaica. Interestingly, the Global Fund is scaling back on its funding after this year. While the prevalence rate has stabilized amongst heterosexuals, it hovers above 30 percent for homosexuals (based on some very questionable surveys). The Global Fund believes Jamaica is not doing enough to address the needs of this most at-risk community.
West masterfully pulled data from a CDC study to support his argument that gay men are the drivers of the HIV pandemic but he refused to mention the recommendations of the study:
“The success of efforts to improve sexual health and reduce HIV/STI risk among MSM will also depend heavily on efforts to address the social and cultural environment within which MSM live, including efforts to address the damaging effects that a hostile social and political environment can have on MSMs mental, physical, and sexual health. Working to eliminate stigma and discrimination through efforts to reduce homophobia in the general public and in schools, providing comprehensive sex education in schools that is appropriate for both heterosexual and homosexual students, ensuring that laws and policies promote the basic human rights of MSM and protect them from hate crimes, educating and supporting parents of young gay, bisexual men or those who are questioning their sexual identity, providing MSM with equal access to health insurance, and legally recognizing long-term relationships of MSM are important structural and policy changes that would likely improve the long-term sexual health of MSM and reduce HIV/STI disease burden.”
Boyne asked if there wasn’t a difference between decriminalization and legalization. There’s a huge difference and one would think Shirley Richards, a lawyer by training, would know this. Nope. In any case, as described by this study that West used, “promotion” of homosexuality will be necessary. Decriminalization will never be enough if we are serious about tackling HIV. In any case, I don’t like the fact that epidemiological arguments are so central to gay rights advocacy. This narrative is not identity affirming. It’s not about dignity and humanity. And it entrenches the pathologization of my identity.
What’s going to happen when we find a cure for HIV? What will Shirley and West use to justify their “private acts have public consequences” argument? Lord, hasten the day!
One of the beautiful things about seeing West and Shirley on TV is that it allows intelligent people to bear witness to their idiocy. According to the Westshirlian perspective, we wont be able to discriminate between different types of sexual activities in sex education classes if the government decriminalizes buggery. West repeatedly mentions the practices of fisting and felching (which he seems to be more familiar with that most gay men I know). He avoids the fact that sexual festishes are not the sole preserve of homosexuals (but I can see why sexually repressed heterosexuals would think so). And he completely misunderstands the purpose of sex education, which is to equip students with the knowledge and tools they need to make responsible sexual choices while negotiating risks. Weh felching come from ina dis?!! This is called fear-mongering. Richards laments that children will need to read ‘King and King’. Is discussing the legitimacy of diverse family forms such a bad thing? Are we normalizing fornication when we teach that single-parent families exist?
There are a number of other claims I could comment on, but in closing, I found it hilarious that Richards would suggest that the Jamaican media is complicit with “The Homosexual Agenda”. West sidestepped Boyne’s question on the role of the media altogether He wanted to talk more about chariot racing and felching. Boyne allowed him to.
The only agenda I have is to be able to acknowledge and affirm my sexuality publicly without fear or shame. It’s hard to achieve this goal, though, when there are entire programs on television dedicated to demonizing who I am. We’re so concerned about the safety of gay people that we allow anti-gay Christian activists to educate us about homosexuality. Because they are obviously more knowledgeable than actual gay people.
Brilliant strategy. It shows just how much the media cares.
Boyne defended his uncritical interview style by saying “I did not want to challenge the Christians just as I gave you [and Angeline] full rein without challenge. The christians were mad with me as you and other gays are. That’s the price I have to pay to give everyone a voice.”
Give everyone a voice, yes, but journalists must exercise judgement and responsibility. The level of scrutiny has to be higher when someone is attempting to justify bigotry and discrimination. The Christians were angry because Angeline and I questioned their privilege. The gays are angry because our humanity was denied and the pathology of our identities affirmed. Read more about why these two responses are in no way equivalent here: Negotiating Hierarchies of Privilege and Power