National Commentary

Winning the Battle at Home, But Outflanked Abroad?

Wayne BesenToday, many Americans are celebrating what was once unthinkable: LGBT couples marrying in the conservative bastion of Utah, making it the 18th state where same-sex couples can wed. This victory comes on the heels of marriage equality in New Mexico, highlighting incredible momentum towards fair and equitable legal treatment of LGBT Americans.

The old bigotry, however, lurks right beneath the surface. We saw a glimpse of such vile prejudice, when apparent religion scholar and Duck Dynasty reality star, Phil Robertson, gave us theology and anatomy lessons.

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

Much like last year’s Chik-fil-A dustup over similarly offensive comments, social conservatives came out of the woodwork to defend their loathsome views in the guise of free speech. That font of wisdom, Sarah Palin, tweeted: “Free speech is endangered species; those ‘intolerants’ ‘hatin’ & taking on Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing personal opinion take on us all.”

Such faux support of liberty and opportunistic cheerleading for free speech contrasts sharply with barbaric efforts to strip LGBT people of their humanity overseas. While social conservatives largely recognize that they have lost their fight to severely torment gay people at home, they seem determined create a living Hell for gay people abroad.

Whether it is in Russia, Jamaica, Uganda, Ethiopia, or Nigeria, anti-gay forces are engaged in a zero sum game to destroy LGBT people and support brutal, authoritarian measures to do so. This is not happenstance, but a strategic plan for fundamentalist Christians to branch out into developing nations and influence their leaders. Author Jeff Sharlet vividly makes this point in his book, The Family, where he discusses the plan of the group’s leader Doug Coe: One day, Coe believes – not yet – America (and Old Europe, too, the Germans and French and Italians who drifted from Christ once their prosperity was assured) will wake up and find itself surrounded by a hundred tiny God-led governments.

As we applaud the fruition of our plan to gain legal recognition in The West, we have to ask ourselves if we have won a major battle, only to fall behind in the worldwide war?

This week, The Family’s pet project, Uganda, passed eliminationist legislation that essentially outlawed the existence of LGBT people. The Anti Homosexuality Bill provides a 14-year jail term for one convicted for the offence of homosexuality; and life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” which means getting caught having sexual relations a second time. The law also forces citizens to turn in LGBT people to the police or face jail time.

In Nigeria, the Senate passed a draconian bill that is arguably worse than Uganda’s legislation: “Any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offense and liable on conviction to a term of five years imprisonment.”

In other words, LGBT people can’t exist or if they do they can have no life or shot at happiness. Such laws go beyond demonization and venture into the sadistic realm. They are carefully designed to humiliate, injure, and ultimately “disappear” gay people from society. They promise social death, imprisonment, and an insecure, precarious, outlaw existence that often leads to actual death – whether through improper medical care, homelessness, imprisonment, violence, or suicide.

What I find fascinating is how quickly U.S. “Christians,” who love to invoke our founding fathers, abandon core American values such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of association, including the right to petition government. Just look at the way these alleged lovers of liberty are salivating over Russia’s rightward turn.

We find ourselves at this critical juncture because our opponents have already conceded they can’t win if LGBT people are allowed to come out, tell their stories, lobby, and educate. The only way fundamentalist Christians can suppress progress is to strip LGBT people of their citizenship and ability to use the legal and educational process to fight injustice.

It is terrific that we are succeeding at a breakneck pace at home. But, we also have to ask ourselves if The Family’s Doug Coe isn’t also achieving his goal of surrounding The West with virulently anti-LGBT fundamentalist regimes?

If we don’t urgently address this vital question, our inaction will likely backfire and render our hard-fought achievements mere Pyrrhic victories. In a world that is increasingly interconnected, LGBT people simply cannot succeed long-term in a sea of increasingly violent hostility that renders us subhuman and worthy of social and actual death.