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2008

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Rainbows & Teardrops
Elizabeth Ross

Winter, the dark gray time with dark anniversaries spattering my calendar. While I try to keep myself in a cheerful mood for the sake of my kids, it is hard, especially when passing a cemetery on the way to Target or Toys ‘R’ Us. In all, between lost family and friends, I’ve buried about a dozen people in the cold months of November and December. Of the friends, there are three that died over the years of the worst disease I know – fear.

Some people claim the strong memories evoked from the sense of smell, like remembering a grandmother every time they smell bread baking. For me it is music. Tchaikovsky is doubly painful, because of both a danseur and a pianist. I know I could never sit through Swan Lake with dry eyes, and it would have nothing to do with the plot. Also try to avoid listening to folk music with acoustic guitar at this time of year because of a guitarist. Beyond talents surrounding music, these three people from my past share one other thing in common – they committed suicide because of people close to them not accepting the fact that they were gay.

Homosexuality has become a hot button topic over the past several years, particularly in the context of gay marriage. I’ve mostly watched from the sidelines on this issue, because of lack of time if not lack of interest. Perhaps I need to get off the bench and start saying something, if not on the concept that the State needs to get out of the marriage business altogether, then on stopping policy based on fear.

When I became a columnist here I wrote a short biography that stated I am “fiscally conservative and socially liberal.” Here in Pennsylvania I call myself a “Heinz Republican”, calling to mind the late Sen. Heinz – on the national end, I would say I’m a “Goldwater Republican.” There was a time when the GOP stood for smaller government, frugal spending, and nearly religious protection of personal freedoms. I am not the first to say that Barry Goldwater would be ashamed of the current neo-conservative movement that insists on breaking the barriers between government and the bedroom. The anti-gay movement is an illustration of this invasion of privacy, and breaks one of the fundamental rules of law making – a democratic government cannot legislate morality.

It’s been established that one cannot have meaningful dialogue with the religious right, but in remembrance of my friends I find myself wanting to take a moment on the proverbial soapbox. I was raised Catholic, left the church shortly after I divorced, considered myself an agnostic for a while, and eventually shifted to the point of atheism. Regardless of my current beliefs (or lack thereof) the fact that I actually read the Christian bibles (Catholic and King James) cover to cover cannot be erased from my memory. My understanding of the texts is colored by method, as in I did not read the bible as though it were the “be all and end all,” but as a history of a great people and their growth in their religious faith. That is a very important distinction because it is one thing to approach the bible with the child-like blind faith found in the religious right, and completely another to view it through the eyes of biblical scholar. I do not pretend I am the latter, but I certainly can claim the ability of critical reading over blind faith.

Biblical literalism, the method of reading and nature of faith for the religious right, is repeatedly blamed for the lack of tolerance toward gays in the film “For the Bible Tells Me So.” (I still think this is a politically correct term, to avoid coining the term “fundamentalism,” used more often lately in reference to bomb-bearing Muslims.) I’ve had difficulty for some time now putting to words a basic feeling I have had about supposedly Christian behaviors in this country, but this film has definitely helped me break down that communication barrier.

Repeatedly, the message was said that biblical literalism leads to the destruction of true Christian values (love, peace, understanding, tolerance, etc.) and the destruction of the family. If anyone doubts that, they can take a look at TEACH Ministries (http://www.teach-ministries.org/index.html) and read about Mary Lou Wallner and her daughter.

The passages of the bible that the religious right uses to justify their message of intolerance are consistently taken out of context. They do not take into account the temporal meanings of the words – the bible calls homosexuality an abomination, but the meaning of that word then was simply “against tradition or ritual.” In one instance, it is mentioned because the Israelites were being encouraged to have children so that the population lost from wars would be rebuilt, and was listed in a group of rules that included a prohibition against the eating of shrimp. Homosexuality is not unnatural, occurs amongst many species of animals including humans, and still fits the intended meaning in the bible because it is a natural state for a minority of people – non-traditional but not wrong.

This misuse of the bible is nothing new, and was used in the past to justify slavery, segregation, and the subjugation of women. Gays are the current targets because of a basic fear of homosexuality. Societies have consistently demonized individuals they have feared, from Galileo to the witches of Salem. Eventually a few people take the time to learn about these individuals, and once that knowledge becomes part of the lexicon of society as a whole, the fear is traded for understanding. There are more than a few doing that today, like C.J. Pascoe, author of Dude, You’re a Fag, a book covering research on the dynamics of male sexuality and homophobia in high school. I will do my part, and make sure that my children learn about homosexuality from sources like “For the Bible Tells Me So” and Dude, You’re a Fag, instead of from pulpits of the religious right or anyone else controlled by homophobia.