What a groundswell! Twelve states, our nation's capital and several Native American tribes in the United States now have marriage equality. Minnesota was the most recent. Illinois, Nevada and New Mexico are taking steps to join the ranks.
Across the world, Uruguay recently voted for marriage equality, joining Canada, Argentina and parts of Mexico and Brazil in the Western hemisphere. France joined eight European countries when it voted for equality, and Great Britain is on its way. South Africa protects gay rights in its constitution.
So why did the presidents of Paraguay and Venezuela use verbal gay bashing to win their elections? Why are millions of people in Uganda, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Malawi and other African countries harangued from pulpits, beaten in the streets and arrested by officials? The answer is homophobia.
This is a world I never imagined when I was coming of age and coming out in the 1960s and '70s. Both the amazing progress and the vicious, systemic attacks astound me.
Just this week a young man in Russia came out to his drinking buddies as a gay man. His "friends" proceeded to brutally beat him, cut his anus, rape him with beer bottles, bash his head with a large stone and set his dead body on fire. This kind of brutality and "overkill" is a hallmark of hate-based terrorism. The message to the rest of the community is "this is what is waiting for you if you do not fit our compulsory heterosexuality."
May 17 is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). Throughout the world, people will stand up and announce that equality gives life and that homophobia kills. As religious people, we know that so much of the homophobia is rooted in and reinforced by religion, making it all that much more important that people of faith speak out.
The United States has its own trail of terror through bashing, murder, burning, rape, torture and dismemberment. In full knowledge of this, millions of us took small steps to tell our stories, often at great risk to ourselves. We often lost our families, jobs, churches, children and sometimes our lives.
The Rev. Troy Perry was exiled from his home church when he came out as gay in the 1960s. When he survived a suicide attempt, he grabbed hold of his God-given identity and founded the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) in 1968 as a refuge for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. In the December 1971 special photo edition of Life, the headline read, "God loves gays too!" and the caption read, "Perry conducts several weddings each week."
MCC leaders are still on the steps of every courthouse and standing watch at every legislature when marriage equality happens. On the one hand, our work seems to be coming to fruition with the rapidly changing laws and attitudes. On the other, there is a rising specter of persecution of sexual minorities throughout the world. The alarm must be sounded even more loudly because Christian extremists from the United States are now exporting their vitriol to Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Scott Lively and Lou Engle are the poster children for this movement. Both target Uganda and other countries to propagate their brand of religious bigotry that supports imprisonment of LGBT people. Lively acted surprised when Uganda parliament members proposed the death penalty in its "kill the gays" bill, ignoring the fact that he placed the entire Nazi holocaust at the feet of gay men in his book The Pink Swastika.
Lou Engle leads a mega-church in Kansas and is featured in the documentary God Loves Uganda. He sends members of his church to Uganda to teach condemnation in the name of love. In one scene, young Christian African men are asked to raise their hands if they are "ready to fight, ready to kill."
It is into this cauldron that we are called to bring a word of hope on the day of IDAHO and throughout the year. In MCC we have never settled for refuge, and we will not even rest easy with marriage equality when we know that people still live with fear, shame and spiritual destitution because of the false teachings of churches.
Progressives are often nervous about engaging the international world. The history of colonialism and neo-colonialism tells us that powerful countries should not dominate countries with fewer resources or different cultures. Those of us with even less exposure to other countries just don't feel like we know enough to get involved. Many (if not most) of us couldn't say where Uganda is on the map of Africa without using Google. This is no excuse!
IDAHO is a day to set that aside and announce that, when U.S. evangelicals are unapologetically colonialist and homophobic in their style and message, we will be unapologetic in our effort to stop them and to support our brothers and sisters who are under siege. There is work to do!
IDAHO is a day to remember that broad swaths of the United States still do not have marriage equality, and that LGBT people can still be fired at will in many states because the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has yet to pass. There is work to do!
IDAHO is a day to remember that there are countries throughout the world where well-meaning people are being told that LGBT people should be rejected by their families, given shock treatment, converted to fundamentalism, imprisoned or even executed. There is work to do!
IDAHO is a day to remember that if we can tell our story and be fairly certain that we will not be imprisoned, executed, raped or beaten, then we need to stand up and be the voices for our brothers and sisters who live in fear for their lives. There is work to do!
IDAHO is a day for faith leaders to preach the core message of the Gospel: Love God and love your neighbor. There is work to do!