Sources for Contextualizing GLBT Civil Rights

Should the federal government allow religious groups to influence public policies depriving GLBT citizens of civil liberties?

The complexity of the debate surrounding GLBT civil rights requires a multidisciplinary analytic approach. The following sources are helpful for understanding the history and contemporary relevance of GLBT civil rights because they encompass sociological, psychological, historical, religious, political and biological perspectives.  The ideals of a democratic government predicated on the separation of church and state are at odds with religious beliefs that GLBT people are inherently sinful and unworthy of the same rights and protections as other Americans.  Although people of faith were often at the forefront of progressive abolitionist and civil rights movements in the past, religious sensibilities fuel most anti-GLBT political action.

1. The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer. Harper Perennial, 1951

The True Believer is a concise and disturbing examination of mass movements.  Hoffer contends that hatred is the most powerful unifying factor in mass movements.  Written in 1951 in the shadow of Nazi genocide and the cold war, this work remains salient in modern times.  Although Hoffer’s book does not specifically examine hatred directed towards gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender people, it describes the mechanisms by which antipathy is fomented and people coalesce around a common scapegoat/enemy.  Hoffer’s thesis is illustrated by the tendency of anti-GLBT Christian political groups to unite around homophobia as a central tenet of their religious and political ideology rather than more exalted Christian virtues of love and charity.

2. All the Rage: The Story of Gay Visibility in America by Suzanna Danuta Walters.  The University of Chicago Press, 2001

All The Rage examines the misconception that increased visibility equates increased societal acceptance.  Walters describes the way in which the increased visibility of queer people has coincided with an exponential rise in hate crimes and anti-GLBT ballot measures.  All the Rage examines the backlash against increased visibility and the commodification of GLBT lifestyles.  This book is written from an academic perspective by a sociologist that would likely be studied by GLBT people, gender or media studies classes.

3. The Holy Bible

The Bible is central in the debate surrounding queer rights since most of the rationale for depriving queer citizens of their civil rights in America is derived from the Bible.  The Bible has been historically used to justify everything from slavery to wife slaughter.  Despite arguments by members of the Christian right that traditional marriage equals one man plus one woman for the purposes of procreation, the Old testament model of marriage often included one man, one woman in addition to as many concubines as could be desired and supported by the husband.  These concubines were not necessarily female.  Many Biblical scholars assert that King David’s favorite partner was Jonathan (Professor Ronald Wixman, University of Oregon).  Using the Old Testament as a model for modern morality is problematic due to draconian mores that allow punishing unruly children, adulterers and idolaters with death.  Other Deuteronomistic prohibitions are equally archaic such as proscriptions against mixed fiber clothing, cross-dressing and consumption of shellfish.  Although a literal interpretation of the Bible justifies discrimination against GLBT people, Christianity itself is not the problem.  Many Christian leaders advocate inclusion and civil rights for GLBT people.

4. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth: An Epidemic of Homelessness by Nick Ray, Former Senior Policy Analyst, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Policy Institute. published in Kicked Out edited by Sassafras Lowrey Homofactus Press 2010

While much of the focus on GLBT civil rights is focused on the gay marriage debate, this work examines an understudied phenomenon associated with homophobia in our culture– an epidemic of homelessness of GLBT youth.  Many queer youth are literally thrown out by their parents when they come out as gay and queer youth are estimated to account for between 20 and 40% of all homeless youth (Ray 2010).  This is an ethical and civil rights issue because all homeless kids have elevated rates of physical assault, rape and murder and the risks are compounded for gay and gender-variant individuals.  GLBT homeless kids also suffer from elevated rates of mental illness and suicidal ideation and consummation. Nick Ray cites a study from Pediatrics that found that half of the gay teens surveyed reported a negative parental response to their coming out and 26% were thrown out for being gay.  Many queer kids never even get to grow up and be deprived of their civil right to marry or adopt children.  Ray’s article examines both the causes of GLBT homelessness and the lack of appropriate funding to address homeless youth, both queer and straight.

5. Is there a homosexuality gene? December 2006 by Lisa Zyga

6. Gay brothers may hold genetic clues Study seeks scientific explanation for roots of homosexuality

7. Is there a genetic cause for HBS? by Charlotte Goiar 2005-2010

These scientific and journalistic distillations of scientific sources examine the potential genetic component to homosexuality and/or transsexualism.  This research is salient since many who seek to deprive GLBT citizens of rights argue that being gay or transgender is a choice rather than an innate characteristic.  Preliminary evidence suggests a genetic component in that homosexuality runs in families.  Studies indicate that even siblings raised separately are more likely to exhibit homosexual traits if other siblings are gay.  Although it seems unlikely that conclusive scientific evidence of a genetic cause of homosexuality would sway some Christians who discount evidence that the earth is older than 5,000 years in the form of fossil records and carbon dating, genetic proof could influence public policy affecting GLBT people.   Many GLBT people and psychologists assert that sexual orientation or gender identity are innate personality traits and people are aware of their gender identity or sexual orientation from an early age.  A genetic study of transsexualism found repetitions in segments of DNA indicative of a possible genetic mutation that could explain male to female gender variance (Charlotte Goiar citing the scientific journal Psychoneuroendochrinology).

8.  The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

9.  The Fourteenth Amendment  Section 1.

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. (emphasis mine)

The Bill of Rights is integral to the discussion of GLBT civil rights since the passage of anti-GLBT measures violates both the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the constitution.  An effective legal strategy to challenge anti-GLBT ballot measures and laws should include references to the founding ideals of this country and the ways in which the imposition of religious ideals on citizens is antithetical to the principles of this democracy.  An invocation of Jeffersonian ideals of a “wall of separation” between church and state is also relevant in this debate because injustice of any kind is dishonors the spirit in which America was founded.   Tocqueville’s concerns of the “tyranny of the majority” apply since common sense, compassion and civil rights and protections are necessary to prevent a disenfranchised, abhorred minority from oppression at the hands of the majority.

10.Los Angeles Times  Proposition 8 Tracking the Money: Final Numbers

This website examines the funding sources for anti-gay ballot measures such as proposition 8.  Funding of efforts to deprive GLBT citizens of civil rights and protections are overwhelmingly religious.  Proposition 8 received most of its funding from the Mormon church, the Catholic church and James Dobson’s fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family.  The overwhelming evidence that these ballot measures were funded by church groups indicates that the passage of these ballot measures constitutes the imposition of religious beliefs on a minority and have no place in a democracy founded on ideals of the separation of church and state.

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