Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Religion at Creating Change

I went to Creating Change last month, a national conference held by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.  Overall I enjoyed the conference, but I also got this overall impression that it was dominated by religious perspectives.  I don't wish to make a big deal out of it, but it was a minor annoyance to me, and I will use my inconsequential corner of the internet to vent.

The first visible sign was the workshop track called "Practice Spirit, Do Justice".  The descriptions lead me to believe that these workshops are:
1) Directed at making religious communities more LGBT-friendly.
2) Coming from a religious perspective.

Since my perspective is not religious, and not sympathetic to religion, these workshops are basically shouting out that they're not for me. 

It's fine if the workshops are not for me; there are over 25 workshops offered each session, and maybe three or four of them are in the "Practice Spirit, Do Justice" track.  In fact, I can totally get behind the idea of helping LGBT folk get more support from every community they interact with, and that includes their religious communities.

But at the same time, I really do not think it such a tragedy if many LGBT people choose to abandon religion. You know what's a tragedy?  Lots of people have to deal with being queer in a heteronormative family on top of being an atheist in a religious family.  Where are the workshops on this double coming out experience?  None!  You gotta find an atheist conference instead, because atheists are way more willing to talk about queer stuff than queers are to talk about atheist stuff.

(To be fair, there was a single atheist/agnostic caucus in the program hosted by Zack Ford.  Unfortunately it occurred at the same time as the asexual caucus, which I was obligated to attend instead.)

Now I'm just speculating on the content of these workshops (since I didn't feel comfortable in attending any), but I imagine at least a few of them were advancing religious arguments for being LGBT-positive.  That also annoys me.  I can accept that religious arguments are a good political strategy, but I disagree with the arguments, and I worry a lot about the adverse consequences of such a strategy.  I agree with what Greta said:
When we make a religious case for same-sex marriage -- heck, when we make a religious case for any matter of public policy -- we're conceding that public policy should be based on religion. And that means we're conceding the idea that policy and law should be decided, not on the basis of solid evidence and sound reasoning and basic human compassion, but on personal faith.
I worry that the same personal faith will be used to justify the wrong side of the next culture war.  I think this is already happening when people say that loving marriages or sexual activity are endorsed by religion (never mind people who want non-traditional relationship structures or who are asexual).

The above quote, by the way, is reacting to religious arguments advanced by Bishop Gene Robinson, who was given an award at this same conference.

There was also one workshop where religion came up, and it illustrates some of the dynamics going on between LGBT activists and atheism.

The workshop was about inclusivity in campus groups, and was led by a few student leaders.  One of the leaders explained that though they were raised "agnatheist", they'd come to understand that we need to be inclusive of people with many religious views.  The sentiment is nice, but the devil is in the details.  Their advice was to avoid putting Christopher Hitchens stickers on your laptop, and to avoid bringing the subject of religion up.  I wasn't the only one who objected to this.

Of course, the bad advice was mixed with good as well.  The student leader related a story where someone aggressively questioned another queer student about their religious faith.  How could they be queer and still identify with religion?  I agree that's a bad thing to do.  I'm up there with those "militant" atheists who thinks it's great to persuade religious people that they're wrong, and I don't even think it's necessary to be polite when you do it.  But even I recognize that you don't push people in private conversation to talk about something they don't want to talk about.  Save it for the public conversations, where no one is forced to stay and listen.

As you can see, there's this image of the atheists being overly pushy to the religious LGBT people.  Some atheists can be pretty pushy, I appreciate that.  It's weird though, that "religious inclusivity" is all about being nice to religious people, and not at all about how it feels to be in the non-religious minority.

As a final note, my experience is that the asexual community is way better about this.  There are not just lots of asexual atheists, there are lots of asexual atheists of the sort that participate in the atheist community.  I'm not the only one.


slightlymetaphysical said...

Interesting (cross-Atlantic?) difference. My UK university LGBT is so heavily atheist leaning that it's assumed that everyone listening is actively opposed to religion (because religious queers are a myth), and people make pot-shots at religion during socials which are meant to be safe spaces.
Which is a complicated issue to resolve, because there's a lot of people in that group who genuinely have a lot to say about how badly organised religion has treated them, but there's also religious people who feel isolated by that sort of speech. And we don't provide *nearly* enough support for our members who are struggling with being religious and LGBT, because we collectively broadcast the idea that it's impossible.
(and this is a big thing because I know a lot of Christians, queer and straight, who are trying to reform their churches and communities, but don't have the tools to do so)

Basically, it just blows my mind that a queer conference could ever be pro-religion.

/inconsequential ramble

miller said...

That sounds very different and screwed up.