June 11, 2010

Blessed Be the Ties that Bind: Peter LaBarbera.

Peter LaBarbera, President, Americans For Truth

Promoting the very un-Christian notion that judging others is okay, nay, compulsory.

For you elephant readers who aren’t acquainted with the confused soul who answers to the name of Peter LaBarbera, allow me to introduce you.

Peter is the president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (sic) (AFTAH), “a national organization devoted exclusively to exposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda.” AFTAH also claims that it

“seeks to apply the same single-minded determination to opposing the radical homosexual agenda and standing for God-ordained sexuality and the natural family as countless homosexual groups do in promoting their harmful agenda. Americans For Truth is a rare single-issue national group on the other side of this critical ‘culture war’ issue. Meanwhile, there are over a dozen national American ‘gay’ groups with annual budgets ranging from just under $1 million to over $30 million working to advance this agenda — which threatens to criminalize Christian opposition to behavior that most Americans believe is wrong.”

I encourage you to have a look at the AFTAH website. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Seen enough? I certainly have. If you’ve read my posts on elephant you know that the ideas of a “gay agenda” and “culture wars” confuse me. Over the years I’ve asked many gay-haters what they mean when they use those terms, but not a single one has been able to give me a working definition we can all agree on. It’s frustrating, to say the least. Venture even a quick glance at AFTAH’s website and you’ll see both these terms thrown around like confetti at a Rip Taylor opener for Celine Dion.

I never signed up to fight in any culture war, did you? Can you, dear reader, give me a definition of the term that doesn’t make a mockery or a martyr of either side in the struggle? Is the culture war just between the gays and the straights, or are other groups involved as well? Am I going to be forced to engage in this battle forever, or will one side eventually win?

I think about these so-called culture wars a lot. I also think a lot about the war on drugs and the war on terror. All of these fabricated, asinine struggles have issued from the conservative Right. Every last one of ’em. The pattern stands out like a Judith Leiber clutch purse on Tony night.

The semiotics here are dazzling—of the war imagery, not the clutch purse, silly.

I grew up in conservative parts of the country. Ever been to the small mountain towns of Colorado’s Western Slope? Ever been to the Show Me State? Then you have an idea of what I’m talking about. People are always at war against something in these places. They hoot ‘n’ holler when Lee Greenwood plays. They tear up easily whenever they see a yellow ribbon. If they leave these places for larger urban centers they invariably attend mega churches. They seem to have an appreciation for gingham. Growing up I heard these folks pepper their sentences in all seriousness with nigger, spic, gook and faggot. Not words “like” those…those very words! And these were proud, devout Christians! I grew up hearing things in Sunday school like ‘Hitler had the right idea with the faggots; they should all be lined up and shot.’ I crap you negatory, my friends. How did I not repress that memory?

I’ve also lived in relatively progressive parts of the country like Boulder and Chicago, so I’ve been able to make meaningful comparisons. Let’s just say there’s a reason I don’t live in small towns far from big cities anymore. There’s something to be said for an integrated urban neighborhood. It requires residents to educate themselves about the other. It puts the other in full view all the time. An integrated neighborhood promotes mutual understanding, and that leads to acceptance, and that leads to friendship, and that leads to compassion and regard for others’ wellbeing.

What’s unspoken yet implicit here is that in order to get from one point on this continuum to the next, one has to overcome something: fear of the unknown.

It’s that simple—don’t let nobody tell ya it ain’t. Fear makes us do some pretty screwed up sh*t sometimes.  Which brings me back to the AFTAH website and Peter LaBarbera.

Peter has literally built his career around his fear. He has made his life’s work about juxtaposing himself to the other. Peter LaBarbera has chosen to be of service to his nation and his world by promoting the very un-Christian notion that judging others is okay, nay, compulsory if you want to be an upstanding citizen in his God-fearing America. My friends, Peter LaBarbera is a mess!

I’m not going to psychologize Peter’s behavior by saying he’s just in denial of his own latent homosexuality or that he must have been sexually abused as a boy. Many people have already said such things about him, and much worse. Frankly, I find that kind of analysis non-nuanced, boring and plain old unhelpful. I do, however, want to look at the power of fear to motivate and inspire.

As a child, I chose to be baptized because I had heard one too many apocalypto-hellfire-piss-yer-pants-it-burns-so-bad sermons in church. I was scared shitless of hell. So I consciously decided that if not landing there meant I had to get a little wet while other people for whom I bore no respect witnessed the surreal spectacle, I’d go ahead and suffer the humiliation. You know, cover all my bases. I was nothing if not a logical thinker. I say humiliation because at that age I was painfully shy about being exposed in public. I was mildly traumatized by the boys’ locker room Monday through Friday and I hated getting up in front of people to speak or perform. I literally remember thinking that these church-goers were going to be able to see my scrawny body through the wet baptismal gown and make fun of me. The semiotics here are also dazzling.

As an adult, I recognize that what I feared back then was being outed as a gay boy. And one wet t-shirt was all it would take for my charade to come tumbling down like the walls of Jericho. (By the way, was Joshua always portrayed as a hottie in your children’s bibles like he was in mine?) So you can imagine, then, how great my fear of damnation was if I decided it would be better to risk being outed (the greatest fear of my life) than face an eternity in hell. Yeah, fear’s a real fuckin’ motivator sometimes.

So I did it. I got dunked in front of all those Christian soldiers and I looked like a fool to any non-religious fly on the wall and I didn’t get run out of town on a rail for being a fag and God was in her heaven and all was still right with the world. Oh, and I’m not going to hell now!

That experience also made me realize something: reality almost never resembles what it looks like in my imagination. And so began my protracted, uphill slog toward emotional, intellectual and psychic maturity. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Who the hell knows what actually happened.

I think back on that time, and I’m amazed at how much fear informed the things I did, the things I said, the choices I made, the ways I behaved. I also imagine all those church-goers who saw me get dunked that day still sitting in those pews, still singing the same hymns, still clutching on to the same old notions of heaven and hell, still motivated never to look squarely at the things that scare them, using that particular iteration of Christianity as a shield, putting their heads in the sand beneath the old rugged cross.

Dear God, if there is a heaven, I hope to hell there aren’t any Christians in it.

And that’s the kind of smart remark that gets me in trouble with the Peter LaBarberas of the world. Peter doesn’t understand the events of my life that led me to the place where I can say something like that and still love Jesus. Because I still do, despite all the smack people talked about him while I was growing up. I’ve been courageous enough to take a closer look… at Jesus, at fear, at love, at myself. I use that word hesitantly because it doesn’t feel like courage at all. It feels like a matter of survival.

If I had never questioned the things I was taught growing up, if I were still sitting in that church with all the other Christian soldiers knowing what I know about my homosexuality, I guarantee you I’d be dreaming up ways to off myself in the least painful, yet most dramatic way possible. Imagine me, freshly dead in my mother’s bed, wearing a sheer white chiffon dress, a thin crimson Hermés scarf tied around my neck, a bottle of Valium lying on its side on the powder room vanity, pills strewn about in a trail from the bathroom to the bed where I lie face up staring at the Home Depot Hunter ceiling fan, stigmata forming on my hands and feet. Aaaaand fade to black.

No, Peter doesn’t understand me. I’m complicated.

Of course, I don’t understand the events of Peter’s life either, the ones that have led him to this place where he can forge a career out of fear, but there’s a difference. I’ve taken Jesus’ teachings to heart to some degree. I dare say Peter has not. I endeavor not to harm others by projecting my fear onto them. I try very hard to keep my heart open to all people who cross my path, not to judge them, to get to know them, to hear their stories in the name of cultivating compassion for them. When I fall short, I try to forgive myself and move forward with more awareness of my judgmental tendencies. In doing so for myself, I learn how to make allowances for others.

And Peter’s the one who calls himself a Christian.

This August 5th through the 7th, Americans For Truth is holding its first ever Truth Academy to train youth ages 14 to 25 how to fight the gay agenda. AFTAH claims Truth Academy will be a three-day intensive that will
“bring together some of the country’s leading pro-family experts on homosexuality to teach both young and old how to answer the lies and myths that so readily emanate from the ‘GLBT’ (‘gay’) camp.”

Slated to appear at Truth Academy is a veritable who’s who of gay-haters and conversion therapy fetishists. Here’s the lineup.

Robert Knight, Coral Ridge Ministries
Ryan Sorba, Young Conservatives of California
Prof. Robert Gagnon, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Prof. Rena Lindevaldsen, Liberty University Law School
Matt Barber, Liberty Counsel
Laurie Higgins, Illinois Family Institute
Greg Quinlan, Parents and Friends of Gays and Ex-Gays

Read just a little about each of these characters and you’ll have a good sense of what the event holds in store for all the poor little bastards forced to attend by their homophobic parents. The only thing worse than having to sit through this fear-based, uninformed, bigoted, hypocritical horse shit at all is having to sit through it for three freakin’ days.

Don’t underestimate the psychic damage that will be done to many, many young people over the course of this torture fest. Peter LaBarbera bills it as a reversal of decades of “pro-gay brainwashing” in schools and popular culture. He’s excited about the whole thing.

Peter gets so excited about de-programming gays from deviant sexual behavior, in fact, that he makes the ultimate sacrifice on occasion. He travels to BDSM and leather sex venues like the Folsom Street Fair and gay bath houses across the land to take pictures. He then posts those pictures on the AFTAH website to show Christian soldiers everywhere what they’re up against in the culture war. Check it out.

Dirty, dirty gays.

Creeped out yet?

No? How about now?

You get the point.

Just so we’re clear, I find the spectacle of naked bodies walking down a public street scintillating and beautiful. Male and female! I find the idea of public displays of sexual behavior in an age-appropriate context exciting and fascinating. I think group sex among consenting adults in the privacy of a D.C. hotel room is a bang-up idea. Doesn’t matter if it’s all men, all women, men and women, inter-sexed, transgendered…If it offends you, don’t go! It’s just that simple. Don’t let nobody tell ya it ain’t.

People…Peter posts this stuff on a “pro-family” Christian website. If it’s “pro-family,” it stands to reason children will be looking at it. The issues LaBarbera writes about and the photos and videos he posts have to be viewed in an age-appropriate context. Anything else is child sexual abuse, in my humble opinion.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently listed AFTAH as a hate group in response to heavy lobbying by the Chicago-based Gay Liberation Network. Personally, I wish there were such a thing as ‘fear groups’. It’s a much more apt moniker for groups like AFTAH.

I totally get that the Peter LaBarberas of the world don’t feel like they come from a place of hate when they espouse their prescriptions for a moral society. I believe them when they say they’re out to save people. The problem is, they’re wearing the emperor’s new clothes. And George Rekers is the emperor’s poster child.

Lately, every time I hear a right-wing evangelical type attack gays and lesbians in a public forum, I start my countdown clock: T-minus sixty seconds before the highway patrol discovers him in a car under an overpass with a boy’s dick in his mouth. You can set your watch by it. See also Pastor Ted Haggard.

If you don’t want to Google his name, just type in “drug-fueled gay trysts.”

Who do these people think they’re fooling? Who are they trying to convince?

Listen, Peter, George, Ted, I know what it’s like to live with so much fear that it clouds your judgment. I know how that fear can kill your mind and make you believe black is white and good is bad. In a world paralyzed by fear, you can turn the most beautiful thing in the world into a corrupt, horrible, monster.

But have hope, my friends, because Jesus saves! He saved my wretched ass. And he can save yours, too. Blessed be the ties that bind.

I’m not going to psychologize your behavior because I don’t care if you’re gay or straight. I have a feeling God doesn’t give a shit either. Now, I won’t pretend to speak for God, but my prayer for you is that one day you’re able to see this beautiful, mixed up, paradoxical world through lenses other than fear. My prayer for you is that you might be capable one day of ceasing projecting your fear onto others, hurting them deeply in the process.

My prayer for you is my ongoing prayer for myself.

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