This is the talk I gave in Kirtland Temple on October 16, 2015 as part of the LGBTQIA Human Rights Devotional. I used Hillary Clinton’s speech before the U.N. in December 2011 and a talk by Queer Theorist, Kathryn Stockton, as my primary source material. My husband spoke as well and did several other people. We conveyed powerful messages challenging homophobia, transphobia, and destructive theology, yet the audience responded positively to the theme of inclusion, justice, and peace. I felt honored to be a part of the devotional. The chance to speak in the historic Kirtland Temple is one of the highlights of my life.
The opening words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are unequivocal: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” On December 10, 1948, 48 nations voted in favor, 8 abstained; none dissented in voting for the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration proclaims a powerful idea, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. The Declaration made clear that rights are not conferred by governments, they are the birthrights of all people. Yet since that time, the fight to change hearts, and minds and laws has not been easy. Even getting the world to recognize that the Universal Declaration applies to LGBT people has not been easy.
LGBT people have been an invisible minority, invisible from the protections of the law. We have been arrested, jailed, beaten, persecuted, raped, and murdered around the globe. In a post marriage-equality United States, the homophobia, meaning, literally a fear, or phobia of homosexuality’s place within society, culture and family has not abated. I fear that it has for the time grown stronger, although it’s appearance is not as recognizable as it once was. It has taken a new form but is no less threatening to the well being of LGBT people.
Earlier this year, my husband was the named plaintiff in a lawsuit that challenged one of the most insidious forms of homophobia — conversion therapy. Conversion therapy is premised on the idea that human sexuality falls on a rigid binary system and that any deviation from socially constructed beliefs about gender or sexuality can be cured with therapy. This theory implies not so subtly that romantic inclinations towards those of the same-sex are morally corrupt and that anyone who experiences such feelings should feel guilty and ashamed of who they are. The trauma inflicted by such beliefs reify homophobia’s grasp on culture. So let me be clear and state what we all know, there is nothing wrong with being LGBT. Nor can it be fixed. Nor should it be. It is the vile and destructive force of homophobia that allows such ideas to fester and take root in our culture.
The Ferguson v JONAH trial lasted 3 weeks and some days were more excruciating than others. For example, the defense attorney, Charles LiMandri said in court that AIDS was a “white man’s disease.” My jaw hit the floor. The defense threw out bogus statistics to claim if a person was gay that such a person was more likely to contract AIDS because of “the gay lifestyle.”
The gay lifestyle. The gay lifestyle! the gay lifestyle?! I don’t know what that is but I couldn’t hear that phrase one more time without erupting into a vulgar rage only to then be thrown from the courtroom and perhaps compromising the case. So instead I stepped into the hallway in those moments when I could not stand to stare the grotesque homophobia in the face one more minute.
And time and time again, the defense turned to explanations of religion to justify their clients’ actions. Sometimes religion and cultural traditions stand in conflict with the protection of human rights, when they actually should be sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. For example, those in the 19th century who defended the institution of slavery relied on their religion to support their claims, yet, so did those who sought to abolish slavery.
Homophobia has begun to hide behind the term “religious freedom” in order to use faith as a weapon against LGBT people. I believe that the tine is now for queer people of faith, faith broadly defined, to fully assert their rights as people of faith. The issue is not religion verses the LGBT community, for in fact this is a false dichotomy because queer people and faith certainly overlap. In the early 1990s Billy Corgan, lead singer of the Smashing Pumpkins, cooed a lyric, “faith lies in the ways of sin.” It’s a great song but I disagree with this statement. Faith lies in commitments to social justice. Faith lies in the commitments to abolishing poverty. Faith lies in the commitments to questioning theological propositions and discarding those propositions at odds with the enduring principles of the Pursuit of Peace, of Grace and Generosity, of Unity in Diversity, in the Blessing of Community and in the worth of all persons. Because the human experience is universal, human rights are universal and cut across all religions and culture. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her address before the UN in December 2011, “caring for others is what it means to be fully human.”
The world fails greatly in this regard, especially towards LGBT people. In Egypt, gay men and lesbians face significant social stigma and discrimination. On Nov 1, 2014 a court sentenced 8 men to three years of prison for merely posting a video depicting a marriage-like ceremony between two men on a riverboat. In El Salvador, the human rights organization Comcavis Trans reported that unknown perpetrators killed seven transgender women and one gay man shortly after a June 25 LGBT march. They also reported four complaints of human rights abuses including sexual abuse and torture. In Gambia, the president of that nation signed into law an amendment to the criminal code making “aggravated homosexuality” a crime punishable by life imprisonment. In a televised address he said, “Homosexuality will never be tolerated and in fact will attract the ultimate penalty, since it is intended to bring humanity to an inglorious extinction. We will fight these vermin called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.” In Kenya violence and discrimination against LGBT individuals is widespread. Human rights and LGBT rights organizations noted that victims were extremely reluctant to report abuse or seek redress In Russia, a 2013 law criminalizes the “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors. Examples of what the government considered LGBT propaganda include materials that “directly or indirectly approve of people who are in nontraditional sexual relationships.” LGBT persons reported heightened societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to increasing official promotion of intolerance and homophobia. Gay rights activists asserted that the majority of LGBT persons hid their orientation due to fear of losing their jobs or their homes as well as the threat of violence. Medical practitioners reportedly continue to limit or deny LGBT people health services due to intolerance and prejudice.
This information keeps me awake long into the night. As a queer person of a reimagined faith I have to ask, where are you god? Remove this menace of homophobia not tomorrow, not in a year, not when state legislatures feel like it, but now! Soften the hearts of those who seeks to destroy us. Make them see with new eyes the worth of all people. Confound their hatred and give them understanding; make them happier, gentler people. You can, you are god. But if you won’t, then please, Heavenly Mother hear the words of our mouth and heed our demands. How much longer must your LGBT children suffer?
But I know it is not enough to demand divine intervention, the work falls to us. My own Restoration tradition tells me that the Old Testament prophet Elijah appeared to Joseph Smith in this very room. The same Elijah known as a model reformer. Literally true or not, the stories in First Kings reveal him as a model of promptness, a model of patience, a model of confidence, and a model of courage. These are the skills and characteristics we need here and abroad to help the world embrace human rights for all people, including LGBT people. And it is LGBT people who must lead this effort. Yet the brutal reality is that those who are denied rights are the least empowered to bring about the changes they seek. Acting alone, minorities can never achieve the majorities necessary for political change.
Which brings me to seduction. For many years LGBT people have created and lived lives that so many envied. Perhaps this is the “gay lifestyle” so many refer to. Queer Theorist and my friend Kathryn Stockton believes that a huge part of homophobic thinking has resented LGBT people for the lives we’ve led, viewing queer life as a form of hedonism, as too much fun. Because it seemed like seductive cheating to live our lives, marriage-free, child-free, soaked in pleasure, so it was said. Although some things have changed recently. It’s not so much that people think queerness is unnatural, but rather that it is hypernatural. In other words, everyone will go queer if we let them, therefore governments must forbid, demean, humiliate, and punish LGBT people. But why shouldn’t people be pleasure seekers? What’s wrong with pleasure? So let’s queer the golden rule and say “seduce your neighbor as you would be seduced.” Not sexually, but intellectually, culturally, and yes even doctrinally. Seduce your neighbor and yourself into the pleasures of social justice. Let’s seduce our neighbors and ourselves into ending racism and homophobia. The cancer eating culture, liberty, justice, and peace is racist and homophobic speech and action, it kills pleasure and people. You should feel angry. I feel angry. Yet as Kathryn in her wisdom admonished a few weeks ago, “let one phase of your anger be seduction, let’s seduce others into anti-racist, anti-homophobic pleasures.” As Queer and ally Children in Zion, good tidings for us. The tokens already appear, fear not! And be just, for the kingdom is ours. The hour of redemption is near.
Now I would like to lead us in what we are calling the Lavender Hosanna Shout. Within the Restoration tradition, the Hosanna Shout is associated strongly with this very building. At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, Joseph Smith led the Saints in a solemn shout of “Hosanna Hosanna Hosanna to God and the Lamb. Amen. Amen. Amen.” Since then, this group expression of fervor and faith has been reserved for special occasions within this temple, continuing to the present day. After the persecutions and troubles in Kirtland escalated in the 1830s, Joseph Smith and his followers faced much of the same persecution after they settled in Missouri. At a conference in Far West, MO in 1838, after a passionate speech made by Sidney Rigdon, Elder Parley P. Pratt said, “this declaration was received with shouts of hosanna… with many long cheers by the assembled thousands, who were determined to yield their rights no more, unless compelled by superior power.” Tonight out shout will also declare that we no longer yield our rights and we will shout hosanna to justice and peace for all. We will shout “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! To Justice and Peace for All! Amen! Amen! Amen! We will shout this phrase in its entirety three times. Afterwards, please remain standing for the closing hymn. Please rise and raise your voice with me.