So there’s kind of this trend where vociferously anti-LGBTQ public figures will be outed for engaging in homosexual relationships themselves. It happens often enough that plenty of us are no longer even a little bit surprised by it. Often, the revelations are greeted with a certain amount of gloating and accusations of hypocrisy from the left. But is that really fair? And why is this in an atheist blog, anyway?
Well, to answer the last question first, it’s because a lot of organized opposition to LGBTQ rights is religiously motivated.
But back to the first question. Is it fair to pile on anti-LGTBQ leaders when they are outed against their will by some sex scandal? I gotta tell you; I’m kind of ambivalent about it.
I mean, on the one hand, these are often people who have done real harm to others. So part of me wants to see them punished. Part of me wants to decry them as hypocrites, and see them humiliated, brought down, and driven from their positions of power.
But then, there’s the other part. The part of me that sees them as victims, as well.
You see, it’s not that hard for me to imagine anti-LGBTQ advocacy arising from a genuine believer who is, nonetheless, gay themselves. The logic is not that hard to see, once you think about how certain beliefs might interact with certain facts.
Imagine, if you will, that you have a sincere belief that the all-powerful creator of the universe hates homosexuality and will send you to eternal torment if you practice it. And imagine that belief running smack-dab into the fact that you’re gay. When you have sexual fantasies, they’re of someone of the same gender. When you have romantic thoughts, they’re about someone of the same gender. When you fall head-over-heels in love, it’s with someone of the same gender. You have no control over this, it just is. And everything you’ve been taught to believe tells you it’s wrong, and that you’re going to hell for it.
Perhaps you can resist giving in to your “sinful” urges for a time. Maybe you can do so for your whole life. But you’ll almost certainly be miserable doing so – most humans just aren’t wired to endure that kind of isolation indefinitely. So say you can’t hold out forever. Say that, in a moment of passion and despite all of your convictions about what your god wants and what he’s going to do to you, you engage in some sexual activity with a member of the same sex. Well, now you have a problem: you believe that you must resist these urges, but also demonstrated that your own faith and conviction are insufficient to allow you to resist. Especially if it happens more than once.
What are you to do? Everything depends on this. Because you “know” what your god wants, and you aren’t able to comply; does that mean you really aren’t committed to your god? And, if so, does that mean you will go to hell (and, even more, that you’d deserve it)? That’s eternal stuff, that’s a big deal, so you’d damn well better find a way to comply with your god’s demands. At the very least, you have to be able to believe you have done everything in your power to do so.
How do you solve this problem? Well, one logical step to take might be to try to empower societal authorities to stop you. In other words, to advocate for making the behavior illegal. This would probably be an especially appealing approach if the religious denomination to which you belong is already advocating for that. You may see it as necessary to helping yourself and others like you to resist the so-called “sinful urges.”
I have to think it takes a significant amount of emotional pain to dedicate your public life to screaming out to society “you have to stop me!” while being unable to admit that you are the one you need society to stop. It sounds like a horrific situation to me. Unfortunately, that translates into demands to oppress everyone who’s attracted to people of the same sex, regardless of whether they’re saddled with your same painful hangups.
I don’t know that this is the logic behind all cases of anti-LGBTQ advocacy on the part of people who turn out to be gay. Truthfully, I don’t know that it’s the logic behind any of them. But I can imagine it, or something similar to it, driving at least a few of them. That makes it hard for me to unequivocally condemn people when they get caught out. To me, these people are just as much victims of their religions as they are victimizers of the people who stand to be harmed by the laws they advocate. They are driven to harm themselves and others by fantasies, and it’s so much pointless pain and suffering. I just can’t gleefully pile on to these people, and I can’t just dismiss them as mere hypocrites. Compassion won’t let me.
There’s another layer to this, too, in that it’s not really my fight. I can sympathize with LGBTQ people, and advocate for them. But, being a cis hetero guy, I just haven’t been subject to the same kind of harm as those who are part of the community. Maybe I’d feel different if I were, and I’m certainly not lecturing anyone on how they should feel. This is just where I’m at, myself.