“This is an LGBT list, not a GLBT list.”
That was the single line sent back from a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender mailing list informing me why the post I had just submitted was rejected. It’s been said that you can’t really convey emotion within the flat one dimensional world of email. Conventional wisdom be damned, the snide, superior tone of this one line came through loud and clear. I had breached an unspoken protocol of the GLBT—er, the LGBT—community.
Well, I suppose it’s unspoken now. After a bit of controversy over who should be first in the corporate identity for our community—all the truly good, and honorable, and tolerant LGBT people know that GLBT is anathema to the community. Put the “G” in front of the “L” and you’ll be tagged as a woman-hating, Falwell-loving, pitiable Neanderthal. Everyone knows that it’s LGBT, not GLBT. In an effort to be good feminists, lesbians must always trump gay men in the alphabet soup of acceptance and tolerance. Letter switching is unacceptable and must not be tolerated.
Which brings me to my question: Why is a community that has spent decades seeking tolerance—if not acceptance—from wider society so intolerant of members within its own community?
I first hit my head against this intractable paradox at a conference for, to use the phrase “correctly”—LGBT Christians. The leader of this fine group gave a pre-conference presentation to a group of religious leaders, including myself. His presentation was slick, funny and enjoyable, until he came to the point where he asserted that unless one accepts the literal bodily resurrection of Christ as historic fact, one cannot claim to be a Christian. As someone who remains agnostic, if not unbelieving, with regard to this particular religious assertion, I naturally bristled.
I found it fascinating that a group of Christians who are constantly told that they can’t be Christians because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, would turn around to members of their own community and tell them they could not be Christian unless they believed in this doctrine or that dogma. My head swam with the irony: A group of Christians stung by the “you can’t be Christian” assertion making it’s own “you can’t be Christian assertion.” But what truly boggles the mind is that the man making the assertion completely missed the irony. He was dead serious—deny the resurrection and you’re not a Christian—no matter what your sexual orientation. The ultimate irony, though, is that he didn’t even understand the depth of his own intolerant hypocrisy. In his mind, he was not discriminating—he was simply stating a doctrinal fact: Christians believe in the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus.
Lu-in Wang, professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, writes in her book Discrimination by Default: How Racism Becomes Routine:
Today, more people seem to embrace egalitarian values and to truly want to treat others fairly. Certainly, they want to see themselves as the kind of people who would not discriminate. Most people probably do not realize the extent to which they do discriminate, however, because they are acting on unconscious biases—whether cognitive (race and other group-based stereotypes), motivational (the desire to maintain and promote the interests of their own group), sociocultural (internalized societal values, beliefs, and traditions), or a combination thereof.
When it’s put that way, I have to plead guilty. I discriminate on a regular basis. I am constantly surprised by people who I have prejudged: white people who aren’t racist, older white Southerners who are liberal Democrats, rich white people who work on the behalf of the poor, black people who aren’t homophobic, the list is endless.
Intermittently, I preach at a Unitarian Universalist church in a small South Carolina town where one would not believe a UU church would exist (another pre-judgment?). Looking at the faces of the all-white congregation, you’d think you stepped into a Southern Baptist church—though each of them is a confirmed liberal. But, if I had met any of them on a street corner, I would have guessed they were Reagan Republicans. So much for my astute judgment when it comes to the human heart and character. (Although, I was dead on the money with Sarah Palin.)
Back to the GLBT vs. LGBT controversy, I admit I’ve always been what a friend of mine calls, “a piss-poor feminist.” I don’t care if the “G” comes before the “L.” I don’t feel slighted in the least and I don’t see a big movement swelling in the “B” and “T” community to have their letters take a turn in the coveted first slot. If anything, the elevation of “L” to the front of the alphabet feels like a bit of a pander—a bone tossed to the feminists so they’ll quite their harping about being discriminated against, even in their own community.
Despite leading the GBT pack, I don’t regularly feel the loving feminism of the “G” crowd. I vividly recall attending an LGBT employee advocacy group meeting when I worked for a major cable network. I went with a “G” friend of mine. We met the advocacy group leader—another “G”—who warmly welcomed my friend and coldly shook my hand, never to make eye contact with me or acknowledge my presence for the rest of the night. It was my last meeting with that group.
The intolerance of the tolerance-seekers again reared its ugly head. It’s anecdotal evidence, sure, but I have more examples than space permits. The truth of the matter is misogyny is alive and well in the GLBT community, no matter how many times they open the door for an “L” or staunchly defend the LGBT-ness of their mailing list (yes, the moderator is a man).
Until the GLBT community can come to grips with its own intolerance and discrimination, it’s fairly hypocritical for us to ask for the rest of church and society to tolerate and accept us. We must hear the call of “physician, heal thyself” before we can hope to have the larger church and society take us seriously. Yes, we all unconsciously discriminate, but if we are to be serious about ending discrimination, we must do more than adamantly defend our own status quo and demand that others honor it.
Oh, by the way, I “corrected” all the GLBT’s in my post to LGBT’s and my post was accepted to the group. In the end the peer pressure of intolerance works, I suppose. Damn my conformity.