Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Milk(ing) the Gays

My partner and I went to see Milk last night, and it was fantastic and Sean Penn was phenomenal. My partner cried the last twenty minutes of the film--in a good way, I think--and I was profoundly moved, though not to tears, since that's really not my style. I highly recommend that everyone go see Milk and then tell everyone you know to go see Milk and ask yourself if much has really changed. In all fairness, a lot has changed, for the better, but some things are still very much the same, particularly anti-gay rhetoric, the same arguments and illogical reasoning rehashed now for over thirty years. They use actual clips from some of Anita Bryant's 1970s anti-gay speeches in the film, and it was striking how much they resonate now at this very moment. In the same breath that she proclaims she "loves" gay people (like she probably "loves" all "sinners," in hopes they will find Jesus and repent), she decries homosexuality as a vile sin and states her hopes that one day homosexuality will be made illegal (and persecutable). This sounds incredibly familiar, even more so now that Melissa Etheridge--and this frustrates and baffles me more than anything--has come out and defended Pastor Warren. Melissa Etheridge. Yes. I am serious. She posted an open letter on The Huffington Post:
As I was winding down the promotion for my Christmas album I had one more stop last night. I'd agreed to play a song I'd written with my friend Salman Ahmed, a Sufi Muslim from Pakistan. The song is called "Ring The Bells," and it's a call for peace and unity in our world. We were going to perform our song for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a group of Muslim Americans that tries to raise awareness in this country, and the world, about the majority of good, loving, Muslims. [...] I received a call the day before to inform me of the keynote speaker that night... Pastor Rick Warren. I was stunned. My fight or flight instinct took over, should I cancel? Then a calm voice inside me said, "Are you really about peace or not?"

I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids.
Sounds to me like he liked your album and he charmed you a bit, Ms. Etheridge. Not only that, a lot of people are willing to be kind and friendly and tolerant to one person (not to mention one famous person), but still believe, quite fervently, that homosexuals as a group are vile and evil and sinful. Melissa Etheridge's partner, Tammy Lynn, has this brilliant bit to add (pardon my sarcasm, I'm a bit piqued), on her blog (H/T to the The Bilerco Project):
rick is not a televangelist. rick is not falwell. rick spoke of some "stupid" things he's said (his word, not mine), some missquotes that were given, and lots of ammunition from the media. all excellent points. (we're all war-minded right now, you know. it's easy for the media to distract us by throwing us into our own verbal wars here at home.) ) what to do, what to do.... the rest of the public is given an animation of rick warren... and then my wife meets the man behind the projections, the quotes, the "OTHER SIDE". and he is warm, caring, effusive, and LOVES gays. since he nearly swallowed honey when he hugged her, i tend to believe him. he wants our gay marriages to be just as respected and embraced as the straight marriages.
Ha! Pastor Warren's pro-gay marriage now? Really? That'll be the day. Hell hath indeed frozen over if you're willing to believe that he's changed his mind (not to mention his church's stance on homosexuality) just like that. Or is he publicly opposed but privately in favor of gay marriage? Somehow that seems extraordinarily doubtful...and highly problematic...and hogwash if I've ever heard it.

And one more thing: Ms. Etheridge, please don't presume to tell me what to think about someone who I personally find completely insidious, who has insulted me and those I love:

They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.

Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us.

We should volunteer for his church's causes (when there are plenty of other non-bigoted HIV/AIDS causes out there dying for volunteers and donations)? Excuse me? What sort of public steps is Pastor Warren going to take to make amends to and build bridges with the LGBTQ community? Is he going to publicly apologize for what he's said about us (and no, saying he's sorry to you in private, Ms. Etheridge, is not the same thing)? Is he going to publicly state that he's gay-positive and believes queer folks deserve equal civil rights, gay marriage, and legal protections of all kinds? I highly doubt he's going to do any of those things. I think he's going to say to you, Ms. Etheridge, that's he sorry and that he "loves" gays (just like the lovely Anita Bryant many years ago) and then he's going to continue to preach to his congregation that homosexuality is a sin and he's going to continue to support anti-gay and anti-woman causes. Don't you realize, Ms. Etheridge, that now you're just his token gay woman whom he can hold up to the world to demonstrate his "tolerance"? I'm all for peace and acceptance and good will and gestures of good faith, but I wouldn't want to be the person who helps him pretend he's really all down with women and homosexuals (two for one, what a deal!) while behind-the-scenes he can continue to promote intolerance and hatred. Do you really want to be Pastor Warren's beard, Melissa Etheridge? Really?

Update: Holly over at Feministe also has a great take on this in an open letter to Melissa and Tammy Lynn.


Unknown said...

Is she kidding? Of all people, MELISSA FUCKING ETHERIDGE has come out in support of Rick Warren? That is almost more offensive than Obama offering Warren the invite in the first place!

He isn't antoi-gay because he owns her albums? That's like saying, "I don't hate gay people! I have a gay friend!" "I'm not racist, my best friend is black!"

It doesn't change anything. Shame on you, Melissa. I thought you knew better than that.

vast.tv said...

Britni, I know. It's completely mind-boggling. She let herself be taken in by his flattery and just expects the rest of the queer/allied community to just follow along because she's famous and, apparently, knows better than all of us how Pastor Warren really feels about homosexuals (even though she admits herself she'd never heard of him until a few days ago)!

And for some reason it seems almost more insulting than Obama's original invite, too. I knew Obama was a politician when I helped elect him--with all the machinations and playing the field that makes politicians what they are--and I knew that he was iffy on the gay marriage issue and that gay rights were not his top priority by a long shot. I'm disappointed in his choice, but I'm not surprised. But Melissa Etheridge? She should know better than to become Pastor Warren gay poster girl. Especially when she knows very little about him except that he likes her albums.