Posts Tagged ‘homosexuality’

I read an article on BuzzFeed yesterday that really upset me. According to the article, emails from the University of Chicago’s chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a historically Jewish fraternity, had been released and revealed a culture of racism and Islamaphobia within the chapter. The N-word was used prolifically, Muslims were called “terrorists” or “towel heads”, a vacant lot next to the fraternity’s house was called “Palestine”, and some of the brothers turned MLK Day into “Marathon Luther King Day”, celebrating with drinking and eating at a fried chicken place.

Over the past couple of years, stories about fraternities and some of the disgusting things going on within their walls have been coming out. Every time I’m absolutely disgusted, but this one hit me in a number of ways. For one thing, I have friends who are part of the Ohio State chapter of AEPi. They are good people, upstanding young men connected to their heritage and active in the broader community. To think they are in any way associated with this scandal just horrifies me.

Alpha Epsilon Pi’s University of Chicago branch is in deep trouble for the emails that have been uncovered.

But that’s only one level that this hit me on. Because this story also brought back memories from when I was young:

I went to a Jewish overnight camp from fifth grade to tenth grade. During my last year or two there, I noticed a disturbing trend among the boys in my year. Swearing was a regular part of camp culture–even the counselors swore on occasion–so saying “shit” or the F-bomb didn’t make me bat an eye. In fact, I reveled in it. We were being adult, we were being naughty. It was great.

But then I heard my friends calling each other “n***er”, and occasionally “faggot” or “fag”.

Understand, there were no black kids or staff on the camp, at least not as far as I know. This was also well before I realized I was bisexual. And my friends assured me their black friends were cool with it.

Even if I believed them, I still told them that I wasn’t comfortable with it, that they shouldn’t say it, or at least not around me.

Maybe it’s because I was bullied a lot back in the third grade (most of it verbal) and it left a big impact on me, but I’m sensitive to when people use words to hurt others. Especially those words. As much as words only have meaning if we give them meaning, these words do carry a meaning bred in deep history, and the meanings are not easily separated from the words. Every time a white person uses the N-word, they’re saying that African-Americans are lesser beings, second-class citizens and do not have the same rights as people with light skin. Every time someone calls a Jew a kike (like when, after a soccer match between my all-Jewish high school and a school of mostly African-American Christians, the opposing team began using the word after they lost the game and things nearly came to blows), that someone is calling the Jewish people a strange people, a parasite that takes money and power and killed the Christian God. Every time someone calls someone else a fag, they’re saying that there’s something inhuman or strange or obscene about being LGBT. And every time someone–not just a fraternity brother–calls a Muslim or a Palestinian a terrorist, they’re saying that entire religion is incapable of being peaceful, that their whole goal is destruction. That’s all completely wrong, and there’s not excuse to use those words.

Even if I had been as eloquent then as I am now, I doubt that would’ve swayed my friends, because they continued saying those words without any care to my feelings. Even when the head counselor of our year had a discussion with us one evening about how disgusting we were being. Even after, while on a field trip to the city, my friend said the N-word and it was almost overheard by a passing black man. They just went on saying all those nasty words and by doing so, they were saying it was okay to say words charged with prejudice and not care whom it might hurt.

For the first time today I wondered if any of my camp friends ended up at University of Chicago, and then at the school’s chapter of AEPi. Those camps have the effect of bringing Jewish teens closer to their heritage. Maybe some of my friends went there and brought some of their bad habits with them.

Believe it or not, this is some of the nicer things this sort of uncaring attitude can lead to.

The only time I approve of those words are when they’re used in mediums like literature or film to illustrate a particular time period or mindset, like in Huckleberry Finn or even in my own Reborn City. The rest of the time, there’s no good reason to say that trash. Not only is it hurtful to the people those words denote, they are harmful to the people saying those words, desensitizing them to the effects of these words. At best, that leads to dumb crap from fraternities and doddering old men in front of cameras or near cell phones. At worst, that leads to hate groups, violence, and lynchings or shootings in churches.

My hope that in the wake of this scandal, people–especially students and teenagers–realize that you can’t be blase about saying the N-word or calling people terrorists because of where they’re from or what their beliefs are. They’re hurtful. They’re damaging. And I hope that maybe the backlash these students will get will teach them and others what happens when you’re not cognizant of the feelings of others.

And I hope my friends from those long ago days aren’t members of that fraternity, and that they learned long before this what your words can do to themselves and to others.

Yesterday, arguments on four consolidated cases relating to same-sex marriage began in the Supreme Court. The cases mostly have to do with the legality and constitutionality of same-sex bans in certain states, and if states have to recognize same-sex marriages from out of state, that sort of thing. According to the New York Times article I just read, things went about as expected: the justices were divided along the traditional party lines, though Justice Kennedy seemed to show some sympathy towards the couples opposing the ban. Not a bad start, in my opinion. And considering how the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 and the recent tide of marriage victories in states across the country, LGBT advocates have good reason to be hopeful.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you already know that I am openly bisexual (if you’re new here and this is your first time hearing this, surprise!). I also have friends and family who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, as well as many different straight people. I’ve written an article about how the Bible could actually allow homosexuality rather than demonize it and I wrote a follow up article to that defending my beliefs. And from my perspective on this, these cases are about more than just marriage, though that’s a big part of it. It’s about making people feel equal to everyone else. It’s about acknowledging that LGBT are people, and deserve to be treated as people.

I first started realizing my sexual orientation during the fall semester of 2013, though I’d had inklings of it over the years. You know what the first emotion I felt was upon realizing I was bisexual? Fear. Because even though I knew so many LGBT people, that they and many others are accepted by the general populace, that the country is moving towards being more accepting and that by the time I had kids LGBT people will be fully-accepted members of society.

I was afraid. Because in many places, including places where the LGBT community is strong and loved, there are people who are scared to come out, that there are places where being out or suspected of being LGBT can get you ostracized or even killed, that there are plenty of people who hate me and the LGBT community because of our very existence, maybe even kill us in some cases.

And that scared me. Nobody wants to be hated, to be cursed to death for our existence, We all want to be accepted. But I had to accept myself and eventually I did. And then I came out, and I was loved and supported. But what about other people, those who can’t come out or be themselves because they’re afraid of how the people in their lives will treat them? Where they’re considered less than human, monsters masquerading and mistreating the human body? Why should they be unable to accept who they are?

Now I know that granting a marriage license won’t solve homophobia in America or worldwide overnight. But it’s a good start. Marriage is something that every kid knows about before they grasp the concept of death or where babies come from. It’s one of those things that’s made to be something magical, powerful, a bond that is not easily questioned or taken for granted without consequences. Imagine the good that can do if we as a nation extend that to everyone no matter their genetic predisposition (yes, it’s genetic, they’re finding more and more evidence of that every damn day, and no amount of praying is going to change that, just as no amount of praying is going to turn me into Vin Diesel) towards whom they’re attracted.

And extending marriage to same-sex couples isn’t going to cheapen marriage, or negatively impact heterosexual marriage, or hurt kids. All the research that says it will has been proven false or doesn’t actually exist. Clergy aren’t going to be forced to perform marriages they don’t believe in, because there is always going to be a clergyperson who does want to perform such a ceremony or there’s a courthouse where the marriage can be performed. And traditional marriage won’t be thrown out the window, because traditional marriage isn’t really a thing to begin with. Marriages used to be business deals between the heads of two households, with the creation of a new family as part of the deal. It was only during the late 17th and early 18th centuries that daughters had any say in their spouses, and only much later on that love became a major consideration in marriage arrangements. So marriage as we know it might only be 100 years old or so.

And believe it or not, there have been partnerships in this country between people of the same sex that were considered like marriage or as marriage. Several Native American tribes allowed for same-sex marriages (people attracted that way were considered special in the tribe) and after America was established there were same-sex marriages by their neighbors, including James Buchanan. Yeah, one of our Presidents. Prior to his time in the White House, Buchanan had a ten year partnership with a man named William Rufus King (later Vice President to Franklin Pierce) and in later years wrote to a member of the Roosevelt family about wooing several gentlemen without much success.

With all this, I think it’s important that the Supreme Court make a decision that reflects what I know is true: that just because someone is born a certain way doesn’t mean they are wrong or evil or they need to be changed. They just need to be given the same protections and opportunities as everyone else. In other words, they need to be treated like everyone else. And making that the law of the land with one of the most beautiful bonds one can create between two people is a good way to begin with that.

Thank you for reading.

I’m going to tell everyone a midrash, a story that helps to explain aspects of Judaism, and which may or may not be true, depending on the story. This story, no matter how you look at it, is very interesting and helps to explain why I’m able to give these reinterpretations.

The story dates back to the writing of the Talmud. Several rabbis were trying to decide on an issue of kashrut, or dietary law. Eventually all the rabbis except one decided a certain way on the issue, with the remaining rabbi insisting he alone was right. This rabbi, who was apparently so learned that he could teach Harry Potter a thing or two (my own phrasing, not the story’s), said that if he was right, then the walls in the study house would cave in, a tree would move from one place to another, and that the river outside would flow backwards. Sure enough, the walls started to lean in, a tree walked across the ground, and the river started flowing backwards. With each occurrence the other rabbis would remind the rebellious rabbi that walls, trees, and rivers don’t decide matters of Jewish law (and they chided the walls for trying to bring themselves down when it wasn’t their conflict). Finally the rebellious rabbi said, “If I am right, let a heavenly voice confirm it!”

At that moment a great voice from above was heard saying, “Follow this rabbi’s opinion!” The other rabbis, instead of cowering and giving in, replied to the voice, “Matters of law are now on Earth, not in Heaven.” The heavenly voice replied, “My sons have bested me.”

What does this tale tell, besides the fact that apparently Talmudic rabbis were said to be quite powerful? Besides the teaching that a majority rule is stronger than a single zealot (and the rebellious rabbi later became a heretic and was excommunicated, interestingly enough), the story shows that once God gave the Jewish people the Torah at Mt. Sinai, it was in their hands, and therefore they had to decide how to interpret it. So basically while some may claim that LGBT people and their allies are going to hell and claim the Bible says so, I can claim just as much that that law no longer applies and that LGBT people and their allies are just as holy as anyone else. And guess what? We can both be right!

I tell this story because a lot of people’s arguments and opposition to LGBT rights are based on a singular interpretation of the Bible, so alternative interpretations of the Bible can be just as legitimate as traditional ones. I also tell this story because, while two opinions can both be right, sometimes one opinion may have more reason to be right than the other (as in the ruling of the majority in the story). For example, I can say that I believe both evolution and the Genesis story to be right. I can’t ignore that dinosaurs, the fossil record, and the distance travelled by the light of certain stars make evolution seem more right than Genesis (which I tend to view as a metaphor for the Big Bang and evolution that humanity is too stupid to understand at this point in our existence).

No denying it: gay people are born that way. It’s in their DNA.

Understanding this, let us look at what science has proven: that sexuality is a genetic trait, and that multiple genes make up sexuality, so multiple sexualities arise. Some people, like a pastor I had the displeasure of hearing speak out on the Oval at OSU this spring, claims that meant homosexuality is a genetic defect. But that would mean there would have to be a loss or impairment of quality of life for the affected. If anything, the scientific method has shown through studies that people who are open about their sexuality and accepted for it tend to live happier lives. It’s only when they try to deny, change, or hide their sexuality that there is some impairment.

Likewise, this also means that homosexuality isn’t a lifestyle, or something you can indoctrinate youth into. As I said, differing sexualities are genetic, and you can’t pray away, condition someone, or ban something so caught up in the very DNA in a person.

Now, some might ask about my previous post, where I said that homosexuality was commonplace in Greece in a ritualized form. I say that was a form of cultural homosexuality. It was done because it was part of the culture, everyone was doing it, and nobody could see any reason not to do it. Plus, having a male lover was a choice, not a requirement. You could almost compare it to video games: everyone seems to play video games these days, and most people don’t see a reason not to play them if you can. (I know that we’re talking about two very different things here, but you get the idea, right?)

In any case, I’ve said what I wanted to say about the Bible, religion, and homosexuality before Pride weekend here in Columbus. I hope you enjoyed the posts I’ve written and perhaps were given some food for thought. And if you’re in the Columbus area this weekend and are looking for some fun, come to Pride. Leave the picketing signs at home, and have a blast. I’ll see you there.

With the Columbus Pride Festival coming up this weekend, LGBT people from around the country (including George Takei as Grand Marshal for events this year) will be descending upon Columbus for a huge parade and festival to celebrate their sexual orientations, fight discrimination and injustice, and to push for same-sex marriage in Ohio, which is on the ballot this year. It’s sure to be a great time for many.

For some though, the Pride Festival will not be so welcome, and while Columbus may be one of the Midwest’s LGBT hotspots, there is the very real chance that protesters will show up and decry what they see as perversion, sin a horrible lifestyle, or some sort of disease/genetic defect/psychological disorder. Usually I ignore these sorts of people, but I figured that since I’ll most likely be attending the Pride Festival this year (my first), I thought it would be interesting to do a post on these protestors, most of whom have a Biblical basis for why they’re opposed to homosexuality, and show how the Bible could actually endorse homosexuality rather than outright ban it.

Before I do though, I wanted to post this video I found, which I think is very eye-opening, and gives some very good points on the Bible and homosexuality:

Interesting, isn’t it? And that thing about Sodom and Gomorrah mirrors pretty closely what I learned growing up about why those cities were destroyed. In fact, I remember a pretty graphic tale about how two girls met at a well, one realized the other’s family was very poor and gave her some flour for her family. When the town elders heard about it, they basically took the first girl and stoned her in public (I’m not sure what happened to the second girl, but she probably came away from that emotionally scarred and still hungry, if not dead). And if you want to know more about that book they talked about in the video, here’s a TIME magazine article on it.

I would like to add some points on to these, based on my own upbringing, experience, and understanding of the Old Testament (I’m not very familiar with the New Testament of course, being Jewish). First, that famous verse in Leviticus that anti-gay pastors love to quote, “Thou shall not sleep with a man as thou sleeps with a woman”. First off, what can women do? Second, this sounds like a prohibition against homosexuality, but it could have other meanings.

Of course, there’s the anatomical one: men can’t sleep with other men like they can with women, because men don’t have vaginas. But I’m pretty sure that argument, although obvious, won’t sway many people, so here’s two more that might. Firstly, there’s the patriarchal argument: women in the days when the Bible was written were expected to attend to their husband’s sexual needs, and most likely that meant they had no say in it unless they were impure and couldn’t have sex anyway. In an age where men were expected to be dominant in all matters, especially in the home, forcing one man to attend to another man’s sexual needs at the latter’s beck and call would be considered the ultimate emasculation, so therefore sex between men was forbidden.

The other reason (and the one I feel makes the most sense), is based on pagan idol worship. Many Near East and Mediterranean societies practiced homosexuality, not as a distinct orientation, but as an activity. The Greeks were famous for having relationships between other males before marriage, and there were other societies at the time that had cultures that permitted men to have relationships with each other before or after marriage. Some of these relationships were especially prevalent in military circles to increase unit cohesion, and a few were ritualized in the form of idol worship. God would have seen this latter act, worship of idols through sexual intercourse, as detestable, so He created a form of worship and sacrifice that did not involve sex, and forbade a form of sex that does not lead to procreation, as well as because it was used in idol worship.

There’s a pretty big difference between this and emasculation or idol worship, wouldn’t you say?

Since today there is no idol worship through sex (as far as I know), it would be permissible for same-sex relations to occur. Besides, these interpretations deal with a form of emasculation or idol worship. They do not apply to men, women, or other gender-types who are in loving, committed relationships like we see today.

There are other factors to consider here as well. For example, there is the belief that marriage should be as it is in the Bible. If that’s the case though, why do we outlaw polygamy and women can choose who they marry? Not to mention the definition of marriage and marriage roles have changed throughout the years, so it’s no surprise that it’s being changed in our day and age and “pro-marriage” activists shouldn’t be alarmed. And even if not always legally accepted or endorsed by religious establishments, same-sex relationships have been taking place for many, many years. There have been relationships between high-ranking clergymen and other men since the early days of the Church, but it was tolerated because of fear of worse sins, ones that at the time that were considered venereal.

Even during waves of religious upheaval, reformation, or resurgence, same-sex relationships flourished: Queen Elizabeth may have been a lesbian, and several members of her court were gay and able to get away with it due to their status. King James–of the Bible translation–actually had several relationships with men as well as women. And recently there was an article from The Boston Globe about two women who lived together and were treated as married…in 1807! So even if it’s not exactly legal, same-sex marriage is not exactly as new as cell phones.

This post is getting very long, so I’m going to continue this discussion in another one. I hope some of you who read this post found it informative and may have given you some food for thought. I don’t think it’ll sway anyone who’ll protest at Pride this weekend, but it may sway some people who are undecided on the issue. Or that it may prove helpful for those who want to try to reconcile homosexuality with religion.

Oh, and before you wonder what sort of religious authority I am, I can only say that I’m the son of two Conservative rabbis, I went to a Jewish day school from Grades 4-12, I’ve gone to synagogue for most of my life, and I still learn and keep in touch with my religion. So I may not be a rabbi or pastor, but I’ve done as much studying as some, and more than some others. I guess I can speak with some authority on these matters. What do you say?

*I will be screening the comments for offensive, inappropriate, or just plain rude comments. Be warned.*