Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tragedy and bigotry: the wounding of Larry Craig.

The Larry Craig incident is taking on the air of a tragedy. The indications that Mr. Craig is gay are, in my opinion, rather strong. There are just too many “misunderstandings” in his past to overlook. And the more he continues to deny it the more people come forward to confirm it. It certainly looked bad for him when he jumped to the forefront, denying he had sex with male pages in Congress--when his name had not been mentioned in that case. He was then in his 40s and said the rumors were due to his being single. He then married conveniently proposing to his wife only six months after the scandal.

The first stories of his dalliances with men come from his college days. He was in a fraternity and a pledge in that fraternity says that Craig tried to have sex with him. Craig says the man was lying. Another “lying” individual was a man in Washington who says that Craig picked him up in the toilet at Union Station. Another “lying” man said that Craig had tried to pick him up in Boise.

And one woman who dated Craig said he never as much held her hand and that she felt “like I was an accessory. I might as well have been his briefcase.”

Then there is the little matter of the police officer who was trying to entrap gay men in a toilet and ended up with a Senator. Craig stupidly put in a guilty plea. I say stupidly because it is relatively apparent that he had not actually violated the law. Merely indicating a willingness to have sex with someone is not a crime. And, since the location of said sex was not discussed prior to the arrest, he couldn’t be charged with trying to have sex in a public place. His desire to sweep the arrest under the rug actually made matters worse.

The Idaho Statesman newspaper has been looking into these rumours for the last year, long before Craig’s tap dance in the toilet. And they interviewed Craig about this. He sat and listened to an interview tape with some of the men who had said they had sex with him, his wife at his side. Suzanne Craig started crying as she heard the tape.

None of this is conclusive proof. But the cumulative impact of the evidence indicates a problem with Craig’s denials. They don’t seem to ring true.

The great sadness here is that Craig could be one of the more decent Republicans. The same was true for Mark Foley. Both were better than the party they represented. And I suspect both were pushed into more extreme moralistic positions, to satisfy the American Taliban, than they would have preferred. The harm done to the Republican Party by the Religious Right is astounding if you start to add it up.

But the harm done to individuals like Craig is even more shocking. The reality is that the fundamentalist view on homosexuality is about as realistic and rational as the the Holy Inquisition was on witches. It is not science, it is not reason. It is mythology and superstition.

Of course, just because there were no witches doesn’t mean there were no witch hunts and that real people weren’t harmed. And today the primitive, authoritarian beliefs of the Religious Right have real victims as well. I’ve seen them, talked to them and even, during times when I worked the weekend shift on a peer counseling hotline, I’ve listened to their stories and tried to offer help.

Ted Haggard was caught with a male prostitute. He lied about it. Then he confessed his sins and said he had been dealing with his homosexuality his entire life. He goes off to be prayed over, and counseled for a couple of weeks, and announces a total “cure”. Right! It took only a short period of time to go right back into the same denial he was in for years before. As a former born-again Christian I know where this comes from. Many believe that one must claim a “healing” even when the evidence for it is not there. It is a “faith statement” which shows you trust God. And the more evidence that exists to prove that this is not the case, the more you must insist that a real healing took place.

I remember one weekend on the counseling hotline with a call coming in from a student at Moody Bible Institute. He was gay and couldn’t cope with it. Everything he was told at home, at church, at school, branded him. Yet his family, his church and his school didn’t know he was gay. He suffered in silence until that evening when he spoke to me. Messages of hate had been seared into his brain from childhood and he believed them.

It was at around this time that I was to give a paper at the national convention of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies dealing with counseling homosexuals. My views, to say the least, were out of the mainstream. As a result of that speech and other work I did on the topic, including co-authoring a pro-gay article in a major evangelical magazine --anonymously since I was then employed by an evangelical organization and the co-author was a minister at a Wheaton church--I was in touch with lots of individuals.

I listened to the stories of women who discovered their husbands were gay. They had been unknowingly turned into therapeutic tools in the hopes of “healing” a gay man. These women were not treated as whole individuals with a right to their own happiness, but merely as a means to “cure” gay men. And when it didn’t work out the way it was supposed to, these women were the ones dealing with shattered lives. In at least one case a husband infected his wife with HIV.

I was given a copy of a letter, the text of which I have kept now for many years. It broke my heart. A young man wrote this letter trying to explain decisions he made in his life. He was gay and a fundamentalist Christian. And as hard as he tried to stop being gay, he couldn’t do it. He went to the counseling programs. He sought out the “exgay ministries” and followed their instructions and over and over he found that he was still gay. No matter how much he tried to purge his mind things didn’t change.

He wrote a moving letter about his love for the wonderful life he had, his job, his family and, but he also wrote about his inability to “gain control” “no matter how much I prayed and tried to avoid the temptation, I continually failed.” He loved his faith so much he prefered to die at his own hands than ever be tempted with homosexuality again. He killed himself and begged his family and friends to understand that, no matter how much he loved his life, he loved God more. He wrote” "I regret if I bring sorrow to those that are left behind. If you get your hearts in tune with the word of God you will be as happy about my 'transfer' as I am. I also hope that this answers sufficiently the question, why? May God Have Mercy On My Soul.”

I remember driving through the streets of Chicago one evening. I was riding in a car though I can’t tell who was driving, or where I was going at the time. I can tell you about our approximate location. It wason the near north side of the city heading further north. We passed a gay bar surrounded by cop cars. I remember looking out the window as we drove by. The police were pulling men out the bar, one by one, and pushing them into the paddy wagon. It was a police raid for no other reason than the bar catered to gay men.

I have to wonder what Mr. Craig remembers of the series of arrests of gay men in Boise, Idaho, in 1955 when he was ten years old. Certainly the witch hunt there was widely discussed at the time and Mr. Craig would have felt his first same-sex attractions within a couple of years of that crusade to stamp out vice. Even today there are people in Idaho who still speak of that campaign. What impressions would that inflict on the mind of a young man growing up in Idaho grappling with his own sexuality? Certainly one gay man I knew, who grew up in the same area as Senator Craig, told me that he always knew of the anti-gay hysteria as a boy. (See a clip of a documentary on this case here.)

I have seen the tragedies inflicted on gay men and women by oppressive attitudes and false ideas. And I could see that many of the worst forms of oppression were self-inflicted. Ayn Rand wrote insightfully of a concept she called “the sanction of the victim.” This takes place when those who are victimized embrace the very beliefs that make their victimization possible. It is a form of treason, a betrayal of one’s own being.

I can't, however, comprehend the reason for such beliefs but I know patiently absurd beliefs can live a very long time. After all, there are still people who believe in Marxism. Like Marxism, the results of these beliefs have been almost entirely destructive yet they persist.

Craig’s actions are typical of the man trapped in the closet. They are destructive to himself and to those around him. His wife is suffering because of it. Even the conservatives, who love the moralistic campaigns, are being hurt by it.

The young man who took his life, rather than “sin” again, was not a victory for morality. A life was snuffed out needlessly because of false beliefs. I’ve met the young people thrown out of their homes by parents who won’t accept a gay child. I’ve listened to the pleas of individuals trapped in a conflict between their religion and their deepest character traits. I have talked to the wives who have experience grief and misery because a gay man was pushed into marrying.

Over and over tragedies are created. They are needless, wasteful, and destructive. They are evil. Larry Craig is one of those tragedies. Ted Haggard is another. So is Mark Foley. Families have been ripped apart, homes rent asunder, lives snuffed out, these are the results. Pain, misery, suffering, conflict, hate, violence; all are the fruits that grow on this tree of intolerance.

A couple of years ago I pledged to myself that I would never again ignore hate or accept intolerance. I will fight it because it is an evil that is wholly negative. I don’t care if it dressed up in religion or clothed in the semantics of morality or nationalism. I don’t care if “family values” or God are the excuses for it. I can’t stand to see this sort of pain. If anything I can do helps end this misery, or causes one person to change their mind, or one individual to learn self-acceptance, than I will be well pleased.

Some who visit this blog don’t understand my motivation. How could they? They didn’t see the things I saw nor hear the stories I heard. They were not witnesses to what I witnessed. They think I go over board. That’s fine, at the worst I only compensate for the many who do nothing when they see the ugly face of bigotry. I just reached the point where I decided I was too old to endure it one day more. And if it kills me in the process I will continue on.

I can’t stomach the misery these beliefs inflict. And Larry Craig’s sad story is just another example of that bigotry and what it does to people. His wife sat in that newspaper office crying because of it. He sought his companionship in secret places because of it. His career may end because of it.

It’s time to end the suffering. It’s time to stand up to hate every time it rears its head. And maybe, at some point in our humanity the need to hide in closets and to tell lies will disappear.

There are lyrics from two songs that, at different points in my life, have meant much to me. As music often does, they expressed things deep within myself at the time -- and they still do. One is the song Lonely Voices. The third stanza is one I think of most in this sad story.
Lonely eyes--I see them in the subway;
Burdened by the worries of the day.
Men at leisure, but they're so unhappy;
Tired of foolish roles they try to play.
Lonely people do I see;
Lonely people haunt my memory.
And while I cannot accept the religious values expressed in the last stanza of that song there are other lyrics that, to me, offer the answer to the needs expressed in Lonely Voices. These lyrics are written by a man who I thought was a musical genius and a poet: Jacque Brel, the Flemish singer. And while I am tempted to quote his entire song I have gone on far too long already. So instead, I will end with just a few words from Brel’s song If We Only Have Love:
If we only have love
For the hymn that we shout

For the song that we sing
Then we'll have a way out

If we only have love
We can reach those in pain
We can heal all our wounds
We can use our own names
I am adding below three versions of the Brel song. One is by Diane Warwick, the second is the original by Brel himself and the third is a duet performed by Celine Dion and Maurane. Unfortunately the version I love most couldn't be located -- the one done by the cast of the 1966 stage show, Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Pick which version you prefer, or all three. I actually listened to about a half dozen versions and was surprised to see how few are available in English.

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