I’ve been reading through a new volume of essays on matters of Religious Freedom, LGBT Rights, and the Prospects for Common Ground…
which, uh, also happens to be its title. It has a wide range of views presented, and as with any such essay the contributions are of varying quality. But still, it’s a helpful reference to have for some of the latest arguments on each side.
Shannon Price Minter’s contribution isn’t the most rigorous or academic of the bunch, but I found it provocative nonetheless. Minter is a transgender man who is the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. I met him once, and found him to be unfailingly polite and kind. That comes through in his essay, which focuses on the plight of LGBT youth in the midst of our culture wars.
Minter starts from the premise that the discussion of religious liberty and gay rights has to become more complicated in light of the fact that the two communities are not so distinct as they once were. As he observes, the trope of ‘peaceful coexistence’ that tends to permeate discussions of reconciling these two competing factions fails to recognize that many LGBT young people wish to remain within their church communities and families. That is, the two groups have been reified into monolithic blocks—and it is young people who get caught in the middle. And the presumption that the two groups are founded entirely on voluntary associations themselves obscure the particular challenges that young people face when they experience desires that their community deems deviant.
All this might be setup for haranguing conservatives for their failure to help young LGBT people—and there is a little of that. But the more interesting and surprising turn is the way Minter critiques his own community for similarly failing to care for such young people. As he notes, the LGBT movement has “nothing to say” to a young man or his family who might want to remain within their religious communities. “If one were to survey the entire LGBT movement, with all its organizations and resources, to identify the education, information, or services provided to conservative families raising LGBT children, the answer would be almost none.” Instead, the LGBT movement has offered a single narrative to such young people: self-exile. The premise, Minter argues, behind Dan Savage’s ‘It Gets Better’ campaign is that it gets better when you leave—your home, your family, your town.
Now, I don’t have any particular hopes or desire that the LGBT activist community reach out to such families and offer them counsel for how to support their children who are experiencing same-sex sexual desire. Quite the opposite, in fact; I should prefer they not offer any kind of guidance at all to such families. Revoice is a community trying to help individuals and parents navigate such waters
, in ways that I am much
more confident will bear fruit for the Kingdom. But there is within Minter’s approach a skepticism toward the programmitized and spectacular forms of activism that have marked our culture wars. As he puts it, the support that young people need “may bear little resemblance to an idealized secular version of acceptance and support.”
At the same time, Minter suggests this complicated context has a political dimension to it. Minter supports bans on reparative therapy, for instance, on grounds that it putatively harms LGBT young people. But he also contends that LGBT activists should pursue more low-stakes, informal dialogues with religious communities—rather than opting to pursue legislation that would remove funding from religious schools, or the like. Minter cites the experience of California in that respect, and suggests that among its many effects it made it harder for those working within religious communities to support LGBT youth, as the “specter of potentially losing state funding caused anger and fear, leading some conservative religious schools to become more entrenched against considering new approaches to LGBT students.”
As a matter of cause and effect, that seems exactly right to me. Progressive overreach has vindicated every conservatives’ worst fears about the effects of enshrining gay marriage into constitutional law (including, I hasten to add, my own). But the aggression and the counterreaction have left in its terrible wake a wide swath of individuals whose need for pastoral support has been subordinated to the public displays of little-orthodoxies of both the progressive and conservative variety. You probably cannot fight a war without innocent people being swept up into its destruction—and you probably cannot fight a culture war without the same thing happening.