How to fight the far right
My religious upbringing makes Pope Benedict XVI seem like barrel of laughs. I was raised in an evangelical Christian household in the Midwest. Twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday we would pile into the family car and drive 30 miles to the closest Church of Christ. This denomination is not to be confused with the gay-friendly United Church of Christ. The Church of Christ is its United counterpart's polar opposite. Here's what I learned there: Baptists were liberal, Catholics were hell-bound, musical instruments had no place in worship, no teens should go to prom because dancing might lead to sex, and if you weren't baptized, well, have fun burning in hell. We didn't have holidays--no Christmas, no Easter--because those celebrations had pagan origins. No one mentioned gay people. They were more interested in the fact that the 1925 Scopes monkey trial "proved" that evolution was incorrect and that my science book from junior high school was an abomination. I guess this is why I get so furious when I see antigay Christian conservatives riding a wave of self-righteousness and burning with the hope that they can take over this country's three branches of government. Their ability to rally and mobilize is translating into laws and judicial decisions that will have a profound effect on how we gay men and lesbians will live for decades to come. Haven't we had enough? Isn't it high time that we pushed back? The conservatives in this country are bullies. They are giving gays and lesbians a verbal and legislative gay bashing. After all the strides for equality that we've made, are we still too scared to stand up and tell them that they're not the only ones who can communicate with a higher power? As far as I'm concerned, they are finished making us feel guilty and ashamed of our sexuality. Here are some suggestions to how we can fight them. Call and e-mail your representatives in the U.S. Senate and House. Don't roll your eyes or skip to the next item. Stop here, take 15 minutes out of your Web surfing, and make the calls now. There's a reason the far right broadcast the office telephone numbers of moderate U.S. senators to 60 million-plus evangelicals on so-called Justice Sunday, April 24: Elected officials do pay attention to a flood of telephone calls. If the hundreds of thousands of gay men and lesbians who read Advocate.com every day put in one short phone call--and one short e-mail--to their representatives, the phone lines and in-boxes of this country's government would go berserk. Still haven't called? OK, I'll make it easy for you: The main switchboard for the U.S. House is (202) 224-2131. Tell the operator your zip code (you may need all nine digits in population-dense areas like Los Angeles, Houston, or New York), and he or she will connect you to your representative's office The main switchboard for the U.S. Senate is (202) 225-2131. Tell the operator what state you live in and he or she will connect you with the office of one of your two senators. When you're done with the first one, call back and ask for the second one. I've worked on Capitol Hill, so I can tell you how to go about making these calls. Once you're connected with your representative's or senator's office, a receptionist or intern will pick up the phone. Give that person your name and the city that you live in. Most offices are required to log the call, and the person may ask for your full address. The best lawmakers will get back to you--albeit with some sort of form letter. But you've made your voice heard. Tell the person who answers the phone to pass your message on to a legislative aide. What should you ask for? Tell them to vote against antigay judges who are being pushed by the Bush administration and filibustered by the Senate Democrats. Tell them to give gays and lesbians a role in how Social Security will be revamped. Tell them to not cave in to political pressure from the far right on social issues. If you have given the lawmaker money in the past, mention it. Tell them you are deciding if you want to give more money--but are taking a look at their voting record. Follow-up with an e-mail. You can get your senators' and representative's e-mail addresses from their official Web pages. Just go to www.senate.gov and www.house.gov and follow the links. (Again, for the House site, you may need your nine-digit zip code if you don't already know your rep's name.) Get your faith involved. If you belong to an organized religion, go to the leaders of your place of worship. Ask them to help you and other congregants to form a march or a protest. Maybe they can set up a debate with an ultraconservative congregation. Maybe there can be a joint worship service involving various congregations that disagree. If none of these ideas are appropriate to your situation, talk to sympathetic fellow worshippers and brainstorm what you can do. Form your own political action committee. Recruit members. Sponsor discussion groups at your church. Have a pro-equality potluck. Write joint letters to local and federal elected officials that talk about your faith and your belief in all-American fairness. Do something other than sitting silently during services on religious holidays. Put your faith to work. Contact the newspaper and local television stations. Who are the reporters in your community who cover religion? Are they fair? When they write about antigay groups, do they make sure to get a comment from a pro-gay religious groups? Or do they let the phrase "people of faith" represent only the far right? If they're not presenting your side of the story, fight back. Contact the reporter. Contact the editor. Contact the publisher. Don't make the mistake of replying to the general in-box for readers. Every person working at a newspaper has a personal e-mail. Find it. Don't let them off the hook. Pitch them story ideas. Reporters are always looking for new and different trend stories. Throw a party. Do you know your neighbors? Do they know you're gay? If you're in a committed relationship, do your neighbors think you're just roommates? Do they understand why you need your full civil rights, whether you're single or partnered? Do they know about the 1,138 rights--most of them federal--that marriage grants to couples and that civil unions do not? Invite your neighbors to come over for a drink (Coca-Cola, even). If you're braver, invite them for dinner. If you already have friends in the hood, throw a block party. Whatever you do, you don't have to become the event's angry defender of gay rights. They'll learn by your example. Give them fresh-brewed iced tea. Talk about the kids--yours, theirs, nephews, nieces, godchildren, whatever. Talk about the weather. Really get to know them. Maybe a friendship will develop--and maybe the next time that they encounter a ballot box, they won't vote for antigay laws. Find the influential gays in your area. In most communities--especially the more urban ones--there are gay men and lesbians who are rich beyond words. Some people call them the "A-gays." These are the people who have major connections to state and national lawmakers. They can write a check for thousands--if not hundreds of thousands--of dollars to politicians and causes. They can get important people on the phone in an instant. Get to know them. Maybe they can form a monthly breakfast club where various speakers are brought in. That's already happening in many cities. This is an important point for the gay men and lesbians who live in the Seattle area, for example. Who are the movers and shakers who will be willing to stand up to Microsoft's decision to back out of supporting the recently failed gay rights bill? Who are the people who can reach the higher-ups at the software giant and explain to them that they've made a huge, huge mistake that will interfere with reaching their gay consumers? Contact your local gay rights organizations. I have been stunned at the lack of help and resources that many local gay rights organizations have in various small and midsize towns I've visited. Sometime there are only a couple dozen people for an entire state. They cannot do it alone and are in desperate need of volunteers. They are in desperate need of money. I'm not talking about a 40-hour-a-week commitment or thousands of dollars. Maybe devote a couple hours a week. Maybe give $50. Do something. This is especially important when you find that your community is involved in a fight for gay equality. When those moments occur--when a hatemonger like the Reverend Fred Phelps has come to town--those groups need gay men and lesbians to speak to the media, to hold marches, to hold protests. They need them to staff events. Mail letters. They need local residents to go house to house during elections. Don't know how to find them? Log on to the Internet, go to www.google.com and do a search. There are gay men and lesbians around you who are doing amazing work--from the largest national groups to the smallest villages in this country. They have taken on low pay and long hours to fight this battle. I recently had phone conversations with various gay and lesbian leaders in Peoria, Ill. They are in the process of forming a new gay group. They are currently looking at how to be the most inclusive. They are fighting an uphill battle in that conservative town. But they have guts to try something. Now get off your butt and get involved. Don't let the homophobes parading around as Christians tell you how to live your life.