Thursday, October 14, 2010

Combining Efforts for Equality

As you all probably know, last Monday was National Coming Out Day. The outpouring of love and support for GLBT rights was both inspiring and heartwarming . . . and absolutely needed, given the number of gay teen suicides we’ve been hearing about. The fight for GLBT equality has been going strong for decades, and while we’ve made progress, it’s clear that we’re not out of the woods yet. That first step toward equality – coming out of the closet – is still necessary.

It’s no secret that I’m part of another minority group in this country: I don’t believe in god(s). I’m also a part of Seattle Atheists, a local nonprofit that strives to support and provide community for those who have no religion, educate people about atheism, and stand up against religious discrimination. As an activist movement, atheists haven’t had quite as much time to get the ball rolling. Again, that first step – coming out – is just as important for us. We can’t educate the public and fight for our rights if we’re invisible.

That of course led us to an interesting dilemma in the weeks preceding the GLBT Coming Out Day. Many of us considered the idea of making a joint effort to come out of the closet for both gays and atheists. Speaking for many (if not all) of the Northwest freethought groups, we largely support our family and friends in the gay community, and since a great deal of the discrimination against homosexuals originates from fundamentalist religion, it makes sense to work together. On the other hand, some atheists were already getting flak for the idea of piggybacking on a day that belongs to sexual equality. I understand where both sides are coming from, and I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to get offended by a joint equality day. Ultimately, we (the atheists) let it be and chose another day to make a timid step out of the closet (Uh, I think it was Tuesday).

So, as the token lesbian on an atheist board, here’s my take on it: I don't have a problem combining the coming out days. But I admit I didn't always feel that way. When I first "came out" as an atheist, it was an intellectual decision more than anything, and it wasn't a particularly traumatic experience for me. At least I could still get married, right? :P Coming out gay, on other hand . . . well, some of you know how messed up that situation was for me. I was in my twenties and straight-married and I fell in love with an engaged woman and we all were mutual friends – needless to say, I was an emotional wreck. At that time, I was way more sensitive, so I admit I got angry at straight atheists trying to compare the two experiences. "Which was more upsetting – coming out atheist or coming out gay?" people commonly asked me. Dude, fuck you, I would think. Being gay turned my world upside down. Rejecting Christianity aggravated some people, particularly my parents, but it didn’t rock the boat the way being a lesbian did. Everything changed once I finally admitted, "I’m gay."

Then again, at both times I was thinking only of my own "coming out" stories, and not of the larger picture. Some people have completely different experiences with both. Some families and communities – and whole nations – have been ripped apart over theological differences, and some homosexuals are lucky enough to be born into families and communities that support their sexuality, right from the beginning and without years of therapy and justifications. The point is that we should be working together. I've talked about this extensively with my (Pagan) girlfriend, and we agree that there are too many similarities between our movements to continue trying to separate ourselves. I'm frustrated a little with minority groups arguing about who has it worse, or nitpicking on the few differences we have. I understand how it can rub people the wrong way to join efforts, but I feel like we need to move beyond that mentality. I used nontheist and GLBT rights as an example because I’m intimately connected to both, but it applies to any minority groups struggling for equal rights. Being sensitive to your own minority should raise your consciousness about other minorities. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we continue to work separately. The way things are going in this country, we need to stick together.

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