Five years ago today, my world was turned upside down. To my great surprise, the legendary actor and civil rights hero George Takei shared a speech I gave on LGBTQ rights and the next thing I knew, I was being contacted by representatives from the Ellen Show, the Today Show, and virtually every major media outlet in the U.S. Heck, even a book agent wanted to speak with me! My fifteen minutes of fame had begun.
But now, over five million views later, I realize what I said about LGBTQ rights was wrong.
Maybe you’ve seen the speech. It’s the one where the pastor “flips the script” and pretends he has the wrong notes while speaking to his city council about a local ordinance designed to add protections for LGBTQ persons. I thought I was really clever when I took sermons from southern preachers who supported slavery and segregation (see here and here) and substituted the words they used that referred to discrimination against people of color with words referring to discrimination against LGBTQ persons. If you haven’t seen it, here’s how it worked (the bracketed portions are the substitutions I made):
Any accurate reading of the Bible should make it clear that [gay rights] is an abomination against the “plain truth of the word of God.” As one Bible believing preacher warns us, “Man, in overstepping the boundary lines God has drawn [by making special rights for gays and lesbians], has taken another step in the direction of inviting the Judgment of Almighty God upon our land. This step of [gay rights] is but another stepping stone toward the gross immorality and lawlessness that will be characteristic of the last days.”
This [ordinance] represents a “denial of all that we believe in, and no one should force it on us.”
“Outside government agents are endeavoring to disturb God’s established order…This disturbing movement is not of God. It is not in line with the Bible….Do not let people lead you astray.
These religious liberals are the worst representatives of our country…They do not believe the Bible any longer; …they are leading the people astray … and they are leading [gay Christians] astray. But every good, substantial, Bible-believing, intelligent, orthodox Christian can read the Word of God and know that what is happening is not of God…
When you run into conflict with God’s established order, you have trouble. You do not produce harmony. You produce destruction and trouble, and [our city] is in the greatest danger it has ever been in in its history…The reason is that we have gotten away from the Bible of our forefathers.
Then my speech turned to the “big reveal”:
You see, “The right of segregation… [uh, hold on….the right of segregation] is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”
Oh wait, I’m sorry, I brought the wrong notes. I borrowed my argument from the wrong century. It turns out what I’ve been reading to you are quotes from white preachers from times like the 1950s and 60s in support of things like racial segregation and interacial marriage. All I have done is taken out phrases like “racial integration” and substituted them with phrases like “gay rights.”
I guess the arguments I’ve been hearing around Springfield lately sounded so similar to these that I got them confused. I hope you won’t make the same mistake. I hope you’ll stand on the right side of history.”
I figured that when people realized that the exact same religious arguments once used to support segregation were now being used to support discrimination against LGBTQ persons, they would realize how morally corrupt such an approach was. It would be obvious, for all to see.
But here’s where I was wrong. It’s taken the ascendancy of Trump — and the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for him — to show me that the problem with discrimination in America is not related to the kinds of hypocrisies I had hoped my viral video would expose. Instead, discrimination in America is about maintaining power structures that privilege authority, domination, and control above all else.
After all, the root of the problem of slavery and segregation is related to the desire for historic power structures in the United States to stay in place (i.e., for straight-cis-white-men to have the power). And the exact same thing is true regarding LGBTQ rights today.
That’s why my speech didn’t reveal the kind of hypocrisy I thought was at the center of the religious right. Instead, the past five years — especially the Trump era — have further revealed what has been the common denominator present in the religious right all along, then and now: the desire for straight-cis-white-men to exert power, control and dominance over every other group. This explains the continued racism that is still clearly at the heart of the religious right, as well as its continued assault on women, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ persons, etc.
I thought my viral speech would expose the hypocrisy of the religious right. But I’ve learned that their desire for power, dominance, authority and control is just as strong today as it ever was. That’s the common thread that holds the discrimination and policies of the religious right together. It turns out they haven’t been hypocritical, but perfectly consistent. I’m the one who was fooled.