Irene Monroe She is a Massachusetts-based religion columnist, public theologian, and motivational speaker


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|| Commentary || On Democratic Illinois Senator Barack Obama

Irene Monroe

She is a Massachusetts-based religion columnist, public theologian, and motivational speaker.

Don't bet on Barack
LGBT voters may want to think twice about throwing their support behind 2008's great blue hope.

By the Reverend Irene Monroe

An exclusive posted November 21, 2006

Barack Obama, the lanky and charismatic U.S. senator from Illinois, is a national, if not global, phenomenon. He is being touted as the miracle elixir for a nation divided along the fault lines of race, religion, and class.

And also a nation divided along the battle lines of Red State versus Blue State.

Obama delivered a visionary keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when he stated, “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America. There’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America. There’s the United States of America…. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and have gay friends in the red states,” made him America's great hope for a better future.

As a supposedly bipartisan politician who understands and reconciles opposing views, and a non-doctrinal Christian whose personal identity and life journey shaped his lens to include those on the margins, why then, I ask, is this presidential hopeful not united with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer voters on the issue of marriage equality?

“I was reminded that it is my obligation not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society, but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided,” Obama wrote in his recent memoir, The Audacity of Hope.

But Obama’s audacity is not only his unwillingness to support the issue, but also his misunderstanding and misuse of the term “gay marriage.” The terminology “gay marriage” not only stigmatizes and stymies our efforts for marriage equality, but it also suggests that LGBT people’s marriages are or would be wholly different from those of heterosexuals, thus altering its landscape, if not annihilating the institution of marriage entirely.

But Obama’s remarks in a recent interview with Tim Russert on NBC’s Meet the Press spoke somewhat encouragingly about granting LGBTQ couples not marriage equality but certainly civil union rights.

However, having lived outside of America during its turbulent decades of the Jim Crow era and legal segregation, Obama may not know on a visceral and lived experienced level what those decades had been like for African-Americans.

But he ought to know, as a civil rights attorney, that granting LGBTQ Americans only the right to civil unions violates our full constitutional right as well as reinstitutionalizes the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson. As a result of that decision, the “separate but equal” doctrine became the rule of law until it was struck down in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision.

However, Obama doesn’t understand that regardless of one’s gender expression or sexual orientation, we want equal status to be institutionalized within our marriages as well.

Although not a cradle Christian, Christianity became Obama’s newfound religious identity late in his life. And his affinity to conservative Christian beliefs not only informs his decision on the issue of marriage equality, but it also solidifies his decision about us in a community of believers like himself.

“I must admit that I may have been inflected with society’s prejudices and predilections and attribute them to God, ” Obama writes in his book. “My work with pastors and lay people deepened my resolve to lead a public life. ... I had no community or shared traditions in which to ground my most deeply held beliefs. The Christians with whom I worked recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs.”

Religion has become a peculiar institution in the theater of American politics. Although its Latin root, religio, means to bind, it has served as a legitimate power in binding people's shared hatred in both red states and blue states, both intentionally and unintentionally.

Obama’s The Audacity of Hope is not a must-read for LGBT voters because he fails to fully comprehend or sincerely commit to the issue of social justice for all Americans. He does not tackle head-on how the religious rhetoric of this political era has played an audacious role in discrimination against LGBT people, leaving us with little to no hope, his rhetoric included.

“In years hence, I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of history. I don’t believe such doubts make me a bad Christian, ” Obama writes.

As LGBT voters, our job is neither to judge nor vote for Obama on whether he is a good Christian. It is, however, for us to judge and vote on whether he is a good statesman.

If he should run for president, he wouldn’t get my vote.

December 12, 2006

Another Colorado pastor resigns amid gay sex scandal
The founding pastor of a second Colorado church has resigned over gay sex allegations just weeks after the evangelical Christian world was shaken by the scandal surrounding megachurch leader Ted Haggard.


On Sunday, Paul Barnes, founding pastor of the 2,100-member Grace Chapel in the Denver suburb of Englewood, told his evangelical congregation in a videotaped message that he had had sexual relations with other men and was stepping down.


Dave Palmer, associate pastor of Grace Chapel, told The Denver Post that Barnes confessed to him after the church received a call last week. The church board of elders accepted Barnes's resignation on Thursday.


On the videotape, which the Post was allowed to view, Barnes told church members, ''I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy.... I can't tell you the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away.''


Barnes, 54, led Grace Chapel for 28 years. He and his wife have two adult children.

Palmer said in a written statement, ''While we cannot condone what he has done, we continue to support and love Paul.''


Ted Haggard, an opponent of same-sex marriage, admitted to unspecified ''sexual immorality'' when he resigned last month as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the 14,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Paid escort Mike Jones said he'd had sex with Haggard for three years.


December 12, 2006

Ad campaign calls on Pfizer to stop "irresponsbile" promotion of Viagra

A new ad campaign asking pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. to end its promotion of Viagra as a sexual-enhancement drug will launch in New York Wednesday and Los Angeles next week. The print campaign by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which will appear in The Village Voice and gay newspapers The New York Blade and L.A.'s Frontiers, also warns gay men of the danger of using Viagra with crystal meth.

"We call on Pfizer to exercise responsibility by discontinuing marketing to men with mild erectile dysfunction and by initiating an educational campaign on the dangers of Viagra and meth targeting men who have sex with men," the ad copy reads. Headlined "Viagra/Meth Alert!" the ad also features an image of a doctor's prescription with the text "Viagra + Crystal Meth = Rx for HIV infection."

"Pfizer’s direct-to-consumer marketing of Viagra as a drug to enhance sexual performance aimed at men who don’t necessarily suffer from erectile dysfunction is irresponsible, especially in light of the drug’s known use as part of a ‘circuit party cocktail’ that is fueling the spread of STDs and HIV,” Michael Weinstein, president of the L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said in a statement. "By marketing Viagra to men with ‘mild’ erectile dysfunction, for men with ‘all degrees of ED, even if it only happens once in a while,’ or as a way to ‘improve your sex life'...Pfizer is selling the drug as a way to enhance sexual experience, not as a treatment for an illness. We urge Pfizer to not only end this dangerous marketing tactic but also to fund a national educational campaign on the dangers of Viagra and crystal meth in order to mitigate the negative impact its advertising continues to have."

A plethora of research studies have shown a link between the use of Viagra, both by itself and with crystal meth, and an increased risk of HIV and STD infection. In the past Pfizer was forced by the Food and Drug Administration to withdraw ads that suggested Viagra could restore a man's youthful vigor and become a "wild thing." (The Advocate)

Conservative Jews to consider gay unions, ordination

December 06, 2006

Conservative Jewish leaders will consider making homosexuality acceptable for more than 2 million international followers, The Baltimore Sun reported Monday.

The possible shift would allow rabbis to conduct civil unions and ordination of openly gay rabbis. The Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards of the Rabinnical Assembly represents about 1,600 rabbis and will analyze and discuss the role of same-sex practices under Jewish law, or Halacha.

This will be the second time since 1992 that the topic has been discussed by Jewish leaders, according to The Sun. The earlier debate resulted in the acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews in worship services but did not condone marriage or commitment ceremonies. (The Advocate)

|| Commentary ||

"Making It Real" in corporate America

A gay partner at the top-rated firm Ernst & Young reports on how his company and others are working with the Human Rights Campaign to make U.S. employers more LGBT-friendly

By Mike Syers, a partner at Ernst & Young and a founding member of bEYond,
the firm’s LGBTA network.

An exclusive posted September 25, 2006


Corporate America is coming out to create an LGBT-inclusive workplace. More and more companies are adopting diversity training, sexual orientation nondiscrimination policies, and same-sex domestic-partner benefits. This is perhaps most evident in the September 19 announcement of a record number of companies receiving 100% on the 2006 Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. An unprecedented 138 major U.S. companies earned the top rating, a tenfold increase in the four years since the index was introduced in 2002.

Companies that support LGBT workplace equity recognize that an HRC 100 rating is a notable achievement, but it’s not the finish line—it is a good beginning.

In that spirit, Ernst & Young, the first of the Big Four professional services firms to receive an HRC 100 rating, hosted the first LGBT Inclusiveness Roundtable in July. Several HRC 100 companies and nonprofit groups came together with HRC to discuss how to promote and facilitate an inclusive workplace, as well as to share thoughts and best practices with other organizations.

Knowing that knowledge and awareness create change, a report titled "Making It Real" was created—based on the roundtable discussion—to highlight examples of how leading companies are moving beyond basic nondiscrimination policies toward a more LGBT-inclusive culture.

Key recommendations from the report urge companies to shift from a diversity culture of “them” to an inclusive “us” culture, to use a team approach to adopt and promote policies by partnering senior leadership and human resources officials with representatives from all employee ranks as well as external nonprofit partners, and to document accomplishments toward LGBT workplace inclusiveness goals.

The full recommendations of “Making It Real” are available online at, and businesses can customize solutions to fit their industry, location, or departmental function, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all plan toward inclusiveness.

One thing that is applicable across the board: A commitment to equality at work inevitably expands within employee ranks, beyond the cubicle and the office walls. In today’s highly competitive business environment, a company that not only adopts but also projects a philosophy of respect and fairness for all employees is critical to the recruitment and retention of top-tier candidates.

In other words, doing the right thing pays off for both employees and companies.

|| First Person ||

I hate being gay
This Washington State teen faces a daily battle between the sexual attraction he feels for other men and his religious convictions that tell him being gay is against God’s word.

By Kyle Rice

An exclusive posted September 15, 2006

In late July the Washington State supreme court upheld a law that limits marriage to heterosexual couples. As a gay 19-year-old in Longview, Wash., my delight with that ruling is probably surprising. However, I’m not your average gay person—I'm also a Christian who views living a gay lifestyle as against God's word.

And because of my religious beliefs, I hate the fact that I am gay.

About the time I was 12 years old, it became clear to me that I was sexually attracted to guys. I assumed these feelings would go away as I got older. People choose to be gay, right? I didn’t choose this, so I figured it would pass. But it didn’t. By age 15 I had my first boyfriend.

At about that time I started to attend a Pentecostal church. I began reading the Bible, including its many different and powerful passages condemning homosexual activity. I knew in my heart that being gay was wrong in God’s eyes. I decided to devote myself to living a God-filled life and knew I needed to stop being gay so that I could stop being attracted to guys.

I looked into "ex-gay" ministries and joined such a program offered by a local church. It has taught me that with God’s help I can change my desires. A friend of mine went through another church’s program, and he's changed. He’s now happy and in love with his girlfriend. I pray the same will happen to me someday.

In the meantime I focus on fighting efforts to force the "gay agenda" on those of us who know God does not accept homosexuality. Although I do not condone discrimination, I also do not support gay marriage laws or many of the other issues backed by gay rights groups. I am a proud conservative Republican, and I support political candidates who feel the same way I do.

Many people ask me how I can be gay and also be a Republican and a Pentecostal Christian. My answer is that I am so much more than my sexuality. I don’t vote solely on pet gay issues. My faith and love of God is not guided by one small piece of who I am—a piece of me that I am trying very hard to change.

Being a gay Christian is at times very hard to deal with. Some days I feel as if I’m at war with myself. But I know God would not approve of me acting on my gay feelings, and I have no right to question his directive. I know that in the end I will be happy I lived my life according to God’s standards the best that I could.

That means refusing to accept being gay.

|| News ||

November 17, 2006

Study: San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta top list of cities with highest percentage of gays

A study that shows the percentage of people in the nation's largest cities identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual lists San Francisco on top with 15.4%, with Seattle coming in second with 12.9%. Atlanta was third with 12.8%, and Minneapolis fourth with 12.5% Four of the top 10 cities were in California, while all but Boston and Atlanta were west of the Mississippi River.

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, used census and other federal information to estimate the numbers.  

The census data on same-sex couple households showed that between 2000 and 2005 the number reported increased by 30%. New Hampshire had the largest jump in same-sex couples, with 106% over the five years studied, with heartland states like Nebraska, Kansas, Indiana, and Iowa also showing substantially increased numbers.  

The findings do not show a sharp increase in the number of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in general. Instead, the study suggests, people are more willing to disclose their sexual orientation in government surveys. (The Advocate)

|| Commentary ||

Katrina's queer victims: Still suffering
One year later the lives of many LGBT New Orleans residents remain in tatters—no thanks to George Bush's "faith-based" charities, most of which condemn homosexuality and refuse to recognize, much less assist, our families.

By Rev. Irene Monroe

Monroe is a Massachusetts-based religion columnist, public theologian, and motivational speaker.

An exclusive posted August 31, 2006

It has been one year since Hurricane Katrina barreled through New Orleans. Thankfully the waters have receded, as has much of the stench from the wreckage. What still lingers in the post-Katrina relief efforts is the odious fault lines of heterosexism and faith-based privilege.

While seemingly invisible in this disaster, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer evacuees and their families faced all kinds of discrimination at the hands of many of the faith-based relief agencies because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status.

And with most of the evacuees being African-American, along with the fault lines of race and the fact that sexual orientation is on the "down-low" in much of the African-American community, many African-American LGBT evacuees experienced discrimination from both their communities and black faith-based institutions.

"The Superdome was no place to be an out black couple," said Jeremiah Leblanc, who now lives in Shreveport, La. “We got lots of stares and all kinds of looks. What were we thinking? But my partner and I were in a panic and didn't know what to do when we had to leave our home."

George W. Bush's faith-based organizations fronted themselves as "armies of compassion" on his behalf. But these organizations' caveat to LGBT people was, If you are gay, you ought to stay away.

And with black churches, many of which are known for their unabashed homophobia, conducting a large part of the relief effort, African-American LGBT evacuees and their families had neither a chance nor a prayer for assistance.

"When we were all forced to leave the dome, we were gathered like cattle into school buses,” said Leblanc. “[My partner] Le Paul and I both needed our meds, clothes, and a way to find permanent shelter after the storm, but we knew to stay the hell away from the black churches offering help. We couldn't tell anyone we were sick and HIV-positive. And when we got to Houston, we saw the Salvation Army, but Le Paul and I knew to stay the hell away from that too."

The Salvation Army delivered no salvation to a lot LGBT families. On its Web site, the Salvation Army states: "Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is no scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage."

With an administration that believes that restoring a spiritual foundation to American public life has less to do with government involvement and more to do with the participation of faith-based groups, Bush slashed needed government programs by calling on churches and faith-based agencies, at taxpayers’ expense, to provide essential social services that would also impact the lives and well-being of its LGBT citizens.

Many LGBTQ families worried about being separated from each other since Louisiana does not recognize same-sex unions. And some people associated with Bush’s faith-based relief programs even blamed the wrath of Hurricane Katrina on LGBT people.

Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast just two days before Labor Day weekend, when New Orleans's annual queer Southern Decadence festival was to begin. While floods are a natural part of life in the lowlands of Louisiana, and hurricanes are regular occurrences all along the coastline, Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America, an evangelical organization calling for "a nation in rebellion toward God" to reverse itself, had this to say: "We believe that God is in control of the weather. The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter were flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the street. We're calling it an act of God."

For these conservative religious groups, the flood was a prayer finally answered and a sin finally addressed. Never mind that neither Bourbon Street nor the French Quarter were ever flooded by the storm.

Not all churches or organizations of faith were unwelcoming to LGBT people. Some churches, albeit few, were opening and affirming parishes to LGBT people and their families before Katrina hit.

"I wasn't going to the Superdome," said Angelamia Bachemin, an African-American lesbian percussionist renowned throughout Boston’s queer and music communities for her pioneering style of jazz hip-hop and a former professor of ethnomusicology at the Berklee School of Music before returning home to her native New Orleans. "When my partner and I and the children fled, it was not an issue for the folks at this Catholic church. The people at Epiphany Church just took us in, and we began rolling with the evangelists during the relief effort. They paid money for the materials for my roof. They have done more for me and my family than the government."

Bachemin is one of the lucky few LGBT families now in the long process of rebuilding their homes and lives in New Orleans.

Leblanc isn't. His partner, who was in the last stages of full-blown AIDS, died two weeks after Katrina.

Not legally married, Leblanc as a widower is not eligible for surviving-spouse Social Security benefits. And because he is gay, he is also not eligible for any of the faith-based relief assistance to help him get his life back in order.

While Katrina shamelessly showed the botched relief effort commanded by FEMA and the fault lines of race and class in this country, it did not show the hidden abuses of heterosexism and homophobia. Instead Bush's faith-based organizations did.

Consequently those at the margins of society became the center of the tragedy as Hurricane Katrina nakedly exposed how Bush neither sees nor wants his administration to be the primary source of assistance or compassion for Americans in crisis.

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