Thursday, December 17, 2015

Allies and assumptions: I'm not, but....

The rise of rights for LGBT including the right to marry, and in some places, non-discrimination protections, has depended upon two important phenomena:  first, the willingness of LGBT people to come out and identify themselves (often at great risk), and second, the willingness of straight allies to stand up for the gay minority.

Indeed, those non-gay allies, the people who are members of the majority, are an important and vital voice for the community. A gay person advocating for their rights is different than a  straight person  arguing for  gay rights. The straight person is assuming not to have a dog in the fight, so to speak:  it's as though they are legitimized because of their dis-interest.

Still, there's a difference between people who can say "I'm not gay, but I support the community", and allowing someone to assume you are gay yourself, even if you aren't.  It's joining the marginalized where they are.  Less effective in some ways, more effective in others.  It's also what happened with the twitter tag earlier this year, #jesuischarliehebdo.

As many of you know, I'm a non-believer who regularly attends an Episcopal church;  a secular Christian, as I call myself.  I'm active in many ways in our church and I am not in the closet about my lack of belief.  Outside of that community,  I'm gay, an academic and a scientist,  identities that are  widely assumed to be non-religious, if not actively hostile.

Recently, I have had several instances of identifying myself in my professional community as church-friendly, and I have decided to let those people assume that I am a practicing Christian.  It shakes them up:  it breaks the mold about me and challenges easy assumptions both about religion and who believes. 

These are little things.  I asked vendors at a local convention exhibition for donations of spare t-shirts for the homeless program run by our church (the vendors, who are generally not scientists, were quite friendly about it.)  This amused my wife, who  had wondered if I would bring church into the request.  

More strikingly, though, was pointing out to my university that a major committee meeting currently slated for Good Friday and Holy Saturday was occurring on a significant religious holiday and personally quite inconvenient to me, which seems to have left them nonplussed.  

Here's the thing:  I am fairly confident  that they would never schedule a meeting on, say, Rosh Hashanah.  It seems odd to me  that they would not have the same awareness of Easter as one of the two major annual Christian holidays in the country, thus making the assumption that none of us on the committee would be celebrating.

I will be interested to see whether the assumption that I am a Christian has any further consequences.   However, I should add that I was careful to identify myself as participating in the Episcopal church.  The fundamentalists can find their own advocate!

And all this is turning around in my head as I look at the dangerous rhetoric surrounding Muslims in this country.  

What is the most effective way to be allies to our Muslim brothers and sister? Is it to use our position of privilege as non-Muslims to speak out?  Or is it to allow the assumption to be made that we are ourselves Muslim?  I think in particular of the Christian professor at evangelical Christian Wheaton College who was suspended for donning hijab in solidarity with the Islamic community  (though they now  claim it's because she said God is the same God for Muslims and Christians.  But so much for tenure....).

How do we most effectively advocate for justice? 


Kevin K said...

If I recall correctly the professor was suspended for saying that Islam and Christianity worship the same God.

8thday said...

I would be very interested in what you mean by letting people assume you are a “practicing Christian”? What (in your definition) is the difference between a “practicing” and a “non-practicing” Christian?

I read the story about the professor at Wheaton suspended for wearing a hijab (or other theological reasons), supposedly to show support for the Islamic community. I wonder how she would feel about a white professor wearing blackface to support “BlackLives Matter”? Co-opting someone’s culture does not make that person an ally. (in my opinion)

I don’t like the label “ally” because I think so much of what people think being an ally involves is proving to someone else that they’re a good person, whatever that means. So much vanity in those labels! When you read their statements it’s “I this, and I that.” The “let me prove to you that I’m your ally” shtick is usually just a way a allowing them to allay their own guilt and need to be recognized. I don’t believe that to be the case with every individual, but in my experience, that has been more the rule than the exception.

How does one most effectively advocate for justice? I generally think by being a living example of justice, publicly and privately, everywhere and every time and with everyone.

IT said...

I'm a little more forgiving to the woman at Wheaton (and I did note in the text that Wheaton claims it wasn't the hijab, Kevin, but her statement that it's all God), because she is deliberately choosing to put herself at risk. AND she also contacted a local Muslim organization to ask if they would be okay with it.

I do agree that some who take on the word "ally" are taking credit unto themselves. But I know a lot of allies who wouldn't necessarily claim that word, yet who are incredibly active and helpful to the LGBT community--walking the walk, so to speak, and working for justice.

Is simply being an example of justice sufficient? Is believing that the Muslim community deserves respect sufficient to ensure that they are safe?

IT said...

As for practicing vs non-practicing, that wasn't my point. It was the "Christian" part.

8thday said...

Perhaps I should have said an ACTIVE example. Very few people have a platform to influence the whole world. But we all have the power to influence our own little corner of it. And no, I don’t think *believing* is sufficient for anything.

“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion” - Paulo Coelho

and I might add “nor you beliefs”.

And yes, I agree, there are plenty of people who are allies. My point was that claiming the label does not necessarily make it so.

While I understand that your point was the “Christian” part, you still often label yourself “a non-practicing” or “secular” Christian. I don’t understand the differentiation and I like to understand what people mean by their labels rather than making assumptions. Would still be very interested . . .

JCF said...

"I wonder how she would feel about a white professor wearing blackface to support “BlackLives Matter”?"

Blackface has a unique cultural history which is one of oppression. I think the relevant comparison would be a *t-shirt* saying "Black Lives Matter". [And then I suppose opinions would vary, depending on both the particular white professor, and those individual persons who had an opinion about the professor (e.g., how well they knew the professor).]

I note that the Episcopal Cafe has also been discussing non-Muslims wearing hijabs in solidarity (two non-hijab-wearing Muslim women have specifically requested this practice stop---it's mucking up their own intra-Muslim struggle w/ the practice!). Full-disclosure: if there were a specifically Muslim bra, I might wear that in solidarity. Other than that, I don't wear sex-specific clothing, and I'm not about to start! [Gotta be true to MYSELF, first, or I'm no damn good to anybody else. <- That's either Shakespeare or Billy Joel. ;-/]