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Dec 15 2008

Being an Atheist in the Queer Community

Gay atheist
I want to talk about being an atheist in the queer community.

This is going to be hard to talk about. But it’s been on my mind a lot lately, and I think it’s important to say.

I see a lot of parallels between the atheist community and the queer community. I think that the two movements have a great deal in common — the importance of coming out of the closet, an ongoing family argument between the more diplomatic and the more confrontational activist philosophies, being a scapegoat of the religious right, etc.. In a lot of ways, I think the atheist movement today is very much where the queer movement was in the early ’70s — newly visible, newly vocal, pissed off as hell, still finding its voice, just beginning to gain real strength. I think the two communities could learn an enormous amount from each other, and I think that they’re natural allies.

And yet, I’m having a realization that I’m finding extremely unsettling.

Scarlet letter
I’ve been an out queer, and an active participant in the queer community, for over 20 years now. I’ve felt for years like the LGBT community was my home base. I’ve only identified as an atheist for less than two years.

And yet I’m finding that I feel more at home — more welcomed, more valued, more truly understood — as a queer in the atheist community than I do as an atheist in the queer community.

Like, a lot more.

In the last year or two, after a stretch of being more focused on other issues and movements (sex radicalism, mostly, plus of course the atheism), I’ve been getting more involved again with the LGBT movement. I’ve been reading LGBT blogs; I’ve been participating in an email list of LGBT political people; I’ve been donating money to LGBT causes; I went to the recent LGBT bloggers’ conference.

And here are some of the things I’ve experienced.

Duerer-Prayer
I’ve been exhorted to pray. I’ve been told about “our Creator.” I’ve seen comments in LGBT blogs, listing bigoted and wildly inaccurate anti-atheist canards that could have come straight out of the religious right’s playbook. I’ve heard inaccurate statistics bandied about regarding how many believers and non-believers there are in the U.S…. statistics that diminish atheists’ numbers and our strength. (For the record: We’re more than five percent, people.) I’ve heard the inaccurate and insulting canard about “fundamentalist” atheists… and, when I’ve pointed out that this term is both inaccurate and insulting, had the language firmly defended.

I’ve heard the LGBT movement described as divided into two distinct groups: the reasonable ones who want to work with religious groups, and the unreasonable ones who think that religion is a delusion. (As if it were impossible to think that religion is a mistaken hypothesis about the world, and at the same time still think we need to work with religious groups.) I’ve heard the atheist movement described as divided into two distinct groups: the good ones, the “live and let live” ones who don’t criticize religion, and the bad ones, the intolerant “fundamentalist” ones who think they’re right and say so. (Where have we heard that kind of language before?) I’ve heard LGBT leaders talk about how important it is to reach out to people of different religious faiths… with no mention whatsoever made of reaching out to people with no religious faith. Not even in lip service.

Whisper
And I’ve been in the unsettling position of being the person that LGBT people come to to tell about their godlessness.

Have you ever been the out LGBT person that other LGBT people came to, privately or semi-privately, to tell you that they’re L, G, B, or T? That’s how I’m beginning to feel as an atheist in the queer community.

I’m not going to pretend to speak for these folks. I don’t know exactly how they feel about their lack of religious belief, or why they’re choosing to stay quiet about it for the moment. It could be any number of reasons: from not wanting to be alienated from the community, to not having the time or energy or inclination to do Godlessness 101 education, to not wanting to raise potentially divisive issues at a time when we’ve already had a lot of infighting, to just not thinking that it’s that big a deal, to other reasons that probably haven’t occurred to me. I don’t pretend to speak for them, and I’m certainly not going to be anything but supportive of them. Like LGBT people, non-believers need to come out of the closet on their own timetable, and for their own reasons.

Coming_out_of_the_closet
But I think we all know that, when you make yourself visible as an LGBT person in a non- specifically- LGBT group, and a whole bunch of people come up to you privately to tell you that they’re LGBT… you know that there’s a problem. You know that something’s going on in that group that’s making LGBT people feel like they can’t be completely out.

It seems like that’s happening for atheists and other non-believers in the LGBT community.

And the whole thing is making me really sad.

It’s ticking me off, too. But mostly, it’s making me sad. It’s reminding me of my earlier days in the community, when we were fighting for the B to be included in LGBT, and people who I thought were my family were telling me that I didn’t belong. It’s making me feel like I have to fight for my place at the table. It’s making me feel like I have to choose between being welcomed, and speaking my mind about things that are deeply important to me. It’s making me feel like my home is not my home anymore.

Being a queer in the atheist community, on the other hand…

Being a queer in the atheist community is almost a complete non-issue.

Welcome_mat
I write a lot about the parallels between the LGBT movement and the atheist movement… and atheists, of all sexual orientations, are always interested. When I talk about sexual orientation and queer politics and history — or just about my own personal experiences in my own queer relationship — atheists want to hear what I have to say about it. And when I don’t — when I just want to talk about creationism or Pascal’s Wager or the problem of evil or the meaning of life — then they want to hear what I have to say about that, too. Not as an LGBT representative, either; not as What The LGBT Community Has to Say About Pascal’s Wager. Just as Greta.

Straight against h8And the atheist community has been fierce and outspoken in defense of LGBT rights. To give just one example: The atheist blogosphere needed no prodding to blog about Prop 8. They were all over the issue like a cheap suit. Almost every atheist blog I read had something to say about it; many of them blogged about it multiple times. And they were all over the issue from very early on. Hell, I know straight atheist bloggers who were blogging about Prop 8 before I was.

This isn’t just true for Prop 8 or same-sex marriage, either. The atheist blogosphere talks about homophobia a fair amount. They see it, among other things, as one of the main examples of how traditional organized religion is stubbornly adhering to unsupported dogma at the expense of real human lives. And that makes it a big issue for them. Apart from just, you know, being appalled by it because it hurts their friends and loved ones. Apart from it just being the right thing to do.

Fly swatter
I’m not saying that I’ve never encountered homophobia or homo-stupidity in the atheist community. I have. But I’ve found it to be very rare, very much the exception. And maybe more to the point: When it does show up, it gets smacked down like a bug, by a dozen different hands or more. I don’t always have to be the one to do the smacking. I don’t even usually have to be the one to do the smacking. When a homophobic or homo-stupid commenter shows up, the atheist blogosphere — straight and queer — promptly tears them about sixteen new assholes. I have never before been in a community where I felt so strongly that straight people had my back.

On the whole, the atheist community has been just about the most LGBT- positive community I’ve been in that wasn’t, specifically, an LGBT community itself. I’ve had to do almost no Queer 101 education in it. I’ve been able to just relax and be myself.

Now. I do understand that this comparison isn’t entirely fair. For one thing, the modern queer movement has been active and loud, visible and vocal, for a good 40 years now. The rest of the world has had time to, as the chant goes, get used to it.

The.End.of.Faith
The atheist community? Not so much. The atheist movement has been around for a while; but it’s only been active and loud, visible and vocal, making itself an un-ignorable presence in the world at large, for maybe the last five years or so. Straight people — including atheists — have had a long time to get educated about LGBT issues. Religious believers — including LGBT folks — haven’t had as long to get familiar with atheism. So it’s not terribly surprising that there should be troubling attitudes about atheists and atheism in the LGBT community. Disappointing, but not surprising.

And it’s not like this situation is universally terrible. It’s not. There are queer believers who are saying and doing lovely and supportive things for their non-believing compatriots. There are other queer non-believers who are talking openly about their godlessness — I’m hardly the only one. And it’s not like anyone’s throwing rocks at me or anything. It’s not terrible.

It’s just bad enough to make me feel like I’m not quite at home anymore.

Bridge
I am both an atheist and a queer. I feel like I’m one of the bridges between the two communities, and that makes me happy: I think the two movements are natural allies, and I think there should be bridges between them. (If only for reasons of pure pragmatism, I damn well think the LGBT community should be working like crazy on that alliance. IMO, the atheist movement is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years and decades: it’s come very far in a very short time, and it’s growing by leaps and bounds every year.)

But lately, I’m feeling like this bridge is a lot more strongly supported on one side than it is on the other. I’m feeling like the people on one side of the bridge are heartily cheering me on and welcoming me with open arms, and the people on the other side of the bridge are a whole lot more conflicted about me, with a fair number of them heartily wishing that I’d just shut up.

And I’m finding — sadly, but not entirely surprisingly — that I’m feeling more strongly identified with my new friends who are cheering me on.

I’m feeling more like an atheist than I am like a queer.

And if this trend in the LGBT community keeps moving in this same direction, then that’s just going to get stronger.

So how do I want this to change?

That’s tomorrow’s post.

58 comments

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  1. 1
    Lindsey

    As someone who is an atheist but not an L, G, B, or T, I find this post fascinating. I feel like part of the reason that the non-theistic community accepts LGBTs is because we’re trying to approach susperstitions and old stigma in a more rational way. Or, like for myself, when leaving (bigoted, gay-hating) religion, you just throw it all out and realize you weren’t gaining anything by disliking another sector of the population.
    What is also interesting is that homosexuals would be less welcoming to atheists, since that demographic is much maligned by religion, just like atheists.
    A lot to think about.

  2. 2
    Rieux

    I write a lot about the parallels between the LGBT movement and the atheist movement… and atheists, of all sexual orientations, are always interested. When I talk about sexual orientation and queer politics and history — or just about my own personal experiences in my own queer relationship — atheists want to hear what I have to say about it.

    You’re damn right we do.
    In addition to the reasons you cite, I personally am fanatically interested in the perspectives of GLBT atheists because I think the atheist movement ought to be “going to school” big-time on the history of the gay-rights movement–what works, what doesn’t, what’s productive and what’s not, and where we can go from here.
    To some extent all sorts of movements for justice (abolition, feminism, organized labor, race-related Civil Rights, etc.) are relevant areas of study for this general project. But gay rights seem to me the closest analogy to atheist rights–mainly because of our parallel experience of The Closet, which brings with it a wide (and predictable) variety of psychological, sociological, and political implications.
    The organization, self-awareness and (hence) power of the atheist movement has indeed increased in the past few years, but by any reasonable standards we’re still a scattered, poorly connected, and widely misunderstood (and indeed hated) minority in the United States. Plenty of our number want nothing to do with organizing or advocacy for nonbeliever rights; in many cases we’re either buried deep in the closet or so smugly comfortable in the (relatively) atheist-friendly enclaves we live in that we’re only too happy to chime in with the atheophobes and bash our less fortunate/accommodating atheist brethren for gauche “fundamentalism.”
    Well, I get the distinct feeling that the gay-rights movement has encountered nearly identical obstacles in the past 40 years. And while the broader battle has not yet been won (witness Prop 8 and related homophobic initiatives from last month), GLBTs are way the hell ahead of us in achieving the social justice they (you–and we!) seek. We atheists have an enormous amount to learn.

  3. 3
    Frank DN

    One of the biggest things that changed for me after leaving religion behind was the desire to change people. Christianity likes its “Hate the sin, love the sinner” philosophy because it allows them to disapprove of the way you live and offer to change it for you without feeling guilty or prejudiced themselves. They’re doing you a favor, the biggest favor in the world. As an atheist I find I have no desire to judge or label anymore. I just accept people for what they are. After reading your blog for a long time, I find you are one of the most interesting people I have ever come in contact with. I don’t think of you as part of any group, you’re Greta and you’re unique.

  4. 4
    Clare

    Wow. Reading something like this really drums home for me the difference between being an atheist in the USA and being an atheist in the UK. I suppose it makes sense that if the general American population is mostly religious, then the queer community will be too. It’s not like sexuality comes out of your politics or personal philosophy. It’s sad to hear that you feel unwelcome though. Maybe you could invite some speakers from the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association in the UK to come over and speak to the American queer community. :)

  5. 5
    Ephemeriis

    I think one of the key differences is that the Atheist community is based on the idea of rational thought. Atheism is based on what we can actually see/touch/taste/feel/smell around us. If there’s no evidence for it, it must not exist. No weird mumbo-jumbo about a magic man in the sky.
    A lot of hatred is superstitious. There’s no rational reason for homophobia.
    If you’re throwing out superstition, you wind up tossing a lot of hatred as well.

  6. 6
    Christine

    As one of the straight atheists you mention, this actually comes as something of a surprise to me. The LBGT groups and people I’ve known (on my very liberal campus in Chicago, admittedly) have been, at best, neutral on religion, if not rabidly outspoken against it. It’s just rather confusing, I guess, for a group that’s so maligned and looked down on by most religions to be actively trying to stay in that community… while distancing the one that generally embraces them with open arms.

  7. 7
    The Uncredible Hallq

    Abandon hope.
    Well, not really, I mean, you can do some to improve the situation. But take my experience from the atheism / pro- evolution issue. There’s a huge overlap, but some pro-evolution activists want atheists to just go away, because they’re bad PR and even risky in the court room.

  8. 8
    vel

    I find the desire of anyone who is LGBT (being a B myself who was lucky enough to fall in love with someone society at large has no problem with) to be friendly with the religious to be incomprehensible. It is only by creating a god that you like that has NOTHING to do with what the Bible/Quran/Pentateuch, etc says that you can convince yourself that religion, especially the IslamoChristoJudaic ones, LOVE you.
    It’s a desire to hope that magic loving LGBT “God” will come down and we’ll all live in harmony. Then no one has to do any work. And work is what it will take. Not some “don’t rock the boat, god will take care of us” nonsense.

  9. 9
    j

    well atheists tend to *think* their way into atheism, I think that’s the main difference.
    Tho in my experience LGBT people seem to be uniformly liberal and thus share a general distaste for religious fundamentalism. That’s the only main difference in attitude I can think of. Stating your an atheist is considered a strong view about religion; and making strong statements about religion- for or against- is considered gauche in any group that doesn’t necessarily share your views.
    I just mean socially. Maybe with in the structure of lgbt organizations, it’s different.

  10. 10
    Eclectic

    Interesting! I can’t wait to hear the rest of it.
    I’ve volunteered for the gay pride parade for many years, and I have to admit, that religion hasn’t really come up. Except that organizing meetings were held in a church. (MCC, of course!) And we get fundies heckling sometimes.
    I had a friend who was assigned to escort a baptist choir group that had come to sing to the sinners. Some of the younger members seemed angered by the escort, until older and wiser heads among them explained just who was outnumbered and possibly needing protection.
    But that’s about it. But the only LGBT blog I read regularly is Pam’s House Blend, and I haven’t noticed much discussion of religion there other than bigot-bashing.
    As for five percent or whatever, it’s easy to see how that comes about. A lot of people don’t believe in a deity, but aren’t comfortable with the word “atheist”. I think there are plenty of nonbelievers who don’t care to call themselves atheists. If you count only the latter group, I see how you can get 5%.

  11. 11
    miller

    It surprises and disappoints me to hear this. Most of my contact with the LGBT community has been through the atheist community, so naturally, I only see the atheist-friendly parts. But I suppose it should not be surprising at all really. To me, a straight atheist, LGBT seems like the most obvious issue in all of politics. But there is little reason for the LGBT community to be particularly nonreligious, except as a backlash to the homophobia in many churches.
    Maybe it’s true what they say, that being part of a group that has historically been marginalized does not strongly predispose a person to support more recent civil rights movements.

  12. 12
    LissaMonster

    Speaking of atheism not being vocal until fairly recently…
    I happened to catch an old silent film on cable (the TCM channel) the other day. Cecil B DeMille’s “The Godless Girl” starring Lina Basquette, made in 1929. Of course, the girl finds religion at the end; nonetheless, I found it interesting.
    I mean, I’ve read enough history (fiction and nonfiction) to know that atheism is hardly a new thing. I guess I just didn’t realize that it was enough of a “problem” for someone, much less Cecil B DeMille, to make a film against it. I believe I need to read more recent history, especially US history.
    —-
    Also, I’ve experienced the dichotomy between atheism and the LGBT community, too. I’m atheist and mostly straight. One of my former managers is a lesbian. We get along wonderfully, except that she’s also Catholic and every now and again she makes little remarks about how I need to find God. These remarks annoy me and she knows that, so she doesn’t make them very often.
    Honestly, the fact that she’s gay and I’m not doesn’t even enter into that disagreement. I thought, at first, that her being in a minority would make her more accepting of my minority. But it doesn’t.

  13. 13
    Infophile

    I think Hallq hit the issue on the head here: Atheists are bad PR, even more so than LGBTs. Many of the religious in our country associate atheists with being obviously evil and immoral, and it hurts the LGBT movement to be associated with that. Plus it makes it easier for pundits to play up the “secular agenda” conspiracy, which has gay atheists (who are atheists because they want to be gay) trying to overthrow society. Politically, it’s better for them to disassociate themselves from atheists.
    That at least applies to the broader view, and may be how some of the leaders feel. But on the individual basis, I think it’s just good old fashioned prejudice. As much as we wish people were better, being part of a marginalized group doesn’t stop people from wanting to oppress another group. We discussed it recently with the black/gay divide (I know, it wasn’t the main issue in the election, but it still exists), and it’s the same problem at work here.

  14. 14
    Anon Ymous

    Hey,
    Slightly off topic, but the comments thread got me thinking about it the other way… how religious people tend to react when I let them know that I’m both an atheist and a lesbian.
    The most common reaction by far is some sort of understanding… a false understanding, but they think they know why I don’t believe in God. They think I chose my disbelief because I couldn’t handle my “sin”. They think deep down inside I know God exists, but I’m denying it because I can’t handle my “sinful” ways, I can’t walk away from it and live how they believe God wants me to.
    It’s rubbish, but it’s not 100% rubbish. I remember a while back you had a post on how religious people don’t have anything that would make them stop believing, and I replied basically saying that I had some things that would (and did) make me stop believing, but while I was a belieever I never looked at them, because I’d never had reason to think that way.
    Well, admitting to myself that I was gay meant I suddenly had a reason to examine my beliefs. The beliefs were no longer pleasant and reassuring, but rather were hurtful and cruel, and yes, I very much wanted to find out that they were wrong. Thing is, I wasn’t looking for proof that God didn’t exist. I was looking for proof that God exists, but that He doesn’t hate gay people.
    (Tying it back to the thread somewhat, I think a lot of religious LGBT people went on the same quest that I did, but found what they hoped to find, as opposed to my experience, which was finding my 2nd choice out of the three options – Good God, Bad God and No God… and I know that for me at least, when I’m willfully deluding myself about something, I hate to talk to people about it who have examined the same evidence and come to a conclusion that I didn’t want to hear…)
    Anyway, I’ve rambled a lot, and I’m not 100% sure if I’ve made all the points I intended to when I started writing, but I’ll leave it for now… Thank you for a thought-provoking post, Greta.
    :o)

  15. 15
    Steven Alleyn

    I think it’s also got a lot to do with the nature of the beast; whereas LGBT people being open about their sexuality makes straight, religious people feel uncomfortable about both their sexuality (which, as they say, is hardly as set in stone as they might believe) and their religious beliefs (which tell them that people who seem very much like good, upstanding citizens are actually abominations unto the lord), atheism is different.
    A religious person confronted with atheism doesn’t feel uncomfortable. He/she feels insulted. I think that’s a huge distinction; no matter what someone’s sexuality – if they’re religious and someone outspoken is telling them how wrong they think religion is; if that person is saying it loudly and assertively and, most importantly, convincingly… Well, they feel like they’re being called stupid. They feel like they’re being told that they’re idiots.
    Because unlike someone from another religion, the atheist doesn’t just reject the religious person’s view of the deity: the atheist rejects the deity itself. Our outspokenness and our existence is literally and insult to religious people…
    But I could be wrong.

  16. 16
    lunalelle

    I’ve had very little contact with the LGBT community, at least as far as that issue goes. Most of my connection with that community is through the atheist or agnostic crowd on the internet, so I guess I never saw a problem with being both gay and an atheist. I never thought that the LGBT community could be so pro-religion as to perpetuate fundamentalist behavior – I guess it’s that whole selection bias thing.
    But the atheist community is so supportive of their queer members, and it does have a solid number of queer members in it, too. So it may not be a queer community per se, but definitely queer-friendly enough that I didn’t think much of the fact that they were okay with what I am.

  17. 17
    the chaplain

    Thanks for a great post. I’m looking forward to reading the conclusion. I agree that there is much that the atheist community can learn from the LGBT community about taking our rightful place at the table. Perhaps some members of the LGBT community can learn something from the atheist community about shedding oppressive religious beliefs. I’m not saying that all LGBT people should reject religion (although I’d be cool with that – I wouldn’t mind living in a religion-free world), I’m just saying that they should at least shed the dogmatism and judgmentalism that often (usually?) accompanies religion.

  18. 18
    Lynet

    When I attended an anti-Prop-8 rally, I was disappointed when, after giving a shout out to the churches who had put effort into the rally, and a shout out to “people who maybe don’t go to church but still believe in God”, they left it there and didn’t acknowledge the people who don’t believe in God, but who want to support love and equal rights.
    If we freethinkers don’t speak up for our part in this fight, it’s going to go down like the women’s suffrage movement and the black civil rights movement — in a few decades, the religious are going to want to take all the credit for the social change that took place.

  19. 19
    Valhar2000

    I used to be mildly homophobic myself (in a “gays are icky” kind of way), until I began to take an interest in the science blogosphere, and then the atheist blogosphere, and thus became acquainted with the sheer inmoral monstrosity of the religious reaction to homosexuality.
    That made re-evaluate my opinion of homosexuality very quickly.
    I am also disappointed by the fact that the sheer inmoral monstrosity of the religious reaction to non-belief has not prompted similar reactions in gay people.

  20. 20
    Seth Manapio

    I think that being straight gives me a different perspective on this, which is that I see a surprising amount of discrimination hiding as skepticism in the skeptical community. I actually am in the middle (or hopefully at the end) of a weeklong argument at skepchick over whether it was “rational” to propose and vote for prop 8.

  21. 21
    Brad

    When a homophobic or homo-stupid commenter shows up, the atheist blogosphere — straight and queer — promptly tears them about sixteen new assholes.
    Damn straight!

  22. 22
    jove

    I’m not sure why you’re surprised.
    As a gay athiest myself, I can say that atheists are almost to a fault the most logical people I know, while queers are often all sorts of illogical. LGBT rights are a natural and logical extension of humanism, but it takes a different leap for people to see atheists as something other than an attack on their values.
    I’ve not had any major issues with the LGBT groups I’ve been a part of in the past, but I have had to justify my atheistic position to LGBT individuals. Most queer people that I know are non-religious, although I think it’s more to do with a falling from religion rather than a conscious choice to become athiest, which I think is a crucial difference.

  23. 23
    metalhead39

    Your post has definitely given me a lot of contemplate. Being Christian and gay myself, even i encounter resistance from fellow gays, Christian gays and Christians when I ask questions about religion. My guess is they are speaking from a place of fear and being placed outside their comfort zone. I, too, look forward to reading more from you. From what I’ve seen so far, you’re well on your way to finding peace from within that will withstand any hostility you may face from the outside.

  24. 24
    paul

    As a gay atheist, I came out a decade ago in college as an atheist and only a year ago as gay, and my friends/family were small-towners. So I personally haven’t been exposed to a similar situation, but you’re right, I frequent both atheistic and LGBT blogs daily, and atheist bloggers never hesitate to rant about gay issues. But at the same time, with the exception of some commenters who are the ultimate apologists for their religions (god didn’t mean that gays are an abomination, but all that other stuff, ya that’s real), most gay bloggers I frequent are at least non-religious as well, and my favorite is an outspoken atheist, but he only really blogs about atheism in terms of the danger of religion to our lives as gays. So I see your point that better bridge-building needs to be done.

  25. 25
    MadProfessah

    Thanks for posting this, Christina.
    I was at the LGBT Bloggers summit as well. I haven’t really thought much about being an atheist. I usually describe myself as an agnostic but I am comfortable with the atheist label, especially after reading Richard Hawkins THE GOD DELUSION.
    I haven’t felt any more marginalized in the queer community as a queer non-believer than I have in the straight community as a non-believer. In fact, I would say that the queer community is more atheist-accepting than the straight community is, although the difference is not huge.

  26. 26
    torin

    Here in Indianapolis, my spouse and I belong to Center for Free Inquiry, a secular humanist group. As a matter of fact, we are founding members. We are also active in local LGBT politics. We have never felt any opposition from the LGBT community about our views.

  27. 27
    Sportin' Life

    Feel the love, Greta!
    I’m a little surprised to hear your experience because I’ve found LGBT folks to be disproportionately godless–though not overwhelmingly so. I think Anon Ymous explains well why that might be, above.
    The terrain on which the fight for equality is being conducted in our country is the domain of “faith”, so LGBT believers come to prominence as “those whose opinions matter”. This happens on issue after issue in our politics, as we know to our chagrin.

  28. 28
    Bill

    I don’t think it unusual that there is a slight (not trolling!) inclination for the LGBT community to be less accepting than the atheist community, simply because of what places each of us in those communities.
    Gender (in my experience, at least) is not a choice. It is physical and emotional and social. So the odds are good that you’re going to find the religious in the LGBT community, with all that implies. (The social implications of gender probably means that the LGBT religious community is, on the whole, more tolerant that the straight religious community.)
    The atheist community isn’t exactly formed by “choice”– I can’t see myself abandoning reason anytime — but it is generally composed of people who, one way or another, have come to choose reason over dogma, and having accepted reason then the LGBT community is, as you blogged, a group that we must support, for there is no reason that the LGBT community should have fewer rights or be treated differently than the heterosexual population.

  29. 29
    John P. Kole

    Thanks… that was informative, insightful and encouraging (as a straight atheist).
    Quite a perplexing issue you have raised there.
    Great work.

  30. 30
    vjack

    Thanks for writing this one and the follow-up. I think that the atheist and GLBT movements would be excellent allies. I’m working on some posts to promote this idea, linking to this post of course.

  31. 31
    vjack

    Thanks for writing this one and the follow-up. I think that the atheist and GLBT movements would be excellent allies. I’m working on some posts to promote this idea, linking to this post of course.

  32. 32
    Grimpeur

    Excellent blog, thanks for writing it. As a straight atheist, it’s not a subject I’d given much thought to in the past, but like many who’ve already commented, I’m disappointed but not terribly surprised. A LOT of energy has been focused in recent decades on making the case that homosexuality should not be incompatible with Christianity, using mental gyrations like Jesus bringing a “kinder, gentler, new covenant” that trumps inconvenient OT strictures. Hot-button issues like acceptance of gay clergy, gay marriage in the church, etc have been cause celebres for new sectarian splits, and those fights continue to rage today. Christians opposed to all that only had to realize that what other churches accepted didn’t have to affect theirs, as it was just another case of religious freedom; they could comfortably view those churches as “confused,” just like they do so many others, and feel morally superior to their hearts’ content.
    As atheists, those have all been “yeah-sure-whatever” non-issues; much ado about nothing. We generally couldn’t care less about doctrinal arguments, beyond feeling a bit of glee whenever significant subsets of religious people find any reason to feel conflicted about the “Word of God.”
    But for the gay rights movement, gaining acceptance by *some* Christian churches has been a HUGE, fat, hairy deal. Many strove very, very hard to make the case that they can be Christian and gay and not sinners, because God made them that way, and He doesn’t make mistakes.
    Obviously, no part of that formula works for atheists. We aren’t pleading for acceptance into church membership. We don’t want to be Christian and atheist at the same time. We don’t believe in sin. An infallible, loving god is logically inconsistent with the world we observe. There are no outspoken atheist clergy for us to stick up for, or to stick up for us.
    Gays fought hard for, and won, at least a voice in the debate on doctrine within the Christian community, and those who’ve found a comfortable place there can safely ignore atheist appeals to logic, justice, and humanity, just like their straight xian brethren do.

  33. 33
    Richard S. Russell

    As an atheist activist (straight but not narrow), I must regretfully disagree with the characterizations of atheists as rational, thotful, and tolerant.
    Most of us who THINK our way thru to atheism fit that description, but we are only a tiny minority of atheists in general. (We tend to be the ones you see and hear the most in association with the label “atheist”, tho, so the assumption is understandable.)
    People are atheists (without belief in gods) for any number of reasons. The largest identifiable contingent of atheists in the world are the Chinese, but only because the horrifying Communist indoctrination under Mao Zedong effectively wiped out any competitive ideologies. But these folks are hardly rationalists; they believe in ancestor worship, traditional Chinese medicine, feng shui, and all sorts of other hokum, just not in deities.
    Some people just never get exposed to religion, so for them atheism isn’t a conscious choice, it’s just the way things are. Similar to these are whole flocks of people who just drifted away from their childhood religious upbringing because it wasn’t directly relevant to their lives.
    Some people become atheists for emotional reasons. You fall in love with an atheist and adopt her or his worldview out of love. You’re molested by a priest and end up hating anything to do with religion. Your grandma ships her life savings off to some televangelist and you end up having to take care of her in her final years, breeding resentment.
    Then there are the people who are without god belief because they don’t have the mental capacity to comprehend abstract concepts. This isn’t just mentally retarded people, it’s also kids. (Every child is a born atheist.) I would contend that hardly anyone under the age of 14 can honestly wrap her or his head around the concept of an infinite being (nor can many people older than that, but that’s a separate discussion). Yet almost all of them get indoctrinated into their parents’ religion, a practice Richard Dawkins likens to child abuse. Until that indoctrination “takes”, tho, the kids are functional atheists.
    And so on.
    Knowing that somebody is an atheist really tells you almost nothing else about her or his personal beliefs.
    Of course, I wish that EVERYBODY were rational and a member of the reality-based community, but I recognize that it’s not so, nor is it ever likely to be.
    And a part of me is perversely fond of the diversity that we get from our various different flavors of irrationality. After all, science gets a little dull.
    You will not find an American astronomy, a belligerent biology, a capitalist chemistry, a Methodist math, or a feminist physics. There’s only one worldwide version of each, because they’re all based on facts, not opinions. Religion is nothing BUT opinions, no facts involved, which is why anybody’s word on religion is just as good as anyone else’s (to wit, no good at all).
    And now, a small confession. I do indeed have a religious community of sorts. I’m a Green Bay Packer fan. We’ve got it all: the rituals, the weekly gatherings, the chants and songs, the sacraments (pizza and beer), the vestments, the saints (Vince, Brett, etc.), and the totally irrational expectations that we will someday achieve the Promised Land. (Of course, this isn’t entirely irrational, since we’ve actually BEEN there 4 times over the last 42 years.)
    Furthermore, the Bible says that only 144,000 people will get into heaven. Lambeau Field, with a capacity of 60,789, is far more exclusive. 8^D

  34. 34
    Bob Scherago

    Atheists don’t have the prejudices of the religious population. . . we don’t have a bible with all the prohibitions – real and imagined. We atheists as a group are welcoming of all people who are open minded, as we are.

  35. 35
    Rooster

    What I have found is a lot of my gay friends are posing as anti-religious because the rejection still stings, but they hope for an invisible man in the sky or gia or something.
    The actual disinterest I have in religious feeling is profoundly upsetting to these people. I can’t imagine that they would get christy with anyone, but they are not friendly toward atheism. Really, and this is just a handful of friends, what they want is the Ward and June lifestyle, but with a same-sex couple. They are eager to conform, but stuck in a world where the safe, normal, suburbs they long to be part of don’t want their idea of conforming.
    And as to what Steven Alleyn says, yeah.

  36. 36
    Travis

    All I know if that my own mother was very supportive about the gay thing when I came out to her.
    When I came out as as atheist… let’s just say it is taking a little bit more time.
    I mean, my first boyfriend ended our relationship because I was atheist.
    Trust me, Greta, I feel you.

  37. 37
    BigBear

    I am a gay man living in Colorado Springs Colorado…Home to many fundamentalists christian businesses. I have worked for the Gill Foundation and the Gay and Lesbian Fund. As a gay atheist it truly sickens me to see the resources that those “leaders” in the GLBT movement spend in courting the religious right…Trying to change their minds or at the very least reach a common ground.
    The GLBT community will never change the attitudes of the christian businesses. They make way to much money promoting hate…and money is what christianity is all about in America. Remember christianity is responsible for millions of GLBT deaths over the years…in the name of church profits.
    The GLBT community must get over this need for validation from the fundamentalist christian movement. We are a cash cow for the churches and will never move their viewpoint. Remember christianity is about the money.

  38. 38
    Patience

    I’m also an atheist and a queer, and I have to say that this post really resonates with me. I’ve known a lot of queer people across the queer spectrum who identify as religious or semi-religious for a number of reasons. Sadly, a major reason I’ve heard repeatedly is that the religious straight community won’t take “us” seriously if we don’t play by their rules. A variation on this is the firm belief that one was “made” queer (frankly, and I know you agree, the argument that we are only due rights because “it’s not a choice” makes me queasy), therefore there must be a god.
    I started small. I pointed out to my girlfriend (L–I’m a B) and best friends (T and B) that what they believe is essentially an atheist viewpoint. We talked about it, what we’d like to believe (I wish Pullman was right!), and what we do believe (he’s not), and when they realized that we all essentially agreed…it was a breakthrough. All three have started quietly identifying as atheists–they’re not ready or willing to be totally out, and I think that’s cool. Small steps.

  39. 39
    David Rand

    You may be interested in the my article, entitled “The Strange Universe of the Homosexual Christian”, which appeared in Free Inquiry magazine:
    http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=rand_24_6
    and also available here:
    http://atheisme.ca/repertoire/rand_david/gayXtian_en.html

  40. 40
    Jackie

    I found this post thanks to Vjack and I absolutely love it. I’m a bisexual atheist and I’ve always felt a strange disconnect between atheists and the LGBT community ever since I came out as both. In fact my bisexuality was a non issue with my parents, but my atheism was. I blog mostly about atheism because I really feel more welcomed and at home in that community. While I respect anyone’s right to believe I have a hard time understanding how homosexuals can still be religious given the stigma. They simply ignore what the religions say about the bible, when the religions are correct in sayign the bible condems homosexuality, at least between men.
    This was definitely a fascninating post and I’m going to subsribe to your blog. Thanks for being an outspoken homosexual and atheist.

  41. 41
    Patate

    Lesbian athiest checking in here.
    I spend far more time (like orders of magnitude) with my straight, athiest friends, than I do with my gay friends.
    My athiest friends like to talk about the economy, world politics, science, technology, and of course, religion, and how people think, and social structures. We never “fight” when we argue something we work out the answer with applied logic and debate.
    On the other hand my gay friends… well many of them visit psychics, do tarot card reading, magnet wearing, crystal rubbing, or dream interpreting. They like to read books by deepak chopra and tell me about the “secret.”
    They dont all do all these things all the time. Many of them show a quite rational mistrust towards the “old” religions for their bias against 1) women, 2) LGBT people, 3) black people. although none of my gay friends are as educated and motivated to understand and help minorities. They are mostly white. Most of them would see nothing wrong with someone who made a comment about asians having “slanty eyes.” I’ve seen that happen and I was the only one to smack it down.
    I find in my gay community, there’s far more of a “neo-pagan” spiritualist philosophy than there is an old school christian or catholic one.
    The neo-pagans dont tend to hang out together all the time, like christians. As well, neo-pagan belief systems seem to be widely varied and they seem mistrustful of organizing themselves like old religions.
    I think as a result of that, and maybe also that we’re in Canada, there’s less religious gay groupthink.. and less anti athiest bias.
    I have gotten into the occasional argument when stating that I’m athiest. But usually the tack I take is to try to debunk things one by one… from how cold reading works with psychics, how “the secret” is bullshit layered like an onion around the small, well known truth that positive thinking is good for you, to how wearing magnets dont do shit, but shucks, they are pretty. I mention “confirmation bias” and “anecdotal evidence” and “scientific proof” sometimes this leads to great discussions, sometimes it shuts things down.
    I cant do much about the “water has a memory!” people. They can only help themselves.

  42. 42
    lisa hendrickson

    i thought this post was great. and as a result i looked around your blog a bit and planned to add your rss to my feed. but $5 a month? i’d probably do it for $1 a month, but i’m a social worker. i just cannot afford $60 a year. of course you are free to do what you like, but i’m interested to know…have you found a positive response to this? do you have a lot of subscribers?

  43. 43
    Greta Christina

    i looked around your blog a bit and planned to add your rss to my feed. but $5 a month?

    No, no, no, no, no. My RSS feed is free — it’s a regular RSS feed. The “$5 a month subscription” has nothing to do with my RSS feed. The “$5 a month subscription” is just a way for people who want to donate money to my blog to do so in small amounts every month instead of in one larger sum. You’re encouraged to get my RSS feed, sign up for email updates, or in any other way keep up with my blog, regardless of whether you donate any money. Thanks for asking!

  44. 44
    skywolf10

    i think an alliance between glbt and the big a should happen as an atheist who likes strategy i think the obvious would happen most atheists are happy as long as you keep real science in schools and a moderated Christianity so if the big a and all the gblt community got together and pulled a d day(debate not real war) on the hyper right hmmm? i think brown pants would be the order of the day ;P
    bring the four horsemen and watch them run bring a parade and the horseman and they won’t have anywhere to run to >:D

  45. 45
    DavidinPS

    At an HRC event in L.A. a few years ago, an honoree was Gene Robinson, the gay episcopal Bishop who gave an acceptance speech much like a sermon. Another honoree was Janet Jackson who must have mentioned Jesus twenty times if she mentioned him once. The entertainment was a gospel choir singing several highly christian songs. The dinner had the feel of a revival meeting. As a gay atheist I could not have felt more uncomfortable until the master of ceremonies–dear Alan Cumming–said meekly “You know, there are out and proud gay atheists here too.” The crowd, most of which was reveling in some sort of “see I’m a good religious person too” feeling, could not have cared less.

  46. 46
    drew

    Really enjoyed the piece, thanks for the insight.

  47. 47
    Joreth

    Thought you might like to see this: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=103825292441
    It’s a Queer & Atheist Facebook group.
    As a straight atheist female, I have always jumped on civil rights issues, including the gay rights movement. I’m disappointed not to see a reciprocal support for atheism from the gay community.

  48. 48
    Craig

    As a gay atheist who lives in a very homophobic theistic state (Utah), I’ve felt all the same things. I go to gay rights rallies and have people saying prayers and talking about gay rights and Jesus in the same breath, and get told I hurt the gay rights fight because I reject religion and all religious influence.

  49. 49
    Timothy (TRiG)

    I came here from Pharyngula, PZ Meyers famous science/atheist blog. He’s posted about gay rights issues many times.
    Eclectic, above, mentions Pam’s House Blend. It is perhaps worth mentioning that her blog is subtitled “An online magazine in the reality-based community.” I don’t think Pam has much patience for religion.
    Other gay interest sites, such as Ex-Gay Watch and Box Turtle Bulletin, tend to be quite religious, though I think Jeremy at Good As You and Joe of Joe My God are both atheists (I could be wrong).
    TRiG.

  50. 50
    A Recovering Catholic

    Very interesting post, gave me a lot to think about.

  51. 51
    Greg

    Sadly, the LGBT community will have to do nothing to have my support. I agree with what you wrote: I view discrimination against gays as a holdover from archaic and irrelevant religious attitudes. This attitude is built-in to my worldview now; that gays are to straight as water is to wet; we are of the same species, we are brothers and sisters, and all deserve equality under the law and in society.
    I say “sadly” because I agree, it would be a grand thing for our communities to join voices.

  52. 52
    unorthodoxor

    Good post!
    I think the reason is that Atheism is anti “Religions”, which is where all of the bigotries came from. You have to be against racist, sexism, homophobia, pro-life… etc. You cannot pick and choose if you are atheist.
    On the other hand the LGBT community (at least part of) are mostly fighting for their own sexuality choices.
    If you are an atheist, I find it very hard to be a sexist or racist, because the core idea of atheism is equality of all human beings. But if you are L or G or B or T, there’s nothing stopping you to be a racist or religious nuts.

  53. 53
    Leisha Camden

    The curse of magical thinking, unfortunately, falls on straight and gay equally.
    Very interesting post, thanks for sharing your thoughts. :-)

  54. 54
    Eclectic

    Just to mention Pharyngula again, Argentina legalizing gay marriage is highlighted today. Under the heading “Argentina does the right thing. This is also news in a few other atheist blogs (Joe My God, The Freethinker, Atheist Nexus). And the crowing post in alt.atheism (“Another VICTORY Over Bigotry!!”).
    Mike Tidmus, like Greta, is a gay and atheist blogger, so I won’t count him.

  55. 55
    Rosie

    As a feminine queer woman, sometimes I feel like the atheist community is more supportive of my QUEERNESS than the queer community is. No one in the atheist community is going to question “how queer you are” if you don’t “look butch enough.”
    Usually, the LGBTQ community is great. But there is a strong tendency to assume that everyone who is different is by definition the same. This is why we have actually had to fight internally to recognize that bisexuals, transgendered folks are real and logical allies. Isn’t that silly? How is that even an argument for a community founded by people who demanded that their desires were good and worthy of recognition? There is still a lot of exclusion in the LGBTQ community as transgendered people are thrown under the buss of “alliance building” with people who have no business acting as our allies.

  56. 56
    Christopher

    I have recently found this blog through a friend of mine who is gay and an atheist, and I have to say, I really love what you say and how you say it. I am a gay neo-pagan, which obviously puts me with poeple who follow religion, although not a religion that most people think of when I say “religion.” I can say I have had alot of similar experiences in the GLBT community as you have, when people seemed shocked or dismayed that I am not a christian. I have received reports from friends that some people are scared of me because I am neopagan, while others told me that friends or partners have forbidden association with me because I am a neopagan. One friend even confided in me that he was afraid I might hurt him because of that, so it’s not an uncommon attitude when it comes to people who don’t wave the “I love Jesus” banner with everyone else, because it almost seems that christianity is the default religion of the most US residents. I also have tthe same experience that when I make it known that I m a gay neopagan that other LGBT people come to me wanting to know more, and having a desire to pursue it, especially because it breaks away from Christianity and the vocal moral minority’s homophobic message. They also come to me discretely and privately telling me thier interests because of the seeming monolithic attitude of assumed christian identification.

  57. 57
    R Hayes

    Won’t it be great when we can make the same observation about “race” as this one about queerfulness?

    PS: If you wonder why “race” is in quotes, see your friendly neighborhood Crommunist.

  58. 58
    left0ver1under

    I didn’t run across this thread until now.

    There’s one word that best describes this phenomenon. I hate to use it because it sounds insulting, but I can’t think of a more apt word than pandering. The religious make up a far larger number than atheists and non-affiliated, and it appears the majority of the LGBT community would rather affiliate themselves with the religious (who see LGBT people as “sinners”) and get them onside than accept the unconditional help and support from most of the atheist community (who see LGBT people as normal and not needing a “cure” or change.

    Politically, it makes more sense to hitch the wagons to the largest population because atheists are still widely reviled. But ethically, it comes across as a sellout of principles. Some would rather have many questionable allies than a few natural and dedicated allies – especially allies that are even less liked than themselves.

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