The speech of Christopher Arntzen: chair, gay and lesbian Atheists and humanists

The speech of Christopher Arntzen: chair, gay and lesbian Atheists and humanists

We now have a credible account that some 14% of Americans are nonreligious. In other words, we are 1 in 7. That encourages and emboldens us as we announce our presence and campaign for our rights as godless Americans. We now take an invaluable cue from the movement for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Americans, as we say to non-religious Americans — it is time to come out of the closet. Early gay activism drew encouragement from an estimate that one in six of the male population had a same-sex preference. That, of course, was pretty much a hidden or secret 1 in 6. The reality behind that estimate, whether it was too high or too low, never made any difference until significant numbers began pushing their way out of the closet.

What difference will it make if we are 14% of the population, 1 in 7, if we are silent and invisible? On September 12th of last year, all of us vanished. The country had been attacked by religious fanatics, but the only way to mourn in public was to pray. The traditional day of mourning had become a day of prayer and remembrance. The public ceremonies sought out the participation of the most exotic religious minorities-provided that they could at least pray. The affront to the non-religious was not unintentional. It was crass and mean-spirited.

The homophobic are often motivated by an unacknowledged sense of gays and lesbians as a threat to their sexuality or masculinity. Similarly, I believe that in the aftermath of September 11th, the non-religious were perceived as a threat to the religiosity of many. The attacks of that day were conducted in prayer and in the expectation of an immediate reward in the afterlife. They were religiously motivated acts conducted by jihadis, which you may recognize as the Islamic equivalent of crusaders. I fail to see what we gain by this deference to religiosity.

The painful thing about being in the closet is that it is indeed living a lie. It is an unspoken and completely one-sided bargain. What did we gain by nursing our wounds in private last September? And how odd it is for non-religious Americans to be in the closet. The lifestyle of non-believers–looking just at such things as rates of incarceration or divorce rates–ought to be the envy of any religious group.

I remember well the march on Washington for gay and lesbian rights in 1993. There is something enormously energizing about simply stepping forth and identifying yourself and your beliefs. I hope that we have been able to experience something similar today. It is of course just the beginning, but it is an essential first step.

As some of the smoke in the struggle for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans has cleared, we can now identify the ranks of our persecutors as consisting principally of the religious right and their allies. Indeed, the effort to “change” or “cure” sexual orientation is now unabashedly and exclusively religious. It’s some comfort to know that you can become straight — but it will take a miracle.

The last time I was invited to march on Washington was for what billed as a successor to that 1993 march. It was the so-called “Millennium March” on Washington. Its organizers decreed it would a march by the entire gay and lesbian community for “faith and family.” Naturally, GALAH respectfully declined to participate — well, actually, it wasn’t that respectful, since we participated in the organized boycott effort. I really don’t know whether the organizers convinced themselves that the queer community was truly at one with the rest of American in “faith and family.” I am pretty sure that they didn’t fool anyone else. It’s time that gay and lesbian Americans, non-religious Americans, and religious Americans who support the separation of church and state recognize the silence and deference to the religious right and to meretricious public religiosity for what it is. It is appeasement, not containment, and it will not work.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. We look forward to working with you in the ongoing struggle for equal rights.

Mr. Arntzen may be reached at:

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