"Talking about Sexual Orientation, Teaching about Homophobia" - Negotiating the Divide between Religious Belief and Tolerance for LGBT Rights in the Classroom

By Lester, Toni | Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, August 2008 | Go to article overview

"Talking about Sexual Orientation, Teaching about Homophobia" - Negotiating the Divide between Religious Belief and Tolerance for LGBT Rights in the Classroom


Lester, Toni, Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy


INTRODUCTION--SEXUALITY POLITICS, RELIGIOUS BELIEF AND THE CLASSROOM

The question of whether or not people in the LGBT (2) community should be able to enjoy certain fundamental rights taken for granted by most Americans is a contentious issue. While a large number of people agree that same sex sexuality should no longer be criminalized (3) and that gay men and lesbians should be allowed to participate in civil unions, (4) a significant number believe that homosexuality is immoral (5) and that it should be illegal for gay men and lesbians to marry. (6) Greater or lesser tolerance for LGBT rights in the U.S., especially gay marriage, is directly tied to age, religious belief and political affiliation. A 2005 nation-wide survey conducted by the Boston Globe found that people thirty-five years old and younger are more pro-gay in their attitudes than plus sixty-five year olds. (7) The same survey revealed that "Republicans, Protestants, regular churchgoers, and Southerners were most likely to oppose gay marriage. It was more likely to be favored by ... Democrats, and people who do not attend worship services or who attend a few times a year." (8)

There are many explanations for why some people are against LGBT rights. For instance, some scholars argue that animus against gay men and lesbians, or homophobia, (9) stems from repressed feelings of attraction for people of the same sex, feelings that the holder finds repugnant. This in turn can sometimes cause the holder to lash out at gay men and lesbians. (10) Others contend that homophobia is rooted in sexist attitudes about proper gender roles, with lesbians and gay men being viewed as traitors to nature because of their same sex affiliations. (11) People who hold the kinds of views just explained, often find support for their ideas in interpretations of the teachings of some of the more conservative strains of the world's major religions.

For example, in 2003, the same year that the Massachusetts Supreme Court's endorsed the legality of same sex marriage, the Vatican announced that "marriage exists solely between a man and woman ... while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law." (12) The Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Protestant denomination with 14 million members, (13) has said that "Homosexuality is not a 'valid alternative lifestyle.' The Bible condemns it as sin." (14) Furthermore, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest African American Christian denominations, has announced that it considers same sex marriage and the ordination of gay clergy contrary to church doctrine. (15)

This is not to say that all religious denominations are against LGBT rights. The Unitarian Universalist Association endorses the ordination of openly lesbian, gay and bisexual ministers, (16) as does the United Church of Christ. (17) In an official pronouncement, the latter stated: "We recognize the presence of ignorance, fear and hatred in the church and in our culture, and covenant to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation ..., and we seek to include and support those who, because of this fear and prejudice, find themselves in exile from a spiritual community." (18)

It should not be forgotten that America, a majority Christian country, is a land of multiple religions. The following is only an imperfect sampling of the official views on homosexuality held by several non-christian religious groups with sizeable followings in the United States. Reform Judaism, the biggest Jewish denomination in the United States with 1.7 million members, welcomes openly gay rabbis and members and endorses same sex commitment ceremonies. (19) However, such ceremonies are not considered the same as heterosexual marriage ceremonies. (20) On the other hand, the Conservative Judaism movement, which has 1.4 million members in the United States, officially prohibits same sex weddings and openly lesbian or gay rabbis. …

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