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Conservative Christian goes undercover as a gay man October 17, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Religion.
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Roger’s note: Shades of John Howard Griffin’s classic “Black Like Me,” which had a tremendous impact in the era of the Civil Rights movement.

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                    Tim Kurek

Courtesy of Tim Kurek                    Tim Kurek, who posed as a gay man for a year to understand the adversity homosexuals face in the Bible Belt.

                    Tim Kurek

Courtesy of Allen Media Strategies                    Timothy Kurek, centre, poses with friends on his first Pride Day in Nashville, during his year of pretending to be gay.

                    The Cross in the Closet

The Cross in the Closet, Tim Kurek’s book about his year-long experiment.

Laura Kane Staff Reporter, Toronto Star, October 17, 2012

When Timothy Kurek told his mother he was gay, she wrote in her diary that she would have rather heard she had terminal cancer.

Most of his Christian friends stopped speaking to him. “Jesus doesn’t love you anymore,” one said. As he sat outside a café in a gay neighbourhood, a stranger yelled “Faggot!” and threw a full two-litre bottle of cola at his head.

All terrible, painful experiences for a gay man — but Kurek isn’t gay. He’s a straight, conservative Christian from Nashville.

The aspiring writer went “undercover” as a homosexual for a year to understand the adversity gay people face in the Bible Belt. His book about the experience, called The Cross in the Closet, was released last week.

Kurek said the idea came to him after a friend came out as a lesbian. She told him, sobbing, that her family had disowned her.

“While she was crying in my arms, instead of loving her and trying to comfort her, my thoughts were … ‘Maybe I should give it a go and try to save her, get her to repent,’” he said.

Kurek was raised Independent Baptist and told that being gay was a sin. He remembers learning the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and being taught that God destroyed the cities to punish homosexuality.

But after his experiment, he realized the voice in his head wasn’t God, but religious propaganda.

“I realized I had to kill that voice inside of me, because it was only hurting me and hurting others,” he said.

The only way he could do that, he thought, was to experience what his friend had just gone through. So in January 2009, when he was in his early 20s, he “came out” to his family, got a job at a café gay men frequented and started going to gay bars.

His family was outwardly supportive, although he later found his mother’s diary entry that revealed she was struggling. “I was actually pretty fortunate, compared to a lot of other LGBT folks,” he said.

The first time he went to a gay club, he panicked when a shirtless man began grinding against him on the dance floor.

“I didn’t know whether I needed to punch him in the face or go have a cigarette,” Kurek said.

So Kurek asked a friend, who he described as a “big, burly, black teddy bear,” to pose as his boyfriend, so he wouldn’t be hit on.

He didn’t have relationships with men, but did experience what it was like to wear the label of gay in the South, he explained.

He devotes an entire chapter to the first time he was called “faggot.” To his surprise, it made him weep.

“I had to be held back from attacking the person that did it. I never felt so violated and minimized in my entire life, because of that one word,” he said.

LGBT advocates are divided on Kurek’s experiment. Helen Kennedy, director of Egale Canada, said he can never truly know what it’s like to be gay.

“He can’t see what it’s like to be a gay father, or to be an out man in a straight workplace,” she said. “He’s coming from a place of privilege.”

Irene Miller, president of PFLAG Toronto, agreed, but said she was hopeful the book would change some homophobes’ minds. “Within that evangelical culture, if they listen to his message, then it may do some good.”

When the year had ended, Kurek found his views had completely transformed.

“I went from being a very narrow-minded, hyperconservative Christian to an ally of the gay community,” he said.

His project not only changed him, but also his family and friends. When he revealed a year later that he was in fact straight, his mother said she understood that sometimes you need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes to understand them.

She is now an avid supporter of gay rights. His new LGBT friends were also supportive, Kurek said.

And rather than destroy his faith, the experiment actually saved it. “To the conservative Christians who read my book, I say, ‘Hey, there’s a much better way,’” he said. “It’s God’s job to judge, it’s the spirit’s job to convict, and it’s my job to love.’”

In Riverdale, A Happy Long Life Free of Prejudice March 1, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, LGBT, Right Wing.
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www.commondreams.org, Feb. 29, 2012

by Abby Zimet

The right-wing American Family Association’s One Million Moms is freaking out because Archie comics now has not just an openly gay character, but that character getting married to his partner. Who’s black, for Jiminy Cricket’s sake. So they want Toys ‘R Us to get rid of those nasty comics right now. But Archie Comics’ CEO says he wishes Kevin Keller and his new husband all the best, thanks.

“We stand by Life with Archie #16. As I’ve said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It’s an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday.”

Milk: Hollywood Does Gay History February 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Human Rights.
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While Milk does much to revive the history of the gay liberation movement, it misses a few big opportunities.
Got milk?

Milk goes into the Oscars with eight nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor, for Sean Penn. Aside from 2005’s Brokeback Mountain this is one of the only recent big-budget films to deal sympathetically with the lives of gay people.

The movie is framed by a spoken narrative that Harvey Milk recorded “only to be played if I am assassinated.” But the dramatic tension in the film doesn’t depend on the anticipation of Milk’s death. Instead the viewer is drawn into the story by Milk’s transformation from a closeted insurance salesman (who jokes that he is “responsible for all the evils that afflict society”) to a beacon of hope for the modern gay liberation movement.

As if on cue, the film’s release date—December 22, 2008—coincided with a national staging of protests against the passage of California’s Proposition 8 and similar ballot measures elsewhere that eliminated the right of same sex couples to legally marry. Milk, then, turning the dial of time back a click, holds up a mirror to the American psyche even as it pays homage to a father of gay liberation.

Behind the film’s opening credits, newsreel footage of men in mid-century suits being corralled into paddy wagons from bars and other meeting places gives a quick history lesson, shows the trauma that police brutality, criminalization and public scorn have inflicted on the gay community. We hear the echo of that theme when we learn that the film’s antagonist, Dan White (played by Josh Brolin), is consigned to the hellish prison of internalized homophobia. “He is one of us,” Milk confides to his staff after White pays a visit to Milk’s new office in City Hall. And, later, White drunkenly confesses to Harvey, “I have issues.”

While White and Milk (what an ironic pairing of names!) are forever linked by Milk’s murder, it is another couple that is central to the film—the sumptuously portrayed romance between Milk and his lover, Scott Smith (James Franco, who deserved an Oscar nod). From the first tender sex scene between Milk and Smith, openly gay director Van Sant demonstrates a masterly feel for the subtle electric fire that crackles between men who are in love with each other, and in lust. But the romance does not stop there. Milk and Smith develop into an intimate couple who keep each other in check. Smith comes to represent the earthy, live-for-the-day aspect of their gay partnership, while Milk embodies the loftier, shooting-for-the-stars energy that will eventually propel him into politics.

Refreshingly, when Milk and Smith separate it’s not because gay love is impossible (see: Bent, Querelle, Brokeback Mountain, Wilde, etc.) but because political life is stressful. Their falling out also augurs Milk’s growing involvement in the “political machine” and the potential for reactionary violence that a gay man’s reaching for power entails. Toward the end of the film, Milk watches with fascination a staging of Puccini’s Tosca, which ends in several tragic, twist-of-cruel-fate deaths. At the denouement, Van Sant has Milk staring out of a City Hall window at the opera house as he is fatally shot by White.

Where Do We Go From Here?

For all its virtues, the film does miss a few golden opportunities. Milk often speaks about the role of the “gay movement,” but what exactly is this movement? There are assorted references to the history of the oppression of gay people, as in Nazi Germany and under the thumb of oppressive laws and Christian fundamentalism in the United States. But the vision of this movement could have been elaborated more clearly with a gesture toward Harry Hay, an earlier “father of gay liberation” who was doubtless an influence on Milk. Hay’s argument that homosexuals are in fact “a people” with a purpose in society is a message implicit in everything that Milk carries forward.

Also, the film does not find a way to highlight more effectively Milk’s vision of forging a coalition between gays and other oppressed minority groups, namely (non-gay) people of color, women, and the elderly. In The Times of Harvey Milk, the 1984 documentary that this film is based on, the budding politico says, “Gays, ethnic minorities, and feminists need to link together so that we can affect the total direction of the city [San Francisco]” toward more inclusive and therefore more authentic forms of democracy and social justice.

The movement as portrayed in the film is predominantly white—which may have been a reflection of the demographics of the gay Castro in the 1970s; however, Milk’s awareness of the deep, wide roots of civil rights was clearly a more pronounced aspect of his vision than was captured in this film (footage in The Times of Harvey Milk reveals more direct involvement with people of color). Nevertheless, the theme of unity is rendered movingly in Milk—the filmmakers gathered more than 2000 volunteers along with 200 paid extras to recreate the candlelight vigil for the slain hero, and to create, in effect, a new act of mourning. (It was shot in two takes and “later digitally enhanced to achieve the the look of the crowd winding all the way down Market Street to the Castro from our shoot location near City Hall,” one of the filmmakers explains.)

At a rain-drenched press conference after his victory in the race for a spot on the Board of Supervisors, Milk jokes, “Anita Bryant said gay people brought drought to San Francisco. Well it seems that the drought is over.” The joke is also on Milk, for his ending of the drought leads to a fresh deluge of collective pain in the politically rudderless decades that followed his assassination. (White himself becomes the symbol of the most difficult-to-embrace aspects of gay liberation—one’s disowned, despised, and fragmentary self.)

The film thus leaves the viewer to consider the direction of the modern gay liberation movement. Where do we go from here? Milk underscores the importance of combining the dual strategies of carrying the torch—in the streets, the courts, the voting booth, and the movie theater—while also turning that light inward.

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