There was an article published in the Washington Post yesterday, “Christian activists: Indiana law tried to shield companies against gay marriage” (Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post, 2015). It was the first time I’ve heard the term “Christian Activist” in a major publication (though I’m not necessarily the best connected to the news, so it’s probably more popular than I think). I think it’s appropriate, though, considering the way the word has been wielded as a club or a sword over the last few years. As something of an activist myself, I don’t consider it to have necessary negative implications, although it does indicate something of an extreme social and intellectual focus.
Much of the article above focused on reaction to statements by Indiana’s governor about the Religious Freedom Law he had signed the previous day: he said it “was never intended to permit business owners to deny service to gays and lesbians.” I remember reading that, and just chuckling to myself in utter irony. I have to say, Mr. Pence, god may or may not like individual gays or lesbians, but we do know that he doesn’t like liars. The article then illustrated how Mr. Pence had worked with, and celebrated with upon the signing, people who were a lot more single-minded and honest about their cause: to avoid dealing with gays and lesbians. If you’re going to pander to the homophobic vote, don’t be surprised if you’re called one. And so the law was rewritten: thus in Indiana at least, some consider that LGB people now have a kind of indirect protection (David Savage, LA Times, 2014). That is less so in Arkansas, where the law simply mirrors existing federal laws. People can still fire you for being gay and refuse to cater your event.
Since I lived in Arkansas for ten years and consider it my adopted home-state, many have asked me if this really is an issue in Arkansas: do people really refuse business to potential clients, simply because they are (or might be) gay or lesbian? My response is to tell them about my first rodeo in the state: in 2001 I was Rodeo Director for the Diamond State Rodeo Association (DSRA), the state’s then-annual gay rodeo. We are a member of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), and are one of the minority of associations that has consciously chosen not to have the word “Gay” in our name. As rodeo directory, I had to arrange everything from the rodeo grounds to stock contractor to host hotel. And after my first experience of being refused service after the vendor found out we were a gay rodeo, I was clear with my very first phone call what kind of event we were organizing. It’s true that some people never called me back; but then I didn’t want to give them our money anyway.
And there’s the rub. Do we want someone’s homophobic catering or otherwise working at a gay event? Perhaps not. But that’s not really the point, is it? It’s that we want to be able to have these events, and not have to go to extreme lengths to find caterers or workers who are willing to work for us, to accept our money. Been there, done that: it’s not a lot of fun. But then again, I think that the statement needs to be made. There was a day that I remember when the power was on their side: and they used it to do more than just avoid our events. They used it to imprison us, to steal from us and to take our potential, to “treat” us to get us to conform to their ideas of family and affection. One day our conservative, legalistic brethren might realize their error, but until then sometimes one has to do things that make one uncomfortable.
It is a difficult question. I do not support the right to discriminate, but I also understand not wanting to participate in an event with which one disagrees (even if, as in this case, I would disagree with that assessment). I don’t think it helps to force people into acceptance, but hatred can easily get the upper hand. This is one of those times when a little love (αγαπή for my Christian readers) goes a long way.