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After the Wrath of God

After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American ReligionAfter the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion by Anthony M. Petro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best written non-fiction books I've read. This is the author's first book, so I look forward to reading what he writes in the future. According to his bio at Boston University his next two book projects look equally as interesting.

This book is about the religious rhetoric used during the early years of the AIDS crisis and how that rhetoric shaped public policy. This is a fascinating study exploring how left, right, and center developed moral language to grapple with the crisis. The study refutes any reductionistic notions of religious conservatives versus secular leftists.

The final two chapters discuss Cardinal O'Connor and ACT UP's confrontation of him. Reading those chapters made me very angry at the Cardinal.

In the final section the author explores how AIDS and gay activists developed their own religious and moral language, but he left me wanting more. I hope that comes in subsequent books.

Also, while he does treat of progressive Christian responses, they don't get as much discussion as conservative responses. This is probably because conservative responses dominated much of the public health debates at the time.

Petro is a keen intellect and engaging writer.

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Gotta Have Faith

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Practice was over and everyone was in the locker room getting undressed in order to shower.  Most awkward when you are in eighth grade.  Moreso if you are a nascent gay boy around lots of unruly jocks.  Suddenly organ music was playing, and I was confused.

One of my classmates had a giant jam box on the bench where he was changing clothes.  The jam box was the source of the organ music.  Had organ music suddenly become popular, I wondered?  I was a dorky, religious and intellectual kid who had no sense of popular trends.  Then, suddenly, the organ gave way to the beats of one of the most popular songs of the moment.

This was the first time I ever heard the album Faith by George Michael (as opposed to the hit single, and ultimately singles, on the radio).

I was raised a Southern Baptist.  We were always on guard for religious faith to be mocked in popular culture.  We were particularly alarmed whenever spirituality and sexuality were intertwined (Madonna freaked Evangelicals out).  So all these impulses and passions were at war when I listened to such popular music.  

The decades bring further reflection  upon the enjoyable ironies of moment.  Here in the most homoerotic of heterosexual spaces--the junior high locker room--I always felt manifestly uncomfortable and most different from my classmates.  Playing this sexually charged popular music made me feel even more different.  Yet, the cool, popular straight guys were listening to George Michael sing erotic songs.  George Michael who later came out as gay.


The Angel of History

The Angel of HistoryThe Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard an interview with the author on All Things Considered and ordered the book immediately. Our church's Advent theme is remember and dream and the interview was about the roles of remembering and forgetting (represented in the novel by the characters of Satan and Death). The book is an imaginative exploration of the AIDS era with Satan, Death, and 14 Christian Saints appearing as characters helping the main character Jacob cope with his grief.

I found the story compelling. Some of the writing is beautiful while some of the sentence and paragraph structures must have survived only by long arguments with editors, as many don't follow anything like the standard rules. The closing pages are quite lovely.

I wasn't sure that all the anecdotes are necessary. I also felt that some plots and characters needed more story than they received.

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I Know What To Do

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I know what to do.  For all the people sharing what we need to do in the wake of the election, I know what to do, that was never in doubt.  I know it, because I've done it before.  

I lived as a very public gay man in the State of Oklahoma during a time when a state legislator said we were worse than terrorists and the Aryan Brotherhood murdered a gay man in a horrific hate crime.  I lived in a climate intended to terrorize me into silence and submission and I refused to be cowed.  And I had to interact with that legislator more than once, and always did so with kindness and grace.  In my public roles I encouraged people to not speak about her and others like her in the ways that they spoke about us. I encouraged the building of the beloved community, as Dr. King spoke about it.  

In that climate of intended terror I rarely was afraid.  I scoffed at the death threats I received, holding them as badges of honor.  When I was mistreated on the floor of the state House of Representatives, I thought it was silly.  When Westboro Baptist Church came to town to protest me, I felt I'd arrived as an activist and chose to celebrate that day.  When Michael and I were denounced in the state Republican Party platform (and I don't mean in some general sense, I mean specifically the two of us), we laughed and shared the news with our friends.  

And we got married in a public park so all the world could see.

Every day I lived with hope, courage, and integrity, refusing to let others define me or rob me of my power and my voice.  I insisted upon my right to be equal and free and worked tirelessly on behalf of my community, in the face of overwhelming opposition and a climate of terror and violence.  

And we won.  Not every battle, there was still work to be done, but the most difficult task of winning the hearts and minds of the American public, the mainstream culture, we won.  And we were winning more in the political arena and the courts.  In 2012 in Omaha, after a lot of really hard work, we passed an equal rights ordinance, and, then, fought multiple times, often behind the scenes, in the years since to secure that victory from attempts to overturn it.  We won handily every time.  

Along the way things changed.  I hadn't quite realized it till this week, but when I held Michael's hand I had quit looking around first to see if it was safe.  I don't know when I quit doing that.  I'd never thought about it.  But gone was the need every day to be courageous.  I felt most of the difficult work was in the past and that I could begin to focus my energy on other justice concerns.  Finally I was living as a free person.

In fact, I was living as a triumphant person.  I had achieved the goals I set for myself at 29.  I had come out and remained in both ministry and the conservative heartland.  I fell in love and got married.  God had blessed us with a son.  And I had played my part in securing my civil rights and equal treatment under the law.  I was living a victorious life.

So, I know what to do, because I've done it already.  I'm angry that I have to do it again.