There is an excellent essay titled, “The Fundamentalist Agenda,” by Davidson Loehr. Although there are parts within it with which I don’t agree, it deserves to be read in its entirety, as it gets at the root of the exclusion of all those who don’t conform to the ideology of fundamentalists of all stripes, be they “religious” or secular; that fundamentalism can be seen to cause and comprise a large part of the reasons for homophobia.
“The only way all fundamentalisms can have the same agenda is if the agenda preceded all the religions. And it did. Fundamentalist behaviors are familiar because we’ve all seen them so many times. These men are acting the role of “alpha males” who define the boundaries of their group’s territory and the norms and behaviors that define members of their in-group. These are the behaviors of territorial species in which males are stronger than females. In biological terms, these are the characteristic behaviors of sexually dimorphous territorial animals. Males set and enforce the rules, females obey the males and raise the children; there is a clear separation between the in-group and the out-group. The in-group is protected; outsiders are expelled or fought.”
It seems to me that the roots of homophobia are seated deep within a fundamentalist mind-set, be it “religious” or not, that takes its moral hegemony and hetero-normativity for granted; seeks to resurrect a past that never really truly existed, but is a wish-fulfillment taken from an idealized version of our culture that never truly existed. In other words, fundamentalist thinking, thinking in black and white terms, thinking in one-dimensional terms, stems from both an idealized version of what is viewed as “reality” as well as from a fictional version of what is viewed as that same “reality.”
Therefore, “success” is equated with the alpha male who is then viewed as representing the pinnacle of “success”; the one who represents “the real man” who is seen to be diametrically opposed to the usually false stereotype of the essentially effeminate gay male. Hence, the revulsion and discrimination of both secular and “religious” fundamentalists against gay males and, to a lesser degree, against lesbians who don’t threaten alpha male status. (Indeed, many male heterosexuals get off on lesbian porn, whereas presumably very few male heterosexuals are likely to get off on gay male porn.)
And when the name of God can be invoked in that fundamentalist mind-set, even the minority’s civil rights can be prevented and rescinded if a seemingly credible argument can be made that the Bible and the Constitution should be coterminous. Hence, as the above cited article states: “Pat Robertson, again, has said that just as Supreme Court justices place a hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution, so they should also place a hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.” Only fundamentalist thinking can see our Democratic Republic as being coterminous with viewing our society as a Theocracy!
And, to complicate matters even further, many LGBT people have internalized this fundamentalist thinking, despite much rhetoric to the contrary, so that many live lives of unnecessary shame and guilt for being the way God created them; many who disdain the very Person of God have also internalized religious fundamentalism after hearing hateful rhetoric in the name of “religion” over the years, consciously and/or unconsciously viewing themselves as “deviant,” as “sinners,” as “depraved,” as “going to hell.”
These lies have so infused so many LGBT people that one can’t even talk about a meaningful “Gay Civil Rights Movement,” as the critical mass that would allow such a movement, and the outraged demand for dignity and civil rights at the current time, seem quite removed from public discourse; the gratitude for crumbs of incrementalism by many Gay people being so effusive, that it seems unlikely that equal rights will be won in this generation. The living up (or down) to the stereotypes placed on Gay people by the oppressor shows that fundamentalist thinking has done its job on both the fundamentalists and upon their targets of victimization!
The alpha male is so identified with “success,” and is so well-respected, that anything that contravenes this status, be it a powerful woman or an effeminate male, is ripe for being a subject of derision! Hence, homophobia, just like misogyny, is largely a reaction to what is deemed to be the very opposite of both hetero-normativity as well as “maleness” that is seen to be synonymous with “power,” and “success.” And, those who think in fundamentalist terms, in black and white terms, in one-dimensional terms, see these opposites as threats both to the way they think the world should work and as threats to their very own psyches.
Nostalgia for a past that never really existed and the deep desire to maintain a concept of self whereby one’s world is not in any way rocked or threatened is crucial to all fundamentalists! Indeed, the very idea that being Gay is just as normal and natural as is being Straight is anathema to fundamentalists, and flies in the face of their “logic” that is largely based on the fiction that equal rights for Gay people threatens the very fabric of society which is, in reality, synonymous with the very fabric of what protects their own psyches.
We can never underestimate the fear that drives fundamentalists! One only has to listen to some of their rhetoric to see that fear that underlies such statements as made by the late Jerry Falwell: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'”
Clearly, any rational person sees the foolishness behind such a statement, yet fundamentalists are not rational, because people who operate from fear are rarely, if ever, rational! Their world-view is viewed by them as being under attack, and they lash out at anything that threatens that world-view and their very psyches. And their deep need to see the world and their place in the world in a certain way, frequently ascribed to being “God’s way,” is easily threatened when such seeming aberrations, threats, and uncertainties as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina occur, so they need to lash out at, and even blame, those whom they have come to view as “the other” who is, by definition, “not on God’s side.”
Clearly, repeated indoctrination of homophobia from assorted pulpits throughout the world have done little but reinforce discrimination as well as fundamentalist thinking, so that these consequences of such ignorant and hateful rhetoric “in the name of God” have nurtured and reinforced this fundamentalist thinking that has become viewed as normal and “Godly” by those who have been exposed to this indoctrination. Moreover, the incestuous socialization that occurs in so many churches have also helped reinforce such fundamentalist thinking and homophobia so that any attempt to rationally explain the fallacies of both are quite often met with a virulent rage that brings to light some of the worst aspects of the human heart and condition.
Rationality is no match for fundamentalism; “sweet reason” can never overcome fundamentalist thinking; there is no compromise with fundamentalism; making nice with fundamentalists is to be seen, and is seen by them, as operating from a position of weakness!
The only antidote to the ravages of fundamentalism and fundamentalist rhetoric regarding its impact on homophobia is enforced integration in positions of equality so that Straight and Gay people are put in positions of equality by law and, over time, acceptance and less fear will be generated by that very interaction. Hence, civil rights of any minority group such as Gay people can never be allowed to come to a vote of the electorate, as “inalienable rights” are Constitutional guarantees that must be demanded by people who have dignity and, therefore, have rage against being treated as second-class citizens; continue to bring that case to the Judiciary and Legislatures.
There is no “other side” to LGBT rights! Fundamentalism is based on fear and on myth that helps frightened people navigate their way in this uncertain world! Hence, there is no antidote to fundamentalism that meets certain crucial needs to psychologically fragile people!
Rather, meaningful activism must occur for full and equal civil rights to occur, and for that to occur there must be a “transformation of consciousness” whereby LGBT people and allies demand equal, Constitutionally guaranteed, rights, and don’t seek some level playing field with fundamentalists, because there can be no such level playing field that doesn’t diminish the dignity and rights of Gay people.
It is Gay people who have the dignity to demand full and equal rights who have the moral high ground; it is the fundamentalists who operate from a position of weakness because of their fearfulness! And this fact must never be forgotten by Gay people if full and equal civil and sacramental rights are to become a reality in the foreseeable future!
Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. He also published a blog called A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights and the website Radical Christianity.