Last Thursday, I had a conversation with a professor and a fellow student that gave me a window on the Mennonite narratives on heterosexual privilege. We had discussed Obama’s speech and white privilege in class. After class, I asked about heterosexual privilege. My prof and classmate both responded that a concept of heterosexual privilege “trivialized racism” since the sufferings of African-American are so embedded in our culture (I guess with the implication that the sufferings of LGBTers aren’t). My prof even claimed that the bans against single-sex marriage and other anti-sodomy laws were not persecution, but just limited the “freedom” of LGBTers.
This was a quick conversation in passing, so I didn’t really have my wits about me to respond. These are both caring, intelligent people who care deeply about social justice issues. Yet, for some reason, they don’t consider queers a persecuted group. I realize that I also don’t know yet enough about the history of this issue to be really comfortable about a response. However, after more reflection and conversation, I do have a couple of responses / observations —
- I don’t think that my colleague’s response is really about “trivializing racism.” It’s about not defining the queer experience as a social justice issue. As soon as LGBT is defined as a social justice issue, then the Mennonite Church is on the wrong side of the issue. As long as we can keep this just about Scripture and not how Scripture has been used to persecute or block access to institutions, then the Mennonites can have it both ways — we can advocate for social justice and keep the gays out.
- As I was preparing this post, I glanced at Willard Swartley’s chapter of “cultural analysis” (his term, not mine) in Homosexuality: Biblical Interpretation and Moral Discernment . One of the things that bothered me about the chapter is that he imposes this narrative on queer experience that has little to do with the little I know. Swartley basically argues that homosexuality is a result of the 1960’s sexual revolution and a culture of individualism, urban dynamics and materialistic values. He mentions Woodstock as the embodiment of the sexual revolution, but no mention of Stonewall or ACT UP. I think my colleagues and much of the Church buy into the same type of narrative. How do I respond to this?
- Is white privilege the only privilege we are allowed to talk about? What about sexism or the power imbalances between the Western churches and the churches of the Global South? Or do these conversations also “trivialize racism?”
- What is the level of oppression a group needs to receive before we take it seriously?
- As I previously stated, I don’t know enough about the history of queer experience to really respond to the claim that gays haven’t really suffered, but have only had their freedoms limited. Can anyone provide some resources, particularly about the American situation pre-1960?