American Idol finalist La’Porsha Renae made comments about the LGBTQ community that gave many pause. When asked about the controversial bill that was passed in her home state of Mississippi, Ranae said that she did not agree with any law that would discriminate against anyone.
However, she went on to say that “I am one of the people who don’t really agree with that lifestyle,” and “But I do have a lot of friends and a lot of people that I love dearly who are gay and homosexual….We should just respect each other’s differences and opinions and move on.”
Renae has since apologized, stating that she did not intend harm by her remarks.
Still, the words and phrases that she used to describe her passive homophobia—“lifestyle,” “religious reasons,” “not how I was raised”—are part of a long tradition of rhetoric used in religious communities to vilify the LGBTQ community.
There are two main areas of her comments that are routinely used by Christians to place their “disagreement” under a sacred canopy of religious freedom. The first is the issue of a “lifestyle.” Many people in religious communities abide by the stereotype that gay life is nights filled with drunken party hopping, drug use, and an overall lack of morals.
These ideas would be considered sin even for straight people, but these “party animal” traits are often deemed to be intrinsic to being gay. To them, “gay” is a series of willful decisions to live a life devoid of the values that most consider highlighting a Christian life. Rarely is consideration given to the idea of gender identity, and if it is discussed it is within the context of fairly rigid gender roles.
This idea falls apart under closer scrutiny.
The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes.” Based on this definition, one can live out a variety of religions, ethics, and moral choices. There are gay people that don’t like to party, bisexual people who are Muslim and like to stay in on weekends, and lesbians who wear modest clothing and would rather go to the library than the pride parade.
An “enduring pattern of emotional, romantic” and/or sexual attractions” says nothing about the moral choices that one might make in spite of or alongside those attractions.
With that being said, the way to correct this narrative is not to advance the idea of “the good gay.” The idea that only the white, cis-gender, domesticated gays who mimic heteronormative ideals are worth rights has been detrimental to many other vital causes. First, people can decide to engage religious faith or not; religion in and of itself does not make anyone moral.
Also, gay people can make diverse decisions on how to express their sexuality, as well as how to configure their relationships. The way to counter myths about the “gay lifestyle” is not to highlight all of the gay people who manage to confirm to other aspects of mainstream culture because this approach ultimately results in shaming people who do not live into these norms.
Instead, we can challenge the idea of the “gay lifestyle” by elevating the lived experience of LGBTQ people from all walks of life.
Queer folk are everywhere, and they do everything. Many of them disagree with each other on everything from politics to the best place to order a burger. People who identify as LGBTQ should be allowed the chance to let their individual lives and choices speak for them, just like straight people.
The second portion of Renae’s comments concern her “religious reasons.” It is true that many people challenge the idea of embracing queerness due to their understanding of scripture. Many scholars and preachers have done excellent work to demonstrate why a queerphobic interpretation of Christianity is unnecessary.
Yet, it stands to be stated that someone can disagree with ideas but not with someone’s existence. Saying that you disagree with someone’s very being in the world—an immutable portion of their existence—is tantamount to saying that one disagrees with rocks or the fact that the sky is blue. In order for the disagreement to be honored, the rock would have to become something besides a rock, and the sky would have to lose its color.
People can change their minds, but they should never have to change what makes them who they are.
While it is important to fight against legislation and other policies that harm the LGBTQ community, it is also vital to dismantle the thought processes that undergird and allow these measures to go so far in the first place. While they might not sign the bill, people who position themselves behind comments such as “lifestyle” and “religious choice” implicitly grease and maintain a system of marginalization for many people.
An apology for this is great. Efforts to use healthier words would be even better.
Photo via flickr user Hilde Skjølberg