Since the intentional misreading of the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 in the Bible where the twin cities were supposedly destroyed because of homosexual depravity, the causes of natural disasters always find ways to be placed on the backs of LGBTQ Americans.
We have become an easy, go-to explanation.
And, usually by Bible-thumping religious conservatives, or, in Ann Coulter’s case, a worn-out right-wing conservative pundit needing free publicity by any means necessary.
Unlike Colorado’s Pastor Kevin Swanson, who stated emphatically the cause for Houston’s Hurricane Harvey is a clear sign of God’s wrath against a city that now embraces LGBTQ rights, Coulter’s comment was intentionally duplicitous.
“I don’t believe Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than” climate change,” Coulter tweeted.
Former Houston mayor, Annise Parker tweeted back: “Darn it, I thought no one knew I had a super power over weather.”
Parker was the first openly LGBTQ mayor of Houston from 2010 to 2016.
It continues to amaze me how in this 21st Century the debate between “creationism versus evolution” or “God’s will versus climate change” continues when a simple scientific explanation about Houston’s topography—flat and built on marshes making flooding a recurring problem—is all that’s needed.
The blame game damns a people already suffering, and it makes scapegoats out of others. For example, while scientists explained Haiti’s 2010 natural disaster as an earthquake due to a fault it sits on along the border between two large tectonic plates—the North American plate to the north, and the Caribbean plate to the south—that slowly slide horizontally past each other, televangelist Rev. Pat Robertson explained the disaster as “Something [that] happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it.”
The something that happened a long time ago was an earthquake on the same fault in 1860. And this fault is the same type as the San Andreas Fault in California—a “strike-slip” fault.
But the day after the Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, Robertson offered a different explanation.
He said: “Many years ago, the island’s people “swore a pact to the devil. True story. And so, the devil said, ‘OK, it’s a deal.’ They kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”
In 2005, many conservatives joined Robertson in blaming Hurricane Katrina on LGBTQ people. Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast just two days before Labor Day weekend in 2005, when New Orleans’s annual Queer “Southern Decadence” festival was to begin. While floods are a regular part of life in the lowlands of Louisiana and hurricanes are frequent occurrences all along the coastline, Michael Marcavage, director of Repent America, embraced the opportunity to blame the city itself:
“We believe that God is in control of the weather. The day Bourbon Street and the French Quarter were flooded was the day that 125,000 homosexuals were going to be celebrating sin in the street. We’re calling it an act of God.”
For these conservative religious groups, the disaster was a sin addressed and a prayer answered.
As we might expect, discerning divine motivation is never a simple task. While Annise Parker was embraced by her constituents, Houston voters rejected in 2015 an equal rights ordinance that would have protected the rights of 15 different categories of people, including LGBTQ people.
Another complication is that the suffering people endure after a natural disaster is often a result of human negligence and greed. For example, during Hurricane Katrina there were at least 50 failures of levees and flood walls causing 80 percent of New Orleans and surrounding parishes to flood. In 2009, a federal judge ruling argued that the aftermath of Katrina was a human-made disaster caused by the Army Corps’ failure to maintain the levee system protecting the city.
The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey was, too, a human-made disaster. Money-hungry developers and town officials have allowed development expansion projects that overwhelmed the area’s sewers and streams while ignoring and stressing the city’s wetlands and prairies which absorbs rainwater. Also, development in low-lying, flood-prone areas without regard to building codes or future risk in areas of the city where homebuilding has become a major economic engine.
It is easier, it seems, to blame certain groups of people for natural disasters than it is to account for human disregard.
If God really had anything to do with these devastating outcomes from natural disasters, I think God would say something more like this: address the damn problems, and stop blaming me, too.