Last week ultra-right-wing rabbi Noson Leiter of Torah Jews for Decency referred to Hurricane Sandy as "divine justice" for the state of New York's 2011 legalization of marriage for same-sex couples. Leiter, referring to lower Manhattan as "one of the national centers of homosexuality," argued that "the Great Flood in the time of Noah was ... triggered by the recognition of same-gender marriages." He warned that "the Lord will not bring another flood to destroy the entire world, but He could punish particular areas with a flood." Leiter gave as evidence to prove his assertions the appearance of a "double rainbow" above the city after the storm, together with a high tide during the full moon.
Others, most notably some conservative Christian leaders, have long held lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people responsible for causing many of the greatest natural disasters of modern times. For example, in May 1978 Anita Bryant, Florida orange juice spokeswoman and chief organizer of the so-called "Save Our Children" campaign to overturn an LGBT-rights ordinance in Dade County, called homosexuals "human garbage" and blamed their supposedly sinful behavior for a drought that was afflicting California. Ironically, one day after Harvey Milk was elected as San Francisco City Supervisor on Nov. 8, 1978, the first openly gay man elected to that position, and six months following Bryant's claim, rain poured from the heavens in California.
Some blamed the torrential winds, rain and devastating floods of Hurricane Katrina on LGBT people. In 2006 Rev. John Haggee, evangelical pastor of a "mega-church" in Texas, asserted in an NPR interview with Terry Gross:
New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they ... were recipients of the judgment of God for that. The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the Katrina came. ... I believe that the Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.
Televangelist Pat Robertson claims that God told him of an impending calamity. In 1998, after city officials in Orlando, Fla., voted to fly rainbow flags high atop city lampposts during Disney World's annual Gay Days events, Robertson issued a stern warning to the city:
I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you. ... [A] condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It'll bring about terrorist bombs, it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor.
Following the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, Robertson, along with his conspiracy-theory-propagating evangelical buddy Jerry Falwell, reiterated past warnings while throwing other groups into the mix. On Sept. 13, 2001, Falwell, with an air of righteousness, proclaimed on Roberson's 700 Club on the Christian Broadcasting Network:
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!"
To this Robertson responded: "I totally concur."
Widespread and devastating health pandemics have also been blamed on LGBT people. For example, Ronald Reagan, under whose presidency the AIDS epidemic was detected and spread, did not formally raise the issue until April 1, 1987, in a speech to a group of physicians in Philadelphia -- a full seven years after the onset of AIDS in the United States. Before this, however, when AIDS was perceived by many as a disease of gay and bisexual men, Pat Buchanan, who served as Reagan's Chief of Communications between 1985 and 1987, had referred to AIDS as nature's "awful retribution" and said that it did not deserve a thorough and compassionate response. Writing in 1983, Buchanan claimed, "The poor homosexuals -- they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution." That same year, Buchanan demanded that New York City Mayor Ed Koch and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo cancel the Pride Parade or else "be held personally responsible for the spread of the AIDS plague." And in 1990 he wrote, "With 80,000 dead of AIDS, our promiscuous homosexuals appear literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide."
Later, in 2007, Falwell extended the blame: "AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals. It is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals."
Some even claim that LGBT people are ultimately placing humanity on the endangered species list. On Jan. 9, 2012, in his annual "State of the World" address at the Vatican, which is delivered to diplomats from 179 countries, Pope Benedict XVI released a dire warning that allowing marriage for same-sex couples would "undermine the family, threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself." Earlier, in a Christmas address to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration, on Dec. 22, 2008, the pontiff likened saving humanity from homosexual and gender-variant behaviors to saving the rainforest from destruction: "[The Church] should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed. ... The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less." The pope warned that humans must "listen to the language of creation" and understand the intended roles of man and woman. He called behavior outside heterosexual relations "a destruction of God's work."
All this blame on LGBT people for natural and health disasters amounts to nothing less than scapegoating. Scapegoating dates back to the Book of Leviticus (16:20-22). On the Day of Atonement, the people selected a live goat by lot. The high priest placed both hands on the goat's head and confessed over it the sins of the people. In this way the priest symbolically transferred the people's sins to the animal, which the priest then cast out into the wilderness, thus purging the people, for a time, of their feelings of guilt, shame and fear.
I believe that the prime factor keeping oppression of LGBT people locked firmly in place and enforced throughout our society -- on the personal/interpersonal, institutional and societal levels -- remains the negative judgments emanating from certain faith communities.
Fortunately, however, there exists no monolithic conceptualization of LGBT people, for other faith communities' values and policy positions have progressively welcomed LGBT people, our sexuality and our gender expression, and these communities are working tirelessly to abolish the yoke of oppression placed upon us. Where various faith traditions connect negatively on issues of same-sex sexuality and gender nonconformity, however, is in the area of religious orthodoxy.
Today we still live in a society that attempts to define and perpetuate fairy tales about the real lives of LGBT people and even proclaims that we do not have a right to exist, but exist we do, everywhere, in all walks of life. Though certain religious denominations may continue in their attempts to define us, they will not succeed.
A central tenet of liberation is the right of people to self-define, to maintain their subjectivity and agency over the course of their lives. With our loving allies within progressive religious communities, in addition to those unaffiliated with religious denominations, we are taking back the discourse and demanding that orthodox religious institutions curb their offensive dogma and take their interpretations of scripture off our bodies.
We refuse to allow them to cast us out into the wilderness!