Note to Newt: Back Off Harry Knox!

When my brother Newt Gingrich attacks Harry Knox, he's attacking me. And I don't take too kindly to bullies.
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Newt, you've really gone beyond the pale this time. Earlier this week, as a guest on Greta Van Susteren's show on the Fox News Channel, my brother referred to Harry Knox as "an anti-religious, left-wing zealot." Newt was responding to Harry's recent appointment to President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. I know Harry Knox. We work together at the Human Rights Campaign, where Harry serves as director of the Religion and Faith Program. He is a person of great wisdom who deserves his appointment. He is also someone I am honored to call a dear friend. When my brother Newt attacks Harry, he's attacking me. And I don't take too kindly to bullies.

Ironically enough, I first met Harry in Cobb County, Georgia, when the county commission had passed a resolution condemning the "gay lifestyle" because a public theatre was to produce "Angels in America." The commission was browbeating the community to cancel the production of an award-winning play simply because some characters were gay. Plus ca change, eh? Harry Knox believes in faith as a force for liberation and social justice. He dedicates his life to bringing people of all faiths together to work for a better nation and world. By exploring a wide range of religious experiences and offering thoughtful biblical analysis and commentary, Harry and his team at HRC aim to embolden faithful people to see in their faith a plea for understanding and a revitalized call for equality. It's fitting that Newt, whose name is synonymous with divisiveness, would assail someone who unites people as adeptly as Harry Knox. Under his leadership, HRC has developed a national speakers' bureau that reaches more than 10 million Americans monthly and a weekly preaching resource that provides scriptural commentary to ministers and lay people interested in an ecumenical LGBT perspective on the Bible. He has also been instrumental in creating a national network for progressive state clergy coalitions around the country. That is incredibly scary for those who rely on distorted messages of faith to incite fear and justify discrimination. Right-wing voices like my brother's use faith to manipulate people into voting against their interests by scapegoating the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Come on, Newt--get with the program. We're not so bad! I don't think my brother is the intolerant talking head he plays on television. Rather, he's just using old, outmoded tactics in a desperate attempt to bring his party back from the dead. He is parroting the old canard that LGBT people cannot be people of faith. Ergo, people of faith cannot be supportive of LGBT people. If I may repeat myself, that is so 90s, bro. But it isn't the 90s anymore--far from it. Newt doesn't realize he's already lost, because the next generation won't fall for the rhetoric that once was effective for the right-wing. The next generation wants equality and fairness for all, and more and more of them know that those principles don't have to conflict with their religious beliefs. In fact, those convictions are quite compatible with faith. Harry Knox knows that, and he embodies those values every day. To say that Harry is anti-religious is ruthlessly absurd. I know Harry and can say without hesitation that he is a devout Christian who believes deeply in the teachings of the Bible. He has studied the Bible and knows it calls for us to work for the common good. And, by the way, Harry's comments about the Pope that have been so vilified by right-wingers, including my brother, were spot on. It is preposterous to say that condoms worsen the spread of AIDS. What next, telling followers that French-kissing can make you pregnant? That masturbating will make you go blind? In response to the Pope's ludicrous claims about condoms, Harry said, "On a continent where millions of people are infected with HIV, it is morally reprehensible to spread such blatant falsehoods. The Pope's rejection of scientifically proven prevention methods is forcing Catholics in Africa to choose between their faith and the health of their entire community. Jesus was about helping the marginalized and downtrodden, not harming them further." That doesn't sound so unreasonable to me, Newt. And it didn't seem unreasonable to the editorial boards of the Washington Post, New York Times, Seattle Times and newspapers around the country. In fact, I challenge Newt to find one legitimate medical practitioner who disagrees with Harry. That includes doctors of faith. Thankfully, people like my brother don't speak for all people of faith, and they certainly don't speak for God. They speak for only themselves. President Obama has done this country a great favor by selecting Harry Knox as an advisor. Harry's quiet power--his gentleness, his dignity, his respect for his fellow human beings, and his tireless optimism--stands in stark contrast to my brother, the quintessential cynic. I'm just happy that I--and millions of other Americans--am living in the 21st Century, where people of faith can have disagreements about critical issues without calling each other's faith into question.

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