Queer Sexual Justice and Rape Culture

Recently, charges were brought in Nova Scotia, Canada, against Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes -- pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, beloved by many within the denomination, and groundbreaking activist and advocate for marriage equality, people with HIV/AIDS, and queer asylum seekers -- alleging gross indecency and indecent assault dating to the 1970s.

It is not possible for us to know Rev. Dr. Hawkes's guilt or innocence. Sexual allegations have long been weapons to humiliate and criminalize gay, lesbian, bi, queer and trans folk, and certain sex crime statutes have been and still can be selectively enforced to this end. Queer sexuality in many ways is still subjected to heightened scrutiny and surveillance.

At the same time, false accusations of sexual assault do not occur more frequently than for any other crime, and people of stature and good reputation are capable of doing harm to others. Because of the nature of the offense, sexual crimes seldom result in a disclosure and exponentially less often lead to charges and arrest, trial and conviction. Survivors of sexual assault and rape, however, are disproportionately dismissed, disbelieved or blamed -- factors that contribute to the prevalence of shame and failure to report. Public and private discourse around rape and sexual assault often denies and belittles the experiences of victimization and re-victimization that many have survived.

In the wake of the charges, Metropolitan Community Church is a family in crisis. As a denomination with a unique outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, MCC is ministering to a population at heightened risk for sexual abuse and sexual assault. We are not the first tribe to find ourselves negotiating how to love and protect both the harmed and the harmer, both the accuser and the accused. Importantly -- for any queer organization committed to social and spiritual justice -- it is imperative that we consider and represent as many as we can, as often as we can. It is imperative that we expand our understandings of and calls for justice to encompass the various, sometimes competing ways that we have lived through injustice.

It is not necessary to choose sides. As LGBTQ clergy and advocates discuss this case with our communities and our churches, we can do so in ways that understand the demonization and criminalization of queer sexuality, that acknowledge the realities of rape culture and rape myths, and that reflect ambiguity and uncertainty. By doing this, if it is our wish, we can both express hope for and faith in trusted colleagues who are accused and also show awareness of and concern for the many survivors who have come forward and not been believed, who never came forward because they did not expect to be believed, and who have yet to wrestle with that decision.