The Hypocrisy of 'Religious Freedom'

SAN FRANCISCO, CA- JUNE 28: Paulo Torres, left, dances with his husband, Victor Tsang, right, after the San Francisco Gay Pri
SAN FRANCISCO, CA- JUNE 28: Paulo Torres, left, dances with his husband, Victor Tsang, right, after the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, June 28, 2015 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

It's not freedom when you are advocating taking away the liberty and rights of other human beings. It is not religious, especially not "Christian," to be intolerant and bigoted against your fellow citizens.

And while I admire Kirsten Powers for being a reasonable and at times progressive voice at Fox News (and calling out Bill O'Reilly on his show for his stance about racism not being a substantial problem in our society), I have to disagree with her premise in her recent book, The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. We are not killing free speech, only calling out hate speech.

As a member of the LGBT community, I can say we are not silencing the religious right, but standing up for our own God-given rights. Having grown up a gay American in the 1950s and '60s, I can tell you that silencing is what was done to us in those decades. It has been said that "a child should be seen and not heard." We were taught to be neither. We lived in the shadows, hiding our imposed societal shame, leading secret lives that we hoped no one would find out about.

Looking back, I forgive myself for not being more open and true to myself. I was bombarded by school, friends, family and my Baptist church with a silent, deadly belief that who I was deep down inside was sinful and perverse.

After all, as Brian McNaught so deftly points out in his book, Growing Up Gay and Lesbian, we didn't have any role models to look up to then. Ellen hadn't come out yet. It was before Stonewall. There were no gay characters in the movies, or if there were they were portrayed as losers.

They first gay film I remembered watching on TV as a teen was 1961's "The Children's Hour." Based on the play by Lillian Hellman, it starred Shirley McClaine and Audrey Hepburn as friends who owned and ran an all-girls' boarding school. One of the residents started a rumor that Audrey and Shirley were intimately involved and it ruined them and their reputations and forced the school to close. Turns out that Shirley's character really was a lesbian and she ended up committing suicide in the end. Although, this film touched me deeply inside (I think seeing a woman profess her romantic feelings of love to another woman stirred something in me), it was hardly a movie that would make one want to come out of the closet.

As McNaught points out in his book, we had no one to turn to discuss our attractions growing up. Not the school teachers nor administrators, not the Church leaders, not even our own parents. If a child of a different race or ethnicity got bullied they could go to their parents for sympathy. But if a gay kid did that the parent might ask: "Why were you called a queer?" And they may not really want to hear the answer to that.

Indeed, there is an old joke that goes: "Which is easier, being black or being gay? Black, because you don't have to tell your parents."

As for racial relations in the '50s and '60s, there was a term called "separate but equal." Problem was it was segregation with inequality. But at that time, African Americans had an identity. They had separate bathrooms, movies, radio programs, TV shows, music, Negro baseball league, and Armed Forces battalions. They had their own culture and still do to this day. Homosexuals were invisible.

I remember certain clues I was given growing up that were meant to guide me into a "normal" heterosexual lifestyle. When I was in the fifth grade, I shared with my mom that I really liked a fourth grade girl who was a piano prodigy. She gently reminded me "you mean you admire her."

When I was around twelve years old I had a best friend from the church that I hung around with at the community pool. Driving home with my whole family in the car, my older sister said "I couldn't believe Joan and Courtney were holding hands at the pool." This shocked me because for the first time I had to question an innocent gesture of affection I showed to a close friend.

My dad used to tell us he always considered homosexuals deviants who would were looked down upon in the military. Happily, my parents and siblings evolved on the issue and continued to love me when I came out to them at the age of 29. I know other gays were not as lucky as me in that regard.

I knew no gays in high school (this was before the gay/straight alliances), nor college, nor even graduate school.

As McNaught writes, back in the day, you couldn't even go to the library and find any books on Homosexuality (this was before the Internet.)

And the Baptist Church, though I loved the people and the Pastor there, scared me the most into staying in the closet. I remember in a pre-teen Sunday School class we were given a booklet that described homosexuality as an addiction or disease. There were pictures of deformed couples holding hands and the pamphlet said that most homosexuals do not want to be that way and presented it as a choice. Basically, I was taught by the church that it was a crime against God and nature.

I was creeped out by the whole thing and the indoctrination worked as I decided then and there I didn't want to go down that path even though I really liked the piano prodigy and loved my friend from church and had a crush on my gym teacher in Junior High school. I didn't want to go to Hell.

In essence, I stuffed my emotions and attractions and tried to fit in. I dated guys but had enough sense to never get married even when presented with an engagement ring. I drank too much in college, I think because I was so conflicted and finally came out to myself after I moved to California (for a music gig in the San Jose Symphony) in the late '70s.

It was easier to declare being gay in California than the East coast in those days. It is remarkable how the country has changed through the years and now gay marriage is a reality in many states and may soon be legal in the nation.

I believe the Internet and TV and movies and the current administration have influenced this new generation to come out with pride. Intolerance is quickly becoming passé and that's a good thing.

But we must not forget our history and the sacrifices my generation made to allow this to happen. Stonewall, the gay rights movement, Harvey Milk, PFLAG, and the fight against AIDS and DADT and DOMA all contributed to lay the foundation for our finally being given our basic human rights.

Some in the religious right want to cling to "traditional" values and view our liberation as an abomination. Unfortunately, that is the same thinking I was indoctrinated into as a young teen in my Baptist church. Apparently, not all have evolved on the issue. I say we will no longer be shamed or silenced.

Coming out to me was a mental, physical, and yes, spiritual process. For a number of years in the late '90s, I was a member of a Metropolitan Community church that was founded for LGBT folks and their straight allies. It brought me back to my faith and made me realize that I am gay by God. And no so-called "Religious Freedom" can take that away from me. Our ancestors escaped persecution to achieve true religious freedom in the new world. This included the right to worship and I do not see the gay movement as taking this away from anyone.

Rather, LGBT people want what past generations came to this country for: the right to marry, have and adopt children, worship as we please, serve in the military, equal job opportunities, protection from persecution in the workplace, and the pursuit of happiness.

The genie is out of the bottle and we can never go back to being invisible again.