When I received a Facebook invite regarding Atheist Coming Out Week at Harvard University, I observed the similarities between this material and the LGBT pride pieces I get in my inbox. Both pro-LGBT gatherings and events like Why Atheism Matters Panel and Eddie Izzard: Lifetime Achievement Award serve to celebrate and humanize populations often marginalized in the media.
So I decided to sit down for a chat with Chris Stedman, author of Faitheist and the Assistant Humanist Chaplain and Values in Action Coordinator at Harvard University, for a short conversation about the intersection between LGBT rights and humanism.
As a queer man, what drew you to interfaith work?
According to a 2009 Gallup Poll, most people who are in favor of LGBT equality have a personal relationship with someone who identifies as LGBT. I was an LGBT activist when I was a high school student in Minnesota. The driving force behind my work is the same as it was then: a desire to help people in different communities come to understand one another better, to build relationships that challenge people’s misconceptions about other groups of people, and to bring together people who have shared values to be more effective by working together. I carry this desire into my work with the Humanist Community at Harvard.
Why would LGBT activists want to work with humanists?
The majority of humanists that I know are very passionate about the separation of church and state. That’s one of the biggest safeguards for LGBT people from having other people’s beliefs imposed on them. With the true realization of separation of church and state, we wouldn’t be hearing theological arguments in the public square about issues like same sex marriage. In a truly secular society people are free to their theological beliefs about homosexuality but those things shouldn’t bear any influence on barring people from having the same rights as other people. So humanists working with LGBT activists creates a very natural alliance because humanists and atheists can bring their strong support for the separation of church and state into the conversation. I also think the fact remains that a lot of LGBT folks are religious and in order to be able to work really well with the LGBT community, atheists need to recognize this fact. Our cooperative activism shouldn’t be about whether or not someone is religious or not but focusing on advancing full equality under the law.
Any thoughts about how we can change the conversation given the media’s proclivity to engage in false equivalencies by giving airtime to those voices who use junk science and other falsified information to spout anti-gay views? (See GLAAD’s Commentator Accountability Project).
We live in a world where the voices of exclusion are much more accessible and soundbite friendly. The media picks up on them much more quickly than they’ll pick up on a voice of inclusion. Their perspectives get privileged. Those of us working for inclusion within LGBT and humanist circles are at a disadvantage because our voices don’t get heard as much. So there’s a power and number dynamic transpiring within liberal spaces. If we partner together, our numbers are more likely to get our voices heard.
To learn more about the work of the Harvard Humanist chaplaincy in connecting communities to do good without God, log on to their website.