We seem to discuss issues of homosexuality ad nausum around here. Surprisingly, one particular subtopic that hasn’t really come up in the past is the real problem of anti-gay violence.
Reported cases of anti-gay violence affect thousands of people every year, and a high number of cases are believed to go unreported. One organization reports that 18 anti-gay murders and 700 assaults took place in 2003. And recent years have seen a number of high-profile anti-gay incidents, such as the murder of Matthew Shepard.
Links to Religion
Unfortunately, many times religious leaders do nothing to discourage anti-gay violence. In some cases, they may even encourage that kind of behavior. A few months ago, there was some discussion in the blogosphere in general about comments made by formerly (still?) influential preacher Jimmy Swaggart, who told a crowd he would kill any gay man who looked at him romantically. (Swaggart later apologized.)
That incident brings to mind Elder Packer’s controversial, somewhat ambiguous statements from thirty years ago wherein he (in response to an unspecified context) apparently endorses some instances of anti-gay violence. In his talk (which was published as a pamphlet), Elder Packer’s writes:
Now a warning! I am hesitant to even mention it, for it is not pleasant. It must be labeled as major transgression. But I will speak plainly. There are some circumstances in which young men may be tempted to handle one another, to have contact with one another physically in unusual ways. Latter-day Saint young men are not to do this.
Sometimes this begins in a moment of idle foolishness, when boys are just playing around. But it is not foolishness. It is remarkably dangerous. Such practices, however tempting, are perversion. When a young man is finding his way into manhood, such experiences can misdirect his normal desires and pervert him not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.
It was intended that we use this power only with our partner in marriage. I repeat, very plainly, physical mischief with another man is forbidden. It is forbidden by the Lord.
There are some men who entice young meant to join them in these immoral acts. If you are ever approached to participate in anything like that, it is time to vigorously resist.
While I was in a mission on one occasion, a missionary said he had something to confess. I was very worried because he just could not get himself to tell me what he had done.
After patient encouragement he finally blurted out, “I hit my companion.”
“Oh, is that all,” I said in great relief.
“But I floored him,” he said.
After learning a little more, my response was “Well, thanks. Somebody had to do it, and it wouldn’t be well for a General Authority to solve the problem that way”
I am not recommending that course to you, but I am not omitting it. You must protect yourself.
What did Elder Packer Mean?
As it is, the statement is ambiguous. It includes:
(1) Statements that men should “vigorously resist” homosexuality and “protect yourself.”
(2) The disturbing remark that “Somebody had to do it” — possibly implying that it is normal for gay men to be beaten up.
(3) The ambiguous mission story.
The key question, of course, is “what happened prior to the fight?”
(a) One possibility, which would make the elder’s behavior acceptable, is that his companion attempted to rape him or forcibly molest him. If that was indeed the background, then the missionary certainly had every right to defend himself from rape, using such force as was needed to do so.
(b) The other possibility is much more disturbing. It is the possibility that the second missionary “made a pass” at the first, or tried to (using Elder Packer’s words) “entice” him into participation in homosexuality, and that the first missionary reacted violently, with Elder Packer’s eventual approval.
This is a more problematic interpretation.
Since Elder Packer is an apostle of the church, I’m inclined to give him the more reasonable reading and assume that the missionary’s violent reaction was in response to a legitimate provocation — an attempt to rape or forcibly molest him. But I’m worried because it can easily be read the other way.
And I believe that some church members have that impression — that if a gay man hits on them, it is appropriate to assault that gay man in retaliation.
Legal Consequences of Violence
As an attorney, this impression (if it indeed exists) worries me. That kind of behavior — assault in response to a perceived slight — is clearly not legal.
If I’m sitting in my office and a gay co-worker drops by and unambiguously approaches me (for example, says “let’s go to a gay bar and hook up”), I have several options. Most obviously, I can say “thanks, but no thanks” and make clear that I’m not interested in that kind of activity. If I think it’s necessary (for instance, if I feel uncomfortable around that person), I might avoid that co-worker in the future. And if I feel that the behavior is coercive or harrassing, I might complain to a supervisor or perhaps file a harrassment claim.
One thing I would _not_ do, however, is immediately punch out my co-worker. It’s pretty simple — that’s assault. It’s a crime in all fifty states, and the mere fact that the assault victim may have made a pass at me would in no way excuse me from my criminal actions.
Anti-Gay Violence and Church Belief
This leads me, in a roundabout way, to the real question — what should we, as members of the church, think about anti-gay violence?
One possible position is that church members might condone such behavior. Church doctrine does state that homosexuality is a sin. However, I’m not inclined to accept that position myself. After all, church members do believe in upholding the laws, including laws prohibiting violence. In addition, while it is true that church doctrine holds that homosexuality is a sin, it is also true that most sinful behavior does not justify a violent response. We don’t go around punching people out for drinking alcohol, after all, or for smoking cigarettes. We don’t go around assaulting people who don’t pay tithing.
Church members may believe that anti-gay violence is justified if a gay person makes a sexual advance towards a straight person. However, that argument is also unconvincing. Church members may feel that an invitation to participate in gay sex is an invitation to sin, and is inappropriate. However, it is unusual that an invitation to sin is acceptably met with violence. If someone offers me a cigarette — also sinful behavior under church doctrine — am I justified in hitting him? If someone tells me “Kaimi, maybe you shouldn’t pay your tithing this month,” should I punch him out? And if not, then why would I be justified in punching a person for suggesting that I participate in homosexual behavior with him?
At the end of the day, I don’t think that most acts of anti-gay violence can be justified under church doctrine. As church members, we should see this kind of violence as the same sort of unsavory behavior as any other sort of violence. It is entirely possible, and eminently sensible, to refuse to move from the church’s stated doctrinal position that homosexual sex is sinful towards any sort of position that anti-gay violence is ever acceptable.