On ‘Milk’ and homosexuality (Revised)

Watched “Milk” last night for the first time, which stars Sean Penn and was directed by Gus Van Sant. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a brief recapitulation. The film begins on Harvey Milk‘s 40th birthday, where he is lamenting the fact that he hasn’t done anything he was proud of thus far in his life. As he’s making this confession, he’s laying beside a guy (Scott Smith) he met in a New York subway minutes (or hours) before, presumably after they had sex. Prior to that scene, he passes Smith on the subway stairway, immediately turns and starts talking to him as if he knew from the start (or by instinct) the other guy was gay as well. Regardless, the two immediately hit it off and move to California as part of the 1970s mass migration of gay people to San Francisco to the well-known Castro District.

The two opened Castro Camera, and with the help of Smith and others, Milk eventually became the first openly gay person in the country to hold significant public office. After numerous failed attempts, he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Many political battles later, he was in office only 11 months before being killed by former board member Dan White, which was played in the film by Josh Brolin.

I wanted to make a couple points about the movie and then about this issue in general as it relates to religion. First, I don’t think the movie should have placed as much emphasis as it did on the sexual part of Milk’s life and the sexual aspect of the gay men surrounding him during the election cycles. Sure, it was their identity at the time and their very lives depended on the work of guys like Milk to try to obtain some semblance of normalcy and equality in an egregiously unjust and bigoted era (and we aren’t necessarily clambering toward enlightenment yet, either) but the sexual imagery played out in the movie seems to undercut that point and seems unnecessary. We may say Reagan or Kennedy or Clinton or Roosevelt were great in their own rights, but do we want a movie that paints a picture of their political, as well as, god help us, sexual lives? Probably not. Again, the goal is equality. Gay advocates should get over this point and move on. This is not to say the moviemakers know the gay community in and out, but it appears to me, an outsider looking in, that the flamboyancy and boisterous nature of this movement (See: bare-chested gay guys drinking beer side-by-side at this site’s gallery) does it a disservice. I suppose one could argue the movie was simply trying to reproduce that side of the movement, but that’s not really the point. The movie is about a gay guy, a member of a minority group, per se, who had some great ideas to change the country, was a great orator and had the charisma and smarts to motivate people. There’s no real need to educate the moviegoer on what being gay is about or what “they” do in their private lives. That’s common knowledge for the most part and that wasn’t the point in the first place.

Gay people are not going to win any arguments by holding gay pride parades or flaunting their sexuality to their own cohorts who couldn’t agree more. They will win them by getting in a suit and tie and, as Milk did in public (If there’s a record of him flaunting himself about half-clothed like people do nowadays in parades and rallies, please tell me. I’m curious to know), fighting to attain public office to change things from the inside out. That’s how to enact change. To me, pushing the sexuality thing and the flamboyancy merely serves to push people further away from the movement and its goals, not closer. Some might disagree with me on that point, but this is the case as I perceive it.

Turning to the moral majority. The film heavily references the work of Anita Bryant, who’s song, “Till There Was You,” is a good tune. Bryant got herself involved in a debate about an ordinance in Dade County, Fla. prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and didn’t have the mental muster to hold down the fort. She said,

What these people (gays) really want, hidden behind obscure legal phrases, is the legal right to propose to our children that theirs is an acceptable alternate way of life. … I will lead such a crusade to stop it as this country has not seen before.

She also said:

As a mother, I know that homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children (Ya don’t say?!?); therefore, they must recruit our children … If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.

Recruit children? That is so proposterous it’s not even worth a retort. And:

All America and all the world will hear what the people have said, and with God’s continued help we will prevail in our fight to repeal similar laws throughout the nation.

God has helped indeed. If it was so important, he did not personally do anything to inhibit the influence of gay people or their influence politically, and he certainly didn’t do anything to keep gay people from being born. In fact, he’s been mum for millenia now. Or, since Jesus was God himself, Jesus did not speak a word about homosexuality, which was as prominent, if not more so, in the first century than it is today. Here’s a historical look.

So, Bryant threw herself onto the anti-gay side, not knowing why she believed what she believed. I posit this (and believe me, I have chewed on this question for years), if homosexuality is a choice and not innate, why would a gay person choose that lifestyle? Why would they choose the possible loss of their family and friends? Why would they choose estrangement and a lifetime of guaranteed hardship? Why would they choose a lifetime of discrimination? Do these options sound like a good trade-off?

The fact that they face battles at every angle proves to me they aren’t choosing that lifestyle at all. It proves to me it’s who they are … innately … hardwired. Just like I’m hardwired to like girls and can’t imagine liking guys in the least … in that way. Or else, gay people would pretend to be straight to make a more peaceful life for themselves (Admittedly, I’m sure some do to avoid chastisement from their parents or ridicule from their friends. Some simply cloak or subvert their real feelings).

My last point is this: It is clear to me most of the time who is gay and who is not. I can tell a majority of the time. I don’t need a test. I don’t need to talk personally with that person. It’s clear and evident, both from the male and female side, and the reading is at least 75 percent accurate from my estimation. Some males are simply more effeminate than others, while some females act more masculine. The rest are probably good pretenders. That’s not intended to sound crass. I’m simply saying what I have observed.  The framework for scientific evidence to explain homosexuality in our species and others seems well under way.

So, we may posit this set of concerns. If God made people who are gay (and doctrine teaches he certainly did) and homosexuality is innate in some of those people, what does that say about God’s law or God himself? If God made them that way, how does he explain the verses saying they are practicing sin? No, they are just being what He created them to be, just as I am being who I am, which is straight. Adultery, breaking a civil union, seems to me to be the higher infraction, not sodomy or whatever nasty sounding word we want to pin to the act. John Loftus said recently:

– If we are flawed, God is responsible because he made us this way.

If God is omni-powerful, omniscient and all-loving (Quiz: How can God be both a judge but also be all-merciful?), how could he ever allow homosexuals to come into existence knowing the trouble they would cause God, to themselves or to the philosophical agruments such as this one that question the whole thing? A friend of mine once had this discussion with me. We concluded that if it is, indeed, concluded that homosexuality is, without a doubt, innate and built in from birth, the God of the Bible could not exist because that would put a death knell in his own words, thus like a set of dominos, calling into question the whole thing. Would God create a person whom he knew, from the very moment of conception, would be condemned because of who they are? Say, if brown hair was a sin, for instance, all brown-haired people would perish in hell. That is ridiculous. Again, Loftus:

– The principle that all of us have done things so egregious to warrant the death penalty is itself egregious. Name one thing that you have done that you should be put to death for.

– The principle that someone else can suffer the death penalty for us to resolve the problem is similarly egregious. Should anyone be punished not to mention given the death penalty for things that you do? Is the death penalty Just?

Christians, of course, will answer that it’s not homosexuals, that all are condemned from conception because of original sin. Or, that it’s not the homosexual that is condemned, but the homosexual act. Fine, but the punishment does not fit the crime and parsing words gets us nowhere too fast. The homosexual cannot possibly live a fulfilling life without committing the act because that’s what he/she knows, and that’s what seems to come natural for them. To say that they should attempt to throw off what comes natural to them and attempt to change would, it seems to be, result in severe psychological damage, the same way that forcing me, by society’s rules, to have sex with guys would cause in me severe psychological damage.

“But I will be honest with  you, the reality is that a lot of people come here and go right back into whatever it is they came from,” said Pastor John Westcott of Exchange Ministries in Winter Park, Fla. in Bill Maher’s “Religulous” movie.

“Because they’re gay,” Maher said, laughing.

Westcott said he had dealt with homosexual tendencies and was subsequently reformed.

Eternal torment for being born seems to be a harsh judgment coming from a loving, forgiving god. A lifetime of discrimination for existing as you were “created” by that loving god also seems unjust and an oxymoron. That certainly sounds like a lifestyle I would choose! What about you?

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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