Reflections On Organizing “Love, Not Misinformation”

written by Benny LeMaster

love-not-misinformationMy primary goal here: to document an event that took place at SIU Carbondale on the evening of Monday, March 24, 2014. No media outlets responded to our requests for their presence. It is, as a result, our job to archive the happenings and to keep this memory alive.

Honna Veerkamp and I were brought into the fold of things after the wake made by fellow students: Melissa Calvert and her wife Stacy Calvert, Sarah Self, and Paige Gautreaux. I mention these names because organizing is never about one person alone. It is always, and should always be, a mass effort that is the result of many bodies coming together in resistance. What drove us to organize? Chi Alpha—an SIU Carbondale RSO—invited (paid?) Linda Seiler to present her (in)famous speech: “Sexual Orientation, What’s the Big Deal?: Compassion without Compromise, A Christian Response to Homosexuality.”  Chi Alpha describes itself as an International and American ministry on their Facebook page. Their members refer to themselves as “Christ’s ambassadors” who see their task as “Reconciling Students to Christ: Transforming the University, the Marketplace, and the World.” Yes, apparently they have been tasked to transform the global Marketplace. Perhaps that is for a future write-up. As any number of queers (myself included) who come from hard-Right evangelical backgrounds can attest to: Chi Alpha is old hat. Their tactics teeter on the side of ordinary for those of us who are accustomed to the ways in which they approach the world. That is to say, the world is a broken place. Everyone is broken. We are all inherently flawed. Positive affects are the result of satanic and/or demonic trickery. For instance, a common exchange might go:

Christ’s Ambassador: homosexuals are unhappy.

Queer person in a queer relationship: How can you account for the past X years in which my partner and I have been quite happy?

Christ’s Ambassador: Your happiness isn’t true happiness. Rather, it is an illusion that Satan has cast. True happiness is only known through God and embodying God’s true intent for man (read: heterosexual and cisgender)

In this instance, Christ’s Ambassador and the Queer person in a queer relationship are speaking two entirely different languages. They struggle to come to understanding because the very essence of “happiness” is approached from two radically different positionalities. As a result, organizing against the workings of Christ’s Ambassadors must include an affirming message that comes from a group that purports to speak a relatively similar language; but, to be sure, a language that is also affirming of queer and/or trans bodies. In this way, we turned to Christian religious leaders to assist in our work. With this in mind, I would like to move into some of the specifics of what occurred.

Linda Seiler is a public speaker who is also the campus missionary assigned to Purdue University by Chi Alpha Campus Ministries. Her own testimony can be found on her website (lindaseiler.com) and as a result, I will not get too into the details of who she is. In short, however, Seiler claims to have understood herself as a man who was attracted to women. In this way, she would be a heterosexual transman. However, she understood herself as a lesbian, which ultimately reveals the ways in which Seiler conflates sexual orientation with gender identity. This is a common conflation that conservative religious folks tend to make. In fact, she reveals that she struggled with gender identity but gave a lecture on sexual orientation at SIUC. I begin with this error because it matters. This conflation is part and parcel to the continued marginalization of queer and/or trans people who are fighting to be simply recognized first and foremost. This conflation presumes that transgender people (of all sorts) are always and already same-sex loving. To set the record straight: there are straight trans people, gay trans people, bisexual trans people, asexual trans people, celibate trans people, and on and on and on. Based on Seiler’s testimony, the power of God transformed her into the heterosexual cisgender woman that she is today. Ultimately, she is advocating for conversion therapy logics that position the queer and/or trans person as always broken and in need of Godly intervention. Through the power of prayer, one can be transformed. Perhaps this worked for Seiler, but it does not work for everyone and there exists no accepted evidence to the contrary.

In fact, the research that Seiler draws on to make her claims are both outdated (sometimes by 50 years) and unaccepted by any major research organization (e.g., American Sociological Association, American, Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association). The research that she draws on comes from the Family Research Council and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality—privately funded, religiously oriented organizations that seek and conduct research that self-fulfills their already accepted beliefs: queer and/or trans people are broken and in need of repair; queer and/or trans people are a detriment to global salvation. To be clear, I am all about Seiler speaking at SIUC. What I am not for is Seiler drawing on pseudoscience to make claims about queer and/or trans people at a research institution like SIUC who prides itself on conducting and presenting cutting edge research. For this reason, Chi Alpha should be ashamed of itself. Its missionary leaders should be held accountable for allowing lies to be perpetuated as if it were science that justified the claims that Seiler made. It is for these reasons that we jumped in and decided to protest and to offer an alternative affirming space.

Our intent was not to censor or to interrupt Seiler’s speech. In fact, we felt it important to allow her to speak because it is queer and/or trans people and our bodies that are censored everyday. To promote censorship is to censor ourselves. Further, it is important to share and exhibit for younger students that “this sort of stuff” still goes on. In 2013, Exodus International closed its doors. Exodus was the largest entity promoting conversion therapy on a global scale. Exodus International president Alan Chamber (a self identified ex-gay himself) apologized for harming queer and/or trans people and announced that it would cease its “healing” ministry in June 2013. Nonetheless, conversion and healing ministries persist as evidenced with Seiler’s presence on our campus last week. It is key that queer, trans people, religious leaders, and cisgender and heterosexual allies know that this is a living discourse that we must continue to fight against.

That being said, we staged 3 “stations” of resistance. Our first station was comprised of folks who would sit through Seiler’s talk without interrupting her. They would then occupy the Q&A session with questions that spoke directly to the science that she was drawing on. The point: to reveal how muddled her logics and rhetorics were. We encouraged ONLY THOSE people who felt that they would not be triggered by Seiler’s religious-based hate discourse. Absence from this station did not signal weakness but an acknowledgement that this sort of speech is particularly harmful to a slew of queer and/or trans bodies.

Our second station was comprised of folks who would stand (as they are able) outside of the auditorium where Seiler was speaking in order to distribute handouts that offered corrections to her “scientific” claims. In essence, we were working to battle the lies that she was spreading to her audience. In addition, folks created and displayed protest signs that exhibited such messages as: “love is love,” “I am not broken,” “God loves me as I am.” While there were a number of protesters present at station 2, many of us were not Christian-identified. It was Seiler’s presence that brought us together to combat her faith-based hate and pseudoscientific lies.

Our third station was our alternative affirming space. Here we provided a platform where folks could speak. In the end, we heard from local queer- and trans-affirming religious leaders from United Church of Christ (Church of the Good Shepherd), Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship, the Catholic Church, and First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In addition, we heard testimonies from queer and/or trans folks who had/have experiences from a variety of other traditions including: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Paganism, atheism, and Goddess worship. In the end, it was Seiler’s specific religious positionality that brought together a slew of people across and through our religious differences. It was an interfaith, intercultural coalitional politic.

Among the speakers was GAU leader, Sandy Kim. Sandy spoke about the recent work that GA United has done with and alongside queer and/or trans people (GAU members and non-members alike). This important coalition between GAU and queer communities has been an important one that continues to gain steam. In fact, GA United passed a resolution expressing support for marriage equality in Illinois. This was a bold move that many other unions can (and should) look to as an example of what building and fostering coalitions can and should look like. These small moves matter. In, fact GAUs presence at our “Love, Not Misinformation” alternative affirming space sent a message that GAU cares and wants to be involved in the fight that queer and/or trans communities are already waging and engaged in—a fight that we, queer and trans people, do not have the privilege to simply avoid.

In the end, the event sparked the development of a local organization that is not affiliated with the university. This group is called SQUID (So Queer, United In Defense) and among our primary goals is organizing political actions. We encourage you all to join us in our fight—queer, trans, cisgender (not transgender), or not queer. I would like to leave you all with a few resources.

 

Queer and/or Trans Affirming Christian Spaces in Carbondale:

Carbondale Unitarian Fellowship: (618) 529-2439

United Church of Christ (Church of the Good Shepherd): (618) 457-2232

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ): (618) 457-6817

 

Affirming Radio Shows:

Beyond the Binary (my radio show): facebook.com/beyondthebinary; Tuesday mornings 9-10am, 91.1FM or wdbx.org

Isn’t it queer: http://isntitqueerwdbx.blogspot.com; Wednesday mornings 9-10am, 91.1FM or wdbx.org

 

Groups:

Queer Prison Pen Pal and Reading/Study Group

Benny LeMaster, bennylemater@mac.com

2 Responses to Reflections On Organizing “Love, Not Misinformation”

  1. Is there any way that someone could document the results of the Q and A? Naturally I wasn’t in attendance and am wildly curious how all of that went down. How did she receive the questions? What was asked? How did the audience respond?

    Also, this is a really amazing and balanced response. I know that my first impulse was to run and scream, so kudos and celebration to you and your group for being so restrained, smart, and productive with your criticism and justified objections. You make all of us on this side of the world look good through your actions and reactions. Well done.

  2. Katherine Bryant Graves says:

    Thank you Benny for this articulate and educational article! Wonderfully written and generously compassionate.

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