I was at Urge Bar one night some months back and saw someone I hadn’t seen for a good couple of years. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, what-are-you-doing-these-days, and checked on each other’s drink levels before he let rip with a doozy:
“So, are you still virulently anti-church?”
I shook my head a little. “Excuse me?”
“Are you still really anti-church? I remember when you were writing for GayNZ.com you seemed to have a real chip on your shoulder about it.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond at first. For three years, between 2003 and 2006, I had been the senior writer for GayNZ.com. Many of the issues that I covered were political, and those years were the height of the debate in New Zealand around civil unions. The overwhelming majority of opposition came from religious sources: either churches, or lobby groups funded by church money.
At the Pan Pacific AIDS Conference, hosted by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation in Auckland back in 2005, I sat through session after session where discussions about how to curb the region’s burgeoning epidemic were hijacked by esoteric witterings from ministers about what Jesus would do and a complete unwillingness to face the issues of stigma and discrimination relating to a serious sexually-transmitted illness.
And while we’re on the subject of stigma and discrimination, what planet was this man living on? When it comes to discriminatory treatment by religious organisations, churches literally wrote the book on it – and quote it frequently. In fact, churches were granted an exemption (just like they’re exempted from paying tax like the rest of us) from the Human Rights Act 1993, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The churches fought for and kept their right to exclude gay men and women from their congregations and clergy based purely on their sexual orientation. And they accuse us of wanting special rights?
When I explained this to the man who I was now rapidly losing respect for, his response was quizzical and dismissive.
“Well, I’ve never had any problems with the church,” was the reply.
“You’re a very lucky man, then,” I answered.
Lest we forget, it is also religious organisations who are still the driving force behind “ex-gay” conversion programmes – long discredited by the psychiatric profession as not only unnecessary, but harmful.
During my research for a GayNZ.com piece on these, I came across two horrific stories that have never left me.
The first was about 46-year-old Jack McIntyre, a gay Christian in San Francisco who laboured for four years with ex-gay group “Love In Action” to change. After ending up in a hospital psychiatric ward, he took a lethal overdose - after giving himself Communion.
“I love life,” he said in his suicide note, “but my love for the Lord is so much greater, the choice is simple.”
The story of 32-year-old Mormon Stuart Matis is equally as haunting. He drove to his local chapel, and pinned a “do not resuscitate” note to his shirt before killing himself.
“Mother, Dad and family. I have committed suicide,” he wrote. “I engaged my mind in a false dilemma: either one was gay or one was Christian. As I believed I was Christian, I believed I could never be gay.”
Yes, there are men and women within living memory who are not only discriminated against by churches, and had their mental wellbeing adversely affected by churches, but are dead because of churches.
Dead men can’t talk, but fortunately I can.
So am I still virulently anti-church? If you want to put it that way, then yes I am. Happy to wear the badge as long as I’m still breathing.