After Storms, Faith-based Homophobia Blows In

While many federal programs are in need of prayer — like the mess that is the Federal Emergency Management Agency — George W. Bush’s support of faith-based Hurricane Katrina and Rita disaster relief organizations is not the long-awaited blessing.

Bush’s faith-based organizations — like the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and all other organizations in Bush’s “armies of compassion” — highlight fault lines of heterosexism and faith-based privilege.

While seemingly invisible in this disaster, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer evacuees and their families are facing discrimination at the hands of many of these faith-based relief organizations because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or HIV status.

“Tragedy does not discriminate and neither should relief agencies,” stated Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal, in a news release. “In our experience during the aftermath of Sept. 11, LGBT people face compounded difficulties because on top of the disaster, they face discrimination when it comes to recognizing their relationships, leading to even more hardship at the worst moment imaginable.”

Because of these two hurricanes, Bush has proposed a $488-million school voucher plan for displaced students. Whereas public schools must admit all students, religious schools have the authority to expel or deny admission on the basis of either the child’s or the parent’s sexual orientation. . .

Ambush Magazine, the oldest LGBTQ magazine in the Gulf region, has set up a Katrina Fund for direct relief to the LGBTQ community of New
Orleans.

With an administration that believes in less government involvement and more participation of faith-based groups, Bush slashes needed government programs by calling on churches and faith-based agencies, at taxpayer expense, to provide essential social services that would also impact the lives and well-being of its LGBTQ citizens. And with many of these faith-based agencies touting anti-gay religious vitriol, LGBTQ taxpayers and their families will be denied help, services and needed medical care, or be mistreated or denied shelter, because of sexual orientation.

For example, while Bush likes to preach that no child will be left behind in the aftermath of these disasters, many will indeed be left behind if they are the children of LGBTQ parents. Because of these two hurricanes, Bush has proposed a $488-million school voucher plan for displaced students. Whereas public schools must admit all students, religious schools have the authority to expel or deny admission on the basis of either the child’s or the parent’s sexual orientation — even though taxpayer money is subsidizing these schools.

In Bush’s advocacy to restore a spiritual foundation to American public life, his faith-based theology implemented as public policy violates the hallowed lines between church and state, and personal faith and public life, because he neither sees nor wants his administration to be the primary source of assistance or compassion for Americans in crisis. Consequently, those at the margins of society become the center of the tragedy — as both hurricanes have nakedly exposed.

However, while the exposure shamelessly showed not only the botched relief effort commandeered by FEMA and the fault lines of race and class in this country, it did not show the hidden abuses of heterosexism and homophobia. Instead, Bush’s faith-based organizations do.

While Bush’s faith-based organizations front themselves as “armies of compassion” on his behalf, these organizations’ caveat to LGBTQ people is: If you are gay, you ought to stay away.

While Bush’s faith-based organizations front themselves as “armies of compassion” on his behalf, these organizations’ caveat to LGBTQ people is: If you are gay, you ought to stay away.

The Salvation Army will deliver no salvation to LGBTQ families. On its website, the Salvation Army states: “Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life. There is not scriptural support for same-sex unions as equal to, or as an alternative to, heterosexual marriage.”

Operation Blessing is touted as one of FEMA’s premier relief agencies for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. However, it is affiliated with televangelist Rev. Pat Robertson, the homophobe who along with the Rev. Jerry Falwell characterized the 9/11 terrorist attacks as God’s retribution for abortion, feminists, liberals, and gays. And in July 2003, Robertson launched a national prayer “offensive” — called Operation Supreme Court Freedom — to encourage the audience of his Christian Broadcasting Network to pray for the early retirement (or demise) of liberal and moderate Supreme Court justices so that they could be replaced with conservative activists and ideologues.

And because the fault lines of race and sexual orientation are on the “down low” in the African-American community, many African-American LGBTQ evacuees will experience discrimination from black faith-based institutions due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or HIV status. With black churches a large part of the relief effort, and unabashedly known for their homophobia, African-American LGBTQ evacuees and their families have neither a chance nor a prayer for assistance.

Faith is a necessary attribute to possess when engaging in acts of goodwill. Faith derives out of our shared human experience of struggle, especially in the face of social wrongs, human atrocities, and natural disasters. In this time of need, faith-based organizations should and must be inclusive of all of God’s people.

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