Thursday, June 1, 2017

No Pride in Atheisting

The Salt Lake Pride festival and parade is this weekend, and I will not be going. My sign from last year is ready, and the ankle that kept me from marching a couple years back is in great shape, but I will not be going. The reason I will not be going is that the Atheists of Utah has not been granted a place in the festivities. There are other groups I have a history of participating at pride with, like those associated with recovery from drug addiction; these groups have all been granted places so I could choose between invitations to participate this year.  I could, of course, just go as a spectator as most of what I have ever done there is wander about talking and hanging out, but I will not go.

To be perfectly clear, I am not exactly sure what transpired to prevent AoU from attending. All I know is that –according to the official AoU statement- “despite our best efforts, communications with UPC [Utah Pride Center] staff broke down”. I wasn’t able to get any clarity after asking for it, but I was offered the chance to drive 80 miles to an AoU event and be directly, presumably off the record, informed of what had happened. I realize that I do not have the right or status in the organization to expect anything more.

The AoU statements do go on to explain how the UPC described the festival venue at near capacity and quoted the UPC exuberance at the AoU withdrawal by including the quote: "[The AoU withdrawal] has given two LGBTQ specific organizations, who didn't apply in time, to now have the opportunity to take part in this year's festival!". The implication that the place is too full for Atheists, but that the lack of Atheists will make it a better festival for the right folks might sound a little passive-aggressive, and I suspect that appearance is a direct result of a lot of passive-aggressive activities going on in the places where there is more direct knowledge of what happened .
“We want to show that the LGBT community is in solidarity with people who are concerned about clean air, people who are concerned about health care for everyone, elder care, immigrant and refugee rights, anti-racism, fair pay, reproductive rights, and all of the things that make us human,” 2017 festival director Liz Pitts.
The exclusion can't really be explained by suggesting that AoU is not "LGBTQ-enough" because a sizeable fraction of the participating organizations are companies with LGBTQ-friendly policies, or community organizations that wish to offer services to at-risk LGBTQ people. One of the central purposes of the Pride week activities is bringing together community support and recognition for LGBTQ issues and needs; it is not just a party for LGBT social clubs. AoU has been participating at pride for years, and like every year applied early and raised more than enough money to support the effort. All the monies raised for participation -not just those raised for donation to UPC- have been donated this year despite the lack of participation.
“We will never really achieve full equality or equity if we aren’t lifting all boats at the same time. That’s the importance of this march,” Salt Lake City mayor Biskupski at her speech opening Pride Week 2017
The pride festival begin today with an interfaith service.  Nobody expected AoU to be invited to participate in that.
 "We have been reaching out to community organizations of all types" 2017 festival director Liz Pitts
I suspect that a measurable amount of the “at capacity” space will be occupied by the the new “hugging booths” that Mormons Building Bridges have introduced. MBB is an apologist organization that seeks to normalize the homophobia that is a structural component of LDS cultural theology. They insist on calling anything LGBQ (note the lack of a "T" here) by the acronym “SSA”, which stands for “Same Sex Attraction”. If allowed they can describe individuals who "suffer" from SSA who have married members of the opposite sex, raised families in the LDS church, and been monogamously in love with only their opposite-sex spouse. If this sounds like a rather mundanely neurotic form of heterosexuality the reason is that it is a neurotic form of heterosexuality. Like all things neurotic and sexual SSA even had its own reality TV series (called "My Husband's Not Gay") for a short while.

Passive-aggressive behavior is not, by any stretch of the imagination, unique to Utah, but here, in the shade of the Zion Curtain, it has matured into an Olympic-level event. Organizations like UPC or Equality Utah are often (usually?) hotbeds of interpersonal conflict and petty political turmoil. It’s not as bad as social groups are, but meetup groups are not expected to operate with a social conscious much elevated above that of a junior high school clique. Activist organizations help address social injustice, put people in contact with critical services (like drug rehabilitation, suicide prevention, and mental health services), and, hopefully, have management teams that are as competent as the seriousness of their mission(s) demands.

Former UPC director Valarie Larabee was quoted as explaining that “there are two groups of Utah gays who come from the Mormon tradition: those who broke away from it wholeheartedly and those who are trying to somehow remain reconciled with their Mormon heritage even though it denigrates the essential elements of their lives and works energetically to deny them equality.” Larabee was explaining this to author Tony Adams as he investigated the reason that Joe Jervis (of had been quietly disinvited as a grand marshal for the 2013 Salt Lake pride parade. Joe, it appears, was too Atheist-like and this irritated the gay-Mormon defenders of the LDS faith in the UPC organization.

Larabee said in the may 21st 2013 Tony Adams interview that she offered to fly Joe in and put him up at her own expense. In November of that year one resigning (Allen Miller) and several former members (anonymous) of the UPC wrote two letters calling for Larabee to be removed, and a few days later, after nine years as UPC director, Larabee resigned. The next director, Steven Ha, would resign in December of 2014 due to health issues. The director who took over from Ha, Marian Edmonds-Allen, resigned in October of 2015; she recommended that the executive director position be eliminated. For the past year and a half Carol Gnade has been UPC executive director.

The LDS church is not as vocal in their anti-LGBTQ views as, say, Margret Court (famous tennis player who won more major titles than anyone ever) who recently called for a boycott of Quantas (because of their stance on same-sex marriage) while stating gay activists are like Hitler. Most Mormons would never say something like that aloud, or at least they would vigorously try and explain away any meaning to their words should they be overheard saying something like that.

The fact is that Atheism provides a positive and effective alternative to the moral quagmire of cafeteria-style Christian or Mormon faith. Tens of thousands of LGBTQ former believers have found relief from feelings of inadequacy, counterfeit personality, suicidal ideation, and subhuman identification by just trashing the delusion they called faith. Because of this people who are living and enjoying life without the use of religion are insulting to religions simply by existing; becoming an atheist (or at least an agnostic) is too tempting an alternative to self-loathing to be allowed to be presented in the light of day.

I should be very clear. Without AoU at the pride festival the Atheist LGBTQ lifestyle will be repeatedly described by faith-based organizations in the vacuum they prefer to Atheists, and they will present it as a non-viable alternative. Even the drug rehabilitation groups I often participate with will tend, without some Atheists participating, to present belief in a theist personal God as requisite for giving up drugs and living like a human being. Without real atheists on hand to accurately present a much-needed alternative for the LGBTQ people being actively hurt by religion the alternative of Atheism will be presented as a ridiculous and unworkable strawman; people will find more hurt where they might have found a real alternative.

Over the past several months I have seen a crop of apologist gay-LDS memes and quotes. These are stating things like “To our gay-LDS friends: you are not counterfeit”. To many this is code for stating that people will be protected from the obvious questions about why any LGBTQ person could provide monetary support to an organization that actively drives other LGBTQ people into despair. In the case of the Utah pride festival this sentiment might mean that people will be protected from any presentation of alternatives to the disgusting way parts of the LDS church treats some humans because they are LGBTQ.

And –NO- I am not going to show up anyway after painting over my “Adult Onset Atheist” sign with something like “Atheist Now – Ask Me How”. Many of the folks at Pride already know what an unwanted second-class citizen looks like; they don’t need me to remind them.

I may, however, drive the 80 mile round trip out to the regular Thursday “Godless Coffee in Zion” and try and get a more complete story about what the “breakdown in communication” really was. Maybe it will entice me to write a retraction, but I don’t think anything I’ve written here depends on knowing the secret inner story as to what happened. It may entice me to write a more complete post that does include details about the interaction. Who knows?

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