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Where all is bright and gay: Virginia at forefront of gay-rights debate

The Top Story by Chris Graham


There was an unspoken tension in the room – beneath the surface, but very much palpable.

The Valley Family Forum hosted an event last week in Bridgewater titled “Gay Activism: Its Impact on America.” The idea was to get Shenandoah Valley residents together to hear from a group of speakers who haven’t bought into the increasingly prevailing conventional wisdom that the gay and lesbian rights movement has had a decidedly positive impact on America.

The tension came when a gay civil-rights group, the Richmond-based Equality Virginia, caught wind of what was being planned and sent e-mail notices to its Valley members to encourage them to attend the meeting and ask hard questions of the presenters.

That they did not get that opportunity – the forum did not include an open question-and-answer question – was why the tension remained unspoken.


The debate


“The overall impact of gay activism on America is, first, a desensitization to the harmful impact of same-sex behavior on individuals and on our society and, second, the acceptance of same-sex behavior as something that is normal, healthy and natural and is equivalent to heterosexuality,” said David Miller, the vice president of the Cincinnati, Ohio,-based Citizens for Community Values, and the keynote speaker at last week’s Valley Family Forum event.

“It’s a negative impact. It’s not something that has benefited individuals or our culture,” Miller told The Augusta Free Press.

The question to be asked regarding homosexuality, Miller said, isn’t the traditional is it nature – or is it choice?

“The question is, how do we deal with it?” Miller said. “Do we approve of it and say, well, because you feel this way, then we are going to validate it? It’s OK for you to feel this way. Go ahead and act on your feelings. Even though we can look at very demonstrable evidence that says if you act out on these feelings, there is serious risk to your mental and physical wellbeing.

“That, I think, is something that we have erred on as a society, to say that it’s OK to go ahead and act on those feelings,” Miller said.

That world view, said Dyana Mason, the executive director of Equality Virginia, ignores one rather obvious fact.

“One thing that I hope people realize is that gay and lesbian couples have always been around. And that we will always be around,” Mason told the AFP.

“I know that there are people out there who try to ascribe sinister motives to what we’re trying to do. But all we’re simply trying to do is to allow our community to be able live a little more openly and safely, and being able to be treated equally under the law. That is really our only goal,” Mason said.

Miller made an analogy comparing society’s treatment of alcoholism – which is recognized by many as being something that one can be genetically predisposed to – to treatment of gays and lesbians.

“If it’s true that one can be predisposed to being an alcoholic, as one can be predisposed to being gay or lesbian, then shouldn’t we just ahead and say to alcoholics, as we do with homosexuals, hey, that’s the way you were born. We’re just going to make sure that everybody accepts you. We’re going to tell everybody that this is just normal for you. Go ahead and drink yourself into oblivion. We don’t care,” Miller said.

Mason derided the idea that gays and lesbians can be “repaired” in a way similar to what Miller seemed to be suggesting.

“Those types of reparative-therapy programs have been denounced by every credible professional health organization in the country as potentially harmful,” Mason said.

“When someone is trying to come out of the closet, it’s really important that we encourage them and not judge them per se, and let them know that they are still a valued member of our community and our society and our church family or whoever it happens to be,” Mason said.

“If they aren’t able to find that support for something that is very intrinsically basic to their identity, it can lead to feelings of isolation and depression, and there have been many, many, many cases where people have committed suicide,” Mason said.

“What these reparative-therapy groups promise is a future without that type of mental anguish, but what they’re doing is allowing homophobia, while what they should be doing instead is trying to create a world where homophobia doesn’t exist, and where people are respected for who they are,” Mason said.


Beneath the surface


Family Foundation of Virginia executive director Victoria Cobb framed the issue as being one of protection of the nuclear family.

“There’s no question that America is coming head to head with this issue of what is a family, what is it going to be in the future, how do we define that,” Cobb told the AFP.

“The compelling facts are that no matter what the political feel of the moment is, the kids do best with a mom and a dad in a married household. It’s been that way for generations, and it’s not going to change. So we really feel like no matter what the activism is on the other side, the facts and the history are on the side of traditional families, and it’s not who’s right or who’s wrong. It’s about what is best for the future,” Cobb said.

That said, Cobb conceded that “it’s not just homosexuality” that threatens the concept of family that has come to define the American way of life – or at least the way we would like to define our way of life.

“We talk a lot about divorce. We talk a lot about other kinds of sexual brokenness. Those are all types of things that we’re looking to address,” Cobb said.

Bob Henrikson, the president of the Harrisonburg chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, pointed out that ”

gays and lesbians are living as decent human beings, forming committed relationships, lovingly and faithfully raising children, and ministering to people of faith in spite of the stereotypical demonization that the fundamentalists want to establish concerning them.””Gays and lesbians are now living out the kind of lives that prove their attackers wrong,” Henrikson told the AFP. “It’s too late to sound the alarm that traditional values are being threatened. The horse is already out of the barn. They should wake up and start to look for ways to solidify the relationships that already exist, to protect the rights of the children already being raised, and to ensure that all the freedoms heterosexual people take for granted are not maliciously withheld from fellow human beings.”

Henrikson characterized the statements of Cobb, Miller and others at the Valley Family Forum event last week as constituting “an expression of fundamentalist faith, the kind that says ‘whatever doesn’t agree with my interpretation of the Bible is contrary to God’s will.’ ”

“As long as they believe this mantra, they can ignore any progressive scientific studies, any expert theological analyses or the plain reality that there exist gay people who don’t fit their idea of who and what a gay person is,” Henrikson said.

“What we saw that evening is the same thing that people saw hundreds of years ago when the last holdout religious traditionalists refused to accept the fact that the world is not flat. Even though the preponderance of the evidence persuasively told all other people that the world is round, these diehards could not abandon their trust in what they thought their Bibles were telling them,” Henrikson said.

“They would rather go to their graves trusting in their faith than to accept what everybody else already accepted,” Henrikson said. “The people at the Bridgewater meeting really believe they are doing God’s will. What stronger motivation is there?”

Cobb dismissed the implication that critics of the gay and lesbian rights movement are motivated by hate.


It’s not about hate. It’s not about bigotry. It’s not about individuals. This is just an issue that needs to be addressed, and there are compelling facts that need to get out to the public,” Cobb said.

“That is at the heart of what we heard (at last week’s forum),” Cobb said. “There are things that are not coming out in the public debates. When curriculum is brought into the public schools by groups like GLSEN, that information isn’t complete, and those kids aren’t being given the whole story. And when they’re told that anyone who wants the best for them and wants them to be able to thrive in a traditional family, that they are actually prejudicing people, that’s the message that is going to hurt our children in the long haul.”


The impact


“This is having a very broad impact, particularly in redefining family,” Miller said.

“It’s been a driving concern for me in my work to protect the foundation. If you don’t have a foundation, what do you do? Because everything else that you build upon it is going to be unstable. So with the family being that foundation, we’re creating instability with this redefinition. I think that’s going to impact the much broader society,” Miller said.

“From my personal perspective, gay and lesbian activists are helping America to fulfill her constitutional promise to all of her citizens, that of ‘equal protection of the laws,’ ” said Christine Robinson, a sociologist and professor at James Madison University.

“We’re not going away. I hope that our opponents would recognize that the gay and lesbian community is here to stay,” Mason said.

“I think the choice that Virginians will have to make is do we have a basic right to equal treatment, or should we be treated as second-class citizens? That’s the debate that we’re having right now,” Mason said.

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