This post originated in an on-line conversation I had with a friend about LGBT community ethics in relation to coming out. There’s still tension within the LGBT Mormon community over the question of how “out” to be in the Church. I was pointing out that while the closet protects, it also isolates. “Silence,” I said, “equals distancing and alienation.” Ironically, while the Mormon community frequently punishes individuals for coming out, staying in the closet punishes us even more, amplifying suffering with fear and loneliness. In the closet, we might be fully “included” in the Church, but only in a Church that does not bear our burdens with us, that cannot fully minister to us. There is a reason why the LGBT community has evolved “coming out” as a core ethic, closely identified with the values of integrity and community.
But, my friend protested, it’s wrong to emphasize coming out too heavily, or to imply that refusing to come out equates with dishonesty. I agreed with him. In the 1980s, some gay community activists were using “outing” as a political tool to publicly humiliate and discredit closeted political opponents, which sparked widespread discussion in the gay community about “outing.” While many in the gay community approve of outing in exceptional, extreme cases of individuals who perpetrate abuse while shrouding a private gay sex life in secrecy, the gay community has largely rejected the tactic of “outing” as unethical. Yes, we have evolved coming out of the closet as a core ethic. But we’ve evolved with it the twin or corollary ethic of letting each individual decide for him or herself when, how and to whom to come out. We have evolved a strong ethic that coming out is a personal decision no one should feel pressured to make.
Discussing and thinking about the ethics of coming out begged the question: What other core ethics has the gay community evolved through the struggle for equality and dignity in the decades since the Stonewall Riots sparked the gay rights movement? And how would those ethics speak to LGBT people of faith?
Gay community ethics have evolved significantly since the 1970s. For instance, sexual freedom was once seen as the core ethic of the gay community. The ideal of marriage was rejected as “bourgeois” and hypocritical, invented by an oppressive patriarchy to gird up male supremacy. Then came the AIDS epidemic, and the gay community learned that family matters, that community recognition of our relationships matters, and that sexual self-restraint has an upside. Forty years ago, few would have predicted that the gay community would embrace marriage as a core value. Yet… Here we are.
I began to think about the question of LGBT community ethics, tongue-in-cheek, in terms of “ten commandments” of the LGBT community. What are the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots” of the LGBT community? As I reflected more deeply, I began to see parallels between the core ethics of the LGBT community and the actual ten commandments. There’s a reason THE ten commandments are timeless. The rejection of idolatry, of false images of god and of the misuse of God’s name, the Sabbatarian demand that we see ourselves as part of a larger moral community, the importance of family, the prohibitions against harming ourselves and others, and the prohibition against coveting what is not and should not be ours are universal values for a reason. As the gay community comes of age spiritually and ethically, why wouldn’t we see the truth of these commandments illuminated in lessons many of us have learned the hard way?
What began for me as a tongue-in-cheek reflection on LGBT community ethics as “ten commandments” became for me a reflection on the LGBT community’s witness of the truth of the ten commandments.
1. Thou shalt rest assured that I, the Lord thy God, do love thee with a fierce and unconditional love, for I have created thee as thou art and have redeemed thee at great personal cost, and will never abandon thee. Thou shalt not permit anyone to convince thee that anything in earth or heaven could ever come between thee and my love.
3. Thou shalt not be misled by those who use my name in vain, claiming that I the Lord God hate thee and condemn thee or that I consider thee an abomination. They are full of it, sayeth the Lord, and I will not hold them guiltless for thus taking my name in vain.
4. Remember that there is always someone worse off than thee, and do something to make the world a better place for them. It’s not all about thee. And if thou do this, all thy days shall be holy.
5. Love and honor thy father and thy mother, for they do love thee more than thou dost know, even when they don’t always act like it; and have patience with them in the days of thy coming out that thou and they might live long upon the land together and enjoy a loving, full relationship with each other some day.
6. Thou shalt not kill thyself. For, thus saith the Lord, things do get better.
7. Thou shalt work for marriage equality, for it is pleasing to the Lord and will be pleasing to thee that love be given and received in the framework of everlasting commitment. And it is pleasing to the Lord that thou be held to the same standards of fidelity as thy heterosexual brothers and sisters.
8. Thou shalt come out of the closet, that thy younger and more vulnerable gay brothers and sisters might have hope and wax in confidence, that they may not kill themselves but live long upon the land, seeing thy good example.
9. Thou shalt not out thy brother or sister, nor steal from them the right and privilege of coming out on their own timetable, to whom they are ready, when they are ready.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy heterosexual neighbor’s respectability and heterosexual privilege.