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‘Queer Disbelief’ pairs atheists and LGBTQ communities as allies

Author Camille Beredjick and her book “Queer Disbelief: Why LGBTQ Equality Is an Atheist Issue.” Images courtesy of Camille Beredjick

(RNS) — American atheists and other nonbelievers have long acknowledged the debt they owe in their fight for equality to the gay and lesbian community, which began its struggle for the same in the 1960s (and in turn acknowledged its debt to African-Americans).

In her new book “Queer Disbelief: Why LGBTQ Equality Is an Atheist Issue,” queer activist and atheist Camille Beredjick calls for an alliance between those who do not believe in God and those who identify as LGBTQ based on their mutual goals of respect and acceptance.

She spoke with Religion News Service about why these two groups have more in common than they generally acknowledge and how they can work together. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

This book came out of a long, professional relationship between myself and Hemant Mehta, who writes The Friendly Atheist blog. We started to see religious arguments against the movement for transgender rights and it seemed like a good time to talk about how these two groups — atheists and the LGBTQ community — receive outcry from organized religion in a very intense way and to talk about how they can best be allied and what’s at stake when we don’t work together to address our common goals.

Why are they allies?

When we look at data on the characteristics of these two communities we see there is a ton of overlap between LGBTQ and atheists. Close to half of LGBTQ persons say they are nonbelievers, so from the beginning it is crucial to recognize we are never talking about one community in an isolated way.

Beyond that, so many of the most significant issues facing LGBTQ people can affect atheists in some way, like violating the principles many atheists hold dear. When we see laws that seek to give business owners the right to discriminate against LGBTQ customers based on their religious beliefs, that’s state-sanctioned privileging of one belief system over another. When religious schools that receive taxpayer money can fire LGBTQ people, that’s an infringement of the separation of church and state. And in both cases, the laws that target LGBTQ people could also be used against atheists.

One example I have in the book is of a doctor who denied health care to a baby because the baby had two moms. That is the kind of thing atheists should be furious about because it could be an attack on them, too.

What can these two groups learn from each other?

Every social justice movement has had to be mindful about being inclusive, but also about being aware of differences. So just as there is not one monolithic LGBTQ community, there is not a monolithic atheist community. Every one brings something different to the table. So while we may have something in common in terms of our nonbelief or our sexual orientation, I think both of these movements can do better in addressing diversity and there are examples where both groups have done that very well and where both groups can look to the other and use that as a model.

You have some very moving stories in the book from people who have experienced discrimination for being a member of one or both of these groups. Is there one that touched you?

I spoke to one young man who is transgender and feels strongly called to be a priest. He spoke about the difficulty of maintaining his faith while coming out, and accepting the idea that the Catholic faith he grew up in would not likely be a safe place for him to pursue the priesthood. The way he put it was so beautiful. He said people cannot prove just by looking at him that he is a man, but it is something he knows he is and that gives him peace.

Likewise, he can’t prove that God exists or that he has a calling to be a priest, but he knows the peace and joy that God and that calling brings him. I thought that was a lovely way to put it.

You outline practical ways these groups can work for change, like becoming politically involved. But you also have other ideas that are more personal. What are they?

I think if we are seeking opinion change then we have to start storytelling and connecting — not just try to outsmart opponents but try to connect to them with something personal that inspires empathy, not just finger-pointing. If we are going to move this forward we need to start conversations, not shut people down.

Faithful Viewer logo. Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

66 Comments

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  • This is a good idea.

    In the meantime, those of us who are part of a faith group but now believe that our faith doesn’t have it right in condemning LGBT people for wanting to find love, commitment, marriage, sexual expression in a loving relationship – we need to keep our own voices speaking out within our own religious groups. There are tens of millions of Christians, for example, who think at the least that civil rights must be extended to recognize LGBTQ as part of our community. I also think that, slowly, more and more Christian faiths will come to realize we had it wrong for centuries – LGBTQ is a God created variant, not as numerous in its expression as heterosexuality, but also part of God’s creation.

  • Very well said. I smiled as I thought of the irony of thes two groups reconciling with one another when I had read in my bible a call to be a minister of reconciliation a few hours earlier.

  • Not a surprising development. In fact, unofficially, this alliance has probably been happening anyway on scattered occasions.

    Christians should be aware of this trend but **not** panic over it. Just part of the daily competition (or more biblically, the war) for everybody’s hearts, mind, and souls.

    Neither the religion of atheism, nor the Gay Religion, has an antidote for 1 Cor. 10:13 and 1 Cor.6:9-11. No antidote for John 3:16 either.

  • Unless the interviewee is using “nonbeliever” in its Christian sense (and it’s always fun when atheists exhibit Christian privilege), her statistics seem off. The Pew 2015 study found that 41% of LGB individuals are religiously unaffiliated, or Nones. Only 17% identified as atheist or agnostic. But broader None research has indicated that a majority of Nones actually believe in God at least in some way. It is more an expression of lack of identity than a specific belief.

  • I never tried arsenic, strychnine, or heroin, either. But I have certainly seen the results on humans of all four.

  • I’m sure there’s strong Jewish support for LGBTQ, but it’s unclear whether that same support is there for LGBLT.

  • Likewise, I admit I’ve never tried those first 3 items. (Nor have I tried any low-octane, back-door killers like weed.)

    However, I have seen the effects of Jesus Christ on people.
    Sure ain’t no poison! Do a person some good!

  • Considering the horrible behavior of right-wing Christians toward LGBTQS it’s amazing more of them are not nontheists.

  • No, we’ve discussed this aspect before. It’s the Bible texts themselves that you clearly reject. They are very specific.

  • From what I’m seeing, we’re al sinning these days in our relationships with others. Nobody seems to be racking up perfect scores, and everybody got behavioral issues somewhere. (Seems to be a byproduct of sin or something.)

    But you brought up something vital. God still draws people to Himself for salvation, healing, and restoration, despite real or imagined or perceived “horrible behaviors” from any direction.

    You may say that Christ is Poison today, but what if, next year, you
    run around saying that Christ is Savior? How you gonna stop God from getting under your skin? Shall I start calling you “Rev. Kangaroo” in advance?

  • While you probably think that opposite attraction is normal, Natural, ordained by god, and FIXED…

    It’s very obvious that it isn’t.

  • I would apply a caution to what we think it means. People change. People change in different ways. Some people who at one time had a heterosexual attraction may find they have developed a same sex attraction. And some people who thought they were gay or lesbian may find later that they are not. And some people don’t change in their sexual attraction but change in other ways.

    What is important is that people are free, that they are not coerced or forced by others into living out a sexuality they do not feel is their own.

    And all of this includes the necessity that adult sexual relations are entered into with respect and caring about the other person.

  • Opposite sex attraction is normal and necessary for mankind to survive. Homosexuality is not natural and not necessary for mankind to survive.

  • Overpopulation is actually threatening human survival. And homosexual pairs are found in many species in the natural world, so the claim that is “unnatural” is demonstrably false.

  • If homosexual sex was natural the bodies of each sex would be designed to complement each same sex person. It doesn’t. The male body is not designed to have sex with another male body. That’s why there are many homosexual men suffer anal problems and get very sick and die earlier as a group.

  • Well, apparently you lack all imagination. I’m certain the farm animals you have sex with are bored.

  • You know… your obsession with gay men is pathological. My partner is almost 80 years old. Fk you.

  • The occurrence of homosexual attraction within some people is every bit as natural as the occurrence of blue eyes in some people. Just because those (and many other) characteristics occur in a minority of people does not make them unnatural.

    ” The male body is not designed to have sex with another male body.” . . . Correct. It evolved to be perfectly suitable for sex with another male. As a 73 year old male who’s been with my husband for 36 years, I can guarantee the accuracy of that statement.

    I notice that your comments focus exclusively on the SEX SEX SEX among same-gender couples. You completely neglect their love, affection, companionship, and devotion.

    And, have you ever noticed that areas of the U.S. which have the highest percentage of fanatical Christians ” get very sick and die earlier as a group?” Check out this map: http://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/usa/life-expectancy-by-county

  • The male body is not designed to have sex with another male body. They do not complement each other. This is why so many homosexual men have problems with getting serious diseases which affects their lives in very negative way. Consider the results of this from the CDC: “In 2015:
    • Gay and bisexual men accounted for 82% (26,376) of new HIV diagnoses among all males aged 13 and older and 67% of the total new diagnoses in the United States.f
    • Gay and bisexual men aged 13 to 24 accounted for 92% of new HIV diagnoses among all men in their age group and 27% of new diagnoses among all gay and bisexual men.
    • Gay and bisexual men accounted for 55% (10,047) of people who received an AIDS diagnosis. Of those men, 39% were African American, 31% were white, and 24% were Hispanic/Latino.”

  • Your comment is irrelevant.

    So, If you had lived prior to the advent of modern medical science, I assume you would have wanted to dissuade everyone from engaging in heterosexual sex, because it was deadly. And, if you had been “successful,” the human species would not exist today.

    Or, maybe cars and trucks should be banned because accidents kill about 35,000 people in the US each year, and cause serious injuries to many thousands of other people.

    If you really wanted to make an impact on a major health issue, you should be campaigning to reverse the obesity epidemic in the US that has been spiraling out of control for years causing a number of serious chronic health consequences, and increasing health insurance costs for everyone. And, if you decide to mount a campaign, you should probably start in the Bible Belt where the obesity rates are the worst.

    And, if you are so concerned about STDs among gay people, you should be campaigning to encourage safer sex precautions, and more same-sex marriage.

  • Driving cars and obesity is irrelevant to the deadly sexual consequences to homosexual sex. Do you know how much it cost to treat HIV?

    “The estimated discounted lifetime cost for persons who become HIV infected at age 35 is $326,500 (60% for antiretroviral medications, 15% for other medications, 25% non-drug costs). For individuals who remain uninfected but at high risk for infection, the discounted lifetime cost estimate is $96,700. The medical cost saved by avoiding one HIV infection is $229,800. The cost saved would reach $338,400 if all HIV-infected individuals presented early and remained in care. Cost savings are higher taking into account secondary infections avoided and lower if HIV infections are temporarily delayed rather than permanently avoided.”
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4359630/

  • Funny how my sex life disputes everything you have to say. The only conclusion I can come with is…

    YOU’RE JUST NOT DOING IT RIGHT.

    but I can fix that for you. First step, get your head out of your anus,

  • The problem is that there is no right way to do homosexual sex. The CDC stats shows how deadly this is. It leads to sickness and death.

  • (1) Sure, people love to complain about “overpopulation” as long as it ain’t their OWN deaths that the government is calling for.

    (2) The “Zoo Crew Revue” sales-pitch is a scientific failure, every day.

    ” In species that lack sophisticated language–which is to say
    all species but ours–sex serves many nonsexual purposes, including
    establishing alliances and appeasing enemies, all things animals must do
    with members of both sexes. “Sexuality helps animals maneuver around each
    other before making real contact,” says Martin Daly, an evolutionary
    psychologist at McMaster University in Ontario. “Putting all that into a
    homosexual category seems simplistic.”

    Even if some animals do engage in homosexual activity purely for pleasure, their behavior still serves as an incomplete model–and an incomplete explanation–for human behavior.

    “In our society homosexuality means a
    principal or exclusive orientation,” says psychology professor Frans de
    Waal of the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta. “Among animals it’s just
    nonreproductive sexual behavior.”

    — “The Gay Side of Nature”, Jeffrey Kluger, Time Magazine, Apr. 1999.

  • The small gay minority won’t make a difference on mankind’s survival, so why don’t you find a nice hobby instead of getting your knickers in a twist when it comes to other people’s lives. May I presume you’re suffering from some form of religion?

  • I’m just indifferent to religion and the sex-lives of other people, because neither affect me.

  • ” American atheists and other nonbelievers have long acknowledged the debt they owe in their fight for equality to the gay and lesbian community, which began its struggle for the same in the 1960s (and in turn acknowledged its debt to African-Americans).” First sentence and she is misinforming already.

    “I spoke to one young man who is transgender and feels strongly called to be a priest.” I would say the Lord is moreso calling her to trust how He made her, not what she wants to be.
    What a load of bologna.

  • And you, sandinwindsor, are a giant load of bologna BOLOGNA (Bigoted Old Lady Oppressing Gays N’ Atheists).

  • 50 years of gay sex for me, too! I’ve been with my husband for almost 37 years, and he is definitely my savior.

  • It’s perfect. I have never had a major illness. I don’t even get the flu. Take your lies and get stuffed.

  • It’s perfect. I have never had a major illness. I don’t even get the flu. Time to rethink your little theory.

  • Mighty big if. And one more time, you seem to be implying that god confides in you. somehow, I doubt it.

  • No. But I do know some of His word, and if they are serving satan, the only One He will direct them to is Himself. Homosexuals and “trans” are too busy rebelling against Him to hear.

  • Or you are, what with your judging, bearing false witness, reviling and slandering, and the rest of your godless repertoire.

  • “Camille Beredjick calls for an alliance between those who do not believe in God and those who identify as LGBTQ based on their mutual goals of respect and acceptance.”

    Respect and acceptance… such as the New Yorker writer who slammed “creepy” Chick-fil-A for its “Christian traditionalism…”

    And Senator Cory Booker calling out (and voting against) CIA Director Nominee Mike Pompeo for his Christian beliefs on traditional marriage.

    I’ll believe “respect and allegiance” from gays and atheists when I see it.

  • I’ll believe “respect and allegiance” for hyper religious people towards gay people, atheists, non-Christians, and other liberal Christians when I see it.

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