Joel Osteen, best-selling author and religious entertainer, says “Homosexuality is a sin” in an interview with Piers Morgan which will air on Wednesday, January 26. “Piers Morgan Tonight” previewed the Wednesday interview two days early in which Osteen, the pastor of mammoth Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, toes a fundamentalist, homophobic line on the interpretation of the Bible. In response to Morgan’s questions about his condemnation of LGBTQ Americans, Osteen retreats into the same literalist interpretation of a very few passages of scripture that right wing preachers have used to bash gay people for generations:
MORGAN: Say a friend of mine like Elton John watching this at home, who with his partner – a civil partner, David Furnish – have just had a surrogate child which was born on Christmas day. They’re going to be pretty angry what they hear. They’re going to think who are you to call them a sinner.
J. OSTEEN: Yes.
MORGAN: But why are they sinners in your eyes?
J. OSTEEN: Well, it’s strictly back to what the scripture says. I mean, I can’t grab one part and say God wants you to be blessed and live an abundant life, and not grab the other part that says, you know what? You know, live that kind of life. So it comes back to the scripture. I’m not the judge. You know, God didn’t tell me to go around judging everybody.
Osteen tries to have it both ways in the interview with Morgan. Though he clearly condemns gay and lesbian people for parenting children, seeking marriage in monogamous relationships, and for forming same-sex loving families, Osteen claims that he is not a “gay basher.” The distinction will surely be lost on queer folk and their families when the widely popular preacher has just clobbered them with the Bible. “The scriptures shows that it’s a sin,” Osteen says to Morgan in the CNN interview. “But you know, I’m not one of those that are out there to bash homosexuals and tell them that they’re terrible people and all of that. I mean, there are other sins in the Bible too…I don’t believe homosexuality is God’s best for a person’s life.” Osteen has repeatedly peddled his own brand of “soft homophobia” as recently as November 2010 on television shows like ABC’s “The View,” as previously reported by the Unfinished Lives Project. Osteen betrays a simplistic form of Bible reading and interpretation that begins from a heterosexist and homophobic set of beliefs alien to the vast majority of reputable scholars and Bible teachers throughout the world. The Houston mega-church preacher apparently relies on a literalistic, legalistic reading of two texts in the entire Bible to arrive at his claim that God considers homosexuality a “sin.” In the Hebrew Testament, only two passages in the priestly code of Leviticus (selected verses in Leviticus 18 and 20), and one primary text from Paul’s letter to the Romans which is actually about idolatry and not homosexuality in any modern sense (Romans 1:26-28) are available to Osteen and his ilk to make such a universally condemnatory argument against a marginalized group of people. The consensus of progressive and moderate Jewish and Christian biblical scholars is that fundamentalist interpretations of these passages are off base at best, and dangerous at worst. Opinions driven by cultural bias and read back into the Bible such as Osteen’s have proven to be used to justify their religious intolerance and violence by those who attack LGBTQ people both verbally and physically. For a responsible and accessible book on the Bible that teaches biblical respect for LGBTQ people, see Dr. Peter J. Gomes, “The Good Book.” While Osteen seems to think he can appeal to his conservative base with condemnatory statements like those on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” and at the same time soften his rhetoric enough to convince the gullible that he is the very nicest of gay bashers (so they can be “nice” gay bashers, too!), his use of the Bible is irresponsible, uninformed, and contributes to the suffering of millions of people whose only offense is whom they love.
Brewster County, Texas – An alleged rapist and kidnapper of a gender non-conforming 18-year-old boy was quietly released on bail in Big Bend Country before the Christmas holidays. The Unfinished Lives Project has learned that Daniel Martinez, 46 at the time of the alleged kidnapping and rape of a Terlingua teen in December 2009, was granted release on bail by Alpine Judge and Justice of the Peace Jerry Sotello on December 20, 2010. According to the report of Clarence Russeau, an educator and community organizer in Alpine, the accused rapist was granted bail of $20,000 for each of three counts: kidnapping, aggravated assault, and arson. The victim was not notified by the court, the justice of the peace, or District Attorney Jesse Gonzales Jr. that Martinez had been released from jail, and he only found out the news in the first week of January from counselors associated with the Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend. According to most recent reports, the second accused assailant, Kristopher Buchanan, 27 at the time of the rapes, is still being held in jail pending court action, though his name appears nowhere on a docket. As Unfinished Lives has reported, the young victim who was kidnapped from the Boat House Bar, was allegedly spirited out to a remote desert residence by Martinez and Buchanan, where his car was torched and he was repeatedly raped by the pair until he escaped three miles on foot through rugged terrain wearing no more than pajama bottoms, a torn tee-shirt, and flip-flops with no socks in freezing temperatures. Sources in Alpine say that the deteriorating health of Martinez was given as an excuse for the release. Martinez reportedly has suffered two heart attacks in jail since his arrest, and one source said that Martinez’s short life expectancy prompted the leniency of officers of the court. Martinez has been ordered to appear before the court monthly to establish that he has not absconded, but the proximity of Brewster County to the U.S.-Mexico border casts doubt on the wisdom of the decision to let an untried defendant go. The porous border around Terlingua has become an issue of national concern in recent years, and surreptitious travel back and forth across the Rio Grande in the desolate Big Bend country is a regular occurrence. Close observers of District Attorney Gonzales and the local courts have voiced concerns about Buchanan’s situation, as well. Buchanan’s name has been dropped from the January court docket. In the recent past, DA Gonzales has surprised plaintiffs and the public by making sudden plea bargain deals with defendants whose names, like Buchanan’s, had been dropped from the docket of the court. Since Buchanan faces three charges courts in two other counties, Terlingua citizens fear that he may be seconded to those jurisdictions in a sort of judicial shell game, postponing a trial in Brewster County for months and years to come. The inside game being played by court officials and law enforcement in Brewster County and the 83rd Judicial District of Texas seems to have unreasonably stalled justice for a young man who has suffered sexual assault, kidnapping, and destruction of his property, all because he was perceived to be gay. Does the safety and security of gender non-conforming youth mean anything to officers of the court in the largest county in Texas? Does it take a hate crime murder to motivate the legal system in Deep South Texas to take sexual assault against minors seriously? Where is justice, a right to a speedy trial, and the rule of law in Big Bend country? It is hard for us in the Unfinished Lives Project Team to see any sufficient rationale for denying Martinez and Buchanan their day in court for so long, and for leaving a youth harmed so grievously in limbo for well over a year.
Dallas, Texas – The first-degree murder trial of Seth Winder, charged with the grisly dismemberment of openly gay Dallasite, Richard Hernandez, has been postponed for another four months, according to reports received from the Dallas Voice. Winder was finally to stand trial on January 24 for the September 2008 slaying of the gentle, well-liked Hernandez, a resident of North Dallas who worked as an Associate for Wal-mart. The Denton County District Attorney’s Office announced the delay of trial until May 23, in response to the petition of Winder’s defense attorney, Derek Adame. This postponement of the trial date puts the commencement of justice for Richard Hernandez to a full two-and-a-half years since the visceral organs of the victim were discovered in his apartment bathtub. The Voice notes that the May trial date itself is considerably in doubt at this point. The events following the arrest of Seth Winder for the murder of Hernandez are a case study in the muting of a Latino gay murder in the Southwest. The forensic details of the crime are gruesome in the extreme. Though the sensational aspects of a dismemberment seem to lend themselves to media and LGBTQ community attention, a strange pall has fallen over this story for years. Dallas-Fort Worth television and radio news are filled with regular stories of mayhem, yet this bloody, outrageous crime has received relatively little attention in local media, with the exception of coverage by the Dallas Voice. Controversy has dogged this story since its inception. Winder, arrested with blood-stained evidence in his possession, has been variously described as mentally disabled and homicidal, even by his own family. Winder’s father’s girlfriend, Karen Dilbeck, threw a spanner in the works by authoring and publishing a book-length account of the crime and a pastiche of her husband’s mental state at the time of the murder. Because of a spate of publicity that might have affected a trial, justice was postponed in the wake of the book’s publication. Psychological experts have pronounced on Winder’s capacity to understand right and wrong, and his ability to stand trial for the murder. Friends of Hernandez have repeatedly called on officials to bring the case to a speedy trial, contending that Winder knew what he was doing when he allegedly cut his victim to pieces. A&E’s The First 48 attempted to revive interest in the story, but failed. Today’s news of yet another postponement works to dampen the community awareness of the story further. Gay men who habituate the Oaklawn-Cedar Springs entertainment district where the gay community of Dallas congregates seem to have no recognition of the name of Richard Hernandez or the heinous murder that has been likened to Richard Harris’s “Hannibal the Cannibal” best-seller and major motion picture, The Silence of the Lambs. Why such little interest or knowledge of the crime exists in Dallas in 2011 is cause for major concern. This is the hallmark of a gay hate crime being covered over by community neglect and denial, especially when the victim is non-White and past the Twink stage. In the end, the LGBTQ community has the responsibility for keeping the memory of Richard Hernandez alive both so that justice may be finally rendered in this terrible case, and also for the sake of the Dallas LGBTQ community’s social identity. It is sadly no surprise that major media such as Belo Corporation’s newspaper and television station de-emphasize the plight of gay and lesbian Texans due to hate crimes. They have been doing so for generations. But the local queer community, with the happy exception of the Dallas Voice, has dropped the ball for a series of reasons community leaders would do well to understand and counteract, if the LGBTQ voices in Dallas and North Texas are ever to be taken seriously by a neglectful heterosexist majority in this city and county. Meanwhile, the justice Richard Hernandez’s friends seek is deferred. And justice deferred is justice denied.
Tucson, Arizona – The toxic climate of hate speech in the United States has been named as a “suspect” in the attempted assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) on Saturday. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois used former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s inflammatory rhetoric (“Don’t retreat, reload!”) as an example of the caustic political climate characteristic of political speech in America, and called for all parties to refrain from demonization and hate speech, according to the Huffington Post and AP reports. Giffords was shot through the head, six others were killed, and a total of 16 people wounded in an attack on the Congresswoman’s open-air “Congress On Your Corner” event held in Tucson at a Safeway Supermarket location. A 22-year-old, Jared Loughner, was tackled by two attendees, and subsequently arrested for the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords. While the investigation is proceeding against Loughner, who may have ties to an extremist political group called “American Renaissance,” officials across the nation are decrying the hate speech so prevalent in American discourse on virtually every level of the nation’s life. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County, Arizona, where the shooting took place on Saturday, told the Associated Press: “I think that when the rhetoric about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia of how government operates and to try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, has impact on people especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.” Sheriff Dupnik went on to liken Arizona as the “Tombstone of the United States,” in apparent reference to the lawless legacy of violence in the Wild West of the late 19th century. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona has issued a complaint against Jared Lee Loughner, charging him with federal crimes, including the murder of individuals performing their duties as government officials, and the attempted assassination of a member of Congress. Lawmakers are vociferously condemning the demonizing rhetoric of recent years in the wake of the shooting, but the roots of American hate speech and the culture of violence so rife in American life are being left untouched. For decades, minority groups like the LGBTQ community in the United States have suffered the effects of intolerance and hate speech, as well as the violence that such irresponsible language spawns. While pundits may debate the linkage between hate speech and hate violence, the dead in every state in the nation give mute testimony to the effects of bias-motivated acts carried out by individuals and groups espousing the sub-humanity of their targets. Hate speech leads to hateful deeds, as Sheriff Dupnik, making reference to the mental state of the assailant in Saturday’s attack, asserted to the Washington Post: “There’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol,” he said during his televised remarks. “People tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.” U. S. Senator Diane Feinstein, who discovered the body of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk after his assassination, spoke to the consequences of hate-filled rhetoric: “I have seen firsthand the effects of assassination, and there is no place for this kind of violence in our political discourse. It must be universally condemned. We do not yet know the gunman’s motivations, but I am convinced that we must reject extremism and violent rhetoric.” Jared Lee Loughner is the prime suspect in the terror-attack on Congresswoman Giffords, Federal Judge Roll, and the other victims of the Tucson rampage. But bias-driven hate speech in American life, that terrorizes minorities, political opponents, and cultural adversaries, belongs in the dock in the wake of this outrage every bit as much as the man who was apparently motivated to kill and maim by the angry words he heard for most of his young life.
May 2011 bring a renewed sense of courage, hope, and commitment on all our parts as we remember all LGBTQ folk who have lost their lives to injustice. And may our commitment translate into determination to see an end to hate crimes, not only for LGBTQ people, but for all people everywhere. As Elie Wiesel said when he received the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of human rights: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” May you and yours find joy and strength in the coming year, and thank you most sincerely for your support of the work of Unfinished Lives!