Taiwan used to be the first Asian nation poised to ratify same-sex marriage. Last month, however, Taiwan succumbed to the effects of $33 million spent to defeat the nation’s ballot measure to ratify same-sex marriage.
But that wasn’t $33 million of Taiwanese opposition. That was a flood of foreign interference: three U.S.-based conservative white-led Christian organizations (including the International House of Prayer or “IHOP”) that paid for advertising such as storefront and bus banners, canvassers in cities and rural areas, and ominous TV ads before children’s shows.
Taiwan was ready to shed the shackles of imperialism and instate a major step toward justice. But U.S.-based conservative white-led Christians bought its future. This tactic has been used time and again to tailor foreign policy and culture, and it won’t be the last time.
After the vote, Taiwanese people found themselves in despair. Suicide hotline calls spiked in the following days. The fruit of condemnation and toxic theology lay heavy and rotting on the vine.
And then, adding insult to injury, opponents of justice returned to the U.S. to tell LGBTQ people and the allies who love them that the Taiwanese vote proved that people of color don’t want queer and trans affirmation.
Queer affirmation is one facet of the process of decolonizing my faith. Decolonization refers to the process of stripping away false constructs and rules imposed on my faith by powerful societal influences like white supremacy, misogyny, nationalism, and capitalism.
But queer affirmation is only one facet of a healthy Christian faith. In the pursuit of the kin-dom, we must not be naive to the fact that opponents of queer affirmation exploit our implicit racial biases to set marginalized peoples against one another. By pitting people of color and LGBTQ people against each other, opponents of justice exert dominance over all. Unchecked, assumptions about race and sexuality can give white supremacy and homophobia/transphobia permission to spread.
Of course, there’s also the obvious fact that people of color are also LGBTQ people, myself included. But opponents of justice would have us believe that we don’t exist or that we exist only because of the proliferation of a “Western” progressive culture. The erasure of queer and trans people of color makes it far easier to disseminate the lie that LGBTQ people and people of color are enemies.
Truthfully, I have to check my own racism and understand the racism coded into my own journey as a queer person of color. I’m frequently surprised when I learn of a person of color’s queer affirmation. Most of all, I find myself defensive against people who look just like me. This reaction belies a falsehood that says that LGBTQ affirmation is a white or “Western” construct. In reality, queer and trans identities and affirmation have far predated whiteness and “Western” civilizations. However, a white conservative American reading of Christianity is threatened by the flourishing of both people of color and LGBTQ people. White conservative American Christianity depends on the subjugation of people of color and LGBTQ people. The good news of Jesus, on the other hand, depends on the liberation of all.
I am blessed in my church by Burundian siblings who see me on a rare solitary day at church and ask, “Where is your wife? Why is she not here today?” I am blessed by Native friends who celebrated my coming-out with me. I am blessed by my Chinese parents who have the joy of welcoming my wife as their new daughter. I am blessed to know that the richness of Asian/Pacific Islander queer existence has deep roots, and that I now belong to that lineage.
Queer Victory in Asia
Recently, Asians did experience a major queer victory when India decriminalized same-sex intimacy, thus overthrowing a holdover of British colonialism that was instated the same year that the British first invaded and occupied India. Whereas the British introduced homophobia and transphobia to India alongside subjugation, India has a native understanding of gender that laughs in the face of limiting Western constructs. Even Indian Tinder has 23 options for a user’s gender.
India’s victory leaves me hungry for more. Queer people around the world are ready to lead those of us still subjected to dominant Western narratives to re-imagine the possibilities of cultural and biological diversity.
Queer Progress in Limbo
In the United Methodist Church (UMC) – the third largest denomination in the world and the one to which I belong – opponents of justice are investing in the same tactic to sow discord between people of color and LGBTQ people. The UMC is headed toward a global decision-making summit in 2019 about whether LGBTQ people have a place in the Church, and homophobes/transphobes want people of color to sign on to their agenda.
The conservative special interest group the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) has heavily funded anti-LGBTQ efforts in The UMC, especially in Africa, where conservative white Americans are hopeful that homophobic messaging laced with funds and aggressive communications will sway African voters to kick progressive churches out of the denomination or dissolve the denomination altogether. (This would have disastrous effects on the Church in Africa and on development projects around the globe.)
At the same time that the IRD is working to buy African votes, the IRD is turning to U.S. proponents of LGBTQ inclusion in the Church and insisting that Africans do not want LGBTQ inclusion in the Church or justice in their communities. Like IHOP and other U.S. opponents of justice, the IRD wants LGBTQ people and people of color to forget that their communities intersect and thus forsake the wholeness of human identity and lived experience.
This February, The UMC has the opportunity to see through the lies and simultaneously demand justice for the global Church and for LGBTQ people. The message of Jesus must not be co-opted by well-meaning white allies who blame people of color for homophobia and transphobia or by opponents of LGBTQ inclusion who insist that bigotry is a cultural trait to be respected and left alone.
A Better Future
Of course, not all homophobia and transphobia can be attributed to white conservative Christian culture. People of color do perpetuate these lies. However, white conservative Christian culture thrives by constructing a hierarchical, discriminatory society in which they reign over all – those who threaten white supremacy and those who threaten patriarchy. If people of color and LGBTQ people see themselves as enemies, then neither contingency has the attention to challenge white supremacy and patriarchy.
If you’re a queer and/or transgender person of color: Live your full identities as both a person of color and a queer/trans person. In the context that makes sense for you, pursue authenticity. Do not discard one identity for the sake of the other. Learn the LGBTQ activism of your racial/ethnic people and the racial activism of your queer people. Resist racism.
If you’re a straight and/or cisgender person of color: Become a better ally to the LGBTQ people of your community by listening to their voices and removing barriers to their inclusion and leadership. In the context of your community, learn how to best advocate for LGBTQ people.
If you’re white: Challenge your lens. Stop talking about people of color, especially those who live in or hail from countries other than the U.S., as “too backward” or “too homophobic” for LGBTQ affirmation. That isn’t true, and it plays into the racism that opponents of justice hope you’ll employ. It also erases the lived experiences of LGBTQ people of color. Remember that LGBTQ people of color exist around the world and in beautiful abundance.
The richness of the kin-dom requires us to think critically about intersectional LGBTQ justice. This critical thinking is an act of thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness and prayerfulness go hand in hand as the foundation for our work toward justice. LGBTQ people and people of color are co-conspirators in the pursuit of heaven on earth. Frequently, we inhabit the same bodies. We will certainly inhabit the same kin-dom.
Art: a still from a documentary about Sonia Guinansaca, Nostalgia and Borders, by Jess x Snow