Bernadette Barton Talks About “Pray the Gay Away”

Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists For Choice. Today we have the pleasure of talking to Bernadette Barton, author of Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (2006) and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays (2012). Today we are focusing on Pray the Gay Away and homosexuality in the Bible Belt area.

1. What inspired you to write Pray the Gay Away?
I write about what I call the “abomination incident” in the introduction to Pray the Gay Away. A neighbor told me being gay was an abomination after I came out to him. Although this kind of testifying is relatively commonplace in the Bible Belt, I had never before encountered a stranger who felt entitled to judge me as sinful, and tell me so, based on my sexual orientation. I grew up in Massachusetts in a politically progressive family and was unaccustomed to this kind of interaction. So, even though I had lived in Kentucky for 11 years by this point, I had not experienced much homophobia. My experience as a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, surrounded largely by lesbians, led me to believe that this sort of homophobia had ended.

I was both surprised and troubled by this encounter – the abomination incident – in 2003. Shortly thereafter began the 2004 presidential election season with an anti-gay marriage amendment on the Kentucky ballot. At this point, the homophobic discourse in the public sphere amped up considerably. Marrying a same-sex partner was compared to marrying a dog, horse, child and cousin. Homosexuality was constructed as polluting and contagious. And yard sign and bumper stickers displayed people’s public attitudes about gay people, many of which were in opposition to gay rights.

It became forcefully clear to me that homophobic attitudes and actions were alive, and integral to many people’s understanding of their social worlds. Since I had found my relatively small encounters with stranger homophobia so disturbing, I began to wonder how such attitudes affected gay people who grew up in the region. I was relatively lucky not to negotiate bigoted beliefs directed against my person-ness until I was in my mid-20s. What would it be like, I imagined, to process this kind of condemnation while one’s identity was still forming? Thus, Pray the Gay Away was conceived, and I formally interviewed 59 people from the Bible Belt and have had informal conversations with over 200 others. [Read more...]

A Response to Last Week’s Protests Against the Mormon Church

Last week LBGTQ activists staged a die-in at the headquarters of the Mormon Church to protest LDS leader Boyd K. Packer’s comments at the biannual General Conference regarding LGBTQ individuals. Packer stated that being gay is a choice, and that God wouldn’t make people gay, since homosexuality is a sin. This statement is nothing new, of course. But in light of all of the media attention surrounding LGBTQ youth suicide, queer activists were understandably fed up with the Mormon Church’s stance, especially since the state of Utah has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

Since today is National Coming Out Day, I’d like to issue my own response to Elder Boyd K. Packer.

Dear Elder Packer,

You don’t know me, but I’ve got news for you – the Mormon Church is missing out on a good thing by alienating queer folks from its congregations. I used to be your typical Molly Mormon. I went to church every week, I baked bread, did my genealogy, and participated in every little service project I could find. I even attended BYU for a semester . . . all in an effort to prove that I could be the perfect Mormon girl that God wanted me to be.

But then, something happened. Matthew Sheppard was brutally murdered in October of 1998 – by two Mormons, I might add – and I realized that I had to get out of the state of Utah in order to be who I truly was.

I am a lesbian, Elder Packer. You say that it is a choice, but it’s no more a choice than you having gray hair or a big nose. Being a lesbian is a part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am. I still bake bread. I still love doing my genealogy. And I still give service to others whenever I can. I am a daughter, a granddaughter, a pet-mother, and a wife. My partner and I live in our little house together, and we’re quite happy, thank you very much. In fact, Shannon is the best thing that ever happened to me. And yes, I prayed for Shannon, and God answered that prayer. [Read more...]

Tim Gunn’s Message to Queer Teens Made Me Cry


Tim Gunn recently taped a message for LGBTQ teens on behalf of The Trevor Project, the national organization focused on preventing suicide amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer youth. Gunn’s message? It gets better.

First of all, I have to say that I love me some Tim Gunn, and have been hagging him since the debut of Project Runway. His message made me cry – because I can relate to what he’s saying to teens, and because I’m passionate about LGBTQ youth.

The recent media attention to LGBTQ youth committing suicide is very sad, but the worst part is that queer youth commit suicide at rates that are four times higher than heterosexual youth – and both the media and the government have remained silent about this since the first reports came out from the Department of Health & Human Services in 1989. Eve Sedgwick famously referred to this as a genocide against queer youth. And here we are in 2010, still failing to serve queer youth. [Read more...]

Coming Out: Rupturing Heteronormativity & Opening Possibilities for Resistance

national coming out Serena’s story inspired me to share my own coming out experience in honor of coming out month and the march for equality in D.C. this weekend. Coming out, as well as sharing those experiences with others, can be a liberating and self-actualizing process. It’s important to note, though, that the coming out process is not universal, nor is it something that we can all understand in similar ways. Attaching to the notion that we are all categorized because of sexual orientation seeks to ignore the infinite ways in which our lived experiences shape our lives in significantly different ways. With that being said, my comments here are not intended to essentialize coming out; to assume that my experience is the same as every gay, lesbian, trans identified, bisexual, asexual, curious, or queer person is to make a whole host of assumptions that are not only incorrect, but problematic in terms of opening space of possibility for gender and sexuality.

With that being said, I do think there are a lot of positive qualities about the sharing of knowledge production and self-discovery. Separating ourselves based on our differences closes off the possibility of building ethical human relationships based in compassion for one another’s lives. Coming out narratives seek to build bridges of intimacy between the sharer of experience and the reader who internalizes their struggle. These stories denaturalize heteronormativity because grief, in terms of who visibly receives it, is concentrated to certain people and places on the globe. The story of Gwen Araujo, for instance, exemplifies the tragic reality that gender violence is treated as a lenient crime within our social and political institutions. The lives of those living outside of strict confinements regarding gender and sexuality are reduced to sub-human status making violence against them not only possible, but justifiable. [Read more...]

Friday News Roundup

mouse2Dr. Susan Wicklund Blames Protesters For Dr. Tiller’s Death – West Virgina Public Broadcasting
Why I’m a Clinic Escort – Abortion Clinic Escort Blog
New AZ Law Could Limit Access to Plan B – Daily Wildcat
Coming Out in Middle School – New York Times
5 Ways to Save Money on Birth Control – US News & World Report
South Dakota Attorney General Appeals Abortion Ruling – Ms.
Glenn Beck Faces Backlash . . . From the Right – Alternet