The Confinement of LGBT Art Expression
Despite the overarching messages of unconditional love and hope religious sectors claim to uphold, a tinge of hypocrisy remains for religiously persecuted LGBT people. We live in a society that is hostile to homosexual expression, especially present when correlating queer experiences to Christian customs and “moral” traditions. John D’Emilio asserts that, “Biblical condemnations of homosexual behaviors suffused American culture from its origin” (D’Emilio 1983, 13). The notion that identifying as LGBT is a sin against God, or unwelcomed in the field of Christian belief creates a tension between religiosity and queer experiences. In this blog post, I discuss how the lack of LGBT artistic acceptance throughout societal institutions, and specifically pertaining to the my chosen article, Claremont Church’s destroyed nativity scene, is being displayed via discrimination that exists in religious art, and hate crimes that directly target LGBT people through physical desecration. I am essentially arguing that the absence of LGBT prevalence in the media and arts gives rise to cisgender privilege, where certain advantages are inherently granted to those who fit into our heteronormative society’s favored identities.
The article “Attack on LGBT Christian Art: An Ugly Trend Continues” by Kittredge Cherry explores the uneasiness that burns within people who both identify as a member of the LGBT community, in addition to, a Christian or member of the religious specter; attributing inner conflict to the lack of proper representation and portrayals in the media, in which Cherry specifically focuses on Christian art within certain communities. Cherry reports that this December, Claremont United Methodist Church hosted a progressive interpretation of the infamous nativity scene, portraying a gay and lesbian couple, along with a heterosexual couple, exhibiting open-mindedness and acceptance in their more inclusive celebration of a traditional Christian message of love. However, the gay and lesbian silhouettes were vandalized, causing $3000 dollars in damages, and conclusively revealing the lack of willingness to accept LGBT-positive Christian images and demonstrations. This hate crime, which specifically targeted members of the LGBT community, is not uncommon when involving queer religious art, as Cherry mentions that there remains a discord in “LGBT Christian art as religious freedom clashes with freedom of expression” (Cherry 2010). Many religious taboos, such as the Biblical parable of Sodom and Gomorrah in Levitcus that denounces LGBT behavior, “Men who lay with men commit an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them,” irrationally give rise to our heteronormative society denouncing LGBT Christian experiences as blasphemy (D’Emilio 1983, 13).
According to John D’Emilio, “homosexual behavior was excoriated as a heinous sin, the law branded it a serious crime, and the medical profession diagnosed homosexuals and lesbians as diseased” (D’Emilio 1983, 13). This negative association, labeling people via medical terms with clinical connotations, has infiltrated society with the common belief that being LGBT identifying was abnormal, unnatural, wrong, and/or problematic. Cherry’s article highlighted the reality that many artists who choose to create LGBT religious art often face discrimination and social threats, demonstrating the realm of intolerance surrounding queer performance. In addition, when groups of people are labeled as generalized others, thus being marked as undesirable in certain spaces or institutions, transgressions emerge and contribute to a society that persecutes those people that are marked as deviating from the recognized norm. Adrienne Rich labels the unquestioned assumption that all people are heterosexual until they “choose” to become identified alternatively with the concept of compulsory (forced/obliged) heterosexuality (Rich 1995, 182). The lack of visibility that remains for members of the LGBT community permeates society as “just the way it is”, highlighting the hegemonic belief that LGBT representation should be closeted in order to sustain a primarily (admitted) heterosexual society.
Religious attackers should delve within themselves to better exemplify Christ’s own message of love and compassion, as he, too, was a victim of societal persecution and animosity. I find that the lack of LGBT representation in the media, paired with the hate crimes that occur within LGBT artistic depictions illustrate a society that is intolerant of queer expression in religious and public realms. The underlying deficiency of municipal acceptance that lingers for members of the LGBT community have resultantly stigmatized their identities paired with religious beliefs, as an entire population of people are seen as not fit for equal representation in both the arts and media, and thus, the social world, which ultimately stems from the unchallenged heterosexuality our society perpetuates (Rich 1995, 182).
Cherry, Kittredge. “Attack on LGBT Christian Art: An Ugly Trend Continues?”
Huffington Post 24 Jan 2012. Web, 5 Feb 2012.
D’Emilio, John. "Homosexuality and American Society: An Overview" from
Sexual Politics, Sexual, Communities in the United States 1940- 1970.
Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Rich, Adrienne. "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence"
from Professions of Desire: Lesbian and Gay Studies in Literature. ed.
George Haggerty and Bonnie Zimmermann. New York: Modern
Language Association, 1995.