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Pray the Gay Away

Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays

Bernadette Barton
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 284
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  • Book Info
    Pray the Gay Away
    Book Description:

    In the Bible Belt, it's common to see bumper stickers that claim One Man + One Woman = Marriage, church billboards that command one to Get right with Jesus, letters to the editor comparing gay marriage to marrying one's dog, and nightly news about homophobic attacks from the Family Foundation. While some areas of the Unites States have made tremendous progress in securing rights for gay people, Bible Belt states lag behind. Not only do most Bible Belt gays lack domestic partner benefits, lesbians and gay men can still be fired from some places of employment in many regions of the Bible Belt for being a homosexual.In Pray the Gay Away, Bernadette Barton argues that conventions of small town life, rules which govern Southern manners, and the power wielded by Christian institutions serve as a foundation for both passive and active homophobia in the Bible Belt. She explores how conservative Christian ideology reproduces homophobic attitudes and shares how Bible Belt gays negotiate these attitudes in their daily lives. Drawing on the remarkable stories of Bible Belt gays, Barton brings to the fore their thoughts, experiences and hard-won insights to explore the front lines of our national culture war over marriage, family, hate crimes, and equal rights. Pray the Gay Away illuminates their lives as both foot soldiers and casualties in the battle for gay rights.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6472-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: “In the Eyes of the Lord”
    (pp. 1-22)

    I live in a small town in Kentucky. Although I have lived in Kentucky for 20 years, 17 of these in lesbian relationships, I had not personally experienced, or, to be more precise—noticed—much homophobia until a spring day in 2003 when a lean man wearing a Christian fish belt buckle and a black T-shirt called homosexuality an “abomination” to me in my own backyard.

    Anna, my partner, and I had just moved from Lexington to Thomasville, Kentucky,¹ a town closer to my workplace where houses are inexpensive. I was digging in the garden, pulling out a few random...

  5. 1 Welcome to the Bible Belt
    (pp. 23-42)

    These tracts each separately appeared on a green mat that Anna and I have outside the front door of our house in the small town of Thomasville, Kentucky, welcoming guests to our “Home Sweet Home.” These are not the only Christian texts to appear uninvited at our home. We regularly receive flyers and pamphlets urging us to join one or another of the 52 churches in our town of 16,500. Moreover, in addition to the usual rounds of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons knocking on our door, individuals from local Christian churches have personally approached our home to invite us to...

  6. 2 “My Parents Disowned Me”: Family Rejection
    (pp. 43-61)

    Angie, young, vibrant, the president of the student gay/straight alliance at her university, and the other members of the GSA group were sharing a meal with me a local restaurant. They had brought me to campus to give a public lecture on being gay in the Bible Belt. After asking the conversation opener, “So, would you like to all share your coming out stories with me?” Angie, seated to my right immediately burst out, “My mother came at me with a butcher knife!” The young woman to my left whispered, “You don’t want to hear my story, it’s too violent.”...

  7. 3 “God Would Tell on Me”: Losing Their Religion
    (pp. 62-86)

    I first encountered Joshua when I was a guest speaker in a graduate level communications methods class in the fall of 2009. Joshua sat in the front row, his eyes alight, demonstrating great interest in the issue under discussion. The following year we again crossed paths at a holiday party and eagerly renewed our acquaintance. Joshua shared compelling bits of his story among the buzz of cocktail party small talk surrounding us. He said he felt that he had been spiritually raped by his experience of Christianity and wondered if I thought, as a Women’s Studies professor, that the analogy...

  8. 4 “They Don’t Know Who I Am”: The Toxic Closet
    (pp. 87-115)

    Among the biggest battles gay people living in conservative areas struggle with is whether, when, and how to come out. To come out is to risk rejection, abuse, abandonment, and loss of one’s job, friends, even, in some extreme cases, one’s life. And, unlike most members of other minority groups, for example women and people of color, many gay people can “pass” as members of the dominant group—heterosexuals. Even those gay people who are gender non-normative, for example a “butch” woman or a “femme” man will be treated by others as heterosexual in many circumstances out of politeness. Especially...

  9. 5 “Going Straight”: The Ex-Gay Movement
    (pp. 116-150)

    The Reverend Dee Dale is pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She is white, 63, and from Louisville. When I first met her in August 2010 at the Pride Center in Louisville, her arms were folded across her chest and she wore an ominous scowl on her face. The interview got off to a bumpy start. She handed me a photocopy of a sermon she had written and given on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and repeatedly urged me to refrain from judgment, calling the gay people involved in ex-gay ministries, “the walking wounded.” “Ex-gay” is...

  10. 6 “Prepare to Believe”: The Creation Museum
    (pp. 151-172)

    In 2007 with much media fanfare, the Creation Museum, a $27 million facility founded by the group Answers in Genesis, opened in Petersburg, Kentucky, about 100 miles from Thomasville. The primary purpose of the Creation Museum is to educate visitors in “young earth creationism,” a branch of intelligent design theory that argues that the universe is less than 10,000 years old. Since its opening, the Creation Museum has had over one million visitors, and there are plans underway to build an Ark theme park in a neighboring county. Answers in Genesis describes itself as “a nondenominational parachurch ministry,”² and the...

  11. 7 “The Opposite of Faith Is Fear”: Destruction and Transformation
    (pp. 173-199)

    In 2004, the FRC published a 13-page brochure titled “The Slippery Slope of Same-Sex Marriage.” It opens with a photo of a horse and the heading, “A Man and His Horse,” and the following metaphor:

    In what some call a denial of a basic civil right, a Missouri man has been told he may not marry his long-term companion. Although his situation is unique, the logic of his argument is remarkably similar to that employed by advocates of homosexual marriage. The man claims that the essential elements of marriage—love and commitment—are indeed present: “She’s gorgeous. She’s sweet. She’s...

  12. 8 “God Can Love All of Me”: Living the Life
    (pp. 200-224)

    Imagine life is a river endlessly moving, and you, a single person in a small, sturdy boat are navigating the currents. At any point in your life you can choose to go with or against the flow of the river. If you paddle against the current, upstream, you expend an enormous amount of physical and emotional energy fighting the impersonal flow, and you do not go very far. The river is stronger than you are. You need to rest and eat and play while the river never stops moving. If you are determined to go upstream, you have to be...

  13. 9 What the Future Holds
    (pp. 225-238)

    In May 2011, ABC aired a “What Would You Do” news feature of a waitress harassing a lesbian couple who were ordering breakfast with their children at Norma’s Cafe in Farmers Branch, Texas.¹ The waitress, the lesbian couple, and the children were all actors ABC hired to engage in controversial public behavior with the goal of assessing spectator’s responses. In this episode, the waitress questioned the couple about their relationship status, and then loudly made a number of openly homophobic comments such as, “I mean it’s bad enough you’re lesbians but you’re also parents and they don’t have a father....

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 239-256)
    (pp. 257-266)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 267-272)
    (pp. 273-273)