What Atheists Can Learn from the LGBT Movement

I watched this video of a presentation by Greta Christina earlier this week and many of the points have been swimming around my brain since then.

I have heard many people compare the recent atheist activism to the activism of gays 20-30 years ago, and this is perhaps the best presentation on the subject I have seen to date. (This is not to say there are no more comprehensive presentations, only that I have not seen them. If you know of another comparable one, direct me to it, please.)

And certainly there are parallels between the two movements, but since I am not gay (even though I have done activism in support of issues relating to LGBT rights) my commentary will not carry tremendous weight, so I will not say much about how similar they are. I’ll leave that to more authoritative commentators, such as Greta Christina herself, who does talk about many of the same issues as this very blog.

I will point out that the OUT campaign, affiliated with the  Richard Dawkins foundation, is in part modeled on the movement to “come out of the closet” that was started by queers of all types, and which has become part of our cultural language such that atheists’ use of the phrase automatically draws the parallel for most people.  I often wear a scarlet letter T-shirt that signifies this coming out, and will often get asked if I’m an adulterer, making obvious reference to The Scarlet Letter.

(The irony, as some friends have pointed out, is that the concept of adultery takes on different connotations as a polyamorous person.  This is not to say that adultery is impossible within poly lifestyles, only that not all extra-marital sexual relationships will be considered infidelity, causing one to re-think the concept of adultery in such contexts.)

Now, the double reference of the scarlet letter and the coming out movement, wrapped in a symbol like this will cause confusion for most, but it is one that leads to conversations.  Conversations are important to have.  I have have countless (and often) short and friendly conversations explaining what the symbol stands for, what atheism is all about, and why I wear it.  Small steps.

Now, whether the larger atheist community will learn from the mistakes of the LGBT movement or not, is yet to be seen.  I know I am certainly guilty of some of the errors of which Greta Christina speaks.  But it is important for us to keep in mind the lessons that previous social movements have to teach, so that the future will not reflect the past that we have learned from.

And I do believe that there will be a time when atheist (as well as polyamorous) social movements will be unnecessary.  As she says in the video, it is the goal of a social movement to make itself obsolete. Will this happen in my lifetime? I don’t think so.  But if we stop now, it may never happen.

Here’s to making social activism obsolete!

3 thoughts on “What Atheists Can Learn from the LGBT Movement

  1. That woman is deeply sick and delusional. She’s clearly not part of the “reality-based community” seeing as she believes the myths surrounding the stonewall “riots” and that atheists are “amazing.” Frankly I am more amazed by people who can’t see that the Bible is mythology, they’re the amazing ones.

    I find it quite fascinating that many people are reluctant to comment on what its like for women, minorities or gay people as Shaun does above but of course everybody can speak to the attitudes, motivations, and needs of white males regardless of race or gender.
    And why is it that Greta who seems to adore the notion of diversity did not even consider political diversity?

    The T-shirt suggestion was particularly goofy, do grown ups even need special “look at me, I’m part of a group” T-shirts? The infantilization, self-appointed victimization, political and historical ignorance of “New Atheism” makes me think that “A” stands for assholes.

    And what is it I’m supposed to want as an atheist in this country that I don’t have? Gay people have/had genuine grievances that needed to be addressed but atheists are on balance more successful than average. According to Greta we want to be around people who are like us that’s why white men are sexist racists so perhaps its assumed we should want more people to be atheists. We should want atheists in public office I guess, but the only public atheist in office, Pete Stark absolutely terrifies me.

    Personally I prefer the company of women and people who don’t think like I do and the suggestion that we should want people to be more like us is quite presumptuous and a little insulting.

  2. Jon Clark (AKA Tomkinson),

    Please go away. You are not worthy of attention or respect from anyone on this blog or any other venue, as far as I am concerned. You are a disappointing, fundamentally stupid, and unpleasant person who, if I ever met, I would rather spoon my own eye out than talk with. I would first bow to Allah in prayer 5 times a day than be seen or heard willingly in your presence.

    I’m glad I never spoke for you, because to do so would make myself unworthy of the oxygen I breathe due to the association it would create. I do not speak for you. I never tried, and I hope I would never accidentally do so in the future.

    You have only become more insane and absurd as the years have progressed. I do not wish to see how much further you will go. I’m sure the alcoholism is part of it.

    I will, from now on, ignore any comment you make to me on this blog, any email you may send, etc. Do not call me again, do not ever come near me, and I would prefer you did not read this blog any more.


  3. I was just commenting on the video which contains a fair amount of disinformation along with some rather ridiculous notions about atheists. You must not have any concern for the truth. And if you honestly believe that atheists are these AMAZING incredibly courageous beings who when not fending off angry mobs of torch-wielding Christians are worried about what kind of T-shirts they should wear then it is you who has grown more absurd over the years. And your histrionic personal attacks (I’m gonna come near you Shaun, I’m gonna come near you!!) are indicative of some kind of paranoia.

    You and others like you have turned atheism from a rational lack of belief in gods into an embarrassing, childish, insolent, and counterproductive social movement that is driven more by self-promotion, arrogance, and mockery than any serious injustice. You are right about one thing though, I shouldn’t concern myself with it since it only aggravates me. As such you will be pleased to know I will never again expose myself to your morally immature intellectually shallow musings.

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