David Bohnett acceptance speech for GLSEN Lifetime Achievement Award
October 9, 2009, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s LA Respect Awards, Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA
© David Bohnett, October, 2009. Not to be reproduced without permission
Thank you, Antonio for that heartwarming introduction. Our community is blessed to have Mayor Villaraigosa as a friend and champion of our cause. Having worked with and supported Antonio for over a decade, I’ve come to know a man who has true compassion for those oppressed, and demonstrates high ideals with regard to improving the lives of all citizens in Los Angeles. We are lucky to have you as our Mayor.
Congratulations to my fellow honorees Shonda Rhimes, Michael Lombardo and HBO, and Austin Aufersweiler, it’s an honor to share the stage with you tonight. Thank you to all those here supporting GLSEN and our honorees, in particular my partner, Tom Gregory, my sister, Wendy, and nephew, Thomas. May we all be blessed with the love and support from family and friends.
The recent cover story in the New York Times Magazine titled ‘Coming Out in Middle School’ was a tremendous validation of GLSEN’s work and a signal moment for our community. The article describes how more and more kids are coming out in the middle school years and the impact that has on them, their families, and their schools. This is the welcome, unstoppable, and inevitable result of the positive shift in generational attitudes toward being lesbian or gay, supported by the work that’s been done over the last several decades by GLSEN, GLAAD, and countless other groups and activists.
In order to achieve permanent and lasting gains and maintain our momentum it’s important that we target the sources of the intolerance and discrimination towards lesbian and gay kids and their families. GLSEN does an excellent job counter-acting bigotry and intolerance in our schools, but that’s only half the battle. We must treat the causes of intolerance and bullying as well as the symptoms of them.
And as we see most often, it is the evangelical and fundamentalist groups that teach homosexuality is a sin, who stand in the way of fairness and equality.
It’s time to combat head-on the religious organizations that are funding the opposition to marriage equality and safe school legislation.
I’m in favor of the pursuit of spirituality, and the wisdom and comfort and experience that can be gained through the study and belief in a higher power. It’s important to recognize and support the religious leaders and institutions that embrace full equality for lesbians and gay men and their families. Thank you to those groups and individuals for your leadership and partnership in our efforts at GLSEN and elsewhere.
Let us make it known, however, that we will challenge those religious leaders and institutions that shamefully and cowardly use the imprimatur of their church and the name of god and Jesus to promote hatred and bigotry toward lesbians and gay men. Among our greatest adversaries who actively work against us are the leaders of the Catholic, Mormon, and evangelical churches who seek to deny equal protection for us and for our children.
The bible is all too often used as a weapon against us, quoted and mis-quoted by those who seek to deny us freedom and equality. There are many causes of bullying, and the children taught at an early age that the bible condemns homosexuality may become the school bullies, and then later the adults who vote to deny marriage equality and civil equality for our families and children. And the cycle continues.
It’s time we raise our children to be independent thinkers and deeply suspicious of bible beating organized religion. We’d be much better off if parents were honest with their children about the hypocrisy of some churches with regard to homosexuality.
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the strategies that will be most effective in neutralizing the negative messages and impact of faith based discrimination. As much as we might like to, tactics and strategies of anger, violence, and ridicule do not best serve our purpose and end goals. We can learn many lessons from the successful civil rights struggles of the past, and adapt those tactics to further our own quest for equality.
The four most important steps we can take to beat back faith based discrimination are;
- Confront bigotry and lies with facts. We’ve all seen the ads in the Prop 8 campaign and elsewhere that spread outright lies that attempt to scare and intimidate the electorate. An aggressive response that confronts lies with facts, and a pre-emptive campaign that anticipates this mis-information, turns the tables and undermines the credibility of the message and messenger.
- We must support and encourage people of faith to speak up on behalf of fairness and equality for lesbian and gay kids and their families in the context of their own faith and teaching.
- Teach our children to respect differences in sexual orientation, and this is where GLSEN’s critical work comes in.
- Initiate a dialog and conversation with friends and family and co-workers about religious intolerance as one of the main impediments to progress in the march toward full equality for lesbians and gay men and their families
It is all of our obligation to take active measures to create the world in which we all want to live, a world free of bigotry and intolerance, a world that respects and celebrates inner faith and spiritual growth, and a world that promotes dialog and solutions to our societal problems about the environment, overpopulation, and bigotry and hatred toward others.
There are many groups and individuals who are open to our education and outreach efforts and come to accept and support our quest for safe schools and full civil equality. On the other hand, there are other groups and individuals who actively work against our efforts, and that our work in education and outreach further emboldens their hatred and zeal to deny us our equal rights. Let us say to these folks; ‘we condemn their intolerance’ and we will expose their hypocrisy, choke off their financial support, and shine the bright light of shame and humiliation on their cowardly prejudices.
The work that GLSEN does day in and day out sets an example for all of us to follow. I accept this award on behalf of all those who have been touched by GLSEN’s work, and I pledge to continue the fight for safe schools for our children and for full equality for lesbians and gay men and their families. Let’s join hands and hearts and go forward with the strength and conviction to take on those who seek to deny us our basic freedoms and support those on the front lines fighting for our rights. Thank you very much.