A sermon offered by Rev. Roger Fritts
Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, Kentucky
November 4, 1979
One Monday evening in 1955 three men in Boise, were arrested and accused of seducing two young boys. The local newspaper, the Idaho Daily Statesman, carried the story the next day, with reports of “lewd and lascivious conduct” and “infamous crimes against nature.” The fact that the “young boys” were physically mature male hustlers ages 15 and 17 was not included in the reports. In the next few days, the Statesman published a series of editorials with such titles as “Crush the Monster” and “This Mess Must be Removed.”
The Police Department announced that a thorough investigation was under way and that further arrests were imminent. In the meantime, the prosecuting attorney and the courts were moving fast. One of the first 3 men who had been arrested was promised leniency if he would plead guilty. He agreed to do so, and 9 days after the arrest he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
4 days after the first 3 arrests, a prominent banker was arrested as a member of what was called a “homosexual ring,” It might have looked less like a “ring” if the public had been told that the banker had never met the other 3 men, and that the only “ravaged children” involved were the same 2 rough, grown-up kids. But these facts were carefully withheld both by the police and the district attorney. The big news on the surface was that the banker (a family man, with a well brought-up son of his own) admitted his homosexual interest and stated that he had had contact with the boys.
Because the sworn statements of the young hustlers sounded nothing at all like those of some innocent kids, the statements were extensively “doctored” by the authorities to make them read more convincingly in court.
The police continued their search and actually did manage to arrest a dozen people, but only by spreading their net to include relations between consenting adults, a fact nobody seemed to notice amid all the talk of lewd and lascivious conduct with “our youth.”
To make matters worse, Time magazine reported that the city had… “Sheltered a widespread homosexual underworld that involved some of Boise’s most prominent men and had preyed on hundreds of teenage boys for the past decade.” The article went on to say that in recent investigations the “police talked with 125 youths who had been involved.”
The 50,000 residents of Boise, having been primed by their own press, and now reading all this in a national magazine, were brought to a state of near hysteria. Never before had people “known” that so many were involved, and that neither men nor boys were to be trusted.
The police instituted a curfew on all youths below the age of 17. Men were embarrassed to meet in pairs, or to attend their clubs without their wives. Friday night poker games were discontinued until somebody thought of arranging for at least one woman to be present. It became out of the question for a man to pause to watch football practice for fear of looking as if he were “interested in” the boys.
As happens in all witch-hunts, the hysteria in Boise subsided almost as quickly as it began. But even though the hubbub died down, the myths about what had happened continued to grow. 10 years after the event, a Newsweek reporter visited Boise and was assured that at the height of the scandal, “Millionaires from all over America, indeed from all over the world, were flying into Boise because only there could they select fresh young boys for their favors… and, in fact, there was so much homosexual traffic into Boise that United Airlines had to put special flights into operation during the busy season — the summer.”
There is a widespread conviction among people in this country that homosexuality is a sickness, a form of mental illness, perhaps even a sin. The story of the events in Boise illustrates how this conviction can easily turn into blind fear and paranoid hysteria. With the distance of space and time, the Boise events are amusing — but in our laughter we should not forget the widespread anguish and pain that such witch-hunts cause.
Dr. Alfred Kinsey in the 1940’s and 50’s surveyed the American population and found that 37% of males and 20% of females had at least one adult sexual experience with a person of the same sex. Applying Kinsey’s sample to us this morning, it means that about 20 of us here today have had a homosexual experience as an adult.
Kinsey also found that at least 10% of the persons he surveyed were predominantly homosexual. Meaning that about 7 of us here this morning are predominantly homosexual.
The same likelihood of one in ten would be true for any 10 men or women we customarily deal with in our daily life — doctors, dentists, accountants, lawyers, secretaries, teachers, city-council members, police officers and sales clerks. All of us know people who are gay even though most of us don’t know that they are gay. So it is important to keep in mind when it is said that homosexuality is a form of mental illness, that we are not talking about a few hair-dressers, or a few men hanging around public washrooms; we are talking about 20 million men and women: soldiers, senators, poets and plumbers, mailmen and ministers. Gay people are everywhere. If we base our actions on the premise that homosexuals are sick, we encourage discrimination against millions of people. Gay people are unable to find jobs, unable to find homes; they are forced to lead lives of secrecy and deception. Before we promote such oppression and suffering for so many people, we better be damn sure we know what we’re talking about.
In fact, there is no evidence that homosexuals are sick or mentally ill:
- It is not true that there are more homosexuals in mental hospitals than heterosexuals.
- It is not true that there are more homosexual alcoholics than heterosexual alcoholics
- It is not true that homosexuals commit more crimes than heterosexuals – in proportion to their numbers, gay people commit far fewer crimes than heterosexuals.
- It is not true that homosexuals molest children; in proportion to their numbers, gay people commit far fewer sex crimes than heterosexuals.
The most conclusive study of the matter (though there have been a number of others) was made in 1957 by Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist at UCLA. She found 30 homosexual men who were not in therapy, but rather appeared to be fairly well -integrated into society. She then found 30 similar heterosexual men who matched the first group in age, education, and I.Q.
Dr. Hooker tested the whole group of 60 with a battery of accepted psychological tests, and added a substantial amount of biographical information on each individual. The one point of information she did not include was whether the men were homosexual or heterosexual in their orientation.
She then submitted all 60 of the case records to several of her colleagues for analysis, and found that they were unable to distinguish between the two groups. There was no evidence that the homosexuals were any more (or less) mentally ill than the heterosexuals. She concluded that there simply is no necessary connection “between homosexuality and mental illness.”
In spite of this evidence, there is a tendency in our society to perpetuate the myth that gay people are ill. For example, a few years ago CBS television decided to produce a major documentary on homosexuality. Thanks to various social changes and a genuine increase in public frankness, it seemed possible by 1957 to turn out a candid, interesting program on the subject. Young, talented producers were assigned to the task, and the whole project seemed well-motivated.
In an effort to give an inside view, 5 homosexual men were interviewed on camera with questions designed to show how their lives looked to them. The producers chose individuals with different perspectives. Two were quite disturbed people, a third man would present a mixed picture, and two others would reflect a certain healthy cheerfulness. The blend was supposed to give the report balance.
In the preliminary editings, however, the two disturbed persons seemed to have little impact; the healthy persons seemed to greatly outweigh them. A new balance was struck by editing the mixed case in such a way as to make it decidedly disturbed. This individual later threatened to sue the network for misrepresenting him — but did not actually do so.
The producers now felt that they had a good documentary, with the two healthy individuals being balanced by 3 clearly disturbed persons. They especially felt good about one of the healthy individuals, who had a fresh, handsome, all-American-boy image.
When the documentary was previewed by the executives at CBS it was decided that it was still too supportive. It was felt that this particular young man happened to have such a strong clean exuberance, that his whole bearing seemed to recommend his style of life. It was feared that this might bring charges that the documentary was for homosexuality. Therefore, the producers were told to fix the interview. At crucial points they cut the sound track into separate words and phrases, and by re-arranging these they managed to change the man’s sentences and the essence of what he was saying.
The program was broadcast only once, for when the young man saw what they had done to him, and heard himself say completely unfamiliar things , he entered a formal complaint against CBS, citing fraud, withdrawing his release, and thus freezing all re-runs. It is because of manipulative distortions like this that our prejudice against gays is perpetuated. Unbiased views are hard to arrive at in the first place, and are virtually impossible to express with safety when they are out of line with prevailing social attitudes.
It seems to me, however, that there is a way to break free of the fears society encourages us to have with regard to homosexuality. I have discovered repeatedly that it is next to impossible to fear someone you know in depth, from within as it were. When we really know what their experience has been, what they see and have seen, what they fear and hope and wish for, how life looks to them, you are likely to feel tenderness, warmth for them, to love them, to care about their well-being.
All over America more and more gay men and women are coming forward. They are taking the risk of being honest. They are losing their jobs and homes, they are being shunned and ridiculed, they are being attacked and murdered. But slowly they are overcoming a prejudice that goes back through 2,000 years of human history.
This opening up is also taking place in the Unitarian Universalist ministry. There have, of course, been homosexual Universalist and Unitarian ministers for 150 years. But now for the first time a few gay men and women are being open about their sexuality when they interview for positions.
So far the results have not been good. Unitarian Universalists opened their churches to Indians in the 17th century, opened their churches to Blacks in the 19th century, and ordained the first woman minister over 100 years ago. But no openly homosexual man or woman has yet been called to serve as the permanent minister in a Unitarian Universalist Church.
Now it happens that I have a personal interest in this. Although I myself am a confirmed heterosexual, one of my close friends is openly gay. He and I shared an apartment for two years when we were both preparing for the ministry at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley.
For the past 20 months he has received rejection letters from church after church. Here is an example from a city of 2 million located in the northeast United States. A member of the pulpit committee writes:
“I want to express my personal regrets regarding our committee’s decision not to call you. The truth of the matter is that I do not think our membership could handle you. In my opinion you would be a cause for concern among the membership who would find it difficult to understand let alone accept your views. I wanted to send you this personally because I think you are far and away the best of the lot. I have great personal concern that you get settled into the ministry.”
While waiting for a church to call him, my friend has worked as a bank teller, and is currently serving in a temporary position as assistant minister at the Unitarian Church in San Francisco. His name, by the way, is Mark Belletini. Some of you met him a year and a half ago when he spoke at my ordination here in Lexington. We risk losing many capable young men and women like Mark to other ministries and other churches if we refuse to accept them as they are. This church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, does not have a very good record with regard to supporting homosexuals. A few years ago the Board of Directors voted 10 to 2 to refuse to allow a gay group at the University to hold a dance at the church.
Because I am on a limited 5-year contract, it is likely that sometime in the next two years this church will become involved in a search for a new minister. Some of the persons who apply for this position will undoubtedly be openly gay. Then the question I ask this morning will no longer be hypothetical.
I hope when you are all faced with this question again, you will remember this passage, written by another Unitarian Universalist minister, David Rankin, and contained in a sermon that can be found in our pamphlet rack. He wrote:
“We might be able to combat our prejudice against homosexuality by putting sex in its proper perspective. I like sex. I think sex is good, wonderful, productive, interesting – but I believe in our society, we have given sexuality a prominence and important that it really doesn’t deserve.
I think self-esteem is more important…
I think love is more important…
I think survival is more important…”
Yet if a visitor came from outer space and looked upon the United States of America, surely he would think that the most important element in our lives is sexuality.
Gore Vidal was right in his novel Myra Breckinridge, when he wrote: “We have allowed our genitals to define who and what we are. When we look upon individuals only in terms of their sexuality, we don’t see them in their fullness and in their completeness as human beings – but only as objects of envy and hatred.”
Before the sermon, Rev. Fritts invited the congregation to fill out a card asking for the information below. The cards were then collected and the responses read aloud. A total of 77 cards were returned.
A HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION
Your church is looking for a minister. Two equally qualified candidates are seeking the position. One is openly heterosexual and one is openly homosexual. Who would you choose based on who you would want as your minister disregarding what you feel the rest of the congregation could or could not handle? Which individual would you personally choose as your ministers:
Check one: _____heterosexual _____homosexual
WRITTEN COMMENTS OF THOSE WHO CHECKED HETEROSEXUAL (Totals: 34)
- God in the Holy Scriptures has decreed man and wife, male and female. God has said it is an abomination and curse for like kinds to have intercourse. God is not a man that He should lie. He says I am the Lord thy God and I change not.
- Although I would like to say “No difference in the two,” I would prefer the heterosexual as an appropriate model for my two sons and also as an affirmation of my femaleness.
- Our church would not be helped by calling such a controversial person to be active in our church and community. While we are trying to grow we need not rock the boat and fall in. However I would be accepting of a homosexual if the congregation were to vote for one.
- I would choose the heterosexual person because I could more comfortably identify with him or her.
- Because I cannot understand the thinking of the homosexual and wonder if such a person can truly understand the world around the heterosexual person.
- Unsure of feeling why. Not quite able to accept homosexuality as a healthy alternative.
- My answer is based upon the Bible, which is the only true source of wisdom. From the beginning, God has considered homosexuality an abomination – not the person but the sin, Jesus wants to redeem the person by His saving power and make them new in His love.
- I would feel more comfortable with this person as there would be no significant influences in his views of what is considered almost “abnormal.”
- Heterosexual – BUT! Question as it stands makes little sense, because of a variety of other individual characteristics which could change my choice. The “all things being equal” argument doesn’t hold since in this case all things are not equal. My choice could be the opposite.
- They are equal in all other ways. Really I wouldn’t vote for either; don’t want a minister.
- Assuming candidates equal in all other areas, I must consider the local environment in which we (church) must function. Open homosexuality will not help liberal religion.
- a) I am prejudiced, a “gut-level” reaction; b) I prefer to have a public example of heterosexuality for those (children especially) who might see the minister as a role to emulate; c) I like heterosexual relations myself.
- Given the distribution of heterosexual and homosexual people in society, the heterosexual minister would have more in common with a larger number of people in the congregation.
- Would view him/her as better fitting into the mainstream of society, I would not stereotype him/her by sex role, I could probably relate better to them although after I got to know them it wouldn’t matter. On the other hand, the homosexual may have a healthier outlook on minorities and those with differing views.
- Might have more understanding of my needs.
- I believe his homosexuality may be a handicap to him in some situations.
- Because of public acceptance or social pressure rather than personal preference.
- I’d feel more comfortable relating to that type of person.
- I feel that even though I’ve opened my mind to accept people of different life¬styles than mine, I don’t know that I could relate as well to a homosexual as heterosexual – I still have some misgivings.
- Honesty is the best policy – birds of a feather, etc.
- If they are equally qualified, it would seem natural to choose the one who would cause less dissension. We have enough division of ideas without unnecessarily adding more.
- I think if everything else were equal, I would probably choose the heterosexual and I suppose that’s only because I am heterosexual and would feel him better able to advise me. If I were gay, I’d choose the homosexual.
- I feel there are enough conflicts in the church without adding this issue.
- Because I’m heterosexual.
- If both men were equally qualified I could relate best to the heterosexual.
- Because of the community my church is in – though rationally I know that is a wrong reason.
- They are not equally qualified since the one has failed to solve at least one of his own spiritual or psychological hang-ups – one of the most “delicate,” far-reaching, least understood, disturbing, least natural and very basic.
- My entire life experience has been in association with heterosexuals, and choice of an equally qualified homosexual would be almost “exhibitionist” leaning over backward. If the homosexual were better qualified I’d choose him.
- Likely to be more honest.
- I would be more comfortable – fewer questions as to how I felt toward subject thus leaving more time for other matters.
- Because it’s the “easy” way out – there would probably be less of a threat from acceptance in the community. However, I would like to think that I would have the courage to make a statement to the community that I am not prejudiced against homosexuals.
- As I understand it, homosexuality may result from unfortunate experiences in growing up. If those experiences have affected sexual attitudes, I have to wonder what other attitudes it has affected.
- I feel heterosexuality is healthier than homosexuality. I want my minister to be a model of what is healthy and best.
- (no explanation – just a check mark)
WRITTEN COMMENTS OF THOSE WHO CHECKED HOMOSEXUAL (Total: 13)
- Because I would feel that he (she) needed a chance. Maybe I am wrong, but I have always been for the underdog. (I would not have answered this way 30 years ago but would want to.)
- Because I realize this person may have difficulty in obtaining a position in many churches and it wouldn’t make any difference to me.
- Assuming there are no other differences, I would choose the homosexual since society and I need to work on being more tolerant and accepting of superficial differences among people.
- He has probably faced injustice before and deserves a break.
- Interacting with anyone of a different lifestyle than my own would give me the opportunity to learn about something outside of myself.
- a) More institutions should be willing to accept avowed homosexuals as public figures – the church should be in the forefront; b) The individual probably would find a hard time getting a job somewhere else, even though he is qualified. However these apply only if the candidates are equally qualified.
- I would choose on the basis of exposing and learning from, my own, and others’ discriminatory feelings and fear of the idea of dealing with an openly homosexual person.
- I would assume this person would be used to confronting controversial issues that are threatening and would not hold back in confronting any issues.
- I would like the church as a community to make this kind of social statement. I don’t foresee it making any other difference at all.
- a) The extreme difficulty homosexuals face finding a church that will call them as the minister; b) The opportunity it would offer the congregation to grow in facing the issue; c) Respect I would have for that person for having the courage to be open about their sexual preference.
- Because I feel he would center his energies on us and the mission of this kind of church instead of being gregarious and diffusing his concentration by being all things to all people.
- Because I feel he/she would have greater difficulty being placed and realizing his/her potential as a minister. Trying to give an honest answer – the issue of personal appeal would also enter in – and maybe buried prejudices would make the heterosexual seem more attractive.
- To give him a chance when others probably do not.
WRITTEN COMMENTS OF THOSE WHO CHECKED NEITHER HETEROSEXUAL OR HOMOSEXUAL (Total: 30)
- As economists are so prone to say – “All other things being equal.” They never are. Sexual preference is merely one aspect of a minister’s (or anyone else’s) personality. Sexual preference is not that important!
- I would not want to make that decision based on the individual’s sexual orientation. The two would be different in other ways – personality, philosophy, and so on. If the homosexual seemed the better of the two – I would have no problems with his/her being gay.
- I would not base a decision like this on a person’s personal sexuality alone, therefore I will not choose either given only this information.
- I would attempt to choose the best qualified candidate based on my perception of their ability, disregarding their sexual preference, I don’t believe that any two candidates would be perfectly equal.
- I couldn’t make such a choice with the information you’ve provided. I don’t feel that I would discriminate against either based on their sexual preference.
- The minister I’d choose is one who could relate to me, who’s beyond flaunting a lifestyle, who’s into more than himself – whatever he is.
- This hypothetical would never happen because no two people are perceived as equally qualified, I would neither seek or avoid a gay minister.
- I could not make a choice based on sexual preference – some other criteria would have to be used.
- I can’t choose. I would prefer a heterosexual because homosexuals make me uncomfortable, especially if I would want personal counseling, But I think I’d learn more about homosexuals from a homosexual than too it might not matter much. Sexuality is a minor part of a minister’s role – isn’t it?
- I would disregard the matter of homo/hetero sexuality and choose on the basis of other criteria altogether.
- Depends – Whichever one I liked better, regardless of sexual preference, I would probably choose a lesbian minister over a male straight minister.
- I would have to know them both as to character, personality etc.
- The sexual leanings would make no difference if either can be open-minded in this ministering.
- This has no bearing on my choice at all.
- I would hope I could find some other basis for my decision, I have very little experience relating to persons who are openly homosexual but what I have had has not been unpleasant.
- I would have to decide which one based on whether liked him or her, disregarding sexual preference because I feel that is irrelevant.
- I don’t think sexual preference should make a difference – I wouldn’t want either if they were being very blatant about their sexual activity.
- I don’t know. More would depend on the theological and socio-organizational. I find both extremes probably inadequate.
- I would choose the one I thought would make the best minister regardless of his sexual choice.
- Having not met either of the persons, I cannot answer. Sex preference is not a legitimate variable.
- There is no such thing as being equally qualified. I don’t believe sexual preference should be the basis of choice.
- Impossible – something would sway my opinion but not sexual preference.
- I would prefer a heterosexual minister primarily because I myself am heterosexual and feel that I would probably relate to him or her in an easier fashion.
- I would not be able to choose one or the other on this basis. I would have to know them as individuals and base my choice on how I would relate to them.
- It would make absolutely no difference. A person’s sexual preference is their own business and only one aspect of themselves.
- It would make little difference what the minister’s sexual preferences were. Which minister would be best for me would depend upon his other qualities such as humor, intelligence, fair-minded and friendly.
- I can’t make a choice between the two if the only thing I have to go on is sexual preference, This is not a major factor in my visualization of a good minister.
- There are other factors much more important, I could care less what sexual tendencies a person has, I might well choose the homosexual based on his strength and courage to be honest about his homosexuality regardless of social pressures and taboos.
- I would have to know more about the individuals – their personalities before making a decision. Their sexuality should not enter into it.
- There is no way I can decide on that basis.