Joshua Surtees
Thursday, July 2, 2015

“All fags, lesbos and fag churches. As u burn with lust four human waste so shall u burn in hell. As waste is god’s sewer of fire.”

That was the last thing I expected to read on a sign outside a church in America, on the day that the Supreme Court ruling gave same-sex couples the same rights to marry each other as heterosexual couples have shared for thousands of years.

But that’s what I saw in Harlem, outside the Atlah World Missionary Church.

It’s one of those weird made-up churches they have in America. Registered charities, I suppose, or decoys for money-laundering purposes.

I didn’t expect to read such hate coming out of the black community and purporting to be God’s word since merely a week had passed after hate had gone into that old black church in the Deep South and killed nine Christian people.

Now, the people who were murdered in Charleston may well have been opposed to gay marriage—that’s something we can perhaps accept as at least a possibility given the demographic—but they died at the hands of hate nonetheless.

To be mired in a battle of hate, to be targeted by hate and then to disperse that hate elsewhere seems a senseless thing.

I don’t believe that God would have had the “fags and lesbos” burn in hell any more than he would have wanted all those black churches to burn across the United States for all those years while the crosses of the Ku Klux Klan burnt outside them.

Obama ended his eulogy in Charleston singing the gospel. As I watched him break into Amazing Grace, my eyes filled with tears. I don’t know why I cried. It was something about the centuries of struggle, endurance, perseverance and tolerance in the face of hatred.

They were tears that came from nowhere explainable, just like the tears that poured out of me when that same president was elected in 2008. Not tears of sadness, nor tears of joy. Tears somehow connected to the triumph of humanity in a world where darkness still endures from the northern shores of Africa in Tunisia to the city streets of Harlem.

In a previous world, perhaps 150 years ago, eugenicists debated whether negroes were less evolved than caucasians; whether their features meant they were closer in the evolutionary chain to apes; whether the cranial capacity (their brain size) implied a lesser intelligence.

That way of thinking was used to justify slavery and it complemented Christian theory (a white religion imposed upon black people) which told believers that white people were closer to God; that they were the pure essence of man made in God’s image, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, while black people were further away from God, towards the outer circles of humankind, towards the animals and the mud.

That black people accepted the religion of their enslavers in the first place was a perversity with undertones of Stockholm syndrome.

That black people today should use the same Christian theory that subjugated them to subjugate gay people is beyond a sin. It is a hate crime that God, and Jesus, would utterly reject.

Many homosexuals are Christian. But homophobes, to me, are not Christian.

In T&T—a nation built on slavery and on the same Christianity that the Spanish forced on the indigenous people they found in the New World and that the slaves and indentured labourers adopted from the French and English—this homophobia masquerading as Christianity is so utterly boring.

It’s so dreadfully tired and weak and pointless. The insipid claims of Christians that they are being bullied for their faith. The endless debates over whether being gay is biological or a lifestyle choice. It’s a level of tedium, a degree of backwardness, that I don’t really associate with the Trini mentality.

I’ve tended to see Trinis as modern, intelligent, ever moving forward, not looking back, not inert. But perhaps I am mistaken. I wrote on a Facebook post that I will continue to write about LGBT rights until the Caribbean catches up with the modern world and received the reply: “What’s to catch up on?

There are some things worth staying behind in.” Perhaps I underestimate other Trini characteristics—stubbornness and religious pomposity.

A respected journalist in our field, an evangelical Christian, said this of the Obama moment that moved me to tears: “Progressive-in-Chief celebrates the upending of the Biblical tradition of marriage that has defined society for millennia, then grabs a smirk and a speech and heads to church, there to lead the Christians—gushing, gullible, docile—in Amazing Grace. Well, I never.”

It’s not a hateful statement like the “fags…lesbos…waste…sewers…hell” in Harlem, but in some ways, because of its measured, understated-yet-authoritative, snide rejection of the compassion and love directed by a president towards two polar opposite communities, it is potentially more damaging than any hate speech.