A Chat with Kathy Baldock: Ally and Advocate – Part ONE

Screen-Shot-2015-04-09-at-7.22.39-PM

I was excited to meet Kathy Baldock in person last year when she visited Australia. Over the years I have admired her staunch support as an ally and advocate for the LGBTIQ community. Her writing is well-researched, articulate and informative (you can find more information about Kathy on this link). I am so pleased that Kathy has given of her precious time to introduce herself and answer some questions for this BLOG.

1. Kathy, first of all, thank you for your time. I know many of my BLOG readers will have read some of your research or heard about you. But, as a way of introduction, what caused you to start this journey of advocacy for LGBTIQ people, especially for people of faith?

A very important part of my story is that I came into an advocacy role by way of a crisis in my own life. Frequently, crises stop us in our tracks and we find ourselves re-evaluating things we are sure about and question what once seemed too risky to consider. 
This is also true with much of the Evangelical community. I thought my ways of following God and the understanding I had of Him and His ways were right. I followed the “rules” and they worked for me. Until they did not! 

My marriage of 20 years began to fall apart. My husband had had an affair with an employee in our business who was over 30 years younger. That’ll stop you in your tracks. We had a family business. I was homeschooling our kids. Our social lives were based on church relationships. We were seen as fixtures and leaders in the laity.

 When it was all working for me, I had had a great ease of telling somebody else what they needed to do with their lives to get right with God. I had the gift of evangelism and I used it. Suddenly, there I was, my life in utter chaos, despite doing all the “right things.” I didn’t suffer a crisis of faith, but I no longer felt comfortable telling another person what they needed to do to bring their life to order. It would have felt utterly hypocritical.

One of the prime ways I dealt with processing the pain of impending divorce was daily hiking; I live within five miles of at least a dozen trails in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern Nevada near Lake Tahoe. Hiking was a way for me to escape the tension in my home and even process out loud what was going on in my head. My husband “demanded,” and I obeyed, that we do not tell the kids, ages 12 and 13, or the staff employees what was happening. It would be bad for the upcoming holiday season and business, so I agonised in isolation as he began to feel a sense of freedom.

I noticed that there was a hiker on the trails who was hiking the same speeds and intensity as I was. After many months of noticing her, one day, at the end of my hike and not wanting to return to the tension of home, I asked if she minded if I joined her on her hike. That’s how I met Netto Montoya. Netto was everything that I was not. She is a woman of colour, an agnostic, has a Hispanic last name, and is a lesbian. Rather than then doing what had been so natural to me in the past, which was “telling,” I opted to listen and establish a relationship. It seems quite funny to admit, but she became a safe spot for me. My Christian girlfriends of many decades were not a safe place. I had agreed with my husband to an unhealthy level of secrecy about the upcoming divorce and knew that private crisis shared, with even close Christian friends, would likely become a prayer request or a “concern” that they would discuss with others. Over the next year, Netto and I became good friends as we hiked together almost weekly. It was obvious to me that she was gay, yet I avoided the subject, as did she. My Christian friends constantly urged me to witness to her so that she would stop being a lesbian and become a believer. Still, I did none of that. I got to know her.

After about a year, Netto finally came out to me. By then, it no longer mattered to me that she was a lesbian. I knew she was a wonderful person and my judgments of gay people had significantly waned.

The friendship with Netto caused me to question so much of what I had heard about LGBTQ people. It’s embarrassing to say and admit, but I had bought into so much of the Evangelical rhetoric that was simply not true. I had believed that gay people experienced lust, not love; and that they made a choice to be gay, that their orientation was not intrinsic to their nature.

Before meeting Netto, no one had ever come out directly to me and told me they were gay. Even in college in the 1970s, though I participated in sports with numerous lesbians, “gay” was not a term we would have used nor understood. We viewed same-sex relationships as a “preference.” 

In friendship with Netto, she brought me into her social circles. Relationships with gay people caused me to question my sureness about my theology concerning same-sex relationships. Yet, it would still be another five years before I would dig into the Scriptures to try to figure out what the Bible actually said, if anything, about gay people.

Kathy and Netto
Kathy and Netto

2. Your book is such a great source of information for those seeking to understand or educate themselves. As a lover of history, I was particularly impressed by the way you dealt with historical context, as this is most important in understanding the politicising and scape-goating of LGBTIQ people today. What, do you think, are some of the key historical events that people should be aware of in helping them understand the political/religious dynamics at work today?

I’m really glad that you asked this question. The typical way in which traditional Christians have dealt with the subject of same-sex behaviour in the Bible is to view the Scriptures referring to same-sex behaviour in isolation of anything else going on in either the time in which they were penned, as well as ignoring what is presently known about human sexuality.

This question requires a multi-layer answer. 

Many other influences have impacted our beliefs about those who participate in same-sex behaviour. (Incidentally, I am quite intentional about the nuance of words that I use whether this is same-sex behaviour or homosexuality. Clearly, same-sex behaviour is referred to in Scripture, but is it homosexuality — a natural romantic, emotional and sexual attraction to people of the same sex?)

If one looks at same-sex interaction anytime before about the end of the 19th century, it would have been based on power and/or age differentials. It’s also important to note that, typically, few would even be discussing or noticing sex between women until about the 1960s. The entire topic of same-sex interaction focused primarily on sex between two males. Not only was the Bible written through a very distinct lens of patriarchy and gender hierarchy, both have been the social organisational structure of every predominant culture throughout time. For a man to maintain the social and sexual role of being “manly,” he would have had to have been the penetrator in a sexual act. 

Social patriarchal organisation began to gradually shift at the end of the 19th century. Several factors led to this. Many cultures shifted from agrarian-based to industrial-based. With the movement of people to cities and subsequent large concentrations of same-sex populations, people were able to act on curiosities they may have felt but could not have acted on. Equal status men found that they were attracted to other equal status men. Before this time, it would have only been appropriate for a man to have had sex with a lower status man, perhaps an immigrant (or in ancient cultures, a slave), or more commonly, a boy between about the ages of 12 and 20.

The obvious presence of these kinds of relationships caught the eye of people who were beginning to think about human sexuality at the turn of the 19th century. There was a period from about the 1870s until the late 1920s when sex experts (for their day) and thinkers were trying to figure out “what is this thing we’re seeing happening between equal status men?” It was a pivotal point in considering human sexuality.

Another great influence on how we’ve thought about same-sex relationships came from the merger of conservative religion and politics which emerged in the United States in the late 1970s and in Australia at the turn of the 21st Century. Though the beginnings of the understanding of human sexuality may have had quite a slow and scattered process, by the time the 1970s came around, the psychological community certainly understood that attraction to people of the same sex was not a ‘mental illness’, as it once had been thought of, but it was to be expected along the natural spectrum of human sexuality.

Following this time, there was a very small span of less than a decade once homosexuality was “de-pathologised” before it became a convenient wedge issue used to motivate conservative voters to get to the polls and vote for conservative issues. Jerry Falwell, the infamous leader of the religious right’s Moral Majority, had as his mantra “Get ‘em saved, get ‘em baptised, get ‘em registered.”

For an overview of the History of Cultural and Religious Discrimination against LGBTIQ Community in America please see this link.

3. How much do you think the Australian political/religious world has been affected by the politicising of LGBTIQ people in American history?

American conservative family groups have long been guilty of exporting extremism and dominionism to other countries even as they recognise their influence is becoming less effective in the United States.

For several decades, as the gay rights movement has grown in the United States, some of our political lobbying groups have been meddling in the affairs of other countries and in international organisations. There is a group of religious conservatives called United Families International, primarily based in the Mormon (LDS) church, that have been working within the United Nations trying to influence women’s reproductive rights and the rights of the LGBTQ population in the global south. They have been accomplishing their propaganda work while going fairly unnoticed.

What is more well-known is that some conservative family groups, including Focus on the Family, The Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, and numerous other “traditional family” organisations, have had an impact in African nations, Russia, and eastern bloc nations. This meddling continues.

The Heritage Foundation, a very conservative think tank and policy group in the United States, is known to have sent representatives to Australia in about 2004 to advise Australia about how to deal with the impending question of same-sex marriage that would at some point come to Australia.

Knowing that Australians would not react quite the same way to the American message used to motivate conservative Christians against same-sex marriage laws, they helped Australians repackage and fashion their message from one of a biblical message to one centred on traditional family values. It is really just a nuance of the same discriminatory and exclusionary message. It also brilliantly played into the deeply entrenched Australian “manly” psyche. Australians have a level of homophobia that does not have a strong American equivalent.

There is a historical tie between criminality and same-sex behaviour in Australia that Americans do not have, at least not to the depth that it resides in the Aussie psyche. When Australia was “founded” (that is even a funny term as if the continent did not exist before the English got there), in the late 1700s as an English penal colony, very few white women were shipped over as prisoners. Same-sex behaviour was obviously happening in prisons and it became associated with criminals. (They even put women in the prisons with men to “correct” the perversion.)

So where the Aussies lack the American religious fervour to be anti-gay as we are, the Aussies are more prone to attach same-sex behaviour to anti-masculinity, perversion, and criminality. This is part of the reason the ‘Vote NO’ groups so heavily focused on the safety of children rather than one man-one women language as did Americans.

When I first started to write a decade ago, the three biggest groups sending the bulk of my hate mail were, in order: men who had been in the military or law enforcement, black women, and Aussie men. Really!

As long as there are leaders in any country who will listen to the message of these traditional family groups, America will likely continue to send and export this merger of religion and politics that has been going on for the last 50 years here. 

The toxic entanglement is certainly being dismantled in the US, but sadly, there is a market throughout the rest of the world for one of our worst exports.

Kathy Baldock

Reno, Nevada
November 25, 2017
kathy@canyonwalkerconnections.com

Part TWO of this blog will be posted tomorrow.

Please follow and like us:

12 thoughts on “A Chat with Kathy Baldock: Ally and Advocate – Part ONE”

  1. I hear you Lance and I am not here to debate so please don’t take it that way. I can sympathise with where you’re coming from, and had you said to me these same things when I was in my early 20s I’d have likely have even agreed with you.

    However, I commented originally to respond specifically to the aspect of Nicole’s post that referenced conservative US-based organisations spreading their ideas globally and I don’t want to hijack her conversation. But I see the points you’ve raised and I want to offer my own angle on them.

    (Apologies to Nicole for this absurdly long comment!)

    Firstly, despite the hype, the concept behind the anti-bullying programme Safe Schools is not a subversive ploy to force gender fluidity on young people. There may well be elements of the programme that warrant thoughtful critique. However, as a parent of children who currently attend public school, I can assure you that girls still get to wear dresses and boys wear pants even in Australian public schools (they are allowed to sing Christmas carols too…). In years 9 and 10 they even have gender segregated phys ed classes – all things that Australian public schools supposedly wouldn’t entertain as possibilities.

    If you have ever actually spent time with a trans* person – and I have friends and family who identify as such – you realise pretty quickly that they aren’t out to convert anyone. They just want to be accepted as humans. That’s why things like Safe Schools exist – not to convince all kids they’re all just points of colour in the ‘homo rainbow’ (as the song lyrics say), but to encourage kids to not bully the life out of each other so that kids who are LGBT+ don’t literally kill themselves.

    In addition, teaching young adults who are old enough to be sexually active to know what’s safe, what’s consent, what’s rape, what’s going to prevent the spread of disease, etc regardless of their sexual orientation, is terribly important in improving their health outcomes further down the track. In Christian school if they get any sex ed at all it’s usually abstinence only (not saying abstinence per say is bad!) but reality is Christians still need to know things about consent and rape and healthy relational boundaries. (The ‘Leaving Fundamentalism’ blog on Patheos has some recent articles on this issue of consent that were quite enlightening.)

    I’ve personally found that trans* people are very normal. The conversations are so average. I mean, the stereotypes suggest that all these folks do is sit around trying on different pronouns and the opposite biological gender’s clothes for size. I personally find that my married heterosexual Christian acquaintances talk more about gay sex, in more explicit detail too, than my gay & trans* friends do (my gay friends & family talk about boring stuff like work, tv shows, music they like, books they’re reading… they are nowhere near as flamingly fabulous-and-proud-of-it as the media would suggest).

    Also, trans* is not contagious. And when we talk about trans* people, in the LGBT+ sense, it doesn’t mean like some Monty Python-esque comedy in which a man dons some outrageous dress and performs cabaret (though if that’s his thing then good luck to him). It’s about someone fundamentally not identifying with the gender of the physical body they inhabit, or perhaps feeling like who they are doesn’t fit the limitations of society’s categories for male and female. Of course I don’t speak for them, it’s far better to hear it directly from people who’ve experienced it and the different nuances on what it means to them.

    But talk about a distressing experience if the whole world is telling them that they are dirt for feeling like that. It’s something that I simply cannot comprehend or relate to.

    My choice then is to say either, “I don’t comprehend it, therefore their experience isn’t real,” or I can try saying something like, “I don’t comprehend it, so I’m going to trust these fellow human beings to communicate their own lived reality in the words that make the most sense to them.”

    If I take seriously Christ’s injunction to love ‘the least of these’ then I can begin by unconditionally accepting the people in my life whose distress – in a world that hates them with a passion for not fitting into one of the two broadly accepted categories of humanness – can be alleviated if I do something so simple as referring to them by their preferred pronouns. Who cares if they want to be ‘he’ even if their birth certificate categorises them as ‘she’? It doesn’t harm me, or my heterosexual marriage of 15+ years, or the integrity of my family, or my freedom to worship God as I am spiritually led to do, just because someone else feels more male than their outwardly female body would suggest.

    Recent advances in science show that biological sex as we understand it doesn’t fit the myriad forms that earlier understandings of genetics and outward physical bodies present (hence the need for the term ‘Intersex,’ the ‘I’ in the LGBTQIA+ acronym). It’s no skin off my nose whatsoever to put in this most miniscule effort to show someone I don’t hate their very existence by learning their preferred pronoun. And intersex people are people too – people who might fall in love with someone and want to marry them. If they are literally, fundamentally, in no way at all able to be assigned to either the male or female categories – because they were born with physical characteristics of both – why should they then be relegated to a life of loneliness just because the law as currently written doesn’t allow for the possibility of their marrying someone (and intersex people are surprisingly common, possibly as many as 1 in every 1000-2000 births can’t be easily determined as male or female)?

    It might be that the increased social awareness and discussion of the existence of trans* people, who have existed across many cultural places and timeframes, is why it *seems* like suddenly they’re everywhere. But seriously, no one can be forced to be trans*. And people don’t become trans* just by trying on a different outfit.

    Secondly, I disagree that the term ‘Marxist’ needs to be implied as being inherently negative. Unnecessarily pedantic of me, perhaps, but I can’t see anti-bullying programmes in schools as a ‘Marxist’ activity. Karl Marx – the 19th Century German-Jewish philosopher, thinker and academic – also happened to be one of the founders of the academic discipline in which I gained my university degrees (sociology). That’s not to say I uncritically accept his views, but rather to say that flinging around the term Marxist as a derogatory injunction disregards the historical application and usefulness of this word as specifically applying to Marx’s writings. Not to mention that Marx, as far as I know off the top of my head, was rarely concerned in his writings with anything to do with anyone who wasn’t a white man in either the working or middle classes. His theories were about trying to find alternative systems for a functioning economy that was intended to more fairly benefit the workers who supplied the labour to that society, rather than the weight of fiscal benefits being stacked towards a societal elite unfairly exploiting their workers’ energy, effort, and skills. When the Bible speaks of the early disciples sharing their possessions (eg Acts 2) well, that doesn’t sound massively different to Marxism. Not identical of course, just not dissimilar. It’s not like the Bible pushes neoliberal capitalism as we have it here in Australia as the only godly way of structuring a society. Marxism and advocacy for gay and trans* rights in Australia are not intrinsically connected and I’m not sure why Marx’s name so often comes up in Australian public discourse surrounding this issue. Don’t read this as me either defending or critiquing Marx – I just find it intriguing that ‘Marxist’ is so often flung about like some epithet, as if he was the epitome of evil. (What some people have done in the application of some of Marx’s ideas can be argued as evil, I agree, but Marxism alone is essentially just a philosophical proposition about alternative forms of operating an economy.)

    Thirdly, which ‘Christian community’? There are so many different ways of being Christian that it seems kind of self-absorbed for one specific subset of politicised Christians within Australia to presume that they speak for all of us. I agree that some Christian denominations in Australia have hijacked the political context in which Christianity is understood in Australia, ignoring the centuries of traditions and socially conscious & progressive application of scripture embedded in other traditions and denominations. That Australia is actually a majority Catholic, Anglican and Atheist population based on census data seems conveniently pushed aside whenever Christianised politics is discussed in this country. Suddenly we seem to morph into a miniature America in which concepts like evangelical Christian Republican and ‘leftie’ Democrat are overlaid on our historically different system of government.

    Especially when the self-proclaimed spokespeople for Australian Christendom seem to stem from the absolute minority denominations. And that’s not to say that they can’t have or express their view, because obviously they can and do so quite freely. However, it would be far more honest of them to admit that they only speak on behalf of their specific denominations or churches, instead of causing the media to confuse all Australian Christians as being one-and-the-same.

    So in that sense, yes, I agree with Kathy Baldock in saying that US-styled conservative evangelical Christianity can act like a form of religio-political colonialization.

    In fact, I had this exact same discussion earlier today in a support page for recovering ex-Pentecostals who feel that the command to “go into all the world” has been reframed by the churches we left as a demand to impose one particular culture (USA-derived, or the Australian version thereof), language, and dualistic political worldview on other peoples.

    There are many other Christians out there who do not see a problem with so-called “leftist” politics (as if “left” and “right” have any real meaning beyond the historical context of 18th-19th Century French revolutionary politics but that’s another discussion for another time) and in fact see the teachings of Christ as moving us towards greater inclusivity, transcendence of limiting labels designed to scapegoat and control people, and so on. Ecumenism, inter-faith dialogue, inclusivity and acceptance are not anti-Christian. They might not go down too well among some Pentecostals, but these ideas about being inclusive and accepting churches to those on the margins are just as scripturally founded as the opposite argument can be.

    The good news is that in general, LGBT+ folks aren’t asking the white straight men of Australia to throw aside their hegemonic masculinity, suddenly don dresses and makeup and experiment with gender fluidity. They just want to be seen as human beings, and treated as such.

    Other countries introduced same sex marriage years ago and their societies haven’t fallen apart. My Scandinavian friends were aghast to hear that it was even a question here and when I look at their cultures that care for their people’s educational, medical, social and employment needs, rather than treating people as mere economic units, I think they’re probably onto something.

    I’m sure things here will be fine too. We’ll soon forget this ever happened and leap onto the next moral outrage. As much as some want proof of their faith by being subject to the sufferings of Jesus rejected by the world, it seems doubtful Australian Christians will be singled out for their faith (though we will be singled out if we’re being, say, extremist jerks wanting to forcibly impose our faith on the rest of the population). It just means that an historically marginalised people group won’t have to hide in the shadows anymore. And hopefully won’t be as likely to be subjected to the violent abuses of their bodies and psyches that has historically entailed for them.

    1. Thanks Fiona. A well researched and reasoned reply. I’m getting there but it is just a slower process for me. Ros Ward who is the instigator of the original Safe Schools Program is a self confessed Marxist and pushes that line in her aggressive in your face approach, particularly in the area of gender fluidity.
      This has been an enlightening and helpful discussion.

  2. There is so much in this post that I agree with. But it is cute for the author to claim that those groups supporting traditional marriage are ‘meddling’. Could not conservative groups respond by claiming the same sex group have been ‘meddling’ with traditional marriage. What sustained pressure they exerted prior to the plebiscite.
    Many voted ‘yes’ believing this only pertained to gay and lesbian folk. but now we find it is far more inclusive and so now it opens up to LGBTQIA+. To be honest I got lost after the LGTB bit and am unsure about the rest. Yes I agree about the scriptural argument and hold that the value of a person is never decided by their sexual orientation, but the outcome of the yes vote is yet to be fully realised.

    1. Meddling? YES! YES! YES! Marriage is a legal contract agreed to by and for the good of the society. A group’s, and in the case in Australia as you now know, interpretation of religious texts written in ancient cultures held by the minority, do not dictate civil rights of a country or another group of people.

      Do Family Research Council, Heritage and the like meddle? Oh my goodness do they! They pump out propaganda filled with lies and exaggerations about LGBTQ people.

      I am a Christian and these groups (which also represent the minority opinion in the US) do not represent my Christian ethics, my view of civil marriage or biblical marriage either for that matter.

      I wrote a series of posts related to marriage when federal marriage equality passed in the US. Some, but not all of it, may be helpful to you in considering another point of view. The biblical/Christian marriage section and the ones on complementarity and procreation may be useful.

      http://canyonwalkerconnections.com/resources-to-share-and-help-educate-for-support-of-marriage-equality-christian-same-sex-marriage/

  3. This is so brilliant and insightful, thank you for sharing it!

    Sometimes I wonder if organisations like FOTF will ever be held accountable for the relationships and families they’ve harmed through their ideology and rhetoric. There are some interesting discussions out there of survivors of their programmes (particularly children raised according to their extremely punitive disciplinary systems, including LGBTQI+ people). A quick glance at the 1-Star Amazon reviews of FOTF’s books is just the tip of the iceberg of voices speaking up about how these books made their families and churches harmful spaces.

    1. O I hear you. The amount of people I have come across who have been deeply and negatively affected by FOTF is unbelievable. Personally, I also hold so much regret for listening to this sort of stuff in my early years.

    2. I agree with you Fiona, but have we considered the push by the Marxist LGBTI etc etc folk pushing the gender fluid issue with the Safe School’s program? I fully believe we need as a Christian community to re think our attitude to same sex couples. But every time I move in that direction I see an image of two bearded guys with bright red lipstick wearing white bridal veils and fishnet stockings, and I just freeze on this issue. Same sex people just are, it is never a choice.

      1. Hi Lance,

        I agree and disagree with your comments above. (using agree and disagree at the beginning of paragraphs, not to be dramatic but for ease of reading).

        Agree – Some of the letters that are now being added after LGBT I don’t agree with (I know no one needs my agreement however it is my opinion). Gender fluidity – feeling like a woman one day then a male the next and even within one day; too many people are coming out as gender fluid and I really think it is too early to accept that this is just another expression of a person. I think there are mental health issues here.

        Agree – As much as I am absolutely for my son being respectful of all people which of course includes people of any sexuality, gender identification etc, I don’t agree with much of the forced cirriculum of Safe Schools.

        Disagreeish – (i say disagreeish because I can’t disagree with how you feel but just throwing out there another view). yes, I can imagine for a guy it would be different to see bearded men in bright lipstick etc however most gay wedding photos I have seen the men are dressed in male suit attire. Even if they chose to wear white dresses etc, that is how they want to express themselves on their special day and that is how they feel the most comfortable. We need to see past what we view as normal attire and see people for who they are, celebrating how they want.

        Agree – SSM may very well be the catalyst for different unions to be included in the marriage act.

        1. We are close to being on the same page Nicole. For me as an older person who spent a long time in conservative churches, it has been a slower journey but I am getting there. However, I have moved a long way on this journey but realise that there is so much further to go on this issue. I guess I have been frightened that the old version of Safe Schools may be given a new life in the hands of some gender fluid people.

          1. I just wish everyone had at gumption to take the journey of seeking to understand like you, Lance. That takes courage.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *