Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gay ripples among the peacemakers


James Loney in downtown Baghdad advocating for detainees, before the kidnapping.

In Part 1 of my discussion of the new book 118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams Held Hostage in Iraq, I mentioned readers might have some trouble finding a copy. The problem actually goes back further: CPT had a hard time getting the volume published.

They report:

Even before the kidnapping was over, a church press approached CPT hoping for a book. ...

One of the lesser-known ripples of the kidnapping was how [Jim Loney's] partner, Dan Hunt, and the community of which they are a part made the heartbreaking choice to become invisible to protect Jim's life. We were aware that same sex love is a highly charged issue for many churches. Therefore we wanted to make sure the publisher would not silence any author by editing out aspects of the story concerning sexual orientation.

The publisher and CPT agreed that the book would portray "significant things that happened in the Muslim world, the Christian community and in those immediately affected," and in that context, there would not be "any kind of censorship" around Dan and Jim's relationship. ...

On the eve of going to press in February 2007, the publisher demanded that we cut the paragraphs in Dan's chapter that spoke most tenderly of his love for his partner Jim. The publisher had received negative feedback from church leaders, one of whom characterized Dan's chapter as "a pro-gay apologetic." When we refused to make the cuts, the publisher withdrew from the project.

CPT found another church press -- and once again, found themselves confronted with a demand to cut the two men's love story just as the book was about to be printed! They decided to self-publish, concluding:

Sadly, what neither publisher seems to recognize is that their editing requirements are part of the same system of homophobia that threatened Jim's life while he was in captivity, and subsequently condemned Dan to invisibility.

***
Being known as gay would indeed have increased the likelihood that Jim Loney would be killed during the kidnapping. One of the many aspects of Iraqi life which the U.S. invasion destroyed was the society's "don't ask; don't tell" accommodation with its gay male population. Under Saddam Hussein, private conduct was tolerated -- or police could be bribed. But the religious fanaticisms released under occupation have made surviving difficult for Iraq's gays. Many gay men have been murdered or emigrated.

So when Loney was kidnapped in November 2005, CPT and his friends did everything they could to keep the truth out of the media. This wasn't easy. He was a prominent peace activist who made no secret of his orientation.

Dan Hunt and Jim Loney lived in a Toronto Catholic Worker community. A friend there, William Payne, tells a poignant story in the book of what they had to do to try to protect Loney.

Through a crack in the rainbow-colored paper...pasted over the window, I spotted a television camera. Another knock.

...She asked, "are you Dan Hunt?"

"No."

"I'm looking for Jim Loney's partner. Are you his partner?"

I inhaled. "If you mention in your story that Jim might be gay, whether he is or not, you'll get him killed." It was time to be blunt and it worked.

She stumbled on her words. "I'm not homophobic and my boss is gay."

"That's not the point. We don't know who is holding Jim, but if they are homophobic, any suggestion that he might be gay could lead to his death."

I could see her backing off the storyline. I exhaled. And so, in the hope it would bring Jim home alive, our collective return to the closet began.

And so, Jim's people, and above all his partner, erased themselves for the duration. The closet is deeply self-destructive, but it had to be accepted for a friend. Above all, it meant that those closest to Jim would not openly receive and/or acknowledge the emotional support from Jim's well-wishers of which they were the object. The hostage crisis caused much inner re-evaluation among these LGBT Christians, put them in contact with Muslims struggling with LGBT issues in their own communities, and seems to have strengthened CPT's commitment to full equality for gay people.

Christian Peacemaker Teams took a brave step for the full inclusion of gay people in the lives of their churches by refusing to edit out this aspect of the kidnapping story.

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