Q on the tube: Invisibility and silence

The inauguration of America’s first African-American president was an historic event filled with emotion. This was a moment of deep poignancy televised to and watched by more than a billion people worldwide.

Yet for queer Americans, the event filled with such significance was marred by Barack Obama sharing the stage with the Rev. Rick Warren, a virulent homophobe. Warren has used his pulpit not to support the bridging of a divide that Obama has sought, but to support Proposition 8 and to state that homosexuality is akin to pedophilia, polygamy and incest. Warren represents the antithesis of all that Obama has pledged himself to.

The controversy over Warren never ended for the LGBT community — even though the mainstream media dismissed it early on. As the minority group that is still acceptable to publicly assault, it was difficult to dismiss this attack on us as a community.

The antidote to the Warren pick was supposed to be Bishop Gene Robinson, who was chosen to give the opening invocation at the pre-inaugural ceremonies on Jan. 18 at the Lincoln Memorial.

Robinson is himself a controversial figure, but for opposite reasons from Warren. Robinson is the first gay man to be made a bishop in the Episcopalian Church and Anglican Communion, and his election in New Hampshire in 2003 caused a schism among the antigay factions in the church. Robinson was actually disinvited to the Lambeth Conference by the Archbishop of Canterbury (the head of the Anglican Communion) last May.

Yet Robinson has served with honor and distinction throughout his decades in the church with no hint of scandal, unlike so many other priests. Thus the choice of Robinson to lead the prayer at the opening festivities was exciting and moving, even if it did not actually heal the wound caused by the choice of homophobic bigot Warren for the actual invocation.

The events on Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial included a speech by Obama and were televised by HBO, which has previously televised other inaugurals. The events were telecast on HBO throughout the afternoon and evening.

All but Robinson’s prayer.

Yes, the gay bishop of one of the largest denominations in the U.S. was blacked out by HBO. On all of their telecasts.

What was so offensive in Robinson’s prayer?

Part of his invocation read, “[God] Bless us with tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria and AIDS. Bless us with anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.”

Calling on God to bless those who are suffering seems in concert with being a bishop — hardly a subversive act. And yet HBO turned it into something subversive by not airing it.

When he was first chosen, Robinson told his local newspaper in Concord, “It’s important for any minority to see themselves represented in some way. Just seeing someone like you up front matters.”

Yes, it does. Silencing Robinson made the LGBT community invisible. Discussing the right of LGBT people to be embraced by their faiths, Robinson had said previously, “God never gets it wrong.”

But politicians and TV networks do.

Make your voices heard. E-mail HBO and the White House and express your outrage. As long as others have the power to silence us, we will remain invisible. And powerless.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.