Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Winter 2004-2005

Jack Nichols was until recently editor of GayToday, the leading web-based American magazine. Not any more. Here he ponders why.

Gay Yesterday – It’s the End of an Era

by Jack Nichols

In the Spring of 2003, Gay and Lesbian Humanist published Brett Humphreys’s appreciation of My long stint as the happy-to-be-human editor of that popular online newsmagazine came to an end when, on 30 September, the “old” GayToday was retired.

The CEO of the erotic website who’d supported it as a free service for nearly eight years promised a “new” due 8 November. Noting that he’ll keep the old archives online, preserving its many provocative and historically relevant articles, the CEO says the format, nevertheless, will undergo a major change.

The cause of his dissatisfaction remains unknown to me. I’d believed him supportive of my strident anti-Bush tirades, after all. We got along through eons with nary a fuss. I sometimes wonder if he could have been made uneasy by the many articles I published critiquing blatant religious nonsense.

In 1963 my concern about religion’s war on same-sex affection surfaced when I organised the first dialogues on America’s east coast between lesbian and gay activists and clergy. I’d made “sales” calls on those very few ministers who’d responded positively to one of the 1,000 letters I’d sent to religious leaders throughout the Washington, DC, area in my capacity as Religious Concerns Committee chair of the Mattachine Society of Washington.

In 1964, six of those religious leaders agreed to address the first conference of ECHO, or the East Coast Homophile Organizations. In 1965, they took part in monthly dialogues with Mattachine members at the American University. In 1966, I attended the first meeting of activists and clergy at the National Council of Churches in Manhattan. While the council leaders seemed friendly enough, they told me, nevertheless, that their hands remained tied when it came to gay issues inasmuch as conservative Christians were already accusing them of being pro-communist.

It was around this time that my patience with the concept of integrating gays and lesbians into churches evaporated. The late chaplain of the US Senate, Dr Frederick Brown Harris, had written a column in the Washington Star bemoaning “propaganda, even over television and radio, to stop even in decent society what is called discrimination of sex deviates and perverts who are addicted to disgusting practices which are not only degrading to those guilty, but whose abnormal debaucheries so often blight the lives of youth lured as sacrifices to such degenerate lust ... The present propaganda regarding this nauseating matter is not to rehabilitate such moral lepers, but to integrate them, to accept them without question with practices of which the lower animals are never guilty [sic].”

When, with Lige Clarke, I’d edited the original GAY (America’s first gay weekly newspaper, 1969-73), I’d made fun of religion just as I’d made fun of the anti-gay psychiatric theories then prevalent. But, because religious fanaticism then seemed to be on the wane in America, my concern about such fanaticism had lessened. It wasn’t until Anita Bryant and Jerry Falwell took to the stage that this concern returned.

By 1997, when I began editing, I’d already written The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists, published by Prometheus Books, the largest humanist press in the US. My editorial conviction, namely that religious dogma does great harm to both same-sex lovers and to society, flowed naturally into my choices for the newsmag’s features.

Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, the Pope and other such scoundrels became the principal targets of my ire. I wrote glowingly, however, of celebrated sceptics, republishing their attacks on revealed religion.

From Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason (1794) I chose a section that had provided me, at age fifteen, with sound reasons to doubt so-called religious revelations. I interpreted what Paine had said this way: “If God tells me what to do, I’ll do it. If God tells Moses what to do, Moses should do it too. But taking Moses seriously when he insists that God has told him to tell me what to do is another matter.”

Only a few months before the “old” GayToday closed shop, I reprinted (in two separate instalments, on 12 April and 19 April 2004) a debate that had been published in The North American Review (1887-88), one that had inspired me mightily when I was twenty. It had taken place between a Presbyterian, Rev. Henry M. Field, and an iconoclast who’d also been America’s greatest orator, Robert G. Ingersoll. I titled this debate “Religious Dogma Versus Common Sense”. In it, Ingersoll had happily demolished conventional Christian theology.

In his scholarly examination of GayToday Brett Humphreys suspected, on the basis of a compilation of quotations I’d made about religion, that I might be a humanist. Little did he then know that an anti-Jerry Falwell protest by fifteen picketers, one I’d organised in 1987, had included my neighbour, Edwin H. Wilson, the founding editor of The Humanist magazine. He was then in his nineties. Mr Wilson’s sign had read, “The moral majority is neither”, while my sign – responding to Oral Roberts’s appeal for millions of dollars lest God “take him” – said, “Take Falwell; Spare Oral”.

In any case, although I don’t belong to any organisations, I’m a proud humanist. My thinking, prior to becoming a public gay activist in the early 1960s, had been inspired in great part by my reading of humanist authors. I’d also been inspired – at age fifteen – by Edward Carpenter, England’s great grandfather of gay liberation. It was Carpenter’s mentor, the poet Walt Whitman, who influenced me most, however. Whitman had celebrated himself, saying, “Divine am I, inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touched from. These armpits, aroma finer than prayer. This head more than all the bibles, churches and creeds.”

Jack Nichols’s latest book is his true account of youthful indiscretions: The Tomcat Chronicles: Erotic Adventures of a Gay Liberation Pioneer (Harrington Park Press, 2004).

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Created : Sunday, 2005-02-13 / Last updated : Wednesday, 2007-12-12
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