Smile Politely

This Christmas, it’s time to stand for equality

On this Christmas, I am thinking of only one significant thing, despite the fact that my wife is eight and a half months pregnant, and we’ve just built a nursery into what was once an office space in our small home.

My concern isn’t cloth diapers versus disposable; breast milk versus formula. All of that will take care of itself, assuming everything goes as planned.

After all, I am damned privileged in this life. White, male, American. And straight. Easy. By comparison to a lot of folks who are not white, female, foreign, or LGBTQ, things look pretty rosy.

No — my concern this holiday season is with the sort of veiled bigotry coming from the mouths and actions of so-called “Christians,” utilizing horribly mistranslated and culturally irrelevant passages from the Bible to further depress those who identify as LGBTQ.

In fact, it’s the most troublesome cultural issue of our time. And we’re not even through fixing up what’s been started for the oppressed that came before them.

And yes, while Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty and his hateful, disgusting comments about the nature of homosexuality is the catalyst du jour, I am turning my attention to a more localized scenario of how his kind of bigotry is genuinely destructive for all of us. It’s not limited to those who were born gay or who are transgendered, or the like.

Recently, the University YMCA had a significant portion of its annual budget denied by the Catholic Church because of their association and work with a different organization — Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) — that is dedicated to an inclusive policy in their mission.

That’s right, no lie: because they work with an organization that serves an underprivileged and underrepresented portion of our population that has an inclusion policy, the Catholic Church denied funding to the YMCA.

That’s the same Catholic Church that purports to uphold the teachings of Jesus. Those same teachings being basically identical to the mission of the ICIRR — to serve underprivileged and underrepresented people with an inclusion policy at the forefront of its mission.

I spoke with Francisco Baires, Community Programs Director, at length about this one night recently, and wanted to give him a chance to voice what actually occurred. They are still trying to raise funds to offset the cost of the loss of the grant, and so perhaps you might consider giving this Christmas, too.


Smile Politely: What is your title and job at University YMCA?

Francisco Baires: I advise several Y student groups: La Colectiva, Amnesty International, Philippine Student Association. I direct a free community helpline serving the local Latin community and I am the community organizer for the Champaign-Urbana Immigration Forum.

SP: Which programs have been affected by the grant being taken away?

Baires: The work of the Champaign-Urbana Immigration Forum has been affected. What we were awarded the grant for — in both years — was the community empowerment work that we do. This group offers free direct services such as helping folks with the new Driver’s License process, helping people apply for Deferred Action and helping Legal Permanent Residents move through the citizenship process. Our workshops are conducted and lead by members of our local immigrant communities. Our group also works to win the necessary changes that our communities need, like the new Driver’s Licenses for ALL people in Illinois for example; we mobilized local immigrant communities to work and fight for (and ultimately to win) these licenses for the people of Illinois. And now, these same folks are involved with helping people through the process of getting their licenses. All of this work has been impacted by the loss of the grant.

SP: Tell us exactly what happened with the grant?

Baires: The direct purpose of the grant was to support our work on organizing and empowering our local immigrant community to win the changes they need to improve their lives; the money was to help us organize the local community around things like Driver’s Licenses and Comprehensive Immigration Reform etc. We were originally awarded around $30,000 for the 1st year with the understanding that if we could illustrate significant progress and gains in reaching our goals, the following year we could apply for more funds. We did just that and due to our significant progress and positive results we were awarded over $60,000 the following year. After being awarded this money, we were told that a state wide coalition that we are members of (the ICIRR) came out publicly in support of marriage equality and that if we wanted to keep the $60,000, not only the Y, but the Immigration Forum and La Colectiva as well, would have to rescind our membership to the coalition and completely sever ties with them. The Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has long supported our work here in C-U and was instrumental in helping immigrants all over Illinois win Driver’s Licenses, one of the most important victories directly improving peoples’ lives and helping our communities thwart the abysmal separation of families due to deportations and other structural forms of violence that negate peoples’ ability to do simple everyday things. The YMCA’s board, and both of the other groups, easily and unanimously decided that it was better to give up this dirty money, which apparently came with such ludicrous and hateful strings attached to it, than to compromise our principles of working in the service for all people. One of the most painful ironies of this whole debacle being, the overwhelming majority of people whose lives we were positively impacting with these funds, are Catholics. So, in essence, a faction of their Mother church would rather deny us the ability to help them better their lives than question and challenge their own stale and hatefully dehumanizing dogma.

SP: Has UYMCA been able to recover well enough to manage its programs despite the loss of $60,000?

Baires: We will always do what we do. One of the problems groups face when confronted with this type of problem is that too much energy/time/momentum is precariously redirected to recouping a financial loss. So while this loss is significant, and while we will dedicate our attention to recouping this loss, we will make sure that the quality of our community work is not compromised due to the misdirection and cold-heartedness of the organization that cut these funds dedicated to empowering some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Furthermore, we are confident that people that stand on the side of social justice FOR ALL will help us get through this hiccup and we will come through this stronger than before. We have received support from local folks and people throughout the country and while we still have a long way to go to make up the loss, we are sure that the people who will be standing on the right side of history on this issue will win out here. Yes, the loss of funds negatively impacts our work with the community for sure, but we will continue serving and empowering others without this money all the same.

You can donate to the YMCA here and help alleviate its budget crunch by clicking this link.


This isn’t a new issue for me, or for this community, or for this nation, or for the world. It’s as old as the sun, even if you haven’t been paying attention, and quite frankly, I am curious as to when the discussion turns to direct action and brings about a fever pitch. It seems like we’re close, but not there quite yet.

I’ve been ready for something like that for a long time. It’s difficult, however, to recognize what will be effective, and what will simply seem like a Band-Aid. Certainly, there’s no way of knowing, but in the aftermath of the issue Francisco related to me above, and of this whole Duck Dynasty debacle, I can’t help but notice that there still seems to be a small faction of people I that I know on my Facebook who seem to be stuck in a very hypocritical and dangerous place.

They believe that Phil Robertson, and the Christian “church” in general, is somehow justified that their belief that homosexuality as sin is acceptable because of a few out of context passages written in the Hebrew Bible and in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in the New Testament.

And there lies the crux of the issue. Because it’s been poorly translated into Scripture, and because the oppressed don’t have the power in numbers that it takes to affect real change on their own, we’ve got a good part of our society talking about “the gays” as if they were 3/5’s of a person.

Sound familiar?

Honestly, if you had Facebook friends spouting off about how slavery was justified by quoting Titus 2:9 or Ephesians 6:5 from the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, would you keep them around as friends?

Honestly? Would you?

Would you have them into your home? Care for your children? Allow them to teach them at school? Would you treat them differently than your friends who don’t see color, only people? Would you not detach from them for their abhorrent and shameful beliefs?

So then, aren’t we forced to ask the same of those who believe that homosexuality is a sin?

The answer is, sadly, NO. On all accounts.

These people are not my friends. They cannot be.

They are not welcome in my home. They cannot hold my child. I wouldn’t allow them to teach my children. I would not treat them differently from a racist. I would not hesitate to treat them with respectful disdain in protest of their dangerous beliefs.

Their position is sickening. It’s xenophobic at best, and bigoted at worst. And it needs to be corrected. Immediately.

As such, I am confused. Do I “un-friend” a few people on Facebook that I am acquainted with who I know to be speaking out in defense of Phil Robertson or the Catholic Church? I am not sure what good it will do, and it may only perpetuate the anger and confusion they carry for the time being. But, on the other hand, perhaps if enough people were to join me, the message will start to come clear for them?

It’d be a small action, and one that won’t change the world immediately, I suppose. There are other and more significant ways to help. I believe that I am doing my part by writing this very article.

But I believe that feeling ashamed and humiliated en masse can often lead to reflection and concession. Being called out for being wrong challenges one to think about whether or not they have the right perspective. I know that in the past, I’ve had to come to terms with some of my beliefs that were poorly held, and I am certain that I will likely have to do it again at some point.

I am willing to listen.

There’s a certain truth that we’re going to have to accept before we start taking serious steps forward: Unless the straight population stands up for our homosexual brothers and sisters, they’ll never get to where they are going and where the rest of us have been for so long.

They don’t have the numbers, and more over, they’ve been silenced for so long that their voices have seemed pitiful in the face of the Christian* power of those leading the charge against them.

But it’s changing. It’s changing because of their bravery, and because of our assistance. “They” needs to simply become “We.” It’s time to end this era of bigotry and misinformation.

In the event that I do “un-friend” these people, or if they “un-friend” me first, I suppose I should start preparing myself for the difficult moment when I might see my former Facebook “friends” in person. 

I can remind myself that I am standing up for millions and millions of people who are still fighting for their basic rights every day. Along with the respect I get simply for having been born a straight, white American male, I suppose I should be thanking my lucky stars.

Oppression is oppression is oppression. We literally need everyone to get on board here.

Be brave about it, I will tell myself. Be as brave as the oppressed have to be every day by just having to be themselves.

I am sure I will survive.

They do. Every day.

*Author’s Note: I am singling out the Bible in this article because of the nature of this discussion being centered around the Catholic Church and Phil Robertson. I’d tell the same thing to anyone using any religious or non-religious text of any kind to oppress homosexuals. Bigotry is bigotry, no matter from where it stems.

More Articles