What if it had been a Girl?

In my Ethics course this coming Wednesday, we are talking about ethical issues involving sexuality, among other things, and one of the pieces I am bringing to class for discussion is a New York Times article from Nov. 19th, 2011, titled “Secret Dread at Penn State,” by Daniel Mendelsohn.  The opening sentence of the article is:  “What if it had been a 10 year old girl in the Penn State locker room that Friday night in 2002?”

Mendelsohn goes on to argue that if it had been a girl, the whole situation would have been different:  “Does anyone believe that if a burly graduate student had walked in on a 58-year-old man raping a naked little girl in the shower, he would have left without calling the police and without trying to rescue the girl?”  Instead, because of the continued “unapologetic anti-gay sentiment” in organized athletics, which seems to reveal a “deep anxiety about masculinity,” there was a refusal to both process and publically name what was clearly rape.

Maybe you agree with this and maybe you don’t—and, of course, we’ll never know for sure.  What is of critical importance in this article, however, is the assertion that because of continued and pervasive homophobia in our society, same-sex relationships [and correspondingly, violations in same-sex relationships] are not seen in the same way heterosexual relationships are seen.   So, for example, parents might not recognize a devastating break up between their son and his boyfriend in high school; a pastor might not recognize what has happened when a same-sex couple decides to split after 15 years together; and a college counselor might not recognize that an assault has taken place between a young woman and her ex-girlfriend at a party over the weekend.  Far too often, same-sex relationships are not talked about, affirmed, or shared widely with others; and therefore they are not noticed, admitted or even seen--even by the people closest to those involved.

The power to name reality is one of the greatest powers dominant groups in society have at their disposal; and often without thinking that power is used to silence, overlook, and dismiss marginalized populations:  human rights violations become necessary security measures; exploitation of workers becomes good business practice; and class, race and gender discrimination becomes survival of the fittest.  Hence, one of the most important public roles the church has is to be a voice for the voiceless, speaking out on behalf of those who are all too often ignored, and providing a safe space in which they can name reality, too. The life and ministry of Jesus Christ provides for the church a different vision of reality, revealed by the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, and it is this vision that the church is called to proclaim—a vision of equality, mutuality, love and justice, where no one is disregarded or discounted, no one is overlooked or omitted, especially the most vulnerable among us.