This week, the Seattle Times published a story about an alleged hate crime that took place recently in Seattle's Cameroonian community. According to the paper, an unnamed immigrant from Cameroon was attacked outside his home in North Seattle last month, allegedly by two other Cameroonians. Why? Because the man is gay.
The victim, according to Seattle police and prosecutors, was approached by two men he knew early on the morning of October 21. "One of them grabbed the man’s wrists and held them behind his back while the second assailant violently shook the man by his ears, causing him to fall to the ground," writes Sara Jean Green. "The victim, who suffered injuries to his ears and knees, later told police his assailants spoke to him in French, called him a variety of derogatory names pertaining to his sexual orientation and said he needed to change, say the charges."
The victim was apparently outed by a female house guest who stayed with him and his husband after she moved to Seattle from Cameroon last December. When she found out the man was gay, and married, she stole his phone and posted "intimate" photographs of him and his husband online, as well as a photo of his marriage license. When word got back home to Cameroon, the man's mother was reportedly assaulted and her house was destroyed.
The victim reported the assault against him to police the day after the attack and received a protection order against his alleged assailants, Christian Djoko, 27, of Bothell, and Rodrigue Fodjo-Kamden, 32, of Lynnwood. However, after he reported the crime and got the protection order, his car was allegedly spray-painted with anti-gay slurs and drawings of dicks.
Djoko and Fodjo-Kamden were charged under the state's hate crime statutes last week.
This case is a good reminder that despite our rainbow crosswalks and gay mayors, homosexuality isn't exactly universally accepted in Seattle or anywhere else. Gay marriage is only fully or partially legal in about two dozen countries, and homosexuality is still illegal in 76. In some of those places, like Cameroon, gay sex is punishable by imprisonment. In other countries, like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan, being gay is punishable by death.
We know that the persecution of gay people is often rooted in religion. Over 70 percent of Cameroonians are Christian, and another 20 percent are Muslim, which may explain the animus. But while both of these faiths have, at least in modern history, been hostile towards gay people, what both the Bible and the Quran actually say about gay stuff is up for interpretation.
According to Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist pastor for nearly 30 years, "Sexual orientation was not understood in biblical times. There are references in the Bible to same-gender sexual behavior, and all of them are undeniably negative. But what is condemned in these passages is the violence, idolatry and exploitation related to the behavior, not the same-gender nature of the behavior."
Perhaps the Biblical passage most often used to justify persecution of gay people is Genesis 19, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In that story, Abraham's nephew Lot moved to a prosperous city called Sodom that was full of wickeds and heathens. God told Abraham that he was going to destroy this sinful place, and sent two angels to Sodom to assess the situation. When Lot saw the angels, he invited them into his home, but when the townspeople found out, they demanded that Lot give up the angels so they could rape them. Lot pleaded with the townspeople (and even offered his own daughters in their place. Bad dad!), but the townspeople persisted, and God later rained fury and damnation down upon their heads.
This story is told also told in the Quran, and some scholars of both Christianity and Islam have long insisted that God/Allah was pissed at the townspeople because they wanted to do butt stuff with his messengers. However, this story can (and, according to many theologians, should) be interpreted as a condemnation of failing to help those in need. Take this passage from the Book of Ezekiel, which reads: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” It wasn't the gay thing that made Daddy mad: it was that the townspeople failed to aid the poor and needy.
In Leviticus, another biblical passage often used to justify homophobia, the text reads: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination." That one is more clear: Two men reading their iPhones in bed together is an abomination. But as many religious scholars point out, this passage has been heavily edited over hundreds of years by different writers. According to biblical scholar Idan Dershowitz, "there is good evidence that an earlier version of the laws in Leviticus 18 permitted sex between men. In addition to having the prohibition against same-sex relations added to it, the earlier text, I believe, was revised in an attempt to obscure any implication that same-sex relations had once been permissible."
What's more, that very same book condemns not just lying with a man as with a woman, but also eating shellfish, getting tattoos, working on Sundays, and wearing clothes made of two different fibers. If we don't treat those rules as sacrosanct, why should Leviticus 18 be any different?
Besides the fundamental problems of interpreting ancient texts, there's also the (highly likely) possibility that God doesn't exist at all, which makes punishing gay people for "His" word even more ridiculous. But no matter what these religious texts actually say—or whether or not God exists—our interpretations of these old-ass books have had a huge (and hugely damaging) impact on the world. Just look to the attacks on gay people all over the globe for evidence of that.
Of course, just like people, religions and cultures can evolve. But as the attack in North Seattle shows us, even if gay marriage is the law of the land here—even if gay people can legally live together and adopt children and hope, at least in part, to be protected from discrimination (as long as you don't run into the wrong florist)—treating gay people as equals is still the minority in this world because of books written thousands of years ago, sometimes in languages no longer spoken. How very different might world be had those passages simply been interpreted differently? Unfortunately, we'll never find out.