Today, that hateful preacher all Chicagoans know was half a block south of his usual post. He haunted Express, not the Spirit Halloween Store.
Yet, his black suit was the same, almost crisp but a little too big for his bony frame. His accoutrements were the same: a small sheaf of papers in one hand, a microphone in the other, with that microphone cabled into a portable amplifier. His voice cracks a little more than I remember when I moved to Chicago seventeen years ago, but it has to be timeworn by now. He has to be in his seventies.
His message was the same as it has been since I moved to Chicago in 2000, since before that. He didn’t need his paper to say what he said this afternoon at ten minutes after five. “If you love God, you won’t smoke cigarettes. If you love God, you won’t be a homosexual.”
I have never taken Smokers and Homosexuals Guy seriously, because of the Smokers part. Yes, I grew up on Tobacco Road, but a tolerance for cigarettes is not why I scoff at that bit. My parents smoked, and thanks to that choking odor, I quickly became averse to the things. I sent away for a No Smoking sign from the American Lung Association when I was six. When the red paper sign arrived, I laminated it with clear Contact and hung it on my bedroom door. I have lived thirty-four years and counting without putting a cigarette to my lips.
I never saw cigarettes as a moral failing, though. They were just something that other people found fun, but that I didn’t quite get and never felt the need to, like watching professional basketball or movies. Anyone who identified something so frivolous as an affront to God — I could never lend credence to anything that tumbled out of his mouth. Even if other things he said were beliefs other people wielded like crowbars to a skull, I couldn't get too wound up about them at the moment, given the source. I could only roll my eyes and keep walking down the sidewalk.
It was harder to blow Smokers and Homosexuals Guy off today. His vitriol rained on the State Street masses just hours after the United States and twelve other nations voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution to condemn “imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations”.
The resolution condemning the death penalty for those affronts to religious sensibilities passed the Human Rights Council: 27 votes in favour, 13 against. But, that UN vote does little to make life any safer, any more comfortable, for anyone in those 13 countries against.
If you love God, you won’t be a homosexual.
If you love God, you get to live.
Which God do you have to love in order to live? It varies, as best as I can tell. You have to cleave to the same one as the theocracy holding the handcuffs, the gavel, the switch for the electric chair.
Consensual homosexual conduct? That’s been an issue for those who use religion to control people for long enough that it never surprised me to hear that vitriol. It’s stuff I’ve heard from lawmakers, preachers, guys on the train, and heteronormative internet badasses for most of my big, queer life. But, that vitriol now has a new heft, now that my country has endorsed it so concretely on the world stage.
It’s as senseless a reason to hate another person, to kill another person, as any other piece of their lifestyle…like wearing an article of clothing. Like eating certain foods. Like getting up at a certain time of day.
Like smoking cigarettes.
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