"Homophobia disguised as religious freedom is not acceptable" - an open letter from DIVA publisher Linda Riley
OutNews and DIVA publisher Linda Riley responds to homophobic abuse
Linda Riley and Denise Welch for Milli-on-air magazine
Last month I was thrilled to be asked by MilliOnAir magazine to feature in their July diversity issue alongside actor and DIVA Ally of the Year Denise Welch. This included being on the magazine's cover, as well as within a feature about my work and how Denise is such a great ally to the LGBT community.
Although I am not a model, the idea of me - an out, proud, butch lesbian - being given the opportunity to reach a new audience and increase visibility for the community was too good to turn down.
Lesbian visibility is so important, not only in the LGBT press but in the mainstream too.I can probably count on one have the number of visibly out and proud lesbian actors and media personalities, as they are so often mocked and vilified.
As publisher of both DIVA and OutNews Global, I am well aware then, even in 2018 and despite equality laws, homophobia continues to raise its ugly head in the name of religious freedom.
A hardware store in Washburn, Tennessee, has reportedly been able to hang a "No Gays Allowed" sign in its window in the name of religious freedom for three years, as reported in the Daily Mail and elsewhere. And, yes, while much of the US is LGBTI friendly, there remain pockets of hate whose credo is based on religious intolerance. In fact, on a recent road trip to the US with friends, there were areas where I would not have stopped the car, even for petrol!
Over the years I have received death threats because of my activism - so have my young children - and on occasion I have had to ask the Courts to intervene. Consequently, it was with sad resignation rather than shocked surprise when Millie Cooper, Milli-On-Air's founder and ally (and a fantastic LGBTQ ally, incidentally) contacted me with a letter she had received from someone called Jack Zufelt.
Jack is something of a big cheese in his native Utah, home state of the polygamous Mormons. According to his website, Jack is a top sales trainer, has appeared on over 2,000 talk shows, and has even received the Presidential Medal of Merit. Jack is doing well for himself.
Sadly, Jack is also an out and out homophobe, as this from his letter to Milli-On-Air attests.
"Hello my friend. You have always had my utmost respect. But...here is a word of advice. Take down all ads or anything you have on the net about your latest issue featuring lesbians. This is terribly offensive to most people and you may alienate, and probably have already, all of your readers. Unless I get reassurances from you that you will not do that again I cannot, and will not, endorse or promote your magazine any more. I cannot and will not endorse, directly or indirectly, homosexuality."
Millie Cooper responded, "Having received your communication I understand your homophobic views on life which I am sure are held by others in society. However, I cannot and will not be bullied into removing the cover or article in the July edition. The entire ethos of MOA is to showcase real issues, inspirational people and those organisations and individuals who are setting new standards with original and inspiring real life stories. MOA believes there is only one race - the human race.
"We support people regardless of any protected characteristics whether that be sexuality, race, religion. colour, gender, disability. I am certain that most of the 1.2 million people who are now reading the magazine every month share our ethos. I was about to introduce a 'Letter to the Editor' page from August and I shall use your letter and my response and the opening communication. In considering your antiquated and, in my opinion, out of date and offensive remarks I will be only too pleased that you are not supporting the magazine given the polarised positions that we hold."
You might have thought that Jack would have backed off by now, but he fired back, "I am so sorry that you feel that way towards me. I hold you in high esteem and was just trying to help you with something I felt you should know...in case you didn't. I'll bet that only a small percentage of your 'readers' are gay. That means you could offend the others and that is all I was sharing just in case it mattered to you. Instead...it offended you. I sincerely apologize for that. Like you...I also believe 'there is only one race - the human race'. We are all spiritual brothers and sisters in the family of God.
"Like you I also accept PEOPLE regardless of any characteristics whether that be sexuality, race, religion, color, gender, disability. If you were a believer in the teachings of the Bible you would know that we are commanded to love and accept everyone. And I do try my best to do that....with these exceptions: pedophiles, thieves, murderers, rapists etc. One of my best friends was a gay man. I say "was" because he died of AIDS. Love the sinner hate the sin.....the sins as described by God not fallible man. And...we are all sinners."
Jack's website details the investments from which he makes money, so I am sure he would not object if LGBTQ+ people and their allies chose not to do business with any organisation with which Jack is involved.
In the meantime, Millie Cooper's quick, firm and unequivocal response to Jack reminds me of how important LGBTQ+ allies are in the fight against prejudice and homophobia. Working in LGBT media can often seem like you're operating in a bit of a bubble, with everyone holding many of the same opinions, and it is heartening and encouraging when others stick their heads above the parapet on our behalf.