C.M-S: Can you also introduce please yourself?
Tom H.: My name is Tom Hanks
- like the well-known movie star. As I usually say - he is probably
the better actor, but I was at it longer, forty years "in the
closet" - and that was long enough.
C.M-S: The Information papers
you gave me name you as General Director of "Other Sheep"
... What is that?
Tom H.: Our original name is Multicultural
Ministries for Sexual Minorities, It's a rather new organisation,
about three years old. I think we are one of the moist recent organisations
- one of the few that we now work on all six continents. We concentrate
on Latin America.
Our Latin America co-ordinator John Donor, and his partner Pepe
from Mexico, visited every country in Latin America by bus last
year. They went on a six-month trip and for about ten thousands
dollars - living ass cheaply as possible. The result is we now have
about 25 documentation centres - at least one in every country -
except the three Guyanas, where it wasn't accessible by bus. We
have seven in Brazil. These are in universities or seminaries that
needed to have their HOLDINGS on sexual minorities up-dated. Others
are like an isolated individual ....very cautious as an individual
getting literature around. Most recently we are concentrating on
these documentation centres because we think that in Latin America
especially, when there is good up-to-date information and literature
about sexual minorities, the local leadership surfaces. We are everywhere
- in universities and business and so forth, but many of them have
not had any literature. This way up-dates them. They may be in a
country where the psychologists are still telling them they are
sick and the cure is psychoanalysis, or the Pentecostal Churches
which are telling them that they are sinful, that they can be exorcised,
and have the demons driven out. In these situations where we get
the literature to the documentation centres and it gets known we
see leadership surfacing ... and that's been our basic effort for
the last three years.
Before that I worked for three years with the Metropolitan Church,
although I am still a Presbyterian clergyman - and before that I
was in the closet for forty years.
C.M-S.: More concretely, what are you
trying to do with these documentation centres? Can you give us an
Tom H.: Well since I am a theologian I
concentrate especially on the religious problem. At the ILGA conference
this year I was a co-ordinator for a day-long pre-conference on
religion. ideology, and homophobia. Then we had a plenary meeting
all afternoon, and we had more attendance at that than some of the
ILGA plenary sessions. So I am concentrating, with my theological
expertise, - I have been life-long a bible professor, trying to
help gay and lesbian groups and those that are sympathetic, to counter-act
the vicious campaign that is coming from more traditional churches,
both protestant and catholic - and thus to open up that area. But
we are also a member of the ILGA, and work in the human rights area.
I've been an educator all my life, a professor in a seminary, writer
and theologian, I am promoting gay and lesbian studies whenever,
and however possible. For instance at the University of Buenos Aires
we now have the first project for homosexual studies in the history
of the University. That has come about largely through a library
and a university scientist who is working with me in Buenos Aires.
We also help in pastoral way, - especially clergy who are coming
out of the closet, and who find they are going to be fired and lose
their work. We try to help them get located where the can have a
time to find themselves and
We are not doing as much on AIDS as some organisations, but we try
to make sure that the most recent literature on safer-sex is available
in each of our documentation centres. So that people can be put
in contact with agencies that specialise in AIDS. We work in that
area, but more as a network, spreading safer-sex information.
C.M-S: The role has been a very dubious
one over the last two thousand years ... in connection with homosexuality
and minorities in general. How would you argue that it is now the
time for a change?
Tom H.: I think if we look at the church
- like any institution today, if you look at a lot of secular institutions,
like the Communist Party, until recent years, - you have elements
that are very supportive of sexual minorities, and other elements
that are very opposed. Although it is true in the countries where
the church was dominant there has been a lot of homophobia, persecution,
and promotion of violence, - here in Germany, the safe space for
sexual minorities in East Germany, were the churches, in the years
of the cold war. That's because the churches were not the dominant
force. Where human beings are in a position to dominate others they
tend to become oppressive. So the church has played a better role
where it has not been in a powerful position. When it has felt itself
as a minority group and persecuted, then it has tended to link up
much more effectively with minority groups.
In Latin America, we have now seen this revolution in the last thirty
years - of the liberation theology - since 1968 especially. That's
transforming churches in many areas. Usually the church leaders
- a the top - are the last to go along with that - the Pope may
be the last convert to liberation theology (laughs).
But at the grass roots level we find that a number of our most effective
leaders are catholic and protestant lay people who do not go along
with their leaders. I am a Presbyterian clergyman, and we have what
are called more "light" Presbyterian churches, In the
United States out of ten thousands Presbyterian Churches only 50
have taken a definite pro-gay stand, so that it a very small proportion.
But they have a lot of influence on other churches that become sympathetic
without really making a big controversy about it. In my time with
the ILGA in Rio I uncovered the first Presbyterian "more light"
church in Latin America. There is a church in Rio that for some
ten years has been a "more light" church. Very pro-gay,
the Pastor has written books in this area. So as in most ideological
and political questions you have to find your political allies,
and network with them. I think for those that are not in the churches
or religious groups, it is a big mistake to overlook the allied
that are there. In the USA where there has been some very bitter
political campaigns in recent years. :::: Redwing of Oregon, who
was one of the leaders helping the struggle for gay rights there,
she said - she was not a Christian - she said her most effective
ally - were the sympathetic members in the Christian church, and
if that hadn't got those people networked in and speaking out, it
would have been very easy to lose a very close vote.
I think it is politically a great error when gay groups come across
as anti-religious, I am against the homophobia, but also recognise
for a lot of people this is their family. Institutional ?? are in
many cases are going to be helped most effectively by showing that
you can be religious - Jewish, Christian or other religions, - and
not be homophobic.
C.M-S: Your group does a lot with sexual
minorities in general. Do these s m really have so much in common
with each other ?
Tom H.: Well it is true, that
part of this may be a sort of political move. In the countries I
know best, there tends to be an idolatry of the nuclear family.
Now it is one thing to be supportive of the family, like you can
be supportive of, and love your nation, but nationalism can become
idolatrous, and love of family can become idolatrous, when you become
so "pro" one form of the family, that you want to persecute
and discriminate against other people. I find in churches almost
everyone who is not part of the typical nuclear family, - a married
couple with some children, in their middle ages, - tends to feel
a bit of discrimination. I spoke in one Presbyterian church in my
home town of St. Louis, about a year ago, and I happened to mention
in my sermon "widows" as a sexual minority, I mentioned
that in passing, along with about 20 other kinds of sexual minorities.
Afterwards I found that there was a great flurry of interest and
concern - almost the whole congregation were widows.
Legally they could be ordained - they could be pastors of churches
in my denomination, but in effect they feel very marginalised. They
feel if you are not of an age to be married and have children, you
tend to be put "at the back of the bus".1 For gays and
lesbians and bisexuals, transsexuals, transvestites, it is important
to network and realise we have a lot of potential allies in others
who are not as viciously discriminated against as gays and lesbians
but who do feel discrimination - and not just in the church, but
other social organisations also.
C.M-S.: How would you use the Bible, against
someone who is homophobic?
Tom H.: Well we have two folders,
if anyone wants to get the details the can ask for them. First it
is important to recognise that most of the problems in both Judaism
and Christianity, come not from the Bible, but from the religious
tradition starting with Plato and neo-Platonism and as soon as the
Judaeo-Christian moved out of Palestine, and into the larger Greco-Roman
world, the predominant ideas were basically platonic and neo-platonic
- this was the idea of the soul being imprisoned in an evil body.
That is not the biblical picture at all, where God creates the body
and the body is good. Also the flaming example of this is that we
have only one book in the bible, that its theme is sexual love -
and that is the Song of Songs or of Solomon. In this century (20th)
it is almost universally recognised, that this is a very sex-positive
book. In the last century scholars discovered love poems and erotic
literature in Arabic and they realised this is like the Song of
Solomon - it is erotic poetry. Many ???;that they poems could all
be same-sex poems. The idea that it is a heterosexual book even,
only comes through the Hebrew --- pointing. So here we have the
only book in the bible that has as its theme sexual love, and it
is sex-positive, Not only marriage positive, because marriages is
only mentioned once in one of the poems and may even be a kind pf
threat to the couple that are saying these poems, But what has happened
- even before the Christian period - this book has been allegorised.
It was allegorised as Gods love for Israel, and Christ's love for
the Church. Its whole message was eliminated by the hermeneutic
In this century it has become recognised that this book is one of
erotic poetry. If the only book in the Bible which has as its theme
sexual love is basically positive about sexual love and not just
about marriage that is where we should start in building a religious
tradition free to use our Christian .... as bible-based and not
distorted by ... by the time we get to Saint Augustine you have
you have this boom in the church of promoting celibacy. The idea
was that the body was evil and if your were going to be a really
consistently pure Christian you had to avoid sex completely. In
that context Augustine carved out this little that said that sex
is OK if it is within marriage and for the purposes of pro-creation.
In that context that was a kind of holding action that has a certain
legitimacy as a political strategy but it became the ideology of
the church. So the church moved away from a basically sex positive
position in the Song of Solomon to .... and even that was a second
best. The best was always celibacy.
Part of the Renaissance is going back to the sources, and in the
Reformation Luther tried to take us back to the Bible. When we go
back to the Bible we find a few verses that may be problematic,
but you are dealing basically with something that is very closeted
about sexual love, and then add on concerns about justice and freedom
from the oppressed tradition and Jesus came to liberate the oppressed,
concerns for wisdom - safe-sex comes in here. You try to act wisely,
not to harm your neighbour. You have to be wise - today that means
not loading up your neighbour with a lot of cholesterol if you know
his cholesterol level is high. You can't find that in the Bible,
but you can find it in a concern for wisdom, and avoiding sin against
These are the concerns of the Bible and the texts that are used
against homosexuals are just a few scattered verses which have been
terribly misinterpreted ---.
C-M-S.: ... About you personally.
You have a very interesting career. Can you tell us something about
yourself up to the point where you said I can't go on living like
Tom H.: I knew from early
adolescence that I was homosexual. I didn't have the word for it
but discovered in one of the dictionaries, but knew that I was sexually
attracted to persons of my own sex, and that I was not attracted
at all to women. I finally found there was a word for it. The Kinsey
Report came out in 1948, and that was when I still had four years
of High School left - and I discovered that I was not the only one
in the world - that 37% had had some kind of homosexual experience.
Living in a traditional protestant conservative tradition, I soon
hooked into the idea that this was something wrong with me that
I could cure, by religious .... or eventually by psychoanalysis.
After finishing university and seminary studies, and during psychoanalyst
told a woman that I was interested in - that I was homosexual, but
that now this could be cured by psychoanalysis, and the right woman,
- and with that understanding we got married. After about a year
the psychoanalyst said well with my insights I should keep working
on it - but that I was on my own. We probably shouldn't talk about
it Any more because it was proving difficult to handle and so for
twenty-five years we didn't talk about it.
I guess it took me about that long to solve my problems with the
Bible. I was an expert in the Bible and a full time Bible Professor
- and especially Latin American liberation theology helped me -
to grapple with the way the Bible was being used against homosexuals.
It was actually visiting a book store in Paris a certain boredom
waiting for my wife to find the book on French literature which
was her field - I saw a book by a French Canadian author from Quebec,
that dealt with the liberation theology for gays and lesbians.
I was so upset when I saw it that I literally felt sick. Of course
it was areal discovery, but I realised that I built my whole life
on false pre-suppositions - and a possibly painful future was awaiting
me. When I went to Buenos Aires in 1986, I had solved my problems
with the Bible. I was now a liberation theologian, and I published
a book Oppression by Biblical Theology. So I had the
theological framework but I hadn't had a coming out experience of
... the gay community. I was in Germany for about three months and
I spoke to a German psychologist - through a bookstore contact.
He told me that we are not worried about what causes homosexuality
anymore - just accept yourself and get on with it, and he pointed
out the way to the gay bar. So I had a little bit of contact for
a few weeks here in Germany, but it wasn't till I got to Argentina
that I started having a lot of contact with gay and lesbian groups.
I contacted a religious group there - it was a kind of closeted
religious group - you had to have an interview to get in - but there
for the first time I was in a Christian group who were studying
the Bible and praying together. All of us were gay men. And I was
accepted. That was an incredibly moving and emotionally revolutionary
experience. To be in that kind of situation. I lot of my neurosis
cleared up within a few weeks. I had had problems of insomnia, and
great depressions. But just being in that group for a few weeks
- my neurosis started disappearing. .... I was invited into reading
and retreats, I realised I was going to have to break what the psychologist
had told me and open up the subject again with my wife.
,,,, and we had our .... facing up to the truth situation. For
a year or so she gave herself to working with me, and the gay and
lesbian ministry in Argentina, but she had not been able to get
work in Buenos Aires - she .... in literature. She had been a professor
in Costa Rica, but couldn't get work -so she decided to go back
to the United States and get work there - which she did. Then she
re-married in the States.
As soon as she left me I had to resign from the Mission Board -
which didn't even accept separation, much less divorce, - and I
decided since I was going to lose my job and my health insurance
any way I might as well enjoy it and come out as a gay. In my resignation
letter to my Mission Board I indicated my sexual orientation - and
that I thought God was calling me to work for sexual minorities,
especially in Latin America. That letter went out in several hundred
copies to four continents, - and created an enormous upset for almost
everybody I had known, all my life. That was quite a thing.
C.M-S.: And can you say that
you are much happier now ?
Tom H.: I wouldn't trade the
seven years I have been out for all the rest of my life. Economically
it is very difficult because I have been seven years without a salary
and health insurance ... but we get in pieced together and we get
a few offers from Churches to travel, and it is much better
C.M-S.: I was in a similar
situation in that I was married for twelve years ...
Tom H.: Well, when I came
out to my son, I found out that he also was gay ! That was quite
a discovery ! He said he wished he had known when he was 13 that
his father was gay, - so I answered if I had known the right thing
to do he wouldn't even exist ! I wouldn't advise anyone to follow
my steps, but if I had my own life to re-do, I wouldn't want to
unmake my children. - or even the years with my wife.
C.M-S.: I did an interview
with a Mrs Pierce Buxton who wrote about the partner of the person
who comes out.
Tom H.: - Yes I know the book.
- In most of those cases the person married and kept it a secret
about themselves. or were people who didn't recognise it about themselves.
In my case I knew what my desires, my sexual orientation was, -
and I had had enough psychology in seminary and so on - that I told
my wife that I was homosexual, but that it was something we could
In Buenos Aires there are still psychiatrists who will tell a gay
that they can cure him. I know gays who have been 15 years with
a psychoanalyst in Buenos Aires, - spend all of their savings, and
are made worse instead of better. That's one reason that we are
eager to get our documentation centres into university libraries
- so that the psychologists who are still trying to make a fast
buck, out of gays who think they can be cured, but will find out
that's not the way to go.
C.M-S.: This business, not
just of psychotherapy, but of religious groups, who promise a cure,
seems to be on the increase or is that a wrong conclusion ?
Tom H.: Certainly in Latin America it is
on the increase because, there 80 per cent of the protestants are
Pentecostal. And that concept has gotten into the Pentecostal Churches
now. In Argentina now during my absence, there is going to be a
big conference of so-called ex-gays. I think that has basically
been refuted for many years. Ralph Blair, a Psychoanalyst in New
York years ago has shown that (1) these groups are usually run by
people who are not scientifically trained, so they make no distinction
between homosexual and bi-sexual. If someone has had homosexual
activity they assume the person is homosexual. So they get them
to relate to a person of the other sex, have a sexual experience,
and then they say they are cured. But the fact they are functioning
sexually with the other sex doesn't mean their orientation is changed.
And the second thing (2) is they don't keep record to see where
is this person five to ten years later. When my coming out letter
went out, it was received by a pastor in San Salvador. His best
friend was homosexual and he told his friend to get psychological
help, Pentecostal prayer and healing, to marry and he would be able
to cure himself. So the friend did everything he was told, got married,
then after a while it ended in divorce and his friend committed
He ended up at my doorstep to ask if there wasn't a better way to
give pastoral counselling to people who come and say they are homosexual.
That kind of tragic experience is repeated so much because these
ex-gay groups don't see what happens five or ten years down the
line. They get them launched into marriage, and probably they lose
track of them after a while --- and of course they have been racked
with scandals so often - that the people who pretend to cure are
actually seducing the people - they are pretending to cure.
C.M-S.: Have you got anything
you would like to add, anything I haven't asked you ?
Tom H.: I just hope that we can encourage
more networking internationally. There is this concept of thinking
internationally and acting locally. I think that is increasingly
important for gays and lesbians all over the world. - That we draw
on the resources of the church, of the liberation theology. - In
every country there are wonderful new discoveries, and insights
into gay and lesbian life, that should be shared in solidarity including
the exchange of literature .
Colin de la Motte-Sherman