Tammy Faye Never Understood What That Whole Gay Thing Was About

by Michael Abernethy

18 Jul 2010

Portrait of Tammy Faye Baker (partial) by mosaic artist, © Jason Mecier. See more of his work at Jason Mecier.com 

Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner weighed a scant 65 pounds when she died, yet her spirit and personality were as robust as ever. Days before her death, appearing on Larry King Live on 18 July, 2007, emaciated and ravaged by cancer yet still made up in true Tammy Faye splendor, speaking barely above a whisper, she reached out to the one community that accepted her into the fold when no one else would: “You know, when we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that,” she said—and this is a sentiment echoed by her son Jay. After her fall from the inner circle of the televangelist conglomerate, Messner reached out to and was embraced by the American gay community, or she was embraced by the gay community due to her outlandish make-up and persona, and so she decided to go with the only ones who would invite her to the party.

The famed evangelist’s relationship with the LGBT community has been the subject of numerous works, most notably the cult classic documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye. There’s no doubting that she was more accepting of the LGBT community than most of her colleagues, being the first evangelist to feature an HIV-positive gay minister on TV. Later, she paired with the flaming Jim J. Bullock to co-host a talk show. Most importantly, she appeared frequently at Gay Pride events and other LGBT celebrations, and spoke openly about her love for the community, even if she never did quite understand what that whole gay thing was about.

Whatever her motivation, there’s no doubt that Tammy Faye liked us. Still, despite all of her proselytizing about the LGBT community, she seemed to have had little effect on the evangelical movement. The New York Times reported in January of 2010 that three evangelists—Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Lee Brundidge—flew to Uganda to speak, according to them, about the skills needed to parent children who are gay. During their various speeches to the crowd, they mentioned that “the gay movement is an evil institution”, going on to note that the goal of this evil institution is “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”

However, a simple internet search would have provided the ministers with enough evidence to show that the political climate in Uganda didn’t support anti-gay rhetoric without propelling blood-frenzy anti-gay factions. Perhaps, though, despite their objections, an internet search might have convinced these ministers that this volatile place was in fact the perfect climate for their anti-gay rhetoric.

Lively, Schmierer, and Brunbridge are hardly the only evangelists to question the LGBT life. Pat Robertson’s anti-gay remarks have frequently made the news, most notably when he noted that the tolerance of homosexuality, as well as other undesirable demographic groups, was responsible for the events of 9/11, and compared homosexuality to both Nazism and Satanism. Further, American evangelist Scott Holes found himself under arrest in Glasgow, Scotland, for homophobic speech after answering a question during a Q & A session.

In his defense, Holes maintains that he asked the local police about the new homosexuality discrimination law in the UK and was assured that he need not worry about dealing with the subject should it come up. His defenders are right in that the situation seemed like a set-up, but they overlooked that it was Hole’s anti-gay rhetoric that landed him in trouble.

Tammy Faye’s inability to convert many of her fellow TV preachers to her way of thinking about the LGBT community could easily be excused as a consequence of her new role as outsider, the disgraced woman cast from the fold. Still, her embrace of us raises questions concerning the effectiveness of other celebrities in defense of LGBT rights.

Dozens emerged during the recent fight over Proposition 8 in California, most opposed but a few in favor; is it possible their presence actually contributed to the final outcome of the election, and not in the way most people would expect? We can’t help but bless those entertainers, athletes, politicians, and other celebrities who have welcomed LGBT persons into their legions of fans, and many have taken up the cause of securing our rights. Still, one could easily argue that the participation of big names has actually set the cause of gay rights back.

In the past 20-plus years, numerous celebrities have spoken out in favor of rights for LGBT individuals. Most notable is diva Cyndi Lauper, whose lesbian sister helped propel her into the fight. Two years ago, Lauper launched her True Colors tour, benefitting the Human Rights Campaign, and this past year, announced that she would work with Lady Gaga, Diva Heir Apparent, for Lipstick for Women, a campaign to help women with AIDS.

Also within the last year, Lauper has launched We Give A Damn.org, enlisting a variety of celebrities to help promote LGBT equality and bringing to light the inequities in current US laws. Still, Lauper’s support is nothing new—she’s been speaking out on our behalf for almost 30 years, beginning in a time when gay rights wasn’t even on the table for discussion.

Appearing in videos on We Give a Damn are Jason Mraz, Sharon and Kelly Osbourne, Meredith Baxter, Eric Roberts, Whoopi Goldberg, Wanda Sykes, and Elton John, to name just a few. Those who appear on the site are just a fraction of the celebrities who stand beside the gay community in its quest for equality. Most notably, Gaga has followed in Lauper’s footsteps, proclaiming her avid support of her considerable gay fan base, rewriting the words of John Lennon’s “Imagine” to honor Matthew Shephard for this year’s HRC dinner.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have announced that they won’t marry until all Americans have that same right, and Charlize Theron and ex Stuart Townsend made a similar pledge while together. Sean Penn spoke out in favor of gay marriage while accepting his Oscar for Milk, and Eminem, once labeled “homophobic”, told the press recently he supports gay marriage. What’s more, he plans to change the anti-gay lyrics of past songs for his upcoming tour.

Nowhere was celebrity support of gay rights more evident than during the 2008 debate over Proposition 8 in California. Among those who marched in opposition to the proposition, which would overturn the California Supreme Court’s ruling allowing gay marriage, were James Franco and Drew Barrymore, and they were joined in their protests against the measure by Rose McGowen, Kathy Griffin and mother Maggie, Pink, Rob Reiner, and Christina Aguilera. Steven Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw, as well as tabloid-fave and Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz, gave big lumps of cash to the “No on 8” campaign.

Further, both of California’s senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, opposed the act, as did Governor Schwarzenegger and President Obama. Hairspray composer Marc Shaiman and director Adam Shankman teamed on a virile video called “Proposition 8: The Musical”, starring Jack Black and John C. Reilly. Millions of dollars were spent to defeat the measure, and both politic and entertainment’s A-List signed on in the effort, yet Proposition 8 passed, and gay marriage became unconstitutional in California.


Kelly Osbourne, Luke Worrall, Perez Hilton, Sophia Bush, Shana Moakler, Emmy Rossum and Katerina Graham joined others at a protest rally to ‘Repeal Prop 8 in 2010′ in Los Angeles, California.  INF photo found on Ecorazzi.com

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