What Humanism Can Learn from the LGBT Community

So, what can the godless movement learn from the LGBT movement? Bullet point number one: coming out. Coming out is the single most powerful political act that LGBT people can take—and it’s the single most powerful political act that godless people can take. Consistently, polls show that the one factor most likely to predict whether people support gay rights is whether they know a gay person personally. (Or, to be more accurate—whether they know that they know a gay person.) And I think that’s true for godless people as well. We’re already seeing that: our approval numbers in polls are starting to go up—they still suck but they’re going up, faster than a lot of us expected, and I think that’s due in large part to increased atheist visibility. And, of course, coming out has a snowball effect: when more people come out of the closet, it makes other people feel safer about coming out. And then they make the next wave feel safer, and so on.

In terms of coming out, there’s an important difference between atheists and LGBT people, which I think is instructive. Coming out queer doesn’t turn other people queer. It encourages people who are already queer to come out, but it doesn’t create new queer people. However, coming out godless does lead to more godlessness. For many nonbelievers, a big part of what persuaded them to stop believing was simply learning about the existence of atheists, and about atheists who live happy, ethical, meaningful lives. Religion relies on a kind of social consent to perpetuate itself—and the more of us there are who deny that social consent, the harder it is to pretend the emperor’s wearing clothes. So when it comes to the power of coming out, we actually have a big advantage over the LGBT community. For us, coming out doesn’t just increase our visibility and our acceptance—it increases our numbers. For us, the snowball effect has the potential to turn into an avalanche.


Another thing we can learn from the LGBT movement is to let firebrands be firebrands, and let diplomats be diplomats. We don’t all pursue activism the same way—and both these methods used together are stronger than either one alone. Do not underestimate “good cop, bad cop.” There’s a reason cops use it. It works.


Something else we need to learn from LGBT history—and I very much hope that we’ll face this sooner rather than later—is that we have to be prepared for atheism to become mainstream. There are so many amazing people in the godless movement—brave, funny, smart, tough, strong personalities—and this sometimes leads us to think that there’s something inherently special about being a nonbeliever. We tend to forget that the difficulty of coming out is a powerful self-selecting filter for amazingness. And as we do continue to make it easier for more people to come out, the atheist community is going to start looking more like just the regular old human community. And when that happens, we’ll have to let go of any ideas we have about how not believing in God automatically makes us smarter, or braver, or anything special. It’d be a good idea to get a head start on that now.


The history of gay rights activism provides many lessons for atheists in seeking equality.

Folksonomies: activism atheism humanism

/society/gay life (0.656860)
/religion and spirituality/atheism and agnosticism (0.359357)
/religion and spirituality (0.308172)

powerful political act (0.989817 (positive:0.631884)), people (0.852747 (positive:0.018305)), LGBT (0.737572 (positive:0.329342)), godless people (0.701785 (positive:0.631884)), LGBT movement (0.686245 (negative:-0.313642)), lgbt community (0.683250 (positive:0.669814)), LGBT people (0.669785 (positive:0.631884)), snowball effect (0.628474 (negative:-0.412690)), gay rights (0.628273 (negative:-0.457666)), Bullet point number (0.628038 (neutral:0.000000)), gay rights activism (0.602256 (neutral:0.000000)), new queer people (0.589338 (negative:-0.488880)), gay person (0.562490 (negative:-0.457666)), social consent (0.553597 (negative:-0.497381)), powerful self-selecting filter (0.529037 (positive:0.611056)), old human community (0.526693 (positive:0.639045)), godless movement (0.483863 (negative:-0.313642)), LGBT history—and (0.427101 (negative:-0.329373)), godless movement—brave (0.419882 (neutral:0.000000)), people queer (0.384964 (negative:-0.777083)), Community The history (0.380142 (neutral:0.000000)), atheists (0.369011 (negative:-0.407755)), atheist visibility (0.363961 (neutral:0.000000)), important difference (0.358297 (neutral:0.000000)), approval numbers (0.356748 (negative:-0.445070)), meaningful lives (0.354960 (positive:0.613617)), amazing people (0.339098 (neutral:0.000000)), big advantage (0.335654 (positive:0.669814)), bad cop. (0.334068 (negative:-0.461216)), good cop (0.332355 (neutral:0.000000))

LGBT (0.985868): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Coming out (0.805623): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Homosexuality (0.718697): dbpedia | freebase
LGBT social movements (0.608254): dbpedia | freebase
Gay (0.548636): dbpedia | freebase
Sexual orientation (0.545671): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Gay pride (0.481999): dbpedia | freebase | yago
Closeted (0.468903): dbpedia | freebase | yago

 Firebrands, Diplomats, and Bedfellows
Periodicals>Magazine Article:  Christina, Greta (11/01/2013), Firebrands, Diplomats, and Bedfellows, The Humanist, November / December 2013, Retrieved on 2013-11-06
  • Source Material [thehumanist.org]
  • Folksonomies: activism atheism gay rights