New Director: Joshua Stewart

The Kansas City Atheist Coalition is pleased to announce the newest addition to its board of directors: Joshua Stewart, director of activism.

Joshua has long been an active member of the local freethinker community and frequently engages in activism and outreach events on his own. He brings to the board an enthusiasm and direction of activism that KCAC knows will help not only raise awareness of our community to atheists in the Kansas City area but to also contribute toward open dialogues with other communities, faith-based and non-faith-based alike.

You can learn more about Joshua from his bio here.

The Sexist Irrationality of Rational People

There’s an article making its rounds the Internet. I’m no fan of the title – Why Atheists Have a Serious Problem with Women – but I gave it a read-through, and I find myself in agreement with what it has to say about an inclusive community for everyone, women and men alike.

And then the comments. Oh, the comments. They form the bowels of the Internet, it seems, 99% of the time on news media sites, and this instance is no exception. What’s more unfortunate, however, is that so many of them exemplify the very problem described by the article. The biggest and most common response seems to be summed up in this comment:

really, get over it. i know alot of sexism still exists which sucks & is not fair; but most people aren’t like that anymore. stop being on the defensive, maybe you’ll get a better reaction, by inviting behavior you create it. should i not look at a woman i find attractive because it might offend her?

Repeatedly, the idea of “I don’t see it” and “that just doesn’t happen often anymore” is the line issued from the mind of someone who has not even researched the issue of sexism, much less experienced it themselves (for those fortunate enough to have not endured outright sexism, I encourage you to read Delusions of Gender).

Sexism is a particularly virulent behavior in our culture – one that, unlike most things, really does transcend barriers – racial, sexual, political, and religious (and, yes, I’m including atheism in that last category). We are all products of our culture, and, by and large, our culture has a lot of sexist ideas woven into it – some more obvious than others. Atheists in our communities, being wrought from that same fabric as everyone else, are just as susceptible to engaging in sexist behaviors and ideas as anyone else, any sense of superior rationality be damned.

Are we better than we were fifty years ago? I’d say so. Are we where we should be? Hardly. We’ve got epidemics of sexism abound in our society, and some of it happens in our own backyard (extreme trigger warning). Burying your head in the sand anytime someone says that there might be a problem with sexism in our community and careening into hyper-skepticism and insisting in unheard-of levels of evidence for what is, unfortunately, a very un-extraordinary claim does nothing to solve the problem. Cry “mission drift!” if you want and rhetorically ask “why can’t we all get along?” if it makes you feel better, but if you’re also going to wonder why your local atheist meetup is overwhelmingly male, you’re going to be wondering that for a long time.

Pretending that atheists are rational, skeptical automatons who are incapable of committing sexual harassment or, worse, telling people who have been harassed that they should just “be more intellectual” and “stop being ruled by your emotions” is, quite honestly, a straw Vulcan (and more than a little bit of victim-blaming in the latter case). Atheists are not magically imbued with a sense of social propriety nor a supernatural ability to just brush off targeted harassment, and, until we’re willing to acknowledge this and fix these problems inside our own community, we’re not going to be easily able tackle any large-scale problems as a united community.

Let’s not sacrifice those we should help by building a community on the altar of “avoiding mission drift” or maintaining our own self-satisfying idea that “we’re above all that”, because, try as hard as we might, we aren’t always the next step in gender and sexual evolution that we want to be.

Remember the “T” in “LGBT”

DOMA has been de-clawed, as far as preventing federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and we’ve got a great judicial precedent established by “no standing” ruling on California’s Proposition 8. It’s a great time to be an advocate for LGBT equality – a victory that could have gone terribly wrong, but will instead, we all hope, shine as a bright beacon in our nation’s history as a turning point against bigotry.

However, while we all celebrate progress made for marriage equality and a growing social acceptance of people who love people of the same sex, there is an aspect of LGBT equality that, I feel, does not incite the same passion in society as a whole.

It seems a rare thing in Kansas City for someone to have at least one friend who is trans; I am fortunate enough to have such a friend. Not only is she a wonderful person herself, but her experiences as a trans woman have helped me identify inappropriate language and behavior that I’ve adopted as a result of the culture in which I was raised. Much like I no longer use the word “gay” or “retarded” to describe things that I find dumb, I’ve learned to identify behaviors that ridicule someone who doesn’t fall within the traditional definitions of “right” gender behavior and to avoid that language and those behaviors. I’m by no means convinced that I’ve got it all fixed, but, with her help, she’s helped raise my awareness of these issues and made me a better person for it.

When you’re friends with someone who raises awareness of trans issues, there comes the bad with the good; stories of harassment, discrimination, and outright violence against trans people simply because someone couldn’t accept that someone would want to express as a gender different from their sex, or might want to change their sex, or may simply like wearing clothing that we typically designate for the other sex (the silliness of the concepts of “women’s clothing” and “men’s clothing” notwithstanding). She raises awareness by her personal experiences of the sexual harassment and assault that she suffers – problems that cis and trans women alike face every day.

When I went to my first (and, I hope, one of many) Transgender Day of Remembrance, they read a list of trans people from around the world who had suffered violence at the hands of transphobic people. Even without knowing these people, the raw brutality of this violence pierced deep into me – people were shot, beaten, strangled, and beheaded simply for not fitting into what others thought should be their “correct” gender role.

This violence took on a personal note when my friend was assaulted and, as a result of the assault, was shoved down to the concrete, hit her head, and was knocked unconscious. She’s now going through a multi-week stage of recovery. All of this was because, on finding out that she’s a trans woman (and, thus, not a “real” woman), her attacker felt he was justified in attacking her. While the violence listed at the Transgender Day of Remembrance was upsetting, the fact that it’s happened to a friend makes it all the more visceral.

My point is that, while we all congratulate each other on the work we do to help achieve equality and social acceptance of people who love people of the same sex, don’t forget that there is a “T” in the “LGBT movement”. If you find yourself uncomfortable with the idea of someone who is a cross-dresser, transgendered, or transsexual, reflect on that and try to understand why you feel that way, and whether you should feel that way. Beyond personal introspection, publicly display your support for trans people. Find out if there’s a trans awareness event, such as a Transgendered Day of Remembrance, and go and show your support. Much in the same way that you don’t have to be gay to support equality for people who are gay, you don’t have to be trans in order to show your support for equality for people who are trans.

The bottom line is: if you call yourself an LGBT equality advocate, support all four letters. Fight against not only homophobia, but biphobia and transphobia as well.

Darrel Ray’s Annual Memorial Day Weekend Cookout

Darrel Ray, author of Sex and God and The God Virus, hosted a potluck picnic at his beautiful home. This, although not an event organized by the Kansas City Atheist Coalition, is nonetheless an event we all look forward to each year. It gives us a chance to meet not only new members of the community but also friends and new friends from far out of state.

Freethinkers gathered around a campfire and grill, chowing down on their favorite meats (and veggie dogs) with sides of chips, cookies, salads, and beverages. In tandem to this was a very successful fundraiser for the local Camp Quest Kansas City organization by a fundraiser featuring  for-sale kisses by Sarah Hargreaves and Jozef Hanratty.

The festivities went late into the night, featuring fire dancing and philosophical exchanges and ending in overnight camping in tents. Everyone left happy and eagerly looking forward to the next get-together hosted by the ever-gracious Dr. Darrel Ray.

Ask a Kansas City Atheist

The Kansas City Atheist Coalition positioned itself near the J.C. Nichols fountain, making itself available to fellow pedestrians to answer questions the general public may have about atheists – what we do as a community, why we don’t believe, and how we can be “good without a god”. We broke down barriers between non-believers and the community at large, offering not only answers to questions some might have about atheists, but also offering hugs to show the lighter, warmer side of the atheist community.

Check out the full album on our Facebook page!