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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Publisher Hachette Imprint Signs Anti-Gay Preacher Joel Osteen. How Should the LGBT Community Respond?

By Andrew Belonsky -

Boycotts are an effective tool of mass resistance, one LGBT communities recently harnessed with great effect to counter Target's homophobic political donations.
The non-violent tactic, however, is not always so straight-forward, a fact made clear by news that France-based Hachette Book Group just resigned homophobic Pastor Joel Osteen to their FaithWords imprint.
Osteen, you may recall, has a history of patently anti-gay statements, and this evening's Piers Morgan Tonight program on CNN will air some more of Osteen's dubious comments, including the Biblical justification for discrimination: "The scriptures shows that it's a sin."
The interview will also feature this gem: "'I don't believe homosexuality is God's best for a person's life. I mean, sin means 'to miss the mark,'" and a bit of self-defense: "I think [civil partnerships] is wrong, but I'm not going to bash those people. I'm not going to be against those people. They're good people. I say it's wrong because that's what the scripture says." Osteen also compares homosexuality to "an addiction."
The Human Rights Campaign has already condemned Osteen's statements. Said the group's president, Joe Solmonese, "It’s a real shame that someone of Joel Osteen’s prominence and life experiences would repeat this tired and dangerous statement. It furthers ignorance and discrimination by some Americans and adds a burden to those already struggling to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity."
Despite what Osteen would like to believe, he most certainly doesn't qualify as an LGBT ally, which is why it was unsettling to hear that Osteen this week left Simon and Shuster to return to Hachette, which published his very first book under their "Christian inspirational" imprint, FaithWords, where other reliably anti-gay authors like Joyce Meyer and Philip Yancey, who was previously friends with SoulForce leader Mel White, publish.
"Mel was one of my closest friends for years before he revealed to me his sexual orientation," Yancey once wrote.
FaithWords publisher Rolf Zettersten couldn't be happier to have best-selling Osteen back on his team, saying, "[Osteen's] message offers hope, inspiration and motivation to millions of readers. We intend to serve him with a very aggressive and creative publishing program.”
Yeah, because there's so much room for creativity when working with archaic, discriminatory scribes.
LGBT activists and their allies could, of course, launch a boycott against Hachette, which also publishes a "traditional values" imprint called Center Street Books. But such a wide boycott would also impact some of Hachette's less exclusionary imprints, like Little Brown and Company, which published Julie Anne Peters' gay love story, Keeping You a Secret, or Grand Central Publishing, a company that deserves thanks for putting out Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You!).
Plus, boycotting Hachette as a whole could potentially backfire: conservatives regularly describe equality fights, like those aimed at employment discrimination, as being "thought police." Boycotting a book publisher would only inflame that rhetoric, and inspire headlines like, "Homosexuals Declare War on Free Speech."
LGBT activists have had great success with boycotts in recent months, sure, but the actions complicate business, especially when dealing with a company as large and intricate as Hachette.
So, what's a concerned reader to do? Well, not buy Osteen's books, that's for sure. But we can also write to or call Hachette executives and let them know how much they've disappointed us by signing an unabashed homophobe, and make clear that just because an imprint such as FaithWords revolves around "Christian inspiration," that doesn't mean it has to discriminate.
On the contrary: they should use their imprint to counter heterocentric beliefs, and instead spread a message of inclusion and compassion. Solmonese's message on Osteen's CNN interview could very well be applied to FaithWords as a whole: “One would hope Mr. Osteen would use his pulpit, with an audience of over 7 million people, to tell all human beings that they are loved just the way they are. Instead he chose to send a dangerous and irresponsible message.”
Wouldn't it be divine if FaithWords heard this call, too?


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