Christian author John Shore and LGBT-positive non-profit organization Truth Wins Out have recently launched the Not All Like That (NALT) project with author/activist/one-man web presence Dan Savage’s enthusiastic support. The term “NALT” is, in fact, borrowed from Savage who has referred to LGBT-affirming Christians as “NALT Christians.” Savage’s support is notable because the campaign is modeled after the It Gets Better Project, started in 2010 by Savage and his partner Terry Miller, where people would upload videos of themselves encouraging LGBT teens to stay resilient in the face of bullying and harassment to YouTube. It Gets Better, while not without criticism, has been highly visible, spawning messages from politicians and celebrities, videos from all over the world, and even a tour. The NALT project is seeking to capitalize on this model by creating a forum for LGBT-positive religious people to upload their own videos, letting LGBT people know that, as the young woman in the video below demonstrates, they’re “not all like that.”
The NALT concept, though, relies on discourses that have been around for a long time. Many of the arguments laid out by John Shore and his wife Catherine in their video talking about the NALT project draw on existing queer and feminist theology, as well as the arguments crafted by long-running LGBT-religious movements/organizations, including Metropolitan Community Church and DignityUSA (for some web resources, see here). These include reading scripture through the lens of the cultural context in which it was written and pointing out other biblical injunctions that most people do not adhere to (see God Hates Shrimp). NALT, in other words, is a new, shiny platform for ideas that have been kicking around for some time.
So what can we make of this? On the one hand, it shows how nascent movements rework and build off of the existing discourses from previous movements and thinkers. A number of sociologists have demonstrated this empirically. For example, Kelly Moore, in her book Disrupting Science, showed how the scientist-activists in the organizations she examined creatively reworked discourses drawn from previous religious and political streams of thought, adapting them for the contexts they were in. Myself and my co-authors Laurie Cooper Stoll and Fred Kniss, in fact, discovered this about LGBT Christian movement groups and organizations. We found that those LGBT religious groups attached to denominational traditions that already had rhetorics of equality, justice, or the common good (what Kniss calls “collective moral projects”) were more likely to use activist-oriented rhetoric than ones that were attached to denominations lacking such a language. In this way, the NALT project can be understood as repurposing existing movement discourses towards a new end. Typically, the movement discourses that NALT is drawing on emerged from LGBT-identified religious groups, while NALT seems to be using them predominantly to construct a “religious-ally” identity.
So why now? There are some good reasons for this to be coming to a visible head at the present moment, as well as good reasons for someone like Dan Savage to lend his support to it. There have been broad shifts in public opinion on LGBT issues, including gay marriage. There has been the increasing visibility of the more liberal “new evangelicals” and other progressive religious voices. And there has been the spread of social media advocacy (as demonstrated through Savage’s It Gets Better Project) as a tool in the repertoire of social movements. The NALT project, I would argue, represents what happens when existing movement messages diffuse wide enough to be taken on by new populations, as structural and cultural opportunities for disseminating those messages present themselves. To put it simply, more LGBT-affirming religious people have the intellectual resources to make LGBT-affirming arguments, and have been presented with the tools, models, and support to do so. It will be interesting to see in the next few years, given the widespread (and certainly not always unfair) perception that religious people are anti-LGBT, if NALT can gain as much visibility as It Gets Better. As someone who hopes to see religious identities increasingly deconstructed and broadened in the future, you can bet I’ll be paying close attention.