James Randi Escapes the Closet

by VorJack

Most of you have probably heard this already, but it bears repeating. In the latest edition of Swift, the blog of the James Randi Educational Foundation, James Randi has this to say:

Well, here goes. I really resent the term, but I use it because it’s recognized and accepted.

I’m gay.

From some seventy years of personal experience, I can tell you that there’s not much “gay” about being homosexual. For the first twenty years of my life, I had to live in the shadows, in a culture that was — at least outwardly — totally hostile to any hint of that variation of life-style. At no time did I choose to adopt any protective coloration, though; my cultivation of an abundant beard was not at all a deception, but part of my costume as a conjuror.

Gradually, the general attitude that I’d perceived around me began to change, and presently I find that there has emerged a distinctly healthy acceptance of different social styles of living — except, of course, in cultures that live in constant and abject fear of divine retribution for infractions found in the various Holy Books… In another two decades, I’m confident that young people will find themselves in a vastly improved atmosphere of acceptance.

And with that, Randi cements his position as the Dumbledore of the skeptic movement.

As Randi points out, there will probably be some ugliness following this. I have little doubt that Randi can handle it, and what’s more I’m sure the skeptics movement will stand firmly beside him. One thing thing I wonder, however, is how this will play out with the LGBT movement. The relationship between the atheist and skeptic movements and the LGBT movement is a little rocky at times.

The bisexual atheist blogger Greta Christina explains:

I’ve been an out queer, and an active participant in the queer community, for over 20 years now. I’ve felt for years like the LGBT community was my home base. I’ve only identified as an atheist for less than two years.

And yet I’m finding that I feel more at home — more welcomed, more valued, more truly understood — as a queer in the atheist community than I do as an atheist in the queer community.

Like, a lot more.
I’ve been exhorted to pray. I’ve been told about “our Creator.” I’ve seen comments in LGBT blogs, listing bigoted and wildly inaccurate anti-atheist canards that could have come straight out of the religious right’s playbook. I’ve heard inaccurate statistics bandied about regarding how many believers and non-believers there are in the U.S…. statistics that diminish atheists’ numbers and our strength. (For the record: We’re more than five percent, people.) I’ve heard the inaccurate and insulting canard about “fundamentalist” atheists… and, when I’ve pointed out that this term is both inaccurate and insulting, had the language firmly defended.

Now that one of the most recognized icons of the skeptic and atheist movement is out of the closet, how will this affect the relationship between the two movements?

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  • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com arkonbey

    I’m just curious as to why he waited so long. It is his life and his choice to make, of course, but I’m just curious why not a bit sooner. I can’t believe that many in the SWIFT community would have a problem with his sexuality.

    • Peter Cross

      I don’t think the issue was ever those within the Swift community. The issue is acceptance fo the skeptical mission by the general public. Randi has already seen his atheism used to dismiss his message on numerous occasions.

  • Erik

    Wow, 5 per cent?

  • Ian

    I thought I heard several places its something like 16%. However, I think that may have included agnostics. Can anyone say for sure what the numbers are?

    • Kimberly

      I think that number (I heard 18%) is actually the people who identifiy themselves as non-religious or having no religion. I will take that statistic because at least non religious people at least have the intelligence to give up on whatever dogma has been pushed in their face in their lives.

  • Sehro

    If he’s going to be our Dumbledore, he’s going to need a bigger hat.

  • Daniel Florien

    Very glad for Randi that he can be open about this! We have come a long way, but not far enough.

  • Peter Cross

    At no time did I choose to adopt any protective coloration, though; my cultivation of an abundant beard was not at all a deception, but part of my costume as a conjuror.

    WTF? Do a lot of people think that having a beard is associated with one sexual orientation or another (OK, I guess it is rare among lesbians)?

    • Kodie

      It sounds like he is saying that most people would never suspect a guy with a full long and bushy beard of being a homosexual, but that’s not why he grew it; he sees himself dressing to define himself visually as a magician. I’m not saying that most gay guys adopt a smooth face look or at least a neatly trimmed beard, but that seems to be the public perception, not one which he intentionally dodged, but coincidentally for the public perception of what a magician should look like. I guess. That does seem kind of weird to mention his beard at all.

      • Siberia

        Possibly because people still see beards as a sign of manliness and assume all homosexuals are effeminate. Stupid but hey.

  • Kimberly

    I’m sure it was a huge thing for him to come out. We are younger, so I don’t think we realize the kind of culture he has lived his life in and how it still affects his views on how he should be presenting himself. It is alot easier for a teenager or twenty-something to come out now as GLTB than for an older person in the same exact society. So this is a big deal, and I hope many more people benefit from his courageous decision. :)

  • Mark D

    As an atheist, I have no problem with homosexuality. It would be interesting to compare “coming out” stories from both homosexuals and atheists. Since Randi has already been out as an atheist for years, I doubt he has many conservative religious friends to lost by coming out as being gay.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

    Off topic: am I the only one seeing the Google ad for Christianbook.com? Kind of ironic.

    “The Bible in your language!”

    • Daniel Florien

      Yes I like the irony. For now.

  • http://h8red42.blogspot.com RC Wallace

    A persons sexuality is only important if you plan on having sex with them,so….i’m glad he is having a good life and wish him well.

  • Janet Greene

    I’ve noticed that oppressed minorities are often highly religious, against all reason. For example, earlier today I made a comment about the religious residential schools here in Canada for the First Nations (Aboriginal) people, where thousands of children were kidnapped and tortured by the catholic & protestant churches to brainwash them into christianity (anything to save their heathen souls from the firey pits of hell and eternal torment – jesus loves you). This has caused terrible damage to these peoples – terrible health, incredibly high rates of suicide, some communities have 95% people seriously substance addicted, 85% unemployment, depression, domestic violence, you name it. These children never learned how to be parents, so they passed on the violence that they learned from the christians on to their own kids.

    What’s weird is how many Aboriginal people remain christian. There are some communities that are extremely conservative christian, even though stats bear out that when Aboriginal people return to their traditional ways and beliefs, they are much healthier and are able to heal more effectively from the terrible legacy of christianity and federal assimilation policies.

    I have Aboriginal friends, and I often ask how they can believe in a religion that destroyed them?

    I’ve also noticed that African Americans are highly religious – I realizing that this is racial profiling, but I rarely come across an African American atheist.

    Now the LGBT community…think I’m seeing a pattern.

    Maybe it’s because oppressed minorities need to have hope in an afterlife, or of justice some day? When life is really unfair and tough, it’s harder to acknowledge that there is no justice, no ultimate fairness, no nice daddy in the sky who’s going to make everything ok and make the bad people pay and reward people for being longsuffering and patient.

    Any thoughts on this????

  • Bob

    “where thousands of children were kidnapped and tortured by the catholic & protestant”

    So you got any credible source (link)?

    I think the torture part is dubious. I know that many of Aborigin children were taken by European families, but I don’t think all/most of them were tortured. Perhaps they used corporal punishment, but that was common back then, most kids were given corporal punishment as a form of discipline, not specific to the Aborigin children.

    Also it was part of colonialization (make them speak English and adopt European customs), not part of catholic/protestant beliefs.

    It is still wrong in my opinion to take children from their parents by force. I don’t think Christianity teaches that this is OK.

    • JohnMWhite

      It happened. Even the pope admits it happened. See here for an overview, and there are plenty of other resources on the web: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2008/05/16/f-faqs-residential-schools.html

      I have seen a documentary about the abuse, which detailed some of the torture which went on. Corporal punishment, which I consider torture anyway (how can a full grown adult battering a child with a weapon to instill fear into them NOT be?), was not simply restricted to using a belt or a paddle, punishment could also involve electrocution, burning, sexual abuse and, in some cases, deliberately locking children up with tuberculosis patients.

      The documentary is available on this site: http://www.hiddenfromhistory.org/Home/tabid/36/Default.aspx

      • Janet Greene

        Thanks JohnM – Bob’s comment really p*ssed me off!!!! Good links.

    • Janet Greene

      Bob, are you high????? First of all, there are thousands of sites about this. It was just as horrific as Ireland. Canada just paid BILLIIONS of dollars in compensation to surviving residential school victims. I have spent a good part of the last 15 years of my life advocating for these people as it pretty much destroyed them. Corporal punishment???? Before you minimize the experiences of these people, do your research. This is an insult. The stories I heard would curl your hair. I have a friend in her 60′s who had needles put in her tongue if she dared to speak her traditional language because it was of the devil. She has to stand in a corner for many hours with her arms out, without moving, and if she moved she was beaten. They were always hungry, but if one of them got sick they would try to hide it because children who were taken to the “doctor” were never seen again – by their friends or families. They just disappeared. They were worked like slaves. They were raped repeatedly. I could go on but all you have to do is a google search. Try it some time – it’s an amazing thing that helps people get their FACTS straight.