American Atheists is perhaps the most visible atheist organization in the United States. As such, it’s not unreasonable for atheists to hold the organization accountable for accurately representing our aims and values.
But earlier today, Dave Muscato, the Public Relations Director for American Atheists, made a problematic and offensive comment about LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) activists.
Responding to a post on Columbia Faith & Values by atheist activist Tony Lakey concerning recent American Atheists billboards, Muscato left a comment signed with his name and title in the organization. Near the end, he made this point (emphasis added):
[T]here are different types of atheist activists and we are not the kind that you seem to wish that we were or want us to be. I talk about this in a talk I give about atheism activism, where I say that, as an example, there are (generalizing) two types of LGBTQ activists: the kind that wear suits & ties and run for office and give speeches, and the kind who dress up in chaps and ride on parade floats. The suit-and-tie atheists say to the a—less-chaps activists, “Stop doing that…”
Just last week, I wrote in this column about clumsy attempts to equate LGBTQ experience and atheist activism. In that piece I addressed the parallel that Muscato attempted to make in his comment:
In this vein, a number of atheists have pointed to the gay rights movement and said that in order to move the cultural needle as the gay rights movement has, the atheist movement needs both conciliatory atheists and aggressive ones (or “diplomats and firebrands”).
In my opinion, Muscato’s comments are a deeply problematic instance of this equation. His words invoke a blatantly uninformed characterization of LGBTQ activists. He erases the diversity of LGBTQ activists, offering instead a caricature (that, for starters, feels very gay male-centric). My first experiences as an activist were in LGBTQ organizations, and I can say without hesitation that framing LGBTQ activists as either “the kind that wear suit & ties” or “the kind who dress up in chaps and ride on parade floats” does not begin to reflect the thoughtfulness and diversity found within the LGBTQ community.
I tweeted about his comment and got a quick response from Muscato saying that he would be willing to discuss his comment over the phone. But as the comment was left on a public forum—and, importantly, signed by Muscato with his title at American Atheists—I’d like to see this discussion unfold in a forum where others are able to access his explanation. He then replied that he would happy to discuss it later.
Thus, I am left wondering: Does American Atheists agree with this demeaning portrayal of LGBTQ activists? And if Muscato has employed this problematic characterization of LGTBQ activists in talks before, why hasn’t American Atheists stepped in?