Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 05 January 1998


Interview by Dave Evans


Dave Evans interviews Badpuppy's GayToday Editor, Jack Nichols, author of The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists, published 1996, Prometheus Books, available through

Dave Evans: There certainly must be plenty to be said back to the fundamentalists. It appears from your book, though, while you certainly have plenty to say to fundamentalists, that you're mainly on, shall we say, the offensive rather than the defensive.

Jack Nichols: There's no reason to feel defensive. Its like Disney's Michel Eisner finally admitted in a TV interview on the Southern Baptist Convention boycott, "they're nuts!"

When I was a kid I got tuned in quick to nonsense passing for religion. Fundamentalists across the globe—they're present in every country-- to tell us how to behave-- and they're always nasty meddlers in every major religion—think about what's going on in Kabul right now. Women can't get attention in hospitals, aren't allowed to attend schools. Can you figure how mullahs—the reverends—make love there? With bayonets.

Evans: In the same vein as recent protests outside Disney World in Orlando, Florida, (Tuesday, December 31st) do you think that fundamentalism is being seen, nowadays, as more farcical or dangerous?

Nichols: We gotta keep monitors on them. People who think they know what the Book of Revelations is all about are scary. There are some great watchdog organizations in this country and I've recommended to gay activists and others linking arms with some of them.

Evans: Which ones?

Nichols: Some are already known friends to us in the fight against bigotry. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a super organization. They follow Pat Robertson's tax-exempt empire closely. And, when parsons turn to promoting party politics in church, they sue. Americans United's been around for fifty years. My grandfather belonged to it and Church and State, its magazine keeps abreast of issues. (It) used to sit on the coffee table in the home where I grew up. There's People for the American Way, too. And, as always, The ACLU. There's one in your county, or state wherever you are, I hope. Love 'em all. Read their stuff. Support 'em. They're committed to equal rights among citizens and to the First Amendment. What else could we ask for?

Evans: Could you imagine that the right might target gays and lesbians in a manner like the abortion clinic shootings, bombings? And given the fact that Gay Today is one of the web sites targeted for monitoring by fundamentalists, are we tempting fate here?

Nichols: We tempt fate when we walk or drive the highways. And there's already been lots of targetings of gay men and lesbians inspired by those continuous anti-gay hate raps by religious kooks in the name of Christ. Their brethren, hey, the Klu Klux Klan it was in The St. Petersburg Times, just reported the night before New Year's eve. Klu Kluxers attacked a 40-year old man in a gay bar, Lovey's Pub on US 19, slammed a cue ball on his head. He's going to be OK. But things like that are happening all over the place, thanks to Hate TV, sponsored by Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists. These people desperately want us to die. They're the ones responsible for political opposition to placing AIDS—as a priority-- where it belongs, in the category of World War Three.

And don't forget those bombings of a women's bar in Atlanta had the same m.o. as the bombings at the Atlantic free-choice clinic. I always use the words, if I can remember to, "free-choice clinic" instead of "abortion" and call the fundamentalists "anti-choice" instead of Pro-Life. If they were pro-life they'd oppose capital punishment. I do.

Evans: Biblical scripture sites very little regarding homosexuality. The teachings of the Christ make for a concerted reliance upon being nice, helpful to each other et al. What's the main problem here? Are people brainwashed by the Bible or is the gay public reading too much into--responding to--an unwritten lack of malice? Can't we just turn our backs?

Nichols: You know, I once thought I personally would be able to turn my back on them back in the late 60s. They seemed really laughable at that point in time. Nobody gave them credit. They'd used it all up passing prohibition which then had to be undone. The country became a bootlegger's turf and in 1924—when Clarence Darrow presided over the Scopes trial in Tennessee—the "Monkey Trial"—the one that coincided with the first fundamentalist assault on evolution—after that, hey, intellectuals laughed at them as very naïve, quite stupid, or just plain silly. Now they get courted by politicians to provide vote- support to corrupt financial empires that are polluting us to death.

Thing is, tho, there's not that many of them. Fourteen percent, maybe. They're just well organized. We gotta be just as organized. And yeah, they're out there in cyberspace, all the grossly spiritual cousins of the Reverend Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westview Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, he's the guy who takes hate-pickets to the funerals of people who've died of AIDS…by the way, the funniest thing they told him in the American and tolerant state of Minnesota when he said he was going to Duluth was that "You aren't in Kansas anymore, Fred."


If you'd like to understand what sort of evil really lies in the hearts of men—heh heh heh-check out the lunatic fundamentalist ravings and take a peek at his photos on Baptist Bonehead Fred's own site: Phelps is a Baptist.. The Pope's just as bad in his own way. Worse.

Evans: The credentials of fundamentalists went way down during the eighties due to the shenanigans of Falwell, Robertson, Dobson et al. Aren't they more or less a done deal?

Nichols: I wish. They're taking over school boards, city and county commissions, hospital boards, local government across the board in every state. I wish they'd stop being so moved by their fears, by a desperate attempt to cling to something to give themselves something exciting to do—chasing away homosexuals in the name of the Lord. Usually they're people badly wounded by life and they think they need what they mistakenly believe is a religious cause—a fight against evil-- to give their boring lives meaning. They can't think their ways out of bags. They assert. They believe. But they don't think.

But these TV evangelists, and the really big dudes like (those) you mentioned, the really big one, they say is James Dobson, Focus on the Family. He's the money-man behind a lot of the anti-gay stuff that goes on. And believe me, its going on bigtime. Bigger and more centered on homosexuality than ever. Free-Choice shootings have cost 'em a bundle. They play the gay card now.

There's a great new book about Dobson that GayToday will review, maybe I will, and Prometheus, my publisher, has published it too. Its called James Dobson's War on America, and its by the guy who was his Vice-president, the very guy who helped him set up his financial empire and then got cold feet and saw Dobson for what he was. I just love tell-all books by these disenchanted defectors.

How dangerous are these Dobson types? Let me just re-phrase and say that the price of gay and lesbian liberty is eternal vigilance. The fundies are going to keep us on guard—high alert-- for a long time. If you're ever tempted to think they're harmless—just remember they want you dead. And don't forget either that the churches will seize every opportunity to wrangle support from your taxes. That's what this school-vouchers controversy is about. They want you to help them send their kids to religious schools. Parochial. These people think big money all the time.

One of Gore Vidal's most interesting novels is called Messiah. It's about a man who starts a new religion. He preaches that death is good, hypnotizes everybody on TV and sets up religious suicide clinics worldwide. His name was John Cave. J.C. I think this book is still valuable because it gives an idea what goes on behind the scenes when people are starting up and running a mass-circulation religion. I notice one of the supermarket tabloids is getting on TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart's case this week. Says even after his confessed 'sin' with a woman other than his wife, he's still racking in cash in the millions. Frankly, I always said that if I hadn't felt the urge to be honest, I'd have started a religion myself. It pays well. But I couldn't take advantage of people that way.

Evans: Over the span of years (circa 1950s to present), in terms of human rights awareness, the Gay movement has flourished. The requisite problems of infighting any movement experiences are starting to nip at the heels of those who strove to rewrite the human relations' scenario. Haven't these matters changed due to AIDS?

Nichols: First, as an old movement strategist, my immediate reaction is this. There's always infighting among politically active groups. Some social movement people learn to handle their infights better than others. One of our problems is that there's now a middle class mentality--- some people call them the neo-cons or the neo-puritans-- at war with the growing anarchy erupting in our social interactions ---and I use the word anarchy as a positive word, opposing the overly strict—Big Brother- national security-state-commercial empires supported by those macho-military mindsets. These tight-assed institutions could—if we allow them to-- have us all wired and watched on video sooner than you think. Off the beaten path you go between home and the store and—blip-- you'd get zapped.

About AIDS. Plenty has changed because of AIDS. It'll be the same into the next century. Not everything about AIDS has been bad, though, in terms of the still-living community, I mean. My great friend, the drag star, Logan Carter died of AIDS, but he went to his grave in the Spring of '88 after saying much earlier that AIDS would unite us all in community. He was a far-sighted pioneer. AIDS did bring out the best in America's gay communities, something that the neo-puritans current descriptions of gay behaviors seem to forget. A despised minority rose thunderously to its feet and protected and sheltered its own. A kind of loving miracle, really. Gives the lie to all those self-haters who hate gays too.

Have our sex lives changed? I think we can talk about it, but I'm not really sure we'll be able to push certain kinds of cold rationality into beds of cockeyed passion. Many individuals have taken their own lives in their own hands tho, in various ways. Some decide not to have sex, just because of AIDS. That's their choice, right? Not mine, though. I'd like to rehabilitate Onan and make an international hero out of him. I think that the God of the Old Testament gave him a raw deal, eliminating him for spilling his jism on the ground. Jeez. Everybody thinks that the circles following my name on my e-mails are hugs. They're not, they're circle-jerks. Michael Callen, now deceased, he was a singer and a great eroticist-strategist, he's one of my favorites from afar. I've got his CD album, Legacy. You can read about him in Doug Sadownick's recently published book, Sex Between Men.

Evans: What is your response to the "Benedict Arnolds" in the movement who make all gays cannon fodder for homophobes by spotlighting the few who insist on sexing unsafely? Are they merely trying to up their credentials for book-of- the month, or are they actually that concerned?

Nichols:Larry Kramer is the most impolitic of this middle-class bunch of sex-designer crusaders. He and Carrie Nation are two of a kind. But he might not be the most dangerous, because, frankly, he's a ranter, not a thinker. What he did on December 12 in the New York Times was very foolish.

Andrew Sullivan is probably a well-meaning guy, an English bloke. He wants to get us all married. A bit of a nervous fellow, he seems, on the tube. Its just that he's really a practicing Roman Catholic, like he's always telling us. But follow him as if he were truly Joan of Arc, if you must.


I'm torn by Gabriel Rotello, because yes, I do think he's sincere. He's a kind of thoughtful guy. I also think he's the most effective among those who've worked themselves into creating a dissident gay movement that helps make us all—monogamous and promiscuous-- look like a bunch of bushes queens crawling around in the dirt after midnight looking desperately for our lost jockeyshorts as well as the quarters we need to take the bus home. Signorile has a corner on this rap too. You say he's opposed to gym buffs. Not me. I like the idea of a guy carefully taking care of his physique. I do my best. Every other day. Nautilus. Gives me extra energy.

What these regimenting people don't seem to understand is that we pass through many stages in life. We check out many venues too. People can't be talked into sexual regimentation. The human imagination will always find a place—beyond the airplane restroom in the sky—and none of these guys, no matter how many adult theatre balconies they close, can do a damn thing about it.

Middle class gays, just like Jimmy Swaggart, have always damned bushes queens and the like, but—sure enough—that's where many went when they were able. That's the way with anti-sexual crusaders. They often crusade most against the things they secretly fantasize.

My point is, I'm not going to meddle in other people's lives—especially their sex lives—no matter how foolish I think they are. I will provide people with information—and rail against a government that fails to do so—and I will mobilize-- as I've done-- against the threat of AIDS. When I saw that religious fundamentalists had begun blaming AIDS patients—saying it was God's curse on them for having lived a homosexual lifestyle….

By the way, that's one word we shouldn't let the fundies use: lifestyle. Sounds like you can take it off and put it on as a whim. We all know our emotional and sexual lives can't be reduced to "lifestyle." Life styles of the Baptist Buggerers. How does that sound? (Laughter)

Evans: Do the gay neo-puritans help or hinder with regards to the fundamentalists and similar zealots?

Nichols: In my opinion, these gay authors are handing the fundies real hand grenades. Divide and conquer. What Rotello, Signorile, Kramer, and others have helped loose is, possibly, a kind of a civil war among gays when we need, in fact, to be united against the fundamentalists. I hope it doesn't come to that, a civil war, I mean. Sex Panic!'s leadership is small, as yet, and it may be only the first wave of reaction to the neo-puritan crackdown that's being validated by those marriage-prone fellows, those close the upper balconies folks. I don't particularly care for the name this Sex Panic group has chosen. It sounds to me like they're the ones having the sex panic, when, of course, what they really hope to point to is the Sex Panic that's now rampant across America. The kind of reports we get on tells you something about homowatch police activity still alive and well in America—aimed at gay males—and across the globe too.

Evans: What are your own beliefs about religion? Are you a spiritual man? Certainly not sprung from the head of Zeus… How did you arrive at your philosophy?

Nichols: I've continued throughout life wondering about my thought- roots. How did I happen to grow up thinking like I do? James T. Sears, in his new book, Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life (Westview Press-HarperCollins)gives me two great chapters. He followed my early development, how I got the Scottish poet Robert Burns recited to me three times daily at meals, and how I was influenced by the philosophy behind Walt Disney's film, Pinnochio. And finally, by Whitman. But first came the Baha'i World Faith, when I was only fourteen. It was a world-unity religion—all faiths, it teaches, are evolutionary steps in a ladder of the One Religion—it was born in 19th century Iran and, among other things, Bahai's taught the equality of the sexes. Racial oneness too. I kept such beliefs as these but graduated, I think at fifteen, into philosophy. I read Tom Paine's Age of Reason. Few people know that the man who inspired the American revolution also wrote this book to debunk the Bible. He opposed revelation-sytle religion. He said of Moses that if God talked to Moses then Moses ought to follow God's directions. But when Moses tells me, he says, that God told him what to tell me to do, well…that gets to be another matter. When God talks directly to me too, hey, that's when I'll do what I'm told, said Paine. He also said, "My own mind is my own church." Now, that's a zinger.

After I got that far, then, in chronological order I was influenced by Kahlil Gibran, Clarence Darrow, Robert G. Ingersoll, Bertrand Russell, Zen, Lao Tzu, and Walt Whitman. I never really was a believing Christian, though I have very much admired the character of Jesus. He was a revolutionary and a great mystic. Too bad what happened in his name. Among those of us who carry Jesus' name in reverence I best like his followers in the Society of Friends, or Quakers—as some call them, and also the Unitarian/ Universalists. They teach the open mind and improve on public education. Oh, I admire the Salvation Army too. But I don't think we should depend on it for our social safety net.

If I've ever had any bibles, books to which I always return, I'd put Leaves of Grass at the top of the list. Next, maybe, Lao Tzu's The Way of Life (Tao Te Ching), and then Gibran's The Prophet. Robert Burns is dear to me still, but these books I mention are the ones I've learned from most. Among world religions today, I find Buddhism to be a treasurehouse of psychological directionals. I don't belong to any group.

I believe that each of us becomes what he or she can deliberately choose to become. And I believe that our choices—especially if they're deliberate—can lead us to the living of a satisfying life. I've put this whole idea in a kind of Buddhist view, an offshoot of other Buddhist or even Shakespearean epigrams ("As a man thinketh, so is he"), but this statement is one that suits my view just right. It goes something like this:

We become the embodiment of the values we deliberately absorb, having already become what we've absorbed. Repeating our independently chosen life-sustaining value-verses turns the attitudes in those verses into our marrow. The Buddha said it this way: "We are what we think, having become what we've thought." He also said—his last words were—"Work out your own salvation with diligence." That's miles away from the Christian salvation scheme, salvation by blood sacrifice.

Evans: Do you think there will be a widespread malaise in fundamentalist circles when, after the Millenium, the world doesn't come to a screeching halt and the Jesus and the Horsemen don't pay us our requisite rapturous visit?

Nichols: Hah! They've been playing the same old tunes forever. In the last century a lady named Mother Shipton, who predicted flying machines, gave us a peculiar verse.

She said: And the world to an end shall come, in eighteen hundred-and eighty-one

Hey, ma, I'm talkin' to Mother Shipton, we're still here, ma!

© 1998 BEI; All Rights Reserved.
For reprint permission give credit to website: