This past weekend was Atlanta's Pride Festival, and this coming weekend Jews around the world will read Parshat Vayera (Genesis 18:1 - 25:18) in synagogue. While this may not normally be worthy of note any other year, something that happened during the parade struck me as very timely.
During the parade, as happens most years, a group of anti-gay extremists was protesting the parade with large signs. This year, though, most of the protesters were blocked by very brave people holding massively large flowers who call themselves The Pansy Patrol. They were, without a doubt, a highlight of the parade and incredibly inspiring.
One of the signs they were working to block said, "Homosexuality was the sin of Sodom." As a Jewish educator (and decent human being), I found myself wanting to shout back, "No it wasn't! You're misreading the bible verses!"
Hebrew's a gender-specific language. (Which, of course, causes all kinds of problems in society and, more specifically, transgender issues.) That means that the Hebrew word for "people", "אנשים" "anashim", is also translated as "men." (Why? Because like French or Spanish, even if you have 1000 women in a group, if you throw 1 man into the mix, you use the masculine form of the word.)
Here are the actual Bible verses for the part story of Sodom that are traditionally understood to deal with homosexuality. The English translation's below, and it comes from Richard Elliott Friedman.
1. And the two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting at Sodom's gate, and Lot saw and got up toward them, and he bowed, nose to the ground. 2. And he said, "Here, my lords, turn to your servant's house and spend the night and wash your feet, and you'll get up early and go on your way."
And they said, "No, we'll spend the night in the square." 3. And he pressed them very much, and they turned to him and came to his house, and he made a feast and baked unleavened bread for them, and they ate.
4. And they had not yet lain down, and the people of the city, the people of Sodom, surrounded the house, from youth to old man, all the people, from the farthest reaches. 5. And they called to Lot and said to him, "Where are the people who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, and let's know them!"
6. And Lot went out to them at the entrance and closed the door behind him 7. and he said, "Don't do bad, my brothers. 8. Here I have two daughters who haven't known a man. Let me bring them out to you , and do to them as is good in your eyes. Only don't do anything to these peope, because that is why they came under the shadow of my roof."
At this point, all we can say for certain is that there was a mob of people, and they wanted to take the two angels/Lot's guests, and "know" them. They were unsuccessful, and in the morning, Lot, his family, and his guests all left Sodom shortly before it was destroyed. (Yes, I'm ignoring that Lot offers his daughters in exchange, because that's an entirely different topic to explore that involves much more historical context.)
Without any other information, this is a pretty thin argument. It never says specifically that it was a group of men attempting to rape other men. It never says anything about homosexuality at all. That's just an inference based on the fact that they Hebrew word, "אנשים / anashim / people" was used. But, if we read a little further on into the bible, we'll find the only other proof we need that the story of Sodom has nothing to do with homosexuality:
Did you catch that? It's pretty obvious, even without any context. The sin of Sodom was that they were pretty disgusting people. They were greedy, they were self-obsessed, they were lazy, and they were downright mean. It has nothing to do with so-called "sodomy" (perhaps we need to redefine the word, "sodomy?"), or specifically homosexual rape. It was the evilness of rape - in any context - and being inhospitable to guests, and the poor, and anyone else who is disenfranchised. The reason Sodom and Gemorrah were destroyed was not because there were gay people, but because there were horrible people there.
So no, terrible sign-holding protesters, the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality. It was being unwelcoming and unaccepting. It was attempting to control other peoples' lives by your own standards. It was, basically, you.
There's one part of the story that's incredibly important to remember, though. When God tells Abraham that the cities will be destroyed, Abraham bargains and finally God agrees that if Abraham can find ten worthy people, the city will be saved. All it takes is a few good people to turn an entire city around. Much like The Pansy Patrol - all it takes is a few people willing to stand up and say, "this isn't right."