Last month, I had the wonderful pleasure of working with a great group of friends, colleagues and volunteers to make Charlotte Pride a resounding success this year. Last issue, I thanked a great many people without whom the festival and the parade wouldn’t have been possible (goqnotes.com/24734/). But, in this column, I’ll turn my attention, as I have in times past, to Dr. Michael Brown, one of the area’s leading anti-LGBT activists.
For several years now, Brown has attempted to engage Charlotte’s local LGBT community. Over the past few years — last year a notable exception — Brown has often led a large group of his anti-gay followers into Charlotte’s annual Pride festivities. They’ve interacted with attendees, prayed with attendees and spread harmful, false and hate-filled messages — driving an already outcast community further away from the church rather than closer to it.
This year, though, Brown took up a different outreach strategy. There were no press releases or public proclamations. He held no large, flashy prayer service near the festival. There was no mass influx of red-shirted anti-gay missionaries. Instead, he says, and at nearly last minute, about 40 of his students at Concord’s FIRE School of Ministry and other friends of the school headed into the festival crowd, clipboards in hand, to administer a survey entitled, “Are You Open Minded?”
I called his tactics underhanded, dishonest and deceitful, an assessment with which Brown has taken strong disagreement as we discussed together when I appeared on his radio show earlier this month (bit.ly/1dV3n3N). Brown has said he had no intent to deceive. Yet, several missteps led to a great feeling of distrust and deceit among some survey takers.
Several concerns became apparent after I spoke to some survey participants. Chiefly, the survey was administered by students, leading some to wrongly believe the survey was for some educational course credit.
“They seemed like they were students and it was for a class assignment,” one survey participant told me. “I never want to be one who won’t let someone do something educational.”
Yet, after several questions, the survey taker became increasingly uncomfortable with its direction and tone and stopped answering questions.
Some survey participants were not fully-informed about how their answers would be used — primarily, that they might be published in Brown’s nationally-syndicated column and broadcast on his nationally-syndicated radio show. It’s simply unethical to engage members of the public in a survey without fully informing them how their answers will be used.
And, at least one survey participant with whom I spoke says survey administrators never identified themselves as being with Brown’s school; the would-be survey taker says he looked at the questions and quickly declined because they “seemed a bit baiting.”
Given Brown’s history, I believe, of falsely representing the aims of local and national LGBT advocacy efforts and the several missteps witnessed in the survey’s methodology, administration and publication, I can only conclude that the survey was designed for the simple purpose of pointing out some moral flaw in the attendees of Charlotte Pride. Further, the survey, and its ultimate publication in print and in radio, served simply to embarrass those who participated in it, demonstrated especially by two young women whom Brown’s staff videotaped and later published online as an “example” of what Brown called “moral confusion.”
Brown and I have had our many disagreements, and he and I will likely never see eye-to-eye on his use of militant, violent religious rhetoric. Yet, I believe him when he told me during his radio show that he had no intention to deceive. Brown has often stated that he seeks to honestly and intently engage with LGBT people. I’ve had a meal with him and spoken with him many times. But, his latest engagement tactic was a spectacular failure of honest outreach. Instead of sowing seeds of trust, it left a lasting impression of just the opposite; instead of inspiring further engagement, it left many fleeing from the conversation and feeling like they had been tricked. To his credit, Brown apologized on air to those who felt deceived.
I’d suggest that the survey and its results are best used not as some example of “moral confusion,” but rather as a phenomenal example for Brown and his students; that is to say, how best not to engage with the LGBT community. If Brown truly seeks honest conversation, one would hope all participants in that conversation would leave the exchange with a collective, positive experience. That many people felt otherwise should be a clear sign of “honest” engagement gone wrong. : :
more: Brown’s “Are You Open Minded?” survey consisted of seven questions. Read Matt’s answers to those seven questions online at his personal blog, interstateq.com/archives/5532/.