Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Why Mayor Taylor's Comments Disturb and Offend People Who Aren't Religious

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 12:20 PM

click to enlarge NOWCASTSA FILMED TAYLOR'S REMARKS CALLING POVERTY A SYMPTOM OF GODLESSNESS
  • NowCastSA filmed Taylor's remarks calling poverty a symptom of godlessness
This week San Antonio went viral in a very unflattering way – that is, if you’re not a social conservative or worry about religion guiding politicians' actions on some of society's most serious challenges, like addressing the root causes of poverty.

It looks like a blogger at Patheos.com, a website that covers religion and spirituality, was the first to point out the problematic nature of Taylor's comments at a mayoral forum moderated by San Antonio Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia earlier this month. The blogger linked to a video of the April 3 forum that was live-streamed by the hyperlocal journalism nonprofit NowCastSA. When asked about the root causes of systemic poverty, Taylor's go-to answer is to blame a lack of faith. Or, to be more specific:
"It's broken people, you know. People not being in relationship with their Creator, and therefore not being in a good relationship with their families and their communities and, you know, not being productive members of society. So I think that's the ultimate answer." 
Patheos blogger Michael Stone was unsparing in his criticism, saying Taylor's comments "show nothing but contempt for poor people and atheists." The video of Taylor's comments reached viral status after the Huffington Post covered them on Monday.

Taylor's initial reaction was to claim the video had been "intentionally edited to mislead viewers," which is weird considering NowCast had posted footage of the entire 90 minute forum. "I have devoted my life to breaking the chains of generational poverty," Taylor wrote in a prepared statement this week. "I’ve done so because of my faith in God and my belief in Jesus’s ministry on Earth."

Since the blowup (which coincides with early voting), others have equivocated for the mayor, implying the her comments were blown out of proportion or perhaps just misunderstood. In a column today, Garcia writes that maybe Taylor was just playing to the crowd (the question that prompted the response was, after all, from someone with a Christian-based nonprofit).

Or perhaps you should believe Taylor's pivot immediately following her "broken people" comments, that her views on the root causes of poverty in no way have anything to do with how she handles the issue as mayor. "That’s not something that I work on from my position as mayor of the community," she said, before diving into a short rundown of why bad education and teen pregnancy are also two causes of poverty. Oh, and if atheists and other people who identify as non-believers feel particularly burned by Taylor right now, that's because of their, as Garcia put it, "misunderstanding" of what she said.

Many people disagree, including a coalition of San Antonio secular groups that are petitioning for the mayor to simply meet with them so they can explain why they find such comments from a public official disturbing and offensive. "It was insulting not only to non-religious people, but also to people living in poverty," Sean Rivera, 21, told the Current. Rivera, the president of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of Texas at San Antonio who started the petition, has a pretty simple goal. "I want to see if we can get her to at least sit down with us and understand and see why those statements are offensive."

Here's how Rivera characterized Taylor's comments: "As a public official, you are telling us that not sharing your religious beliefs is a negative thing. And even for those who do value their religious beliefs — if they're in poverty or struggling, you're suggesting indirectly or directly that they might deserve that." (You can see his petition here.)

Rivera says Taylor's comments don't come in a vacuum. He points to Taylor's opposition years ago when officials updated San Antonio's equal rights ordinance to contain protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The fight over the non-discrimination ordinance ended with a lot of bruises. One of Taylor's colleagues in opposition to the ordinance, former councilwoman Elisa Chan, was unapologetic when caught on tape calling transgender people "disgusting." Taylor later called the ordinance "a waste of time." Chan was among the speakers who introduced Taylor at last week's state of the city address.

To people like Rivera, the non-discrimination ordinance and Taylor's practice of keeping the LGBTQ community at an arms length ever since are signs of religious ideology getting in the way of her role as a public servant. "It's hard to separate ideology when you see policy decisions that can do tangible damage to a community that you feel a certain way about because of your faith."

As we've pointed out, Taylor has been a no-show at all political forums hosted by LGBTQ groups this campaign season. That's despite continued engagement and pushing from activists like Robert Salcido, who the mayor picked to be on a panel that advises her on LGBTQ issues. Salcido says he can't separate the recent godlessness-causes-poverty comments from the way Taylor has treated the gay community in her time as mayor.

"She meets regularly with churches, regularly with religious leaders, has prayer breakfasts," Salcido said. "What other communities is she taking steps to be engaged with at that level? I don’t see that anywhere else ... she represents this community, too, regardless of what her faith would have her believe."

"I wanted her to engage with earn some respect in this community," he said. "I have not been successful in that."

On Wednesday at 4 p.m., a large coalition of groups (like the Pride Center SA, Texas Freedom Network, Move SA, Lez Ride, Bexar County Young Democrats, San Antonio Progressive Alliance, PolitiQueers, and UTSA Progressive Dems) are throwing an event on the Main Street Strip to meet and talk with candidates. Clark High School student and first time voter Sloan Martin says she organized the event to show candidates the queer community wants to meet and get to know people running for office just like any community would.

"We vote, we're politically active, and we demand that our communities be safe, welcoming places for us," Martin told the Current. "We want to know who our equality-driven candidates are."

Out of the main contenders running for mayor this year, Martin said Taylor's campaign is the only one that hasn't said whether it will show.


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