Keep, O Lord, your Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness and minister your justice with compassion. Amen.
I am here this morning to assert that those of us in the LGBTQ community are a lucky and blessed people, and we have more work to do!
Oh yes, I know we still hear that gay folks choose to be ‘that way’. We still hear people talk about the struggles and pain of growing up in a hostile world, a world still trying to deny us equal rights in the workplace, in the voting booth and in our churches. In fact, just this past week a major religious denomination met here in Columbus and spent the entire two days of their conference berating marriage equality, the worthiness of gay people as human beings, and using the Bible to justify their divisive and hateful stance.
We know that in more than half the states it is still legal to be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Transgender persons, especially, have more limited options for employment and meaningful work. Transgender people, gay people of color, are subject to violence at alarming rates and teen suicide rates are alarming.
Whether it is immigration inequality, hate crimes, the rights of children of same-sex couples, or youth who are at a higher risk of suicide, we face struggles for total inclusion. There are still countless states, even today, where one can be fired solely on the basis of being LGBTQ. While coming out of the closet can be a source of pride for many, for others, openly stating that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender can have profoundly damaging personal and professional ramifications, causing some individuals to lose their families and their jobs.
Yes, we have many things to work on for ourselves. And I think that some in our LGBTQ community still argue ‘you must be kind to be kind to us because we have been oppressed, and because we can’t help being the way we are…’ Well, you know what? That’s not good enough. That line of reasoning is outdated and simplistic and worst of all, condescending. . . and it just isn’t true!
I’m here to let you in on a secret: For me, being a lesbian is a wonderful thing, and I wouldn’t change it if I could. I have always felt like being gay was a blessing. God made me this way and I am SO grateful! When discussions about gay rights in government and churches focus on the argument that we have no choice, they completely disregard the fact that we are whole, beautiful, blessed people. Those arguments serve to keep us in a state of victimhood, to make us feel like equal rights and opportunities would be benevolent gifts from people who were born somehow better than we, rather than what we merit as citizens and children of God.
When we say that being gay is a gift from God, at least I feel that way, we reject this fallacy. We take our place as equal members of a wonderful family of human beings and say we will not accept prejudice, or pity or demeaning comparisons.
Loving your neighbor as yourself requires you to love yourself first.
I am not a gay deacon in the Episcopal Church, but a deacon who happens to be gay. The fact that I am gay does not, and should not, and will not define my diaconate OR my being. Being gay is who I am as a person and how I witness and experience the world around me. My experience helps to inform how I understand the people in my congregations as well as the unique lives of the people in the LGBTQ community. I strive to bring this sensitivity to congregants of all sexual orientations and gender identities; indeed to all people in their diversity and uniqueness, whatever that may be.
You may hear complaints that we celebrate ‘Gay Pride’ – after all, they say, no one celebrates ‘Straight Pride’. Maybe they should!
For ‘pride’ is loving oneself, fully and completely. It is being unapologetic about any aspect our lives as God created us. It’s affirming that we are beloved children of God . . . each and every one of us in in the image of the Creator.
Gay pride or black pride or Latino pride or Islamic pride is about demanding that we be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else. Whether done subtly or with flamboyance and pizazz, pride is about us asserting our humanity in a society that so often treats others as people of lesser value, people who are wounded or are somehow rejects.
Pride is about saying ‘we want a world where there are no rejects’.
Many years ago I was asked to provide a testimony at a Methodist Church that was working toward becoming open and affirming. I related how the church had been so supportive of me as my lesbian partner of 27 years was dying of cancer. Nothing special. . . just thanks to a congregation that was struggling to become totally inclusive. I didn’t think anyone really paid much attention to me. But after the service, a young man came up to me, with tears in his eyes, thanking me for saying how much God and the church had loved and supported me. It seems that he had been rejected by family and friends and was going to go home and kill himself that very day! Because of my testimony, he now had a glimmer of hope that God created him as a gay man and there were those who accepted him as he was.
Our gay pride witnesses to others and changes lives.
The first officially recognized LGBT Pride Parade occurred in New York City in 1970 as a partial response to the Stonewall riots that occurred a year earlier; it was then known as “The Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day Parade.” Now some 45 years later, when cities across the nation and the world are filled to the brim on Pride Day with the entire spectrum of queer life, as well as their family, friends, and supporters. They (and we!) march on the streets and declare our unapologetic presence and our joy in our humanity as God created us.
So, let us spend this time with immense pride and thanksgiving for how far we have come. An increasing number of states, as well Washington, D.C., legally recognize gay marriage. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has been overturned, and a sitting United States president has openly denounced the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act.” The speed with which change is occurring, to me, is breathtaking. I NEVER thought I would see this in my lifetime!
Of course, there is more work to be done. Religious leaders and faith communities have a unique platform to bring healing to all. The first step is to fight bigotry and discrimination with love and understanding. We have the ability to fight for our cause while still embodying the same values we are fighting for. The means for action may be different for each of us. For some of us, lobbying in our state capitals for our LGBTQ equality is the way we can influence; for others, it may be working for the political candidate of your choice; for some, it may simply be being loud and making noise for issues that are important to us – this our responsibility. We can’t overlook, standing for ourselves, the truth is that sometimes just standing as your true self (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender), in our communities, is the most influential way to affect change.
We have the power to de-stigmatize the words “gay” and “transgender” just by our ability to speak them with ease. In a political environment where our society is bombarded with messages that God, religion, and the Bible denounce homosexuality, those of us who are spiritual people must teach that God is love, and that the world we believe in celebrates life and love. There is not an age too young or too old to know that our faith teaches that every person is made in the image of God, and is born with the same rights and deserve the same respect as everyone else.
And is it time to share our blessing! It is time to take our leadership, our indomitable spirits, and our insistence for inclusion of ALL in our society to helping other marginalized and persecuted people. It is impossible to stand here today in total joy and pride for what we have accomplished as LGBTQ people without remembering the tremendous hate, violence, and cruelty STILL visited upon our black brothers and sisters in every aspect of their lives. What happened this past week in Charleston, what has happened into so many cities to young black men, reveals, once again, an evil and meanness rampant in our society that belittles us all.
What we are doing to immigrants on our southern border is inhumane and evil. And we as gay people, are not fully free and fully included until all people are free and included. We MUST take our strength and our joy and our blessing and our sure knowledge of the love of God for all of us to not only work for own total inclusion, but for the well-being and safety and inclusion of ALL marginalized groups on this planet.
So this Gay Pride Day, as we see thousands of smiling people, cheering for us and with us, let us remember it is because we are standing up for justice, and love and pride for everyone. That is what we see during the Gay Pride parades held all over the world. We are gays, lesbians, transgenders and our allies marching hand-in-hand, marching in the Columbus Gay Pride Parade, under the banner of
‘Pride – Be The Change’!
Our family and friends join us with their love and pride of their LGBTQ kin. The religions represented here today stand up and say not only that they tolerate LGBTQ people, they love and respect them… they not only welcome the gay community, but that they are part of the gay community.
We will march today as family. Not as a biological family, though some such families are present here today; but as the human family united by love.
By marching in Pride, we are standing up to say that it’s not about loving the sinner while hating the sin—it’s about rejecting the idea that love is ever a sin! Even in a town that seems as open and accepting as Columbus, marching in a Pride Parade as a community of faith is a radical and important action. Even if just one person sees us, just one person who didn’t know there is a place that will love them, it will be worthwhile. We might be able to reach that one youth who has lost all hope and sees suicide as the only way out of the pain.
And I assert, that marching together in this Pride Parade today, means that we will not accept hatred or exclusion for any other human being, be they black, Latino, disabled, or of any religion. For us in the faith community, it means that we will not accept the bogus idea that any religion has the right to hurt and marginalize others. Marching today means that we are one with each other and with all humanity.
And so we march in pride, to celebrate who we are: clapping and shouting for joy, singing praises to God and saying to each other and to the world that who we are —who God made us to be —is beautiful, wonderful and holy and blessed.
Delivered at Integrity Pride Service, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 20 June 2015