Published Jun. 19, 2016 in the Ames Tribune.
I learned about the Orlando mass murder on Sunday morning before worship. I was dilly-dallying at home because we were gathering at a congregant’s llama farm rather than our sanctuary at Sixth and Kellogg. My wife read me headlines, but I didn’t look at any of the coverage myself. During worship we prayed for the victims and the perpetrator both, as our tradition teaches us to do, but in retrospect I was functioning only at an intellectual level. I had the information but had not heard the truth.
On arriving home I turned on the news to hear President Obama’s address. When he said “This is an especially heartbreaking day for all our friends—our fellow Americans—who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” I started to cry.
My survival strategy as a Lesbian in America has been to simply reject any and all statements or efforts that diminish me as a person, as a full citizen in this nation. I am a product of my biology and I do not suffer ignorance of that reality.
But that hasn’t meant I’ve walked through the world unbruised. It bruised me to have to go to Canada to get married. It bruised me to learn that, because she retired before the Supreme Court upheld gay marriage, I will be denied survivor benefits from my wife’s pension. It bruised me to have to leave the church of my childhood because I was considered invalid. It bruised me to know that 75% of congregations in my new church considered me invalid, too.
However, my bruises heal, unlike the wounds of those who were murdered and far faster than those who were injured in Florida. And the thousands of my kind who are assaulted and killed each year in acts of violent hate. According to the FBI we are now killed at a higher rate than either African American or Jewish Americans, our nation’s two most persecuted groups, historically.
After crying, I got organized: I contacted fellow clergy, musicians at my church, and the press. I set the time for a gathering at my church the next day, Monday night, quickly designed a graphic and got it rolled out onto social media. I took the format I used in 2012 after Sandy Hook and 2015 after Mother Emanuel AME, and developed a new program, one with less talk of shock (because who is shocked anymore?) and more about anger as well as a persistent insistence on hope.
That hope was buoyed over the next 24 hours as the event post was shared over 60 times on Facebook, reaching 4,000 people. My hope grew as I saw fellow agencies and institutions invite their people to attend: PFLAG Ames, One Iowa, the ISU Queer Graduate Association, ISU’s Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Student Services, Rotary Club of Ames, Ames Progressive Alliance, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames, and many more. The Ames Police offered to come to ensure no one acted up or left us feeling unsafe. My hope found solid ground as nearly 200 people gathered at my church, from across the religious spectrum and from as far away as Des Moines.
I know that despite the improvements in civil rights for, and dramatically increased social acceptance of, LGBTQIA Americans, profound divisions remain, in part because of the faith on which I have staked my life. Broadly speaking, Christians don’t spend much time with the Biblical book of Leviticus, an ancient collection of rules and rituals for a very specific religious and cultural context, except for condemning people who happen to be gay. In those instances, it feels as if everything else in the Bible—calls to care for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger; stories of people (including Jesus) getting their comeuppance for not being generous; even Jesus eating with women and betrayers—seem to disappear.
Yet even in the face of that division, even in the wake of a hate crime such as last Sunday’s, the people of Iowa have reminded me that love will always win. Love will always win when we remember to demonstrate it publicly and without ceasing. I know how safe the closet may feel, even for our allies who shy away from speaking of queer family and friends, but it will always turn lethal because such a dark and windowless place suffocates us all.
The only way to honor the dead and the wounded is to cry, to get organized, and to live. And that’s a truth I hope we all hear.