Posted tagged ‘LGBT’

#Orlando #Pulse #Heroes

June 13, 2016

Yesterday morning I was still in bed, lying next to my wife as she slept. As is my habit, I grabbed my iPad to check the news. The headlines read something like “20 Dead in Nightclub Shootings,” [a few hours later we learned that the number was 50] and these early articles neglected to mention that the bar, the patrons, the bartenders, were queer people. But they knew… and I knew. 

Queer people have magical powers. Among those is invisibility. Sometimes we make ourselves invisible for various reasons (including basic survival), and sometimes it’s other people, and society in general, who can’t / don’t / won’t see us. But one of the things about this magical power is the ability to see levels of reality that haven’t been fully expressed. We frequently can see through others’ invisibility — and through attempts to make us and our lives invisible. Thus, I read through the invisibility cloak cast by the New York Times and other media in their earliest submissions. So did some of my friends in their posts: “Please, God — don’t let this be at a gay bar!” even while, on some level, knowing that it was.

Once upon a time, a long time ago in a world far away, I was a bartender. I worked in a place much like Pulse. The weekend clientele was 75% gay men, 20% lesbians, and a few straight people. Mostly the latter were there with friends, and a few others who just liked the music and the vibe. But there were the occasional ones who were motivated by less-noble factors. Often the bartenders would notice, sometimes a patron would point out someone acting odd, and sometimes it would be a bouncer who knew that this person needed to go. A quiet-ish conversation between bouncer and customer, an arm in the person’s elbow to escort them to the door, and they were gone. And the party continued.

Knowing from my own experience that bouncers are strong, mostly silent heroes, it didn’t surprise me when I read that one of them had knocked down a wall or partition. Behind this wall was an employees-only area — and an exit to the outside, to safety. Unnamed in the story, maybe this was Kimberly “K.J.” Morse — one of those who died. (Or maybe not.)

I hated that the media was already turning to the evil, to the perpetrator, focusing on the “terrorism” (by which they meant a dark-skinned “radical Jihadist” because those are the only terrorists, right?) aspect of the story. That, and guns and other angles can and will be the subject of other conversations. But just then I wanted to know something different. I wanted to see hope. I wanted to see humanity. I needed to see the heroes.

By then I was up, flipping through the TV channels.

There was this guy, the guy in the hat on the left. He was interviewed (I think on CNN, but I was in a channel-flipping blur, so I can’t be sure), and he talked about escaping, running to safety — but then he saw someone else bleeding, so he stepped out of his safety zone to help carry this person to the back of a pickup truck to be taken to the hospital. All the ambulances were full.


NY Daily News photo gallery

Next I heard a story about a man who came to the scene to see if he could find news about his brother. He managed to get closer, inside the crime tape barrier, nearer to where there was still an “active shooter” situation. Even while searching for his loved one, he too helped to transport a messy, bleeding person away from the scene.

Then I heard this hero’s story:

Other heroes and sheroes include the many people who stood in line in the hot sun for hours so that they could donate much-needed blood. Some of these were people visiting DisneyWorld; some were Muslims during their Ramadan fasting time. No one did it for the accolades.

It took some hunting behind the story that the media was intent on telling, the story of the bad guy. But I loved these stories of ordinary people, queer and not, who found themselves in ugly, extraordinary circumstances and stepped up — some even in the face of danger.

In the introduction to David Copperfield, Charles Dickens wrote, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” Even in our times when it often seems like darkness prevails, there are stories of light — stories of ordinary people who do the right thing, thus becoming our heroes, and the heroes of their own lives.

GA 220: Intertwining our lives

June 27, 2012

But those who wait For Yhwh
find a renewed power:

they soar on eagles’ wings,
they run and don’t get weary,
they walk and never tire.

Isaiah 40:31
The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation
Priests for Equality


“Wait” in Isaiah 40:31 is the transliteration from the Hebrew qavah, which can mean to twist, to bind, to braid like a rope. This verse reveals the active nature of intertwining one’s life with the life of God. When this intertwining is being done, that person is made strong. Those who “wait” upon God—intertwine their lives with God’s—are made strong.

To “wait” for God can also be seen as the cultivating of an attitude of hope and patient expectation—the very definition of faith. Hebrew words often have multiple meanings. The verb qavah can also be a waiting for God to act, to bring vindication or to rescue the people from oppression; here, however, it is more a kind of quiet inaction: by waiting for God’s empower­ment instead of relying on one’s own resources, one receives an inexhaustible supply of strength.

How often do we in the church hear the words “I’m tired” or “we’re tired”? I remember at the last General Assembly in Minneapolis when the Committee on Marriage and Civil Unions report came to the plenary: almost immediately, a commissioner came to a microphone and proclaimed, “Friends, I’m tired: we’re tired,” followed by a motion to table everything that came out of that committee’s hard work throughout the week.

I wonder:
How often do the words “I’m tired: we’re tired” really mean
“I’m afraid: we’re afraid”?

What must it have felt like to have served on that committee to then have their work disregarded like that?

The Assembly then adjourned with prayer and the singing of John Bell’s hymn, “The Summons”:

  1. Will you come and follow me
    If I but call your name?
    Will you go where you don’t know
    And never be the same?
    Will you let my love be shown,
    Will you let my name be known,
    Will you let my life be grown
    In you and you in me?
  2. Will you leave yourself behind
    If I but call your name?
    Will you care for cruel and kind
    And never be the same?
    Will you risk the hostile stare
    Should your life attract or scare?
    Will you let me answer pray’r
    In you and you in me?
  3. Will you let the blinded see
    If I but call your name?
    Will you set the pris’ners free
    And never be the same?
    Will you kiss the leper clean,
    And do such as this unseen,
    And admit to what I mean
    In you and you in me?
  4. Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
    If I but call your name?
    Will you quell the fear inside
    And never be the same?
    Will you use the faith you’ve found
    To reshape the world around,
    Through my sight and touch and sound
    In you and you in me?
  5. Lord, your summons echoes true
    When you but call my name.
    Let me turn and follow you
    And never be the same.
    In your company I’ll go
    Where your love and footsteps show.

I wonder how many of the commissioners thought of those impacted by their refusal to deal with the issues before them—LGBT people and our relationships—as they sang the words, “will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?” Not many, I think.

That was pretty much it, and we all went home. On the way out the door I talked with a heartbroken minister who lives and serves in a state where same gender marriage is legal; she expressed her deep disappointment in what had taken place, saying “We need guidance from the denomination; we feel like we’re out here on our own.”

And so we wait. We wait for the start of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Some are commissioners, some are advocates for overtures or AIs, some are behind-the-scenes workers or committee staff, some are observers. (I’ll be there as an observer and part of That All May Freely Serve.) As we wait, let’s all take some time to reflect on our lives being interwoven—braided together as one with God and with one another.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

November 20, 2011


We all have friends. Some, of course, are closer than others. Some are close enough that we call them our chosen family.

I had a friend named Greg who was like that.

Greg was transgender. More accurately, Greg was bi-gender–the only person I’ve ever known to use that terminology. Ze (a gender-neutral pronoun often preferred by transgender people) was also Delia (deh-LIE-a) but the personal expression that I knew best was Greg.

[I know this sounds weird. That’s because I don’t have the right words, not because of the person I knew and loved. Greg/Delia wasn’t a multiple personality. Ze flowed freely back and forth, but was mostly integrated into one being. It’s hard for me to explain, but I never had a problem with it because of the human being who ze was. But since I knew Greg best, I’ll use Greg for this post.]

Greg lived in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. Ze had a great old apartment at Geary and Leavenworth. The Tenderloin is a very rough-edged place with its obvious homeless people, substance users and sellers, and sex workers, but it’s also very real, with many charms (even if they’re a bit frayed). From the street, the building looked run-down and funky, but as soon as you crossed through the solid wood door you were in a beautiful place built in the 1930s. To get to Greg’s apartment you walked up two sweeping round staircases with thick carpeting and polished wooden bannisters. It was a world unto itself. (Go here for a fascinating look at the Tenderloin.)

We spent many hours in hir (gender-neutral possessive pronoun) apartment. This was in the mid-1980s. I lived in the Castro, but Greg wasn’t as comfortable there–and Delia definitely was uncomfortable there. We cooked and ate together, we laughed and told stories. We went to the movies. We often went to a bar on the corner of hir block–the Hob Nob Lounge.

The Hob Nob was a mostly male-to-female transgender bar but there were some older gay men who hung out there too. This was the kind of place that opened at 6:00a.m. and stayed open until 2:00a.m. There was a little bar with about five barstools, and about four tables: the capacity of the place had to be around 20 patrons. This was the epitome of a Tenderloin dive bar. The bartenders were all very protective. I’m not petite by any measure, but the one who was there most often when I went in absolutely dwarfed me. I certainly wouldn’t mess with hir! It was best to walk in with someone who was a regular customer–someone like my friend. Unlike in the Castro, drinks were cheap and they were strong. I mostly knew the daytime clientele, since I didn’t often stay in the Tenderloin after dark unless Greg and I were having a slumber party. I was busy living my wild lesbian life in those days, but I probably averaged a trip to the Tenderloin once or twice a week.

Greg had come to San Francisco from Dallas. He (and I use that intentionally here) had grown up in a small West Texas town that a queer kid can’t wait to get away from. Ze had a strong Texas accent and a great laugh and a twinkle in zir eye that made you want to know the story behind it.

But, as with all of us, there was baggage. The worst part for Greg was being estranged from family of origin. It was “bad enough” for them when Greg came out as a gay man, but when ze came out to them as transgender/bi-gender, they just couldn’t listen any longer, so ze left and they never talked again. Greg wanted to be a happy-go-lucky person, so that was what ze projected, but there was so much more that wasn’t let out that it led to self-medication. Not just the alcohol consumed at the Hob Nob, but ze also got into drugs–marijuana, then both speed and heroin. And then Greg got AIDS and quickly died.

I miss Greg. I miss Delia. I’m only reminiscing. There’s no lesson here. Well, I guess there is: people are people, and you never know how wonderful someone is until you take a risk and get to know them. This is true no matter what their worldly condition is. I’m just glad that I once had Greg in my life.

+ + + + +

Transgender Day of Remembrance is on November 20. For more information go to http://www.transgenderdor.org/.

Matthew Shepard

October 7, 2011

Just before going to church on Sunday, October 9, I checked my email. Included was a message from Fenceberry, telling about the beating of a young man in Wyoming. His life hung in the balance at that time. I went to church and cried. Fortunately, this was at an LGBT-inclusive church, the kind of place where I could share this during the Prayers of the People.

I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said by so many others. I’m just remembering Matthew, and thinking about his parents–particularly about his mother Judy, who has become such a strong advocate and spokesperson, despite and because of her deep, deep loss.

God Made Me Queer

August 10, 2011

I grew up in church. I’m of that post-WWII Baby Boomer era when just about everyone went to church. My parents didn’t, but they thought that we kids should, so one of them took us to church and dropped us off and then picked us up afterwards. They — especially Mom — said that it was optional (but we knew that it pretty much wasn’t). We went to the Presbyterian church because the lady up the street invited us to go there, and she had taken us for awhile until they moved away. My family was pretty much poor, but she drove a beautiful gray 1953 Cadillac that I loved riding in. I guess that’s the foundation of my theology.

I took church and religion and God and Jesus seriously as a kid. The pastor invited me to use his office — his “study” — and I got to sit alone in this wonderful book-smelling semi-dark room and explore his library. I don’t remember when this was, because I always went to Sunday school and I always went to worship. It’s just one of those vague memories without a particular framing. But I got to read and look at his religious art books and feel the Spirit.

How’s that for growing up queer?

Then life happened. Yeah, high school and all that in the late 1960’s. War, foment, assassinations. No wonder we took drugs. And all the while a feeling that I was …different — a feeling without a name.

My plan was to go to college, then seminary, and then to become a minister. I’d never met a minister who was woman at that time, but that didn’t matter: I felt God’s strong call.

But first, a break. I left high school to go on the road for awhile. I hitchhiked around and worked here-and-there and saw the country and looked for myself, trying to figure out that …difference. I went off to college having not figured it out, my plan delayed but still intact. As a matter of fact, I went to Sonoma State, only about 30 miles from San Francisco Theological Seminary.

And then… I fell in love. I’d dated a little, but it was always pretty much like going out with a friend or even a brother, with no special attraction or sexual feeling. But when I fell in love — and it was with a woman — all of a sudden, there was that zing! and I knew what that …difference had been about all along.

Sonoma State in the early 1970s was a relatively easy place to be queer — at least for lesbians. But when I came out to my parents, it wasn’t so easy. My mom — who hadn’t been a churchgoer through my childhood — went to the pastor of the church. I now believe that it was his ignorance due to they times, but in essence he tried to counsel me to be straight. Not in that evil, go-to-ex-gay-therapy kind of way, but in that heterosexual assumption kind of way. But despite my new queerness, I knew that I had finally found myself, so I knew that his suggestion was absurd.

I didn’t see my parents for the next three years. I didn’t see the inside of a church for the next twenty years.

[Fast forward…]

Well, needless to say, I didn’t go to seminary. After almost nine years in my coming out relationship, I was single again. I moved to San Francisco. This was in the early 1980s. I had a well-paying, dress-up corporate job by day; I was a wild party dyke riding a motorcycle by nights and weekends. And my best friend was a gay man. There was lots that was great about life at that time, but there was a newly-emerging reality: AIDS (even though it was an unnamed mystery disease at that time). We watched as it began to decimate the community around us. We saw it move into the circle of our friends. At that time AIDS was quick and it was deadly. So I got involved in meal delivery and hand-holding projects. But it wasn’t enough.

My best friend had also gone to church as a kid. He also hadn’t been in a church in many years. He too felt the void. So we decided that we would go to church together. After all, MCC San Francisco was only a few blocks from where I lived. But just thinking of it dredged up the old pain. So we talked about it but didn’t go. Finally, we decided this was the week. He came by and we walked up the street, only to find a sign on the door: “We’ve all gone to Sacramento. Come back next week!” So instead we went to brunch — a queer religious ritual in itself. The next week, when we approached the church, I read the sign out front: this time it said: “Preaching this week is Janie Spahr.”

For me this was a coming home. Janie was a Presbyterian minister. She had been on the staff of MCC-SF, but was then the director of Ministry of Light, an LGBT ministry in Marin.

I attended MCC for awhile, but it was never quite right. But what I loved about being there is the way that MCC does communion. First of all, it’s every week. Also, it isn’t just a little mumbo-jumbo say-the-magic-words and pass-the-plates ritual. Communion at MCC is a deep sacrament, a holy experience, which includes prayer and reconciliation. It’s a queer experiencing of connecting with the Christ.

[Fast forward again]

Another girl in my church youth group also felt …different. When I fell in love I came out to her. She was then married to a man and living in Ohio. Ten years after I came out, she came out; and, coming out and falling in love, she wanted me to meet her partner. They came up to San Francisco to visit me. I would see her, and them, and sometimes just her partner over the next number of years. It was a nice friendship.

And then my friend died. She went into rehab for alcoholism, but when they did the medical intake they transferred her to the hospital — and it was too late. I came to Southern California for her memorial service. During the process of mourning her death, her partner who had also become my friend and I fell in love. I returned to San Francisco, but it was only three months until we knew that we wanted to be together forever.

Melinda wanted to go to church. The church where I had grown up was close by; this was where her partner’s memorial service had been held. The pastor had told Melinda that it was a More Light church (Presbyterian for open and affirming, LGBT inclusive). After a couple of weeks we had the pastor over for tea and cookies, and then we joined the church.

In 2008 when we had the opportunity, Melinda and I got married. We’d never had a public ceremony of any kind, but we knew that we wanted to share this occasion with our family and friends, our neighbors and co-workers. We knew that it was more than a legality, but a Christian marriage as well — and we wanted it to be in our church. Our then-pastor officiated at the service, and we had around 30 ordained clergy and numerous elders attend. We had witnesses, and we were a witness.

So what is all this? It’s my crazy hodgepodge of a story. It wasn’t the post that I’d intended to write, but the one that ended up writing itself. Words. God. Words describing my life, a queer life inseparable from my experience of God. Me telling my own story for myself. No apologies.

And as we sang in my youth group all those years ago:

God likes me just the way I am.
I turned out just right.
But I’ll sing it again in case I forget,
And strange as it seems, I might.

Amen.


Queer Theology Synchroblog info and links to other posts can be found here.

Why Gay Marriage is a Bad Idea

July 24, 2011

No, not in this way…

But now that I used this cheap ploy to get you here, please stick around and read this post.

My wife and I are one of the estimated 18,000 same-gender couples that legally married in California before the enactment of Proposition 8. Days like today are tough. While we rejoice with and applaud the decision of New York State to allow same gender-loving couples to legally marry, there is a bittersweetness to it. I have faith that one of these days this horrendous provision will be overturned.

In the meantime, back to that “gay marriage” thing…

I sometimes joke (in an unfunny way) that we are gay-married. That’s the thing: we are. We’re legally married in the State of California (since Prop 8 didn’t invalidate our marriages), and our relationship is now accepted and recognized in New York. This is a good thing. What’s bad is that, as we travel around the country, some states say that we’re married, others say no; some say that our legal domestic partnership is legally valid (even when our marriage isn’t), while others don’t — and many states hold that we are legal strangers. This makes for complicated travel. What if we were in an accident? What if… well, what if lots of different scenarios that legally married heterosexual couples take for granted? (And, as a matter of fact, privileges that UNmarried heterosexual couples are granted, just because they are a male-female couple.) See? Gay married. See? Not funny… Not funny at all.

What we seek, and the only thing that makes legal sense and the only thing that is a true “fit” with the foundational ideas of the United States of America’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is MARRIAGE EQUALITY.

Conservatives call it gay marriage again and again and again until it's been ingrained in our psyches. The media has gulped the Kool-Aid on this because it's an easy shorthand term. But it's wrong, and we shouldn't use it! Words matter.

There are thousands of legal rights afforded to legal couples composed of a woman and a man. Various numbers are thrown around, but the truth is that no one even knows the exact number! Some of these are narrow and don’t apply to many people, but others are almost universal. These include the right to be taxed fairly and equally, the right to own property together, the right of survivor benefits — including Social Security, and on and on. The thing that’s common in these is that they are conferred by the federal government.

In order to have true, honest MARRIAGE EQUALITY, the federally-imposed Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has got to go. It’s legal bigotry, and it creates a separate class of people to discriminate against — a truly unAmerican law.

There is legislation that has been introduced in Congress called the Respect for Marriage Act. This would repeal DOMA. It would take us out of the status of being “gay married” and would provide for full legal MARRIAGE EQUALITY.

This bill has been introduced in the House by Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and in the Senate by Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). Both versions are the same, and both have a number of co-sponsors. If you’d like to know if your elected officials are among them, here is the House list (click on View Co-Sponsors) and here is the list of Senators. This would be a great time to contact yours and urge them to co-sponsor this legislation — or to thank them if they’re already on the list. We live in troubling times, and if you don’t actively participate in the system it will remain so. Know that those who oppose marriage equality are the ones who are the most vocal!

Thank you Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, and Representative Judy Chu!

By the way, President Obama has endorsed this legislation, so thanks to him too.

So, like many, I join my voice in saying INY today — but let’s not stop at celebrating this little victory and forgetting that there’s far more to do before we achieve true marriage equality.

Book Review: “Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965”

July 4, 2011

Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965Wide-Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965 by Nan Boyd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As usual, I finished this book a long time ago and forgot to review it…

I liked this book. It’s full of stories of people who lived queer lives well before Stonewall, well before I came out (in 1973). I’d recommend it to LGBT people and allies who are interested in what things were like “back then”. So many of those chronicled in this book have died. We need to know and appreciate their stories and what they did to create the world that is changing for the better so rapidly today.

View all my reviews