Earlier during this Pride month, I had the honor of attending an interactive discussion series, “A Seat at the Table with LGBTQ Friends in Faith” at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The mission of this event was to promote conversations about what it means to be Gay, African American and a person of faith in our society. The ultimate objective was to identify issues and possible solutions to change the negative experiences in our community, especially to aid the younger generations. Predictably this subject is very dear to my heart and the discussions did not disappoint.
The format was a panel of speakers followed by group discussions at each table. In addition to this, we heard the poignant poetry of South African Trans Poet and TED Fellow, Lee Mokobe. His poems about what it feels like to be transgender, especially in the hostile environment of his homeland, were both enlightening and haunting.
The table conversations revolved around a set of questions about how we can improve the relationships between communities with opposing views regarding being LGBTQ based upon a common goal. There were so many academic terms being thrown around that it may have been a bit intimidating to someone not familiar with the new politically correct terminology. I guess I’m now considered “old school gay” because I found myself Googling many of the words like intersectionality, heteronormative, cisgender, non-binary and fetishization to know exactly what they meant in the LGBTQ conversation. Hey, I admit that I’m in the community but not totally up on the lingo. Even a word like “ally” has a specific definition in the community, according to the USC LGBT Resource Center glossary. Apparently, allies are part of privileged groups that become actively involved in societal changes to change the perceptions of the oppressed group, such as Trans people. I was pleasantly surprised to see the diversity of the allies at my table, which made the discussions more engaging. For instance, hearing about the Trans youth experience and the necessity of them performing sex work to survive from the perspective of a lawyer who works as an advocate was very sobering.
There were so many great points illuminated at this event but 3 concepts stood out to me; Education, Visibility, and Respect.
The first thing needed is relevant education on many levels, especially on religion and history. Much of the irrelevant education received about the LGBTQ community is based upon religious beliefs steeped in marginalization and hatred. As Rev. Yvette Flunder, pastor of City of Refuge UCC in Oakland stated, “You need to free yourself of the notion that you have to suffer to receive something from God. All of the Bible is NOT God.” This has long been my belief. I challenge people to educate themselves on Bible history and religion and see if they still believe that the Bible is the unadulterated Word of God. The fact that there are multiple versions and translations proves it is quite adulterated. Educating ourselves on beliefs before adopting them blindly would eradicate much of the ignorant hatred spewed in the name of religion. Something as simple as being aware of the correct terminology to use in conversation is showing a willingness to broaden our minds to the changing world.
LGBTQ invisibility in the church is a challenge to connecting the faith community. We must make our stories visible, demand our rights and acknowledge our accomplishments in the church community. If it were not for Gay folks, there would absolutely be no Gospel music. Truth. If we continue to allow churches to use us up for our creativity without crediting us as being valuable members, nothing will ever change.
We need to be courageous, out and proud. My Mother used to say, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” If you are already transparent and affirming about yourself, there is nothing anyone can say to try and shame you into silence about being LGBTQ. Also, if you consider yourself an “ally”, speak up and speak out loudly against injustice.
Finally, the end goal is for us all to receive love and respect from society. It was noted that Millenials start the discussion not at acceptance, but at respect. Acceptance of LGBTQ people is simply saying I tolerate you, but respect is a whole other level of accepting their humanity without judging. Let’s stop asking for permission because the way has already been paved by earlier generations of activists. We simply need to forge ahead demanding respect, our rights and equality whether in the church or in the workplace or in public restrooms. So in the spirit of Gay Pride, please enjoy celebrating for the rest of this month and continue to demand your Seat at the Table. Bless Up!