June 10, 2018
From my heart to yours in light of the Orlando shooting and LGBTQ Pride Month.
Flashback to 2008: There I was, a junior in high school, at a church retreat dance I was helping lead in Colorado Springs. A slower song came on and suddenly boys and girls paired up to dance together. Angel, who was at my table, and I decided we would join everyone else. So we began to slowly sway together to the music. Earlier in the day, Angel confided in me that because he was gay, he was really scared he was going to hell. Without pausing, I told him with conviction that he wasn’t going to hell and that he was loved for who he was. I then confided in him that I was dating a girl and was really glad he was on the retreat. As we continued to dance, looking at all the other boy-girl pairs dancing, Angel quietly asked me, “Do you ever wish you could just be normal?” I didn’t say anything as the song ended because I already felt the weight of all that his comment carried.
Over the next several years, as I began to experience romance and getting to know my sexuality, I was afflicted by what the religious culture in which I had been raised had to say about what I was experiencing. Words such as sinful, abomination, abhorrent, detestable and unworthy of the love of the Creator come to mind. I cannot bring myself to further describe the dehumanizing view that is taught about non-heterosexual and non-gender-conforming people because I dare not speak of it and give it any more credence. In college, I decided I wanted nothing to do with Christianity because of how damaging it was to me as I was coming to understand my sexual orientation. After college, when I stepped into All Pilgrim’s Christian Church on Capitol Hill, where I was to live during my UCC JLP year of service, I was greeted by a giant rainbow banner of welcome every night when I came home. And that’s what the UCC has become for me: a place and a people to call home. There was a place in the world where two essential parts of my identity weren’t mutually exclusive. What a surprise and joy it was for me to see LGBTQ people, open about who they were, in the congregation and in positions of leadership.
As if the internalized shame from the religious culture wasn’t enough, I quickly learned to follow the rules of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture of our society. Just don’t talk about your dating life. Maybe no one will ask since you usually “pass” for straight. Maybe from afar they think she’s your boyfriend. Be careful what you say, who you tell, because you just never know how someone will respond. Move across the country so you can live as freely as possible. Create a new home; find a safe place and community to quietly exist within. Without knowing it, I had internalized the fear that so quickly becomes an effective tool to keep queer people hidden in the closet. I had been silenced.
What happened in Orlando is horrific and disturbing on so many levels as the lives of mostly queer, trans, Latinx and youth of color were taken or marred by unspeakable violence and terror. As a member of the queer community it instantly shattered my own sense of safety. Orlando instantly overwhelmed me with the reminder that as a queer person I am always evaluating and wondering if I’m safe because of whose hand I may be holding. However, it is the intersection of our identities that determine the relative safety and acceptance we experience. Yes, I may be holding a queer woman’s hand, but I am seen as less “threatening” to the heteronormative, white-supremacist and Christian patriarchy because of my white skin, because I am gender conforming (cis-gendered), because I have citizenship status, and by the fact that I was raised Christian.
Yes, I too go to queer nightclubs to exhale and feel a sense of relief, freedom, safety, and joy as I dance the night away surrounded by my beautiful queer family. However, my white, cis-gendered body is not under daily attack like it is for people who are queer-trans-people-of-color (QTPOC). On Sunday, June 12, a sanctuary of queer Latinx space was desecrated.
To my action-oriented UCC family, what can we do at a time like this? As always, we must ask ourselves, who are the most vulnerable and marginalized in our community and in what ways are they asking us to stand with them? Orlando quickly calls us to go beyond open and affirming statements and rainbow flags. We must be willing to leave our places of comfort and privilege to transform our society into one that protects and affirms the existence of our siblings who are queer, and trans, and people of color.
I invite you to take a few moments with the following:
I share all of this out loud, in the public sphere, because if I have learned anything, it is that we must not be silent in the face of hate, oppression, and fear. We must confront these acts of terror on the QTPOC community with the conviction that the Love That Surpasses All Understanding cannot, and will not, be defeated or extinguished because we are the ones who will daily bring this Love into existence.
Eight years later, I think back to that dance with Angel and his question that still lingers in the air. Knowing what I know now and knowing that I will face a lifetime of struggle, if I had any say in the matter, I would not change my sexual orientation. How I experience the world as a queer lesbian woman is a gift. My hope is that we will create a society and culture that values, embraces and protects the diversity and fluidity of human sexuality and gender identity as beautiful aspects of the human experience.
For all those who first stepped out of the closet to courageously live with authenticity, thank you. For everyone in my queer family and loving allies who have been there over the years, I could not have made it this far and I would not want to do life without you. To all in the LGBTQ community who have publically and politically refused to be silenced, risking your life so that we are treated with dignity and respect, we follow in your footsteps.
Let us continue showing up and alongside those who are most marginalized and afflicted. We must not waiver in challenging oppressive narratives and systems. Together, let us be co-creators of the kin-dom of God here on earth.
And, in the midst of our grief, may we find the strength to continue dancing. -Briana Frenchmore
Learn more about the UCC’s Proyecto Encuentros de Gracia y Bienvenida for the LGBTQ Latinx community in our denomination and their statement following the shooting.