A year ago, the day of the Pulse Orlando massacre I saw my timeline inundated with responses from the tragic event.
I felt compelled to write about it. I wanted to re-examine how we shoot bullets in the same way the killer of those 49-innocent people did. Our bullets may not cause death or bodily harm, but perpetrate danger to the spirit, mind, soul, and identity of LGTBQ folx:
Within 24 hours of posting, my Facebook inbox was full of angry people I knew. "How could you write this?" "So, you think homosexuality is ok?" "You're saying those people are going to Heaven when their life doesn't please God?" "You support this agenda now?" "You don't think God was punishing them for living lives of sin?" "You call yourself a Chaplain and you say their lifestyle is ok?" "I thought I knew you better." "I don't like this new version of you, you need to repent." "God isn't pleased with you. You need to turn back to him."
In the comment section of the link to the blog post over 800 comments from people I knew debating theology, spewing homophobia, and arguing with others who were talking about inclusion, love, and equity.
A group of 71 people (including a pastor I was on staff with) from a church I pastored at decided to individually send me emails expressing their disgust with the piece I'd written. And me. And my character. Calls for me to repent, seek gospel truth, stop condoning "the gay agenda", and "use my platform for good, not perpetuating sin."
A professor from my seminary sent my post to other professors I had while there and 3 of them called me to talk through the scripture and wanted to exegete the passages "carefully" so that I wasn't leading people to sin by saying we should love and stand with those who were being victimized and oppressed based off of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
This was all new for me. Both people’s strong response to something I wrote that they clearly disagreed with, but for people to disguise their hatred with theology in the wake of nearly 50 deaths.
In many ways, I felt like we'd lost sight of what that massacre meant. Who was affected. Why it happened. The pain it was causing. And the great narrative that was being crafted by us in terms of our response to discrimination and violence and what message it sends to those who also are LGTBQ and how our rhetoric makes them feel unsafe and invalidated around us.
When I left vocational ministry in pursuit of behavioral health, one of the things I told myself was that just as aggressively as I preached about sin, holiness, and living a life devoid of sin and pleasing to God (which of course was backed by theology, exegesis, and my own privilege and ignorance) that I would use my platform to stand for inclusion, equity, and love. I began to question ways that we perpetuate our own biases and phobias or are complicit in predicting discrimination in the world around us.
A year later, we must look within and work to identify the ways in which we propagate discrimination, fail to dismantle our privilege, silently consent and remain complicit to homo/transphobic rhetoric, and push away people in our lives because of our lack of understanding of their identity, the lives they live, and who they are.
We change the culture by expanding the conversations we have with the people in our sphere of influence every day and allowing those conversations to dismantle, challenge, and redirect our presuppositions.
May today be a day of mourning the loss of the victims of the Pulse Orlando shooting as well as a celebration of life for those who were able to escape. May today also be a day to reflect on the America we want to build. One that is full of justice, equity, and the beauty of our collective and diverse narratives.
We must stop “sending thoughts and prayers” or “praying for peace." They mean nothing until they are married and tightly bound with action. Action in changing what we say, how we think, how we feel, and how we treat others.
We must elevate the conversation.
But before we have a larger conversation, we must have one with ourselves, first.
Be aware that as you start to work through your presuppositions, beliefs, ideas, and feeling that you may experience a myriad of emotions- guilt, anger, astonishment, humiliation, or shame.
Also, be aware that folks that you have spent energy denying their humanity and personhood may be apprehensive about wanting to see you in a different light. It takes time. You must build trust.
No matter what, stay present and do the work.
Think through the following questions:
- Am I willing to ask honest questions and give honest answers?
- Am I willing to ask questions and seek answers from people/places/sources that don’t center my identity?
- Am I willing to continually work through my guilt, shame, or humiliation to grow?
- Am I willing to be wrong?
- Am I willing to decenter my experience so that I can truly hear the voices of those who don’t echo mine?
- What/who has informed my beliefs about LGTBQ people?
- What of those beliefs can be harmful, detrimental, or damaging to the identities of LGTBQ people you know and love?
- How can centering my feelings, religious convictions, phobias, misunderstandings, etc. over the experiences and identities of LGTBQ people be damaging?
- Do I avoid interacting with lesbians, gay men, bisexual, transgender, or queer people?
- Have I read about the unique history of resistance within the struggle for equality for LGTBQ people?
- Have I thought about the places where oppression intersects within the LGTBQ community- race, gender identity, class, ability, religion, etc.?
- Have I considered homo/transphobia privilege in places I shop or are a patron at and how that impacts LGTBQ people’s experience there?
- Have I considered homo/transphobia where I live and how that impact LGTBQ people’s experience there?
- Have I considered homo/transphobia where I worship and how that impacts LGTBQ people’s experience there?
- Have I thought about how and why I would need to reshape your relationships with LGTBQ people so that they are a place of safety?
- Is some of my discriminatory rhetoric around LGTBQ people because of my own internalized homophobia?
- What ways have I sought meaningful, genuine, and authentic connection to LGTBQ people in my life?
- Have I listened to the lived experience of LGTBQ people? Have I watched shows that center LGTBQ characters? Books that help to educate and explain various stigmas or misconceptions? Biographies of people who have come out of the closet or transitioned? Read magazines like “Out”, “The Advocate”, or “Instinct”? Watched documentaries to inform your understanding? Watched lectures on YouTube by Audre Lorde, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, or others who combine their own stories with statistical data around issues of inclusion, violence, and discrimination towards LGTBQ people?
- Have I checked your assumptions, ideals, and expectations of what can happen if something is led by a LGTBQ person?
- Have I thought about ways that you can be a strong, consistent, and always learning ally to the LGTBQ community?
- Have I thought about possible risks and consequences of the journey towards a better understanding of LGTBQ people?
- Have I thought about ways that my life can be richer and further enhanced by doing this work?
- Have I worked to eliminate the sources of homo/transphobia in your life?
- Have I surrounded myself with supportive people who will walk with me through this journey of thinking, behaving, and acting differently towards LGTBQ people?
- Have I thought about how you can do the work of ally ship from a place of understanding and love and not be fueled by guilt or the need to feel good about yourself?
- Have I thought about how you can actively work to use my privilege, access, and influence for the good of LGTBQ people?
- Have I thought about how I will talk about your new ideas, understanding, and convictions with my friends/family who are straight?
- How can my understanding of my privileges or marginalization’s improve my existing relationships with myself and others?
- Am I willing to be uncomfortable in dismantling my privilege while staying focused on the big picture?
- Do my daily actions of working through my homo/transphobia align with my intentions?
What good are our thoughts and prayers if they aren't closely aligned to decisive action?
We remember the victims of that henious attack today. We will stand and fight against homophobia so that equity and justice are brought to your blood, bodies, and legacies. I will unapologetically and vehemently always support love, not hate.