I just came across this article recently published in The Atlantic, about a handful of women in a small Minnesota town who, in response to a marriage-ban amendment being put on the ballots for November, decided to buy some rainbow flags and distribute them. As I read about Gwin Pratt, the senior pastor at St. Luke Presbyterian Church, who started the rainbow flag campaign, I was reminded of how essential straight allies are – particularly in the church, who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone in the name of equality. A couple of things in particular struck me:
Ivins is pleased to see how the movement has taken off. “If I were the only one with the flag, I might feel like, ‘Um, okay, I’m not sure.’ But there’s strength in numbers,” she explained. “If you see seven rainbow flags on our street, I think it makes people feel more empowered.”
The power of community is indeed what gave Johnson, who describes himself as a relatively private person, the confidence to put up a flag. “I’m this gay man in the suburbs but because everyone around me is there to help me, it’s like, ‘Okay, this is cool. I’m normal’….
…Especially striking in this digital era is that simple face-to-face conversations — not charged political advertisements or overly emotional YouTube videos — are changing opinions and outlooks. “They’ve done just what they were intended to,” Watsabaugh says of the flags. “They’ve been a source often of curiosity from other people and neighbors. So when the opportunity presented itself, we told people what it was for.”
Because of Reverend Pratt’s decision to act on her idea of handing out flags, she has both empowered other residents of the area (who may not have been quite as willing to do so), to do the same; and, she has encouraged conversation among people – real live face-to-face conversation – about the flags.
I have experienced enough over the last couple of years to see that showing support for an LGBT person does not always garner support among friends. I am very close to a good number of straight people who have seen their faith communities fractured over questions of LGBT ordination – some of these people spoke out specifically because my partner and I are two of a handful of gay people they know. They have experienced the alienation of losing their church home – had to hear all sorts of horrible things roll off the tongues of people they’ve known for years – hateful slurs disguised in kind voices that say things like: “I don’t mean it to be personal…you know I love you…the Bible says…love the sinner, hate the sin…”
There are times when it pains me to think about the things people I’m close to have to endure when they step out and speak on behalf of LGBT people – on behalf of me. It’s in those times, though, when I am reminded that change is not possible for a marginalized group without the efforts of and partnership with those who are not marginalized. I think about all of the people who have made it possible for me to be where I am as a queer woman – to have gone through seminary as an out lesbian, to be an ordained [ruling] elder in a church, even to be writing this blog on the intersection of queer life and church life; none of that would have been possible had people before me not spoken out. I think about the people who have encouraged me to add my voice to the conversation, who have helped me to recognize injustice and empowered me to respond, taught me about the importance of humility and endurance and sabbath and love in all of this.
To look at it on the surface, it’s scary to put your neck on the line when it seems you aren’t the one whose got something to lose – when it’s not your marriage, or morality, or personhood that is being attacked. It often seems easier to step back, to avoid doing what is right for someone else because it is inconvenient for me. The thing is, injustice in society impacts every part of that society – it manifests itself in different ways, and it certainly comes down harder on some than others, but the whole “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality only reinforces the lie that we are all alone in this world.
I’m reminded of the quote by Martin Niemoller, the Lutheran minister who, after supporting Hitler’s early rise to power, eventually spoke out agains not only Hitler and the Nazi party, but also agains the political apathy that often comes in the face of injustice:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
The funny thing about hatred is that it doesn’t discriminate – it doesn’t decide that some people are worthy, and others are not. Hatred just hates, and it spreads. In those moments we decide that some people are worthy of love, or we start to bar the doors of our faith communities from those who are banging to get it, our fear is allowing that hatred to seep in. However, if we allow ourselves to recognize that all people are worthy of love and respect – and that the freedom to live safely, to worship safely, and to be honored as a child of God is not something to be relegated to an elite few – might we then begin to speak on behalf of those people in the face of things which prevent them from doing so?