Last Thursday night I left class a few minutes early so I could make my way to the Sperry Room in Andover Hall at Harvard Divinity School. I wanted to be sure I got a good seat for the panel of scholars and activists that were gathered there for a panel discussion on the topic "Queer Youth and Religious Debates Over Sexuality." I thought it was a hastily assembled panel set against the news in the past month of 4 suicides of young people whose sexuality or gender identity was questioned and who had been bullied and violated emotionally by their peers and classmates.
When I arrrived with my companion we found out way to some of the few seats left in the large hall. The first thing of note as we entered the room was uniformed Harvard University police officers posted just inside each of the two entrances to the hall. Cheryl A. Giles of Harvard convened the gathering and to my surprise she indicated that this panel had been planned a year before. Her opening comments were stark in their tone and warning. She acknowledged that the views expressed by the panel would surely not conform to everyone's ideas about the topic and warned that any disruption to the proceedings would result in being escorted from the hall by one of the uniformed officers. My stomach sank. Had we really come to this? Police officers in a lecture hall at Harvard Divinity School on a Thursday night in October.
I made some notes on each panelists presentations. It's important to remember that these are my recollections filtered through my own experience and may or may not resemble the presenter's intentions.
Queer adults have been forbidden to care for and be mentors to queer youth. We have a responsiblity to support organizations that do care for queer youth.
Anita Bryant had to confuse homosexuality with violent sexual abuse in order to make a case against homosexuals.
We must not allow the idea to persist that it is not possible to be both religious and queer. The language of tolerance cannot combat religious language against queer people. "We can't help queer youth if we deny them." We must move beyond tolerance in churches to celebrating and helping youth grow into both their sexuality and their spirituality.
We must help them know they are not condemned and that they do not have to give up religion to be queer. "Exile from religion cannot be the cost for beign gay."
Churches are teaching us to hate. According to research done by Dr. Caitlin Ryan, when children "come out" as LGBT to them:
30% disown the child, 50% say "I love you" but be quiet about this, 17% accept the situation, only 3% celebrate the news. Children are 8 times more likely to commit suicide if parents reject their child upon coming out as LGBT.
"I have to find creative ways to reach my people." She wrote for the "gay rags." What role does the church play in promoting unsafe sexual practices?
Discussions of the historical precidents that have formed the "Black Church" in the US today. Images of over sexualized male African Americans and exotic African American women that have been historically rapped and used by their white male oppressors have driven sterotypes of people of African descent and forced black people into an "us vs. them" mentality that leaves the "Black Church" as sole arbiter of Christian response. Her discussions of the destructive nature of white racism drew parallels to the destructive nature of rhetoric against LGBT people and the role many churches and faith traditions play in that power dynamic.
A transgender woman who has worked for gender justice for 30 years, she called attention to the drastic need for conversations that include transgender youth. Citing huge cutbacks in recent years she highlighted the need to support the organizations that are for, by, and with transgender youth.
We older ones have done our best and it was hard. We need the vision of the young to move forward now. Young people must put their bodies on the line in the struggle. He cautioned youth LGBT activists not to "eat each other." He said, "You will make mistakes so decide right now to forgive yourself and go on."
Each person on this august panel spoke from their heart and each one had a profound impact on me. But I must admit that Mark Jordan's remarks rang in my head along with a reference to a "comfortable silence" that I read in a column by Patrick Cheng or Debra Haffner last week. Both has splendid articles Cheng in Huffington Post and Haffner in the Washington Post. Mark's comments seemed to speak directly to me. I was "convicted" as they say in the Baptist tradition to stand up and speak out, to come out and get loud, about the fact that no one can say that one can't be gay and Christian.... because I AM.
That's why I let it all hang out last week in my sermon "I'm Different and I'm Beloved." I hope that you who read this post will do the same. Stand up, speak out, defend every child and adult's right to name themselves with regard to gender, sexuality AND faith. It's time we stopped letting the voices of conservative hate rule the day. It's time we speak out.