Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Will This Pride End the Prejudice?

This is an historic weekend for the LGBTQ+ community. President Barack Obama has designated the Stonewall Inn, a once-seedy little gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, into a national monument as we mark the 47th anniversary of the uprising that started our modern day gay rights movement. Pride parades held across the country and all over the world saw marriage proposals (we hit the one year anniversary of that law in America on Sunday) and joy and presidential candidates marching with us. OK, just one presidential candidate who happens to be a woman.

There are 49 Florida flags, flying for 49 days, to honor the victims of the attack on Pulse nightclub. There is no mention anywhere about the intersection of these being mostly gay, Latinx people.

And there was the recognition that our celebrations are still happening in a world where a person can kill forty-nine people out having fun at a gay nightclub, and elected officials and church leaders struggle mightily with identifying the victims as members of the Latinx LGBTQ community. If it were any other minority group, would there be this reluctance?

These past couple of weeks, I have been fortunate to be immersed in my community of the Mickee Faust Club, a collection of artistic misfits of all kinds who come together to make the smartest and most relevant theater seen on any stage in this country. 

Faustkateers gathering before the start of a performance.

Our “Queer as Faust 9” cabaret couldn’t have come at a more needed time as we honored the dead and wounded by continuing to live out loud and proud and rejecting the political narrative that what happened at Pulse was about terrorism. Instead, we named the oppression we continue to live under in Florida that has been propped up and supported by the very people who stood in front of TV cameras and talked about the “victims” and seeking justice for “the victims” without acknowledging the most important intersection of their victimhood: they were…almost all of them…gay!

The tears are now drying up, and I can feel myself moving into the next level of processing my grief around this hate crime. I admitted to my spiritual director that attempting to keep up with my regular routine of prayer was greatly challenged. Tragedies such as Pulse are so horrid that one really does wonder, “And where were you, God?!”

I have asked this question before, and I’ve often encouraged other people not to be afraid to ask that question because if there’s any entity that can take a painful and agonized and angry cry of “Where are you?!?!” it’s God.

For me, the answer is that God was also being gunned down that night in a hail of bullets.
God was in Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, who put herself in front of her son to protect him and ultimately gave up her life.
God was in the bouncer who rushed people to the staff exit door, saving at least 50 people.
God was in the first responders who both surrounded the club and helped get the wounded to a nearby hospital.
God was in the surgeons, some of whom have had war time experience, who saved the lives of all the wounded.

God has appeared and emerged in many ways in this period. There is “not so religious” way of finding laughter and connections with Faustkateers as we each grappled in our own ways with grief. 
Modern Major General cast from "Queer As Faust 9." 

There is the out pouring of love from people at St. Thomas, a community that has been friendly enough toward me since I’ve been with them, but a few of them have intentionally sought me out the past two Sundays to hug me. And, when I was cyberstalked by an unstable person last week, there was an immediate online uprising of friends who wanted to let me know that they had my back. And one of them, a former newspaper bureau chief, made the observation that it is no longer OK for the straight community to sit on the sidelines and let us queer folk defend ourselves. It is time for them to also call out homophobia when they see it, and not allow bullies to get in a few licks before they step into the ring with us.

But this also goes beyond good feelings and seeing posts online. The deaths of 49 LGBTQ+ people cannot just be about words. There must be action. At all levels and in all corners of the country, in city halls and state houses, and Congressional chambers, and the White House. And—yes—even in the churches, and synagogues, and mosques, and temples, and Wiccan circles.

The gospel lesson in the Monday morning daily office was from Matthew and it was what I’ve been thinking about lately. Jesus, upon arriving in Jerusalem, sees that the Temple has become a center of commerce instead of a place of prayer, and he goes wild, kicking over tables, sending money and doves flying. This is when activist Jesus has had all he can take of how the people have debased the holy, and he displays a righteous rage which upsets the order of the day. And he doesn’t care because the order was out-of-order.

We have been out-of-order when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. Like all groups that do not fit into the category of “majority,” it’s easy to forget that I can still be fired from a job, or denied housing, or refused services because I am a lesbian. Florida and the nation have refused to pass bills to make us a protected class. Instead, they adopt “religious freedom” laws to give cover to people who want to use their religious beliefs to justify discrimination. Or they pass “bathroom bills” to require transgender and gender-queer people to produce proof of their biological sex in order to use a public restroom. While there have been religious leaders who have spoken out against these laws, there have been many who have insisted they need them. And then they wonder why the LGBTQ+ community might be a little leery of their expressions of thoughts and prayers during a time of tragedy.

If there can be any good out of this horrible event, maybe it will be the work of God to open the hearts and minds of those on their knees in prayer…and soliciting our support this election…to quit being the stumbling blocks to our full humanity and not just tolerate us but recognize and accept us as part of the mosaic of God’s human creation. Pope Francis has called on the Roman Catholic Church to apologize to the LGBTQ+ community for the centuries of mistreatment and seek forgiveness. While that might be great PR for the Pope, I want to see the Roman Catholic Church not only apologize and seek forgiveness; I want it to repent of its attitude toward our community, quit with the fear that seems tied to the rejection of “the flesh” and understand that “the flesh” is the container for “the spirit” while it is here in this realm. Hating on the body seems to be a root cause for the animosity toward LGBTQ+ people. We are so “earthy” because our identity is tied to our sexuality. Has the Church forgotten to teach that our sexual selves are also gifts from God and should be celebrated and treated with honor and glory?

The common theme I have had running in my head for more than a week comes from Psalm 80: “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance and we shall be saved.”

Come, Holy Spirit, come.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Mighty Force of Love

There's been a lot said this week and a lot shared on social media about the horrible crime at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Many of us in the LGBTQ+ community have struggled with staying focused at work in between bouts of sobbing and the mental fog that descends when you are in grief. Grief is like that. It suspends all time, manner, and place as it puts you in an other-worldly in-between space of neither here nor there.

I have appreciated the posts where gay people attempt to explain to the straight community why we who are LGBTQ+ feel this tragedy on a personal level. It is a rare person who comes out as gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender who has not been to a gay nightclub and considers such places to be a refuge from a harsh and hating world. Every one of us could see in the faces of the victims our own selves as well as seeing the individual young and joyful eyes of so many Latinx who were embracing life and celebrating Pride Week in America's theme park city. When we expressed "We are Orlando" that's what we meant.

I also have appreciated those expressions from straight friends struggling to find words and ways to express their profound sorrow about this hate crime. For some of them, it has come in the form of wanting to offer prayers, attend the vigils, give free hugs. For others it has been to express their outrage that we've had another mass shooting in America and the demand that we not ignore the carnage or worry that "now is not the time" to talk about the growing problem of gun violence. At long last, some of my friends who are gun enthusiasts are now raising the same questions I've had forever about the wide and easy availability of certain weapons and the lobby that blocks any study of gun violence from happening. I see in these responses that effort to channel into action feelings of "What can I do?" To not feel helpless in a helpless situation.

Still, there have been those whose response to the terribleness of this shooting was to do one of two other things: attempt to turn away from the real fact that this was a targeted killing of LGBTQ+ people of color and make it about terrorism (a claim that has now been refuted by our own intelligence sources) and to otherwise not speak the name of "gay" or "queer" or "LGBTQ+" but generically refer to the 49 dead as "victims" or "humans." The other was to want to do what I call "turning the spotlight" on themselves by insisting that (fill-in-the-name) minority group has, in fact, been killed in greater numbers than what happened at Pulse in one night, as if there was something to be gained in taking the prize for "worst mass shooting ever."

For me, the biggest hurt has been in how the church and Christians specifically have responded. A hate-filled pastor in California puts up a video saying that more of us should have died. That he claims the mantle of Christ is offensive to me. And then why anyone who professes a belief in Jesus Christ would feel the need to share videos or reports about these anti-gay remarks of an off-the-wall pastor was mind-boggling. Atheists, naturally, would share such a thing so as to highlight the hypocrites in their contention that all Christians are hypocrites.

In response to those irresponsible and hateful words, I shared this Facebook video by Fr. Jim Martin, a Jesuit Roman Catholic priest to show that face of Christianity that is not homophobic. His words are of far greater value, in my opinion, and deserve to be shared. Because the true test of one's faithfulness to Christ is the ability to enter into the pain and suffering of the injured, the despondent, the grieving and the hurting person without condition and without the need to shift the spotlight onto one's self or to keep one's self aloof and apart. The words of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew, "Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest," is the type of invitation that many of us would be happy to accept from those who profess to be followers of Christ. Shoulder this grief with us, give us the space to feel and breathe again. And above all else, refute the attempts to whitewash this tragedy by acknowledging this  was about hatred of gay people. Just like the shooting at this time last year inside Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston was about the calculated killing of black people. It's all about hate and fear of those painted by some politicians and church leaders as "others."

I am more convinced than ever that the reason the LGBTQ+ population was a target in this crime and why we are trotted out every two-to-four years to be vilified and made into demons in the political spectrum is because we are a community built on love.

Because we love we are hated and feared.

Because we love those who dwell in darkness are always attempting to douse our light.

Because we love the peddlers of destruction and death project their own brokenness unto us and then scream, "A-ha!"

Jesus, who was the queerest person in every sense of the word in the whole Bible in my opinion, knows the odds that the LGBTQ+ community faces because he, too, was killed by a world that was too scared and threatened to accept that he loved and wanted everyone to love. Obviously, the world hasn't changed that much. And yet, it is the Christian narrative of Jesus' resurrection and his power to overcome death that serves as a source of strength for me in my commitment and belief that Love is going to win. Always. Even when it suffers punches and body blows, it will prevail.

Time to commit to love more deeply and strongly than ever before.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Love Boldy, Freely, Queerly

 I participated this evening in a prayer vigil at First Presbyterian which was pulled together by various LGBTQ+ groups. I spoke on behalf of both PFLAG and the Mickee Faust Club. The PFLAG comments were a last minute extemporary explanation about who the group is, how it functions, and that it actually meets at First Pres in the Westminster Room. And then, I turned to talking about the meaning of the Mickee Faust Club:

The Mickee Faust Club is known for making people laugh. But it is very hard to find humor at a time when we are hurting, and your Faustkateers…like everyone…are in pain, shock and horror over this hate crime in Orlando. Spaces such as Pulse are the safe havens for those of us who have suffered threats of violence and physical and verbal attacks for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or any other variation of non-conforming to the “norm” of society. It’s these spaces that allow us to be free and to breathe and relax and be at home. The Mickee Faust Club has been one of those comforting “queer places” for almost three decades in Tallahassee, and it is a center of activism for the gay community. So we have felt this attack on Pulse both at an individual and a corporate level.

But the spirit of our theater troupe is the same vibrant, creative, strong and amazing life force that exists within the larger LGBTQ+ community. We love. And because we love, we are able to laugh. And because we laugh, we can shed light into those dark corners of the world that are threatened and scared of our love. Forty-nine bright lights were violently snuffed out this past weekend. But the fire of our love will not be put out or put down. Or silenced with paper bags over our heads or shoved back into the closets so many of us finally escaped. Together with love we will take to the stage in Railroad Square and be Queer As Faust to the Ninth Power!!

Love may have suffered a blow to the heart this weekend, but we will pull together and we will overcome. Remember the dead with the defiance that has defined our movement from Stonewall to today. Love boldly, freely, and queerly. Faust is with you!

Thoughts on A Horrible Day

He didn't like seeing two men kissing in Miami, so he shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando full of young LGBTQ+ people, many of color.

That's the boiled down version of why the worst shooting massacre in United States history occurred early Sunday morning at last call at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. At the end of the shooting spree, there were  fifty dead including the shooter, and at least that many or more injured and needing to go to the hospital.

It was a devastating story to encounter first thing in the morning on Facebook. And I have been crying on and off all day.

The Mickee Faust Club, one of those supposed "safe places" for queer people to gather, is in the process of pulling together our cabaret to celebrate Gay Pride month. But instead of doing our tech rehearsal, we joined with others at a local downtown lake to mourn and march and sing. Monday night's run through was also postponed so that we could gather at the state Capitol to rededicate ourselves to living in love without fear.

I have purposely stayed away from a lot of media today. I did hear that supposedly the shooter has a connection to the terrorist organization ISIS, and even though the FBI knew that, he was able to purchase an AR-15, the same weapon used in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut and the San Bernadino Office Party shooting last Christmas.

This led me to post the following status on Facebook:

A shooting at a Luby's in Texas? Nothing. A shooting at a McDonald's in Southern California? Nothing. A shooting at a high school in Colorado? Nothing. A shooting at a public event with a Congresswoman in Arizona? Nothing. A shooting in a movie theater in Colorado (and Louisiana)? Nothing.A shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut? Nothing. A shooting at a university in Virginia? Nothing. A shooting at the DC Navy Yard? Nothing. A shooting at Fort Hood in Texas? Nothing. A shooting at a military recruitment center in Tennessee? Nothing. A shooting at a Bible Study in South Carolina? Nothing. Regular shootings daily in Chicago? Nothing. A shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando? _________. Do NOT tell me this isn't a public health problem! And do not come here to tell me why you love your guns. Seriously, not today!

Of course, some people want to argue with me that this isn't about the guns; it's about the people. But I'm sorry. If there is one thing I have come to learn in 48 years of living on this planet, it's that the human heart has both the impulse for good and the impulse for evil. It lives in each of us, whether we profess a belief in God or not. If you feed the heart with Love and beauty and seek what is life-affirming, then the goodness will grow. However, if you take a regular bath in hatred and anger and greed, then you are feeding the evil part of yourself at the detriment to the good. Give that person a gun and....

This is why I really didn't want to hear what Florida Republican Senator, and a vocal opponent of the gay community, Marco Rubio had to say, or watch him shake his head in disbelief. I didn't seek out Governor Rick Scott who treats us like pesky flies, or the truly repugnant Republican AG Pam Bondi who actively fought our right to marry, and still cannot understand that blocking marriage equality was UNconstitutional. While I don't pray for the death of any of these folks, I do acknowledge that they are my enemies, just like the shooter in Orlando was my enemy. And their words and actions have helped to foster and grow an intolerance and nonacceptance of us that fuels idiotic bathroom debates, and mass shootings at gay nightclubs.

I do hope that maybe this time this will lead to really introducing a bill in Congress to get this mass shooting public health problem solved. The medicine is within our reach. We just need our elected leadership to stop looking over their shoulder at what the National Rifle Association may or may not do to them. A tall order, but I expect and demand bravery.