A few years ago my doctoral thesis was titled The Only LGBTQuestions That Matter, and its premise could be summed up with the following line from Dr. Christena Cleveland:We must learn to measure the sociological performance of our theological convictions.
Nearly every question I asked over the course of my paper came back to whether our theological convictions led to health or harm for our LGBTQ neighbors. Of course, we could ask that question of all theological convictions, AMEN?
The stark, blunt reality is this: theological convictions that conclude either “being” LGBTQ+ or that LGBTQ+ “behavior” is wrong leads to tragic endings for our LGBTQ+ neighbors, along with their friends and family. To widen the tragedy a bit more, it has also proven to be horrific for society at large; any oppressed and ostracized people group for any amount of time leads to a less safe world for everyone. If we are to be on our way to becoming a more beloved community, we’ve got to start seeing all of God’s beloved as just that, God’s beloved! It’s hard to imagine you’re not with me to this point…
However, we’ve got a long way to go. Sure, Cincinnati was just named one of the best cities for our LGBTQ+ neighbors to live in (as far as red states are concerned) and we oughta celebrate that. But you may have also seen that, just last week, Governor DeWine signed an executive order banning hospitals from performing gender transition surgeries on minors, which is just one of more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in Congress this past year alone. While so many of these bills being introduced are merely political ploys to pry fundraising dollars for a congressperson’s next campaign, the damage left in the wake of the vitriol and laws that actually pass will be far worse than we can imagine.
So, what can be done about this? Since we believe that we are all God’s beloved children, that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and that we want to see a city and world where everyone flourishes, how can we help inch the world closer to what God had in mind for it? Below are three ways we can help bring liberation for our LGBTQ+ friends.
Be a true ally.
I quoted Ethan Keller this past Easter, who wrote:“If you want to be someone’s ally, but haven’t been hit by the stones being thrown at them, you aren’t standing close enough to them yet.”
An ally may or may not have literal stones thrown at them, and it might often feel hard to discern how to best be an ally, but I’ll give you an example from a recent conversation I had with a good, loving father who also happens to be very conservative.
He was telling me that his son, Zach, is now dating, “Someone becoming a he, or whatever you call it these days,” and signaled that this person was merely doing it to “gain attention.” While he said he loved his son Zach and wants to be supportive, he was having a hard time calling Zach’s love interest by his new desired name (or using proper pronouns).
I asked if Tony (Zach’s love interest) had any family, and my friend told me that he did, but “they aren’t happy with this transition, either, and have basically cut him out of the family.” When I asked if he had bought Tony a Christmas gift (Tony was at Christmas dinner with Zach and Zach’s family), he sheepishly said, “No, but I had no idea what to get….him.”
My words exactly, which could have been wrong, were: Listen, friend. My guess is that both Tony and Zach are begging for your attention right now because they aren’t getting it from anyone else. Yet you and your wife hosted them on Christmas. Kudos to you! Now, take the next step and honor Tony by calling him by the name he prefers. This will not only dignify Tony, but it will send a signal to Tony that you’re someone who can be trusted. It sounds like Tony’s anchors in life (his family) are no longer there. YOU could be the one to show the most love, compassion and care as Tony and Zach walk through this transition together.
Psychologist Alan Downs, author of The Velvet Rage, writes:
“The wound is the trauma caused by exposure to overwhelming shame at an age when you weren’t equipped to cope with it. An emotional wound caused by toxic shame is a very serious and persistent disability that has the potential to literally destroy your life. It is much more than just a poor self-image. It is the internalized and deeply held belief that you are somehow unacceptable, unlovable, shameful, and in short, flawed.”
He goes on to write that we all long to be authentically validated for who we are. It’s one thing to “tolerate” what’s happening in the lives of our LGBTQ+ children, parents, siblings or friends. It’s another thing entirely to celebrate and support them as they deal with a world constantly trying to shame them into being someone they’re not created to be.
Be OUT and PROUD.
We have seen the courage it takes for some of our friends and neighbors to be honest with themselves and others about their sexuality. In fact, an entire month (June!) is dedicated to taking PRIDE in one’s sexuality. But what about you (if you’re not LGBTQ+)? Are you also out and proud in your support of our gay neighbors? If not, why not? One way to be a strong ally is not merely to offer private support and encouragement to a friend, but to offer broad, public support to the entire LGBTQ+ community!
I met with two local Palestinian leaders a few days ago. They both walked into the coffee shop with FREE PALESTINE sweatshirts. They were VERY VOCAL with their outerwear in their support of Palestine. While they received verbal backlash from some, they also mentioned several people offering support, including other Palestinian and Jewish neighbors afraid to “out” themselves in Cincinnati during this time.
I remember a time when I would wear my BLACK LIVES MATTER shirt around New York. In the days and weeks following the murder of George Floyd, I’d wear it everyday. 90% of the people on the street said nothing, but every single person who offered something positive was black. It was very apparent that something as simple as a t-shirt could make a difference.
I also remember landing at CVG for my first interview at CMF. I had a BLACK LIVES MATTER pin on my backpack, which I was wearing as I walked to Baggage Claim. A voice behind me muttered as he walked past me: All Lives Matter…It wasn’t a stone. It wasn’t even a pebble! It was simply someone who disagreed with me at the time. Be OUT and PROUD with your support of our LGBTQ+ friends. Wear a BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER shirt, or stick a bumper sticker on your car. Of course, VOTE for candidates that support the rights of all people. And don’t be afraid to weigh in on conversations that might be a bit touchy, just do it with all the love and peace you can possibly muster in the moment.
Show up and Show Out
This past June, CMF participated for the first time in the Cincinnati Pride March. It was hot. It was sticky. I got a massive sunburn. But it was also amazing and exhilarating and FUN! When we can move from “tolerate” to “celebrate” we start to see a beloved community built right here in our midst!
This year the Pride Parade will be on Saturday, June 22nd. Mark your calendars now. Make a poster. Wear sunscreen. Join us as we celebrate one another!
May the words of Lilla Watson, a Gangulu woman from Queensland, Australia, ring true for us all right now: If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
Let us remember that none of us are free until all of us are free.