Sunday, June 26, 2016

Two Weeks, One Year and Three Years

The week following the Orlando massacre was rough for me. The slaughter of 49 of my gay brothers and sisters and the injuring of another 52 more two weeks ago today passed relatively unnoticed at our embassy, and I found that personally devastating. Our Ambassador, whose leadership I greatly admire, was out of town. And consequently, we didn't have a condolence book. We were told at country team that we could have one if we wanted but that the Charge' didn't have strong feelings about it.

I nearly walked out of country team.

I am sure no harm was meant by the comment, but it harmed me. And perhaps anyone else who was LGBT, or had LGBT family or friends, or who had been touched by gun violence, or who just cared that their fellow Americans were mowed down by a madman able to get an assault rifle.

And then I had to fight to get our local LGBT activists to be ALLOWED to have a memorial vigil at the embassy. To be ALLOWED to light 49 candles for those who were lost. I was devastated all over again.

But several healing things happened since then. First, we did have the memorial. Not at the embassy like they wanted, but at least at USAID and not downtown away from the embassy. And it was really touching.

And then our Ambassador returned, and told us how sad he had been not to be with us when that happened. And how awful what had happened was and how he knew how hard it was to be so far away when this happened. And how we were lucky, because we were in a position to serve the country and to help make the U.S. and the world a better place.

And that helped a lot.

And so today I am celebrating. Because today I am reminded that it has been three years to the day since the Supreme Court ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.
This is what I wrote about it at the time:

"We were on vacation in Norway when the ruling was first announced. I had been waiting for it for what seemed like an eternity. I expected it to come at 10 am Washington time on Wednesday, and it did, but I had not told my wife that this was when we would hear. She had already chastised me for watching SCOTUSblog over the past few weeks for fear I would jinx it. So I watched the clock anxiously that day and never told her I was watching the clock.

We got back into our hotel room around 4:20, or 10:20 DC time, and I immediately jumped on Facebook to see what had happened. She sat on the bed, and did the same thing, only she wasn't looking for the results. She thought we would hear the next day, because she thought the rulings were issued at the end of the day. As tears welled up in my eyes, I heard her say, "Wait, what? Did they? No..."

I said, "Honey, we are full citizens."

I didn't get up...I didn't want her to see me crying...and then she came over to me, tears streaming down her face. Neither of us had expected to cry. She had expected them to rule against us...and I had figured they would do what they did but was at the same time afraid to hope for it. I expected I would scream or dance or both.

But we both cried together. Together, apparently, with thousands of other LGBT people who felt finally accepted by their country. Who felt they were finally full citizens. Within minutes, I saw several proposals online, including one from one of my closest friends to her partner of more than 20 years. They had always considered themselves married, and she asked if her partner if she would now marry her legally. Of course she said yes. And I cried again.

What this means for us is that we no longer have to worry about being allowed to make medical decisions for each other. We never have to worry about being able to claim the other's body for burial should the unthinkable happen. We can inherit each other's property and pensions without paying inheritance taxes. We are no longer legal strangers."

One year later, I wrote about the astounding changes that had happened in that time. Marriage bans across the country were dropping like flies. We were able to go about our lives and do everything exactly the way other married couples do. And when we moved to our new house in Maryland, and went to go get our driver's licenses, one clerk accepted our mortgage document as proof of residence for my wife but not the same one as proof for me. When I went over to her at the window where she was to get the proof of car registration from her to use as proof since my mortgage paper wouldn't work, the clerk said, "Aren't you married?" When we said yes, the clerk said, "oh then she can vouch for your residency." So, yay bureaucracy?

And then a year after that, the unthinkable happened. On the two year anniversary of the Windsor decision finding DOMA unconstitutional. SCOTUS found ALL marriage bans unconstitutional.

We were finally full citizens. And I subsequently asked anyone who didn't respect my right to marriage to unfriend me, on Facebook or in real life.  But I added this:

"But before you do, I ask you to consider how you would feel if your spouse was hospitalized and weren't allowed in the room? I don't have to imagine. I have experienced it.

How would you feel if your spouse died, and you weren't allowed to bury him or her because you were a legal stranger and the law required immediate family to claim the body, even if that person was someone your spouse hated? What if you weren't allowed at the funeral? I have friends who experienced this after 20 or more years together.

How would you feel if you lost your home because your spouse died and you had to pay inheritance tax on "their half" of your home. It has happened to many gay people.

Civil marriage brings some 1,300 rights and responsibilities. Wills don't cover it. And some states could ignore even wills. And medical powers of attorney. It happened, a lot.

And hopefully it won't any more.

So maybe you still have religious beliefs that oppose marriage equality. Fine. But you don't get the right to impose those beliefs on others. Because you know what? My church believes in marriage equality. We were married in the church.

Think marriage is a Judeo-Christian ideal? Then why can atheists marry?

Think it is for procreation? Then why can the elderly and the infertile marry?

They can, because just as was determined in Loving v Virginia in 1967, marriage is about love, and it is a civil right.

And before you worry that this means your church will be required to marry gay people, it won't. A Catholic priest is not forced to marry non-Catholics. A rabbi is not forced to marry Christians. In fact, when we got married in our church, our pastor had just refused to marry a couple because they did not want to go through the required premarital counseling. Churches will still get to decide what is right for them, Just not for everyone else.

So please celebrate with me, because for the first time, I feel like a full citizen. I feel like the country that I serve, that I have kept faith with, has finally kept faith with me.

And I want to close with this, Justice Kennedy's eloquent final paragraph in the 5-4 ruling:

"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Orlando has demonstrated that we still have a ways to go. There is still so much hate in the world. But I think we are heading in the right direction. So while I still mourn, while I am still shaken over and attack that happened in a "safe place," I celebrate that we are on the right path.

And I need no further proof of that than that the Charleston Post and Courier in my home state of South Carolina, where they fought to avoid accepting marriage equality, reported yesterday that one year later, same-sex marriage is simply "routine."

Monday, June 13, 2016


It is hard for me to even know where to start with this post.

I am sad. I am angry.

Fifty of my LGBT brothers and sisters were massacred in a senseless act of terrorism and hate in Orlando yesterday. During Pride. On "Loving Day," the anniversary of the ruling in Loving v Virginia that outlawed laws prohibiting interracial marriage and, I believe, paved the way for the ruling last June making marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states.

As President Obama said, “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.”

He is right. It was more than a bar. I remember the first time I walked into a gay bar. It was Menage, in Columbia, SC. It was the first time I felt truly safe, truly free to be who I am. It was a refuge.

Yesterday, a terrorist violated that refuge.

There are different theories about why he did it. Some want to credit radical Islam. Others say he was "disgusted" seeing two men kissing. But the root in these are the same. Hate. I have heard the same kinds of hate from close family members. I have witnessed it when being told I am condemned to hell, or when I was shot at while outside a gay bar.

And we are witnessing it now, when in the wake of the ruling granting marriage equality, more than 200 anti-LGBT bills have been filed, many seeking to allow people to discriminate against people like me because of "sincerely held religious beliefs." (Funny, my Jesus said to love everyone, even your enemy. ) Others seek to ban trans* people from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Because the Stanford rapist was trans*...oh wait, no he wasn't. And the monster yesterday who slaughtered 50 innocent people was trans*...oh wait, no he wasn't. He was a straight, wife-beating, unstable guy who had been investigated by the FBI and was STILL allowed to buy an assault rifle.

But it is easier to hate gays or Muslims than to do something about our gun culture. It is easier to have potty police than to do something about rape culture. It is easier to blame the other than to confront the hate in our own society and do something about it.

We need to confront the hate in our society. And yes, that includes the hate of radical Islam. But it also include the hate of radical right-wing Christianity. Did you take a look at the Twitterverse yesterday. People were PRAISING him. For finally wiping the disgusting gays off the map. For killing someone "other than innocents." For doing what both hate-filled imams and hate-filled pastors have advocated. Event the Lt. Governor of Texas yesterday tweeted after the attacks that "you reap what you sow." Blaming the victims.

I think a place for us to start is on our own churches, with our own language. So I want to share a piece I wrote just over a month ago that I have shared with no one but my pastor in Maryland. I wrote it in response to the potty laws, and I think it is applicable even today. Because if our goal is to be more Christ-like, more made in the image of our Creator, we must see God as someone big enough to love all of creation and rid ourselves from the hate that I am sure breaks God's heart as well.

Towards a Radical Inclusiveness

By Digger Diplomat

I have been thinking a lot about pronouns lately.

Much of it stems from the recent debate over bathrooms and who gets to serve as the potty police. I am not transgender, and yet the debate is personal to me.

Among my people, I am considered a “Two-Spirit,” or someone who possesses both a male and a female spirit. This has always fit with how I feel myself, neither really male nor really female, but both. I am very comfortable in my own skin.

But there are those who are not comfortable with me. These are the ones who have called me “sir” since long before I cut my hair short. Some quickly apologize. Some laugh nervously. Some snicker. Because I feel like I am both, it has never bothered me, except on the rare occasions when the person seemed hostile.

I fear those occasions are increasing. I see more and more reports of attacks on trans* people. And these attacks aren’t limited to trans* people. There are all sorts of gender non-conforming people being accosted in restrooms even if they are using the restroom that corresponds with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.

One such person is a friend of mine who is a sergeant in the Marine Corps. She is part of the elite group of Marines who guard our embassies. And she has been thrown out of the women’s bathroom because she looks too much like a boy. A nice thank you for your service.

A recent piece by UCC minister Emily Heath describes a similar struggle. She too is female but gender non-conforming. She jokes with her wife that if she isn’t back from a public restroom in five minutes, to come looking for her. It is becoming less of a joke.

I fear it is a matter of time before I am accosted as well.

I wonder if this whole issues gives us an opportunity as progressive Christians to examine the language we use.

Because language matters.

When we refer to gender rather than sex and then insist on gender being binary, we negate the lives of those who live along the spectrum of gender. And we negate the lives of those assigned a sex at birth that doesn’t correspond with their identity, or those who fall into the at least three categories of intersex, meaning those with biological traits of both sexes. These folks too have typically been assigned a sex at birth, often surgically, and often incorrectly.

Likewise, when we refer to God as He, we negate the lives of women and their connectedness to the Creator. In my own church, and other UCC’s I have attended, we have struggled to find more inclusive ways to refer to God, whether calling God both father and mother, or changing the words to the doxology to refer to Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost rather than Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And often, we have shunned the use of pronouns.

What if we didn’t?

Many in the transgender and gender non-conforming community have sought a third way through the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. I know there are those who reject the use of “they” in the singular. I confess to being something of a grammar nerd myself. And yet we have a history of using the pronoun “they” when the sex of the person about whom we are speaking is not known. As I saw in a recent discussion of the matter, two wait staff noticed a customer left behind a coat. “I wonder if they know they left it?” “Let’s put it in the lost and found in case they return.”

See, we’ve been using it all along.

What if we used it for God?

What if instead of tying ourselves in knots trying to avoid using “He,” or at least using “He” and “She” together, we defaulted to “they?”

We’d be doing a number of things.

First, we would be referring to God in the way that They referred to themselves. In the plural.

Remember in Genesis 1:26, God says: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

And too in Genesis 3:22: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:”

If God, in referring to Self, says “us,” perhaps we should be saying “They.”

But using “They” would accomplish more than that. It would be a recognition of the radical inclusiveness that is God. The God that created all things, including all sexes and all genders.

It would mean that our understanding of God is limited by our understanding of ourselves, but that we recognize that God is not limited. Often, we are neither male nor female. Neither then is God. We were created in God’s image, male and female, because God’s image is male and female.

And by using “They,” we not only recognize the abundance that is God, but we welcome all of the abundance that is God’s Creation into the arms of our Creator and Their Church.


Maybe this is a little thing. Maybe it won't change the hate that fills people's hearts. But what if it does? What if one little change would help people see that we are all part of God, part of creation, that we, male, female, and in between, that we, gay, straight and in between, were all created in God's image and are loved by our Creator. Maybe then we could love each other.