I’m always a little surprised by how many veterans there are within predominantly LGBT congregations. This past Sunday was no different at Dallas’ Cathedral of Hope, when veterans were invited to stand and be recognized for their service, and I would guess around 30 or more rose at each worship.
A nice touch was that the prayers remembered not only veterans, but conscientious objectors like Bayard Rustin.
This presence surprises me because, during the draft, they could have avoided service by revealing their homosexuality, and since then, in the volunteer military service era, LGBT people were not welcome, risking their livelihoods and sometimes their lives not only in the service, but in future employment if they received a dishonorable discharge.
Part of my surprise is that LGBT citizens and other marginalized citizens have been willing to give their all, even when the countries they served did not give them all that other citizens expected. I think back on a member of MCC San Francisco who was the most decorated Vietnam veteran and was a gay African American.
At a Philadelphia television station in 1975, I participated in a live broadcast forum on gay rights that featured Leonard Matlovich, who had just that week made it to the cover of Time magazine for his courageous coming out as gay in the U. S. Air Force. He also gave us the famous ironic quote about his being given “a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Much to my surprise, one of my roommates invited him to stay in our house that night, and my claim to fame is that he borrowed my razor the next morning!
All this made me think of the “veterans” of church service who are LGBT.
I'm thinking not just those of us who were activists but of all those who gave the church their all when the church refused to welcome their love and their beloved. The Shower of Stoles project re-presents many of those veterans, remembering their contributions to the Body of Christ. And among those memorialized by the AIDS Quilt are many who served the church in a variety of ways.
Now a carefully researched book by R. W. Holmen released by Pilgrim Press this month tells the story of the unsung heroes of the LGBT Christian movement in five mainstream denominations, Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.
At the Cathedral of Hope, I met many clergy and church workers who have served or are serving a wide variety of denominations and traditions.
In fact, I met so many of these individuals that I thought: wouldn’t it be wonderful if the national gatherings of each denomination would take a moment to invite LGBT veterans of church service to stand and be recognized?
They would be astonished to see how many there are of us, and it would be gratifying to hear from them, “Thank you for your service.”
Watch Chris's sermon "Don't Give Up!" at the Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas.