Brandiilyne Dear, a pastor at the inclusive and welcoming Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, is an LGBT advocate working to accelerate acceptance in her home state of Mississippi and beyond. Brandiilyne also founded The Dandelion Project, a LGBT organization and resource, and she serves as vice-president of The Spectrum Center, a resource for the LGBT community in Hattiesburg.
GLAAD had the opportunity to meet Brandiilyne in person on the Southern Stories tour. A few weeks later, we talked to her again to hear more of her story.
The church is often seen as an obstacle to LGBT acceptance, especially in the South. As a person of faith, how do you think we should overcome that obstacle?
I hope that being on the frontlines for equality will help change the face of Christianity for the LGBTQ community. The only way that we will ever overcome the hurt that has been caused by the church is to out-love it! It is my mission and my call to reconcile the LGBTQ community to God…That is why God called me out of the closet. He said, “I need you to bring my people home. They have been exiled and I want them to know that I love them.” That is the moment that I began to accept my own sexuality and I began to break free from harmful religious myths.
You’re involved with several organizations that act as resources for the LGBT community. For LGBT individuals in areas without such resources, what can they do to find the support they need?
I receive tons of emails each week from all over the world. Most people want to know how they can get involved or they simply say, “I wish we had something like The Dandelion Project around here.” My answer is usually, “Start one!” I try to let people know that they have the ability to start a support group, which is exactly what we started out as.
A young girl contacted me a year or so ago and I told her the same thing and she went into her high school in Birmingham, Alabama and started a Gay Straight Alliance club (GSA). I had the honor of speaking there before the school year ended. The one thing that I hope people can get when hearing about our work here in Mississippi is inspiration. We are all just ordinary people who decided that we needed to do something for our community. Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” became our mantra.
After being outed to your pastor and congregation, you lost your job, your ministry, your friends, and your reputation. What helped you overcome those setbacks and inspire you to return to helping people?
This was quite the journey for me. I had a serious identity crisis. I love people and helping them is what I am made to do. To be hurt by the very ones that I had helped was devastating, and for all of it to be done in the name of the God that I love was almost too much to bear. I had a really hard time separating God from the church and the ones who hurt me; so, my anger turned on Him.
I decided to go back to school and I wanted to major in something that was far away from the people business, so I majored in Computer Science. God slowly began to show me that this was not His will for my life nor was this rejection a representation of His love for me. So the first step to overcoming was forgiveness and the second was to move forward. That is when He began to call me back to ministry.
So I founded The Dandelion Project, which is a secular organization. But God wanted more, so He continued to pull and I knew that He was calling me back to the pulpit and that is when I started Joshua Generation MCC. God brought me out of harmful religion and He began to show me the truth about His unconditional love. He gave me two years to heal and then He reminded me what I was created for…He’s cool like that. Although I was angry with Him for what others had done to me, He never turned from me and He never rejected me. He loved me through it and I’m grateful for the whole experience. It made me stronger, wiser, and more compassionate. I wouldn’t change any of it.
Your church is a place that accepts everyone, “regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or social status.” What has been the response from the public?
Our congregation has exploded! We began having our services in September of 2014 and we have completely outgrown our space and we now have to move into a larger building. The response in the LGBTQ community has been outstanding! Many people come into our church service and they weep because they feel safe, accepted, and loved in church and they thought that they would never experience that again because of their sexuality. God is restoring people and healing their spirits at Joshua Generation MCC.
We do have some people who still think that we are wrong and they are very vocal about it. I was called to do an interview with my local media station to debate same-sex marriage with a few members of clergy. This is the opinion of many churches in South Mississippi. But we are becoming more and more secure in our personal relationship with God that these opinions are no longer hurtful but unenlightened.
Recently the KKK stated that they were going to rally against gay marriage in our town. Brent Waller, the Imperial Wizard of the KKK said, “Read your Bibles, a man shall not lie with a man as woman. The attempt by the wicked to circumvent Mississippi’s constitution to build a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah must be defeated.”
The Dandelion Project and Joshua Generation MCC quickly began planning a counter-protest. We rallied together a few hundred people from all over. We had one man booking a flight from Canada. The KKK backed down and called off their rally. Love wins. We have progressed but there are still things that we must overcome here in the South, and one of them is that “Old South” mindset. BUT minds are changing here, albeit slowly, they are changing nonetheless.
What progress have you seen thus far through your work at The Dandelion Project, and what progress do you hope to see in the future?
We have seen people grow by leaps and bounds, both young and old. Many of our members who were afraid to speak up have since found their voice and gained confidence in themselves. Many of our members have become not only interested in LGBTQ issues, but are very involved in bringing about positive change in our community. We are also seeing the next generation of LGBTQ teens becoming inspired and proactive as well. Several of our teenage members have begun the process to establish GSA’s in their local high schools. We hope that by enlightening and empowering a younger generation, we will see bullying, discrimination and bigotry end once and for all as we lay that old mindset to rest.
You were featured in Showtime’s documentary, L Word Mississippi: Hate the Sin, about the lives of gay women in Mississippi. How has your life changed since the premiere of the film?
The documentary changed my life completely and for the better. It accomplished just what we anticipated that it would: to bring hope to others who had been harmed due to their sexuality. My wife and I have and continue to receive thousands of emails from all over the world and we answer each one personally. They are all extremely important to us. People from all walks of life and all sexual orientations have thanked us for telling our story; that is so humbling. Each email usually includes their personal story; some are exciting, while others are tragic. I feel like people are sharing their lives with us as we have shared ours with them. I have made many great friends across the world. It’s amazing.
Also I feel as if I have a new family with the cast members. LB & Sara Bell opened a LGBTQ community center and asked that Susan and I be on their board. We are seeing great things happen in Mississippi. When I started Joshua Generation MCC, I asked them to join my board. We have joined forces and oh, what a force we have become for the LGBTQ community in Mississippi. When Susan and I were married in Palm Springs, we were surrounded by our new family: the cast of L Word Mississippi. They are all very important to us. Many people don’t know this, but I performed Cam & Amber’s commitment ceremony in the documentar. AND on Friday, June 26th, I had the honor of marrying Cam and Amber legally. That was pretty fantastic! They were the last same-sex couple to be issued a license in Mississippi before the Attorney General put a stop to it. In fact, there were only three couples married in the whole state that day and I had the honor of performing all three ceremonies.
My life has been enriched in ways that I cannot even put into words since the documentary. I feel like it gave purpose to the pain that I had endured when I was exiled from the church. If my pain brought life to someone else then it was all worth it. I feel like the documentary told our stories in such a way that they brought people hope!
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in all fifty states. How did you react? What was the reaction in your community?
We were prepared for marriage equality. I was stationed only blocks away from the courthouse waiting to hear from SCOTUS. I was on the phone with Sara Bell, who had worked tirelessly to set up couples and media across the state, and she was reading the decision to me. When she was done, she softly said, “It’s a victory.” I said, “What?!” She said, with more enthusiasm, “IT’S A VICTORY!” We, myself and the very first same-sex couple to be married in Mississippi, rushed to the courthouse, and only moments later, they received their marriage license.
It was the most surreal moment of my life. There I stood, a lesbian Pastor, officiating the very first same-sex marriage in the entire state of Mississippi…and they are an interracial couple to boot! We not only made history that day, we overcame it!
Many people were not nearly as excited as we were, though. Throughout the next couple of weeks, I received countless messages and phone calls from people who were, once again, being ridiculed and hurt by those they call friends and even family. Over the last couple of weeks, I have spent a lot of time celebrating love, as I have officiated more than twenty ceremonies, but I have also spent a great deal of time trying to encourage those that are being damned by religious zealots and condemned by pseudo-Christianity. I spent last Sunday, not preaching or even teaching, but affirming and reassuring people that God does indeed love them and the words of others cannot negate that.
June 26th 2016 was an indescribably triumphant day in Mississippi and across the South, and it was, as we expected, met with much dissent, but the times, they are a-changin’! Minds are not changing quite as quickly, but they are changing nonetheless. We will continue to move forward until we see hate and inequality laid to rest here in our neck of the woods. There is no supremacy in equality and there is no hate in love and that is the revelation that Mississippians must get before we can truly live up to our epithet, “The Hospitality State.”
Originally published by GLAAD; Photo provided by GLAAD