This month I released a video of a spoken word poem entitled “Where Were You?” that I wrote and published this past April. I wrote the piece after sitting through a homophobic conference presented by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I wanted to ask those who talk about LGBT folk where they were during different time periods of my life where I was discriminated against by the hands of the Church. The response has been phenomenal with allies and LGBT folk alike responding with rave reviews. There were a few people, some who consider themselves allies, that had one main critique of the video—they found it to be adversarial.
The five minute video is shot in a Church and delineates many major points in my life that have happened from the response of me being queer.
All of the points are true things that happened—true events that happened to me. The purpose is to ask “Where were you?” to those that condemn homosexuality, truly same-sex sex, without knowing much at all of the LGBT community.
Some people felt uncomfortable with my poem. They found it to be accusatory, divisive, and not something that people would respond to well. I was advised by people that I know mean to be loving and caring, and I would classify as allies, that people do not respond to questions pointed at them. This has actually happened quite a few times these last couple of months. What I hear them saying is that it’s better to share my story in a way that shares my feelings but doesn’t actually involve anyone else.
Here’s the problem with that: my story does involve people, and it involves the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Sometimes allies get so caught up with being gay friendly that they quit the education that is necessary to continue to grow. We forget sometimes that education on the fluidity of sexuality, gender roles and expression, and gender identities are just a few of the many facets that require an ongoing journey. Basically, you can be sympathetic to gay folk and still mess up—and that’s ok.
If my story makes you feel uncomfortable, perhaps you could evaluate why it makes you feel that way.
The question “where were you?” is an honest one. It’s a question for everyone who is comfortable talking at instead of with LGBTQ folk. My intention is not to accuse but to expose the blatant lack of LGBTQ experience from those who do the most harm. It is a question for those who stand from the pulpits and give a quick answers to complex questions, who condemn without spending more than 30 minutes educating themselves about what it truly means to be queer, and to those who feel righteous in their complete lack of representation of God’s true character and the discrimination against God’s LGBTQ children.
My story is unique, but it holds many of themes that affect LGBTQ people in Christian Churches every day. To say otherwise is to turn a blind eye to the epidemic that is religious homophobia. The effects are there for queer folk and our allies. Pastors are getting fired in churches across the country for officiating same sex marriages, students are getting suspended and expelled from their Christian schools for their sexual orientation, LGBTQ youth account for 40% of homeless youth, and worse—LGBTQ Christian youth are eight times more likely than their hetero peers to commit suicide. The effects are clear.
I have worked very hard the last couple of years in deciding what parts of my story to share and which not to share. There are things that still hurt too much to discuss in such an open forum where thousands can easily critique me from the comfort of their bedrooms. Yet with every piece of my life that I share, I connect with thousands of LGBTQ people around the world with whom can relate. I must tell my story for the sake of the thousands who can’t. Sharing stories is the foundation for change. It’s what personalizes topics we talk about in an almost hypothetical way. It puts human faces behind the topics we talk about. In every bout for equality, it is the stories that have shifted the paradigm, and it’s our stories that connects us as humans.
As allies of any marginalized community, it’s our job to raise the voices up from those communities, not to take their place.
I am a huge supporter of allies; probably more than a lot of queer folk I’ve met. I’m completely aware of the privilege ridden, patriarchal world we live in and that there are venues and people that will listen to the voices of straight, white, cisgender allies before they’ll even consider listening to my story. It’s a sad truth, but that’s the reality we live in.
It’s because of the work of allies that, in the future, voices like mine will get to see the light of day. But as allies there is a very big difference between accompanying the topic of LGBTQ in the Church and accompanying LGBTQ people. When the topic becomes more important than the people and their stories, self-evaluation needs to take place.
An ally wrote this in an email after watching my video:
Great job on the video. I’ll respond with one word from a lecture my wife and I attended. Gustavo Gutierriez, the father of liberation theology, was there along with Paul Farmer, one of the leading experts in the field of global health. Gutierrez shared a very powerful concept wrapped up in a single word – “accompaniment.” He said that in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 4) Jesus began his ministry by standing up in front of the synagogue and making a proclamation from Scripture. It did not go well (vv. 28-29). By the end of his ministry, Gutierrez said, Jesus had matured and learned to take a very different approach. In Luke 24, Jesus (now risen) meets some followers travelling on the road to Emmaus, clearly disoriented and distressed.
Rather than launching into another pronouncement, Jesus accompanies them on their journey, sharing the road, their conversation and eventually their hospitality. Christ-followers, Gutierrez says, are not called to merely announce things to others but to accompany them on the journey of dialogue, understanding and shared insight. “Where were you?” seems to be a call for the kind of accompaniment that Gutierrez described. The basic pattern of the gospel is an incarnational one – it’s about showing up, about being there, about sharing the journey.”
This incredibly insightful and profound analysis of my video is exactly what I hoped to achieve when I wrote the piece.
It is exactly about showing up, about being there, and about sharing the journey.
Life coach Jordan Bach recently tweeted “In this dark world where people despair, if you haven’t decided to be an instrument of peace, you have chosen to be one of chaos.” It is when we lift those up around us that are voiceless and shunned, when we accompany those who have hardships and are fundamentally different than us, and when we love no matter what our differences are—that is when we work towards being ambassadors of reconciliation.
We are allies for the people, their voices, and the struggles they face; together we can share the story and be instruments of change.