I hang out a lot with LGBT folks. Often I find myself in a social situation where I am the only straight person in the group. It’s become so commonplace for me that I sometimes have passing moments when I forget I’m not gay. And I’ll wonder, “What’s wrong with me that I’m not attracted to women the way my friends are?” Then I'll remember. Oh, yeah. It's because you're straight, Nancy.
My relationships with gay, lesbian and transgender friends have developed while serving at Advent and then Holy Trinity, both in Charlotte, over the past 15 years or so. I’ve learned a lot through those years. In the beginning, I remember being relieved to discover how much we have in common. But as I’ve grown closer to my gay, lesbian and transgender friends, I've also come to realize just how different we are.
I have trouble imagining the world as they experience it. Their sexual orientation seems to be the soundtrack of their lives that’s continually playing in the background. They may not always mention it, but, in every conversation, they are filtering everything they say and hear through their experience as a gay or transgender person. Everywhere they go, they are scoping out how safe the situation will be for them. Will they be accepted? Will people feel uncomfortable with them? Will someone say something hurtful, knowingly or unknowingly? Will it be better to hide who they are in this situation? Such thoughts are always present for them. And yet, such thoughts never cross my mind.
Once, my friend and colleague Pastor David Eck, who happens to be gay, told me that every time a gay person reads a Bible story they identify with the person in the story who is being ostracized or judged or persecuted in some way. They see themselves in the outsider. I had assumed they read Bible stories the same way I do. And when I read a Bible story, I NEVER identify with the outsider. I always identify with the people who are being challenged to welcome the outsider, or even Jesus, as the one who is standing up for the outsider. That’s the perspective I take when I preach. And yet, many of my parishioners who are gay/lesbian/transgender don’t really relate to the story as I do. When they read about outsiders, that's who they identify with. This blew me away.
As we’re preparing for the Pride Festival in Charlotte this weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about that word, pride. I confess that in my younger years when I saw gay people parading in the streets on T.V., usually in some far-off place like San Francisco, I couldn’t understand the point of it all. Yeah, okay, so you’re gay, I thought. Do you have to make such a public display of it? Well, I don’t see it that way anymore.
Now I think about how pride is actually the opposite of shame. Every gay person I know has struggled with shame on some level. Growing up in our homophobic culture has done a number on them. They may internalize that homophobia and turn it upon themselves. Or maybe they rebel against it and express their sexuality openly and freely. But in any case, they are living in reaction to the shaming that has been directed toward them in their school or their place of employment, their house of worship or their family. They have been told in hundreds of ways that who they are is not acceptable and the only way to become acceptable is to become someone they’re not.
What courage it takes to journey from a place of shame to a place of pride! To live into the person God created you to be. To love the person you truly are. To be gay and proud! I can only imagine how freeing it must feel to emerge from the shackles of shame to strut your gay-self down Tryon Street with Pride.
It truly is something to celebrate. That’s why I’ll be there, waving my rainbow flag, basking in the pride of those who are so dear to me. Even though I can never fully understand how it is to live in their world, there’s a larger world that we share. My life would be greatly diminished without the gifts of the LGBT community. And that fills me with a pride of my own.