Gay is Great! 6/2/2013
Today is pride Sunday. Many of our members, both gay and straight, are not in church this morning because they are attending the parade and celebration down in Salt Lake City. That is great! That is so gay!
It is interesting how much tone can matter. If I had said, “That is great” or “That is so gay” it would have drawn a very different reaction from this mostly straight but hardly narrow group that is gathered here today.
When I attended seminary, there were a number of students there who identified as transgender and the issue of pronouns came up. It can be awkward. The solution was to simply ask what individuals preferred and then try to be respectful of their wishes. People made mistakes, however. Gender cues are complicated and cultural norms run deep. One of my professors, understanding this, said, “Whatever you call me, it will be OK, as long as you say it with love.”
Another story comes from when I worked for Social Security. I was in a meeting with other line managers planning a strategy for handling a large workload that was coming soon. We wanted our plan to be approved by our boss, so we were discussing how to approach them. One of the other managers said, “We don’t want to queer the deal.”
Without thinking about it, I said, “Joe, some of us think that would be a good thing.”
There was some silence and then he turned bright red. There was some laughter in the room and he said he hadn’t meant it that way, and I just said, “I know.”
He hadn’t meant anything by it, in fact; it was just a figure of speech. But he never used it again. He’d learned something.
Most of us do not go out of our way to hurt other people’s feelings. Sometimes it takes someone saying “ouch” before we know that something we have said or done has hurt.
This has been a banner year for GLBT rights. Marriage equality is now the law in 14 countries, 12 states and the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court will issue a decision this month on California’s Prop 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It is great to be gay in times like these. It is a level of progress that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. When I first came out, it was a crime in most states to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender. Then again, this country used to have segregated drinking fountains and schools. The struggle for desegregation was a long and bloody one.
I will never forget the image of George Wallace in 1963, when he was the Governor of Alabama, standing in a doorway at the University of Alabama, trying to prevent two black students from entering.
There are a lot of public schools in this country named after Martin Luther King, but I don’t know of any named after George Wallace.
He was and remains a symbol of racist bigotry. Naming a school after him would be hurtful to African Americans and others.
Some of you probably know where I am going with this.
Yes, I want to talk some about Weber State University’s decision to name their Center for Family and Community Education for Boyd K. and Donna S. Packer.
It is a tricky and controversial topic. The folks at Weber State are our friends. Many members of this congregation work and study there. Others are former students. The University has been very supportive of our OUTreach program. Still, their decision indicates to me that Gay is still not so great here in Utah. Of course we knew that. This legislative year statewide non-discrimination ordinances failed yet again. (Stuart Reed, the state senator who represents Ogden was one of the prime opponents of that legislation by the way. He said he could not support legislation that condoned immorality.)
Other states have the freedom to marry, but here many people have to stay in the closet for fear of losing their jobs or their homes.
It isn’t right and Boyd Packer, like George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, has been standing in the way of justice and equality for the people of this state.
Let me say clearly that I have no problem with honoring someone who is active in the leadership of the LDS church.
A Gordon Hinckley Center for Family and Community Education would not give me heartburn. It would not cause my heart to ache. I’d be OK with Thomas Monson too, or pretty much anyone other than Boyd Packer. The LDS church has contributed a lot of very good things to Utah. It is appropriate to recognize that. It is also important to understand that the LDS church seems to be trying to change how it responds to gay people. The changes are coming mainly from internal pressure, from the people in the pews. There are literally hundreds of devout Mormons marching in the Pride parade today, carrying signs and speaking out in support of equality.
The LDS church believes in ongoing revelation, and I am confident that eventually they will come to understand that God does not make distinctions based upon either sexual orientation or gender. In other words, and you can call me crazy, but I think that someday Mormon Lesbians will hold the Mormon priesthood.
Let me say another thing, slightly off subject, but important. We need to be very careful in how we talk about the LDS church here in this congregation. Followers of that faith are on their own search for truth and meaning. It is not OK to mock their theology or their spiritual practices. Every religion has its quirks. Some would think our flaming chalice is a bit odd, for instance. There are also hundreds of jokes about the number of Unitarian Universalists it takes to change a light bulb. We can make those jokes and laugh at them.
It’s kind of like the difference between saying, “That is so gay” as a gay person or an ally and saying “that is so gay” in a disparaging way.
Respect for the worth and dignity of others and recognizing that all religions contain at least some truth, does not mean, however, that we should be silent when people are being hurt. Respect sometimes means telling them that you don’t like something they are doing. Boyd Packer’s many statements over the years have hurt many people, most of them members of his own faith tradition. By this time, he must know they are hurtful.
Publicly honoring him is just not appropriate. Maybe the decision makers at Weber State just weren’t thinking. Maybe they were like my friend at work who “didn’t want to queer the deal.” Maybe. I hope so. I hope they did not realize how hurtful this would be. I hope they did not decide to go ahead anyway, despite knowing the pain they would be causing.
They clearly know now, if they did not before. Even if they do not change their decision, they have learned something.
When you can say “gay is great” and mean it, then you aren’t afraid to say “ouch” when something hurts. A least most of the time that is true.
I have another story. When I worked for Social Security I traveled a lot and often took a cab home from the airport shuttle stop. One time, fairly late at night, the cabbie yelled, “Move it faggot!” at another driver. It scared me.
I wanted to say something but worried that if he figured out I was a lesbian things might get really ugly. I stayed quiet and got home. He did not get much of a tip, but I didn’t say why.
About a week later, I was riding in another shuttle to my office through downtown Richmond CA. It is a low-income, primarily African-American community that was plagued by crime and gang violence. The driver started making cracks about the neighborhood, and about “those black people.” I was able to respond and said that I worked with a lot of the people that lived there, they were good people, and even more unhappy about the crime than he was because they had to live in the midst of it.
It felt safe to say something because I was obviously white. I did not feel vulnerable to a racist attack, verbal or otherwise. It took some courage, but not as much as it would have to confront the cabbie on his homophobia.
We need to forgive ourselves when we are silent because of fear. It will make it easier to speak up in other situations.
Utah is a funny place. I love it here. I really mean that, but it is a state full of contradictions. Salt Lake has one of the largest Pride celebrations in the country, despite the fact of no state level protections. It also has a very high percentage of same gender partners raising kids, despite the fact that it is against the law for gay couples to adopt or even to be foster parents. They can’t even foster a gay teen that has been kicked out of their family for being gay. It could make you crazy if you let it.
Still, there is progress, even here in Utah. People speak up when something hurtful happens. There is a dialogue at least, and time really is on our side. One by one, counties and cities have adopted non-discrimination ordinances. We even did that here in Ogden although it took a lot of hard work and dedication. The city council chambers looked like church, there were so many of us there week after week. We stood up for our religious principles, we stood on the side of love.
That’s so Unitarian Universalist!
Let all that we do be done in love.