The past decade has seen historic victories for LGBTQ inclusion in a number of Christian denominations. However, the United Methodist Church (UMC) is one of the few remaining mainline protestant denominations that still officially condemns homosexuality and bans the ordination of LGBTQ people. LGBTQ clergy continue to be put on church trial, along with allied clergy who perform same-gender marriages.
The past few decades have seen the wider UMC swing to the ideological right, due in no small part to the efforts of the ironically-named “Institute on Religion and Democracy” [http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v20n1/clarkson_battle.html]. The struggle over the issue of sexuality in particular has pitted more progressive churches here in the United States against more conservative churches elsewhere in the world. Playing a huge role in this has been the exportation to Africa of, in the words of Bishop Yvette Flunder of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries [http://www.radicallyinclusive.com/], homo-hatred, by conservative American Evangelicals. The situation is rife with complicated racial and post-colonial-era dynamics.
As a whole, the worldwide denomination has been in an ideological log-jam for years, with both sides deeply entrenched and firmly believing in the justness of their cause. Hope springs every four years that perhaps this would be the General Conference—UMC’s major gathering—at which things would change. Until this year, those advocating for the full inclusion of LGBTQ folks have gone home disappointed.
It was in this context that voting delegates from around the world, along with advocates for full inclusion, gathered in Portland, Oregon for the UMC’s General Conference.
The Shower of Stoles Project
We at the National LGBTQ Task Force are blessed to act as caretakers of the Shower of Stoles Project, a remarkable collection of over 1,200 liturgical stoles and sacred objects, representing the lives and ministries of LGBTQ people of faith. These stoles represent those who have been forced out of ministry, those who have had no choice but to serve in the closet, those who didn’t pursue the call to ministry that they so keenly felt because they saw no path forward due to unjust church policy, and those who are able to serve out in the open.
There are 170 United Methodist stoles in the collection, and each and every one was there in Portland, where they beautifully adorned the front of the sanctuary for the reconciling worship celebration, which included a rousing sermon by Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey.
At the close of the service, as she prepared to oversee the sending forth, Rev. Sue Laurie found and donned the stole that she had donated fifteen years prior.
This year, after being denied ordination by the UMC for twenty years, Rev. Sue decided to no longer wait for the blessing of the denomination. She was ordained in a joyous “grassroots” service, surrounded by hundreds of supporters – clergy and laity – who offered blessing on her ministry.
Courageous Queer Clergy
In the weeks leading up to General Conference, more than 120 LGBTQ clergy collectively came out, bravely putting their ministries and livelihoods in jeopardy. I met with a group of them while there; their collective courage was deeply moving. Their stories of being faithful to God’s call to ministry while trying to exist within an unjust system are exactly the kinds of stories that the Shower of Stoles Project tells.
The Road to Rome
The days of General Conference were filled with powerful, symbolic actions. Each day advocates for full inclusion would circle the convention center and, like Joshua, blow a horn for the walls of exclusion to come tumbling down.
Everything led up to May 18, when the General Conference was expected to vote on church policy that would directly impact the lives and ministries of LGBTQ people.
In the early hours of that morning, more than 200 people gathered for one mass symbolic action.
In 71 BCE, a slave named Spartacus led a huge slave uprising that was brutally put down by the Roman Empire. As a warning to all of what happens if you challenge authority, the Roman Empire crucified 6,000 slaves and lined up the the road leading into Rome with the crosses.
That morning in Portland, 170 people stood lining the way to the convention center, each holding a wooden cross from which hung one of the 170 UMC stoles. That great cloud of witnesses stood in silence for ninety minutes as the voting delegates arrived for the morning’s legislative session, standing for those whose ministries and livelihoods have been sacrificed to the authority of the church. Together, they were silently saying, “Behold all the harm that the church has done.”
After walking past the long lines of crosses, the delegates now had to pass by those whose ministries would be in jeopardy by the votes taking place later that very day. Dozens of that brave cadre of newly-out queer clergy were robed and standing in silent prayer. “See me. Before you vote today, look at the faces of those whose futures you control. You can choose to stop the harm.”
The Log Jam Breaks
At the end of a roller coaster day, the General Conference approved a surprising proposal from the Council of Bishops, which laid out a radical departure from the status quo. All votes on legislation regarding human sexuality will be deferred. The Bishops will establish a commission that will look at a new global structure for the church and a rewritten Book of Discipline, with the possible revision of every paragraph regarding sexuality. A special General Conference may be called in two years, instead of the usual four, which would focus on these potentially seismic changes.
But despite these signs of hope, LGBTQ clergy and our allies are still not safe. Some conferences are declaring a moratorium on trials, but the whole church has not. To help stop the harm, sign the Reconciling Ministries Network [http://www.rmnetwork.org/newrmn/] petition [https://www.change.org/p/council-of-bishops-of-the-united-methodist-church-halt-all-punishments-related-to-lgbtq-people-in-the-united-methodist-church] to stop the trials.
So the work to transform the church to transform the world to transform the church continues. We pray for those courageous LGBTQ clergy who have come out and risked it all. And we pray for the soul of the United Methodist Church, and that they go back to the business of spreading the good news of God’s radical, inclusive love.
by David Lohman, Faith organizer, National LGBTQ Task Force
I’m an autistic activist deeply invested in queer politics, and I’ve managed to fumble my way around without ever developing a conventional understanding of gender. Growing up, everyone around me assumed I was a girl based on the genitals I was born with, but I always felt deeply uncomfortable with being labeled a “girl” or “woman.” I don’t feel like a woman, but I know I’m not a man either. I now identify as genderqueer or non-binary. It wasn’t until partway through college, though, before I began to question what gender might mean to me, my explorations largely kindled by developing important relationships with many openly trans autistic people through my activism.
In fact, such a huge proportion of the autistic community identifies as trans, genderqueer, non-binary, or genderless that we’ve developed numerous in-jokes and in-group terminology to describe our particular intersection. More recently, I’ve started referring to myself as gendervague, a term coined within the autistic community to refer to a specifically neurodivergent experience of trans/gender identity. For many of us, gender mostly impacts our lives when projected onto us through other people’s assumptions, but holds little intrinsic meaning.
Click to learn more in the National LGBTQ Task Force’s joint statement on the rights of autistic transgender and gender non-conforming people!
Someone who is gendervague cannot separate their gender identity from their neurodivergence – being autistic doesn’t cause my gender identity, but it is inextricably related to how I understand and experience gender. Autistic people’s brains are fundamentally different from those of anyone who is assumed to be “normal” or “healthy.” For many (but certainly not all) autistic people, we can’t make heads or tails of either the widespread assumption that everyone fits neatly into categories of men and women or the nonsensical characteristics expected or assumed of womanhood and manhood. Recent research has shown that autistic people are more likely to identify as transgender or genderqueer than non-autistic people. That’s not surprising to me, because I’ve met far more trans or genderqueer people in autistic spaces than I have anywhere else.
Many of us are used to being outcasts for our atypical communication, sensory experiences, emotional expressions, and behavior. For some of us autistic people, that constant outsider status makes it easier to figure out that we fall somewhere along the transgender or genderqueer spectrum since we’re already used to not fitting in, or at least, it’s harder for us to hide outward gender non-conformity. The advent of social media has also been a welcome boon for those of us uncomfortable with or incapable of consistent face-to-face interaction, allowing us to safely explore new concepts and meet people with similar experiences.
Similar to how mainstream society often pathologizes transgender identity, the dominant narrative around autism and other mental disabilities is also that we are broken and there is something wrong with us that requires psychiatric intervention. Despite the common intersection of autistic and trans identity, however, much of the trans movement rejects neurodiversity and by extension, many disabled trans people. In the rush to affirm the validity of trans identities and experiences, trans movements frequently practice disavowal of neurodivergent and other disabled people. The common refrain, “Being transgender isn’t a mental illness, so there’s nothing wrong with us!” results in real harm to all people with mental disabilities, but especially those of us at this intersection. While being transgender is of course distinct from having a psych disability, the implicit assumption is that those who are really mentally ill should be subject to coercive treatment, paternalistic care models, and social stigma as broken or unstable.
That pattern of disavowal directly contributes to erasure of autistic and other neurodivergent trans people. In classrooms, group homes, and our parents’ houses, we are told that our gender identities are fake because we’re autistic. If placed under guardianship – common for many adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities – we can be legally prevented from even going to LGBTQ meet-ups by an anti-trans caregiver. Autistic trans people of color face high risk of criminalization, police violence, and incarceration. Trans autistic children are especially vulnerable to behavior plans that include cisgender normalization alongside forced suppression of autistic traits, while gender-affirming expressions or explorations risk harsh compliance-based punishment in schools.
With a trans movement that often rejects neurodivergent people in its fight for acceptance and validation, autistic trans people are left in the lurch. In the fight to legitimize our existence as worthy and valuable, we need to reject the refrain that there’s nothing wrong with us while there is something wrong with them. We deserve movements that recognize and affirm experiences that cannot be easily separated into trans or autistic issues only, especially given the commonalities of the oppression we face. It’s okay to be autistic and trans, and it’s okay for those things to be related and overlap. I’m excited to be working for the National LGBTQ Task Force this summer, where I have been encouraged and supported in working on all issues from an intersectional framework, without having to silo aspects of my identities. Effective activism for trans rights, let alone trans liberation, requires not only a recognition of the parallels and connections in our issues and experiences, but active commitment to intersectionality with neurodiverse communities.
Click to learn more in the Task Force’s joint statement on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming autistic people!
by National LGBTQ Task Force Holly Law Fellow Lydia XZ Brown
The Bi Writers Association (BWA) are celebrating their Fourth Annual Bisexual Book Awards ceremony today, June 3rd in New York City at the Westbeth Community Room, a popular arts space in the West Village. The celebration will include the ninth annual Bi Lines, a multi-arts reading, as the entertainment program for the awards ceremony. Hosted by BWA director Sheela Lambert, the ceremony will include live music by Zen Anton and readings by many authors including Elizabeth Beier, who will give a special presentation of her comic book ”Bisexual Trials & Errors.” Other authors who will give readings are:
- Kate Evans / Call It Wonder: An Odyssey of Love, Sex, Spirit, and Travel
- Emily Bingham / Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham
- B.R. Sanders / Ariah
- Francis Gideon / A Winter in Rome
- Michelle Moore & Reesa Herberth / Peripheral People
- Heidi Belleau & Sam Schooler / Dead Ringer
- Megan Mulry / Bound with Honor
- Erica Yang / Bad Idea
- Redfern Jon Barrett / Giddy Death of the Gays & Strange Demise of Straights
- Sheela Lambert / Bisexuality in Education edited by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli
According to BWA director Sheela Lambert, the Bisexual Book Awards is the one place where authors who write bisexual characters, storylines or themes can be honored in such a variety of categories. BWA encourages authors to write bi-themed books, with fresh characters, settings, and topics. Over the 10 years that BWA has been active, there has been significant progress: from 10 bisexual books published in 2006 to over 100 in 2015.
This year, 73 books were submitted to their nine categories: Non-fiction, Memoir/Biography, Fiction, Romance, Erotic Fiction, Speculative Fiction [Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror], Teen/Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Poetry, and two special categories: Publisher of the Year and Bi Writer of the Year. The number of finalists in each category varies, based on the number of books in that category. Each of the nine book categories had a team of judges who spent months reading, assessing and discussing the books.
To learn more about the Bi Writers Association, visit them online at: http://www.biwriters.org/.
by Daniel Chevez, National LGBTQ Task Force Media Relations Fellow
I didn’t fully know what to expect when I first arrived to North Carolina with the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund to organize people on the ground against HB2 a few weeks ago. I had a basic understanding of what was going on in North Carolina for LGBTQ people because of HB2. However, the law’s harmful effects are broader than just denying access to restrooms to transgender people. The law also makes it possible for all types of minorities to be discriminated against with no repercussions. Also, it took away the ability for municipalities to make their own decisions to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. As a result of this discriminatory law, major corporations like PayPal, Deutsche Bank, Target and the NBA decided to take a stand against the state and in several cases, take their business elsewhere. Musicians and arts performers including Bruce Springsteen, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato also canceled their North Carolina shows to boycott the law. Additionally, many states and local governments have issued statements telling their residents not to travel to North Carolina because of the discrimination they could face since the HB2 bill was signed into law.
As a trans man of color, I didn’t know how I would feel personally coming into the state, facing the same issues that trans folks in North Carolina are facing every day. At this point in my life, my gender identity and expression are not something I think about all the time, but from the minute I stepped into the men’s bathroom in the Charlotte airport I felt different. I was immediately very conscious of the people around me as well as their reactions. I wondered to myself if I was fitting in and similar thoughts I hadn’t had since much earlier in my transition. I realized that I was actually afraid of what might happen if someone found out I was trans. If I got assaulted in the bathroom, I would have been the only person in trouble with the police because I was born female and I was in the men’s bathroom. Normally I really enjoy coming out and telling my story and telling people I’m trans because of how much it surprises and moves them, but here in North Carolina, for the first time in a long time I had to think very carefully about coming out because I feared for my safety.
It was at the airport when I realized how organizing in North Carolina would affect me differently than any other activism work I have done. But experiencing this law in similar ways as North Carolinians just increased my passion for the work I have been doing in the state. My experience is still nowhere near what the people of North Carolina are facing though because I have the option and privilege of leaving whereas residents do not. Not only do they not have a say over where they can use the bathroom and if they can be discriminated against, but they also have no say over the damage that the law is doing to the state of North Carolina.
Before I came to North Carolina and before I actually spoke to residents, I thought that all of the businesses and major corporations boycotting and pulling out of North Carolina was a great way to show the governor that people all across the U.S. don’t agree with HB2, and that the financial loss would push him to repeal the bill. What I found out when I got to North Carolina and started working and talking with folks at the Freedom Center for Social Justice was that the he governor doesn’t seem to care about how it’s really hurting North Carolina residents. North Carolinians don’t want businesses to go, they need them to stay and stand up for them instead of leaving. The small business owners are fearing having to close their doors because tourism has plummeted, conventions have canceled and they are not getting enough business to stay afloat. After seeing that and speaking to community members and people that own their own businesses, I see that we need to find a way to pull small businesses together and to work with and continue uplifting local grassroots organizations like the Freedom Center for Social Justice.
My time and work in North Carolina is surely not over, and I look forward to supporting efforts on the ground to secure full protections against discrimination for LGBTQ people.
by Camden Hargrove, Field Organizer, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund
The National LGBTQ Task Force has the honor of being caretakers of something truly remarkable: the Shower of Stoles Project, which is a gathering of over 1,200 stoles from LGBTQ clergy. The collection, now celebrating its 20th anniversary, has been seen by over a quarter million people across the country, bearing witness to the lives and stories of hundreds of LGBTQ faith leaders. We take great pride in our role as curator, and are humbled by the stories represented in these liturgical pieces.
Most of the stoles are from, or in honor of, individuals who have left ministry or been disciplined because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But also among the collection are what we call solidarity stoles – stoles donated as a tangible sign of support for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the life and leadership of the Church. These solidarity stoles have come from seminaries, colleges and welcoming congregations.
As of today, on our website at http://www.WelcomingResources.org, we list over 5,000 mostly Christian congregations across the country that welcome and affirm LGBTQ folks. Getting to this point has been the result of decades of work by countless advocates across so many faith traditions. But even today in 2016, becoming a welcoming congregation can be a courageous and risky thing to do. These faith settings can, depending on their denomination, face repercussions ranging from censure to being banished from their denomination altogether.
Recently, I joined a number of my Task Force colleagues in North Carolina working with people of faith across the state in efforts to repeal HB2, a virulent law that targets transgender people but also discriminates against the entire LGBTQ community as well restricts the rights of other marginalized people.
In the course of my work in North Carolina, I visited a remarkable congregation, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, a welcoming congregation that had donated a solidarity stole back in 2003.
Their journey as a welcoming congregation began in 1992, when two members – a gay couple – voiced their desire to get married. Performing same-sex weddings, or “Holy Unions,” was rare at that time, and only performed in the most progressive of congregations. Pullen was part of the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination vehement in its opposition to LGBTQ inclusion.
By supporting this couple, Pullen was entering dangerous waters. But despite the threat of serious ramifications, Pullen courageously proclaimed their unqualified support for gay and lesbian people—and since for bisexual, transgender and queer people as well.
For that act of courage, they paid dearly. Like so many of the pastors represented in the Shower of Stoles Project, they were kicked out of their denomination.
Despite that retaliation, the members of Pullen have stayed steadfast and faithful in their support. They have remained a safe refuge for LGBTQ people seeking a spiritual home free from judgment and condemnation. They were early members of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.
Their justice work has extended far beyond LGBTQ issues. They have been a strong partner in the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, a profoundly inspiring, inclusive and intersection coming-together of advocates working on a host of social justice issues, from voting rights to advocating for a living wage to working to repeal HB2.
My visit allowed me to bring their solidarity stole, donated all those years ago, back home for a visit. It was so moving to see their pastor, Reverend Nancy Petty, wear it during Sunday morning’s worship.
As a gay preacher’s kid who has been so hurt by the Church, I find a bit of healing and reason for hope when I experience acts of courage like Pullen’s. I see hope for a church where all are truly welcomed and affirmed. I see hope for a world in which a young LGBTQ kid never has to end their life because they fear that God or their family doesn’t love them. And I hope for a world in which politicians and those in power do not enact laws that harm the most vulnerable among us.
May it be so.
For more information on the Shower of Stoles Project, and to bring a portion of the collection to your community of faith, please visit bit.ly/showerofstoles.
by David Lohman, Faith Work Manager, National LGBTQ Task Force
Like many people, I have been obsessed with Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade since it premiered on HBO. As a Black woman, it was beautiful to be surrounded by so many images, ideas, lyrics, and sounds that resonated with my experiences in Black families. As a Southern activist, lemonade has now taken a completely different meaning for me.
The day Beyoncé’s album premiered, I was training people of faith on how to utilize the power of their own stories to make change. The last few weeks I’ve been working to organize and mobilize clergy and people of faith in North Carolina to stand up against discrimination enshrined into law by HB2. I’ve heard the righteous anger about HB2 from people in Charlotte, Durham, and Raleigh at faith events. They, like many others, are insulted that the North Carolina legislature and Governor would, using the transgender community as a scapegoat, pass a law that repealed discrimination and worker wage protections while gutting the ability for workers to defend themselves against employment discrimination in state courts.
As I watched Beyoncé in her video take her bat and smash the city of New Orleans while singing the words, “Hold up, they don’t love you like I love you…what a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you,” I thought of the Southerners who continue to live in places that actively seek to deny us our humanity and dignity. I thought of the protests that have followed my brothers and sisters being slain openly in the streets by the state with no justice. I thought of the blood shed by my ancestors who built this country through slave labor. I thought about my immigrant friends and their families, whose labor has been used almost for free. I thought about how all our families have struggled for a taste of freedom, freedom that people like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz wish to deny them.
Many of us have had moments where we wished we could take out our anger on a system that works against victims of state violence anti-trans violence, on streets that divide the haves from the have-nots, and on restrooms, access to which has been denied to many trans people. As much as the South has hurt us, we love the South; and because of that love, we stay in the South.
For me, hearing the lyrics “When you hurt me, you hurt yourself,” from the song “Don’t Hurt Yourself” evoked the reality that, when a community of people are marginalized and oppressed, society as a whole fails. Listening to Beyoncé, I found my mind spinning at how all of our lives are connected, and that in trying to separate our lives from theirs, conservative politicians are losing out on God’s most precious gift: the diversity of creation. In signing HB2 into law, Governor McCrory not only hurt the communities targeted by the law, but so many others. In just one month since the bill became law, the state has lost hundreds of millions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and according to the polls, everyone in North Carolina will soon be putting their middle fingers up and telling their governor “Boy, Bye.”
For me, the chapter headings in the Lemonade video, which detail the eleven stages of grief—intuition, denial, anger, apathy, emptiness, accountability, reformation, forgiveness, resurrection, hope and redemption— resonated with the fight for justice in the South, specifically that around HB2. In North Carolina, even as the special legislative session was called for the purpose of passing HB2, many in our community were in denial that it would actually become law. Once it did, there wasn’t much time for apathy and emptiness. Our side was marshaled for a long march toward accountability for politicians. Our actions on Monday, April 25—which began with a press conference delivering nearly 200,000 petition signatures to repeal HB2, also included two rallies, a speak out, and ended with a symbolic sit-in at the state General Assembly. The actions on April 25 were just the beginning of a series of actions organized to push for the repeal of what has now become known as “Hate Bill 2.” Recently, the Governor of Georgia made a different decision than Governor McCrory by not signing a bill similar to HB2—a decision that allowed for there to be reformation, forgiveness (to some extent), resurrection, hope, and redemption. He followed the rules of his faith and made a determination that those rules did not include discrimination against any group of people. In this decision, Georgia began to turn away from its dark past.
In North Carolina, the path to redemption for the leaders who voted for and signed this bill into law is narrow, and ends in two months at the close of the short session. Advocates across our movement, fighting for justice for all, are getting in “Formation” to repeal HB2 and to replace it with strong non-discrimination protections that are inclusive of LGBTQ people. If that is not turning lemons into lemonade, I don’t know what else is. If forgiveness and redemption are truly possible, they will be from the heart of Joseph espoused in Genesis 50:20, “as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” The lemonade that we are making in North Carolina will hopefully not only finally bring LGBTQ inclusive non-discrimination protections, but also increase public education, support, affirmation, and awareness regarding the transgender community.
Whether repeal of HB2 happens in the short session or as a result of Election Day in November, freedom from HB2, like in Beyoncé’s song “Freedom,” is coming because we know that our community is resilient and that our Creator intended for all of her children to be free to be who she created us to be. King Bey agrees. She has recently come out in opposition to HB2. So has the federal government. Yesterday, the US Department of Justice gave North Carolina until Monday to stop implementing or complying with significant aspects of HB2 or else nearly a billion dollars’ worth of federal funding would be at stake. While we hope those significant aspects of HB2 are voided, we know the rest of the law is just as bad for other marginalized and oppressed communities. We will keep on fighting for full repeal of the law because as Beyoncé says “I’ma keep running cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”
by Victoria Kirby York, National Campaigns Director, National LGBTQ Task Force
The National LGBTQ Task Force, in collaboration with the True Colors Fund, has launched a new resource for advocates working to support LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. The online resource “At the Intersections: A Collaborative Guide on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness,” written by 47 contributors, is a comprehensive guide for advocates, policy makers, service providers, and funders working to end homelessness among LGBTQ youth. The first-of-its-kind online publication highlights innovative approaches to supporting youth experiencing homelessness, provides case studies of replicable and successful models, as well as concrete solutions to ending LGBTQ youth homelessness.
According to the William Institute, up to 40 percent of young people experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ, although they represent less than 10 percent of the general youth population. There are many factors that contribute to LGBTQ youth homelessness, including family rejection, abuse, aging out of foster care, economic hardship, bullying and school harassment. LGBTQ youth also suffer higher rates of physical and sexual assault than heterosexual youth experiencing homelessness. Also, in order to survive, 28% of homeless LGBTQ youth report trading sex for basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. Additionally, LGBTQ youth are twice as likely as non-LGBTQ youth to attempt suicide.
The new online resource also examines the relationship between racism and LGBTQ youth homelessness, the impact of immigration on LGBTQ young people, and the systemic barriers faced by transgender and gender non-conforming youth experiencing homelessness.
We encourage any organization that wants to take part assisting with this important cause to read and follow the advice in “At the Intersection” online guide. To learn more about the guide, and to read online, please visit: AtTheIntersections.org
by Daniel Chevez, National LGBTQ Task Force Media Relations Fellow