Commentary: Vibrant and Wonderfully Alive
June is Open and Affirming month in many of our churches and Pride month in many of our communities. (Both are recognized at other times in some places.) For those of us who are transgender, non-binary, two-spirit, intersex, asexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, or queer, it is a chance to stand up and declare that we are still vibrantly and wonderfully alive, that we are beloved to God.
Romans 12 reminds us that we are not to conform to the patterns of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, to remain joyful in hope. Refusing to conform to the status quo led Marsha P. Johnson to throw a shot glass at the mirror behind the bar at the Stonewall Inn after being harassed (again) by the police for nothing more than being a black drag queen experiencing homelessness. Like others, Johnson lived at the intersection of race, gender, and poverty. Johnson believed that something better was possible, and her willingness to fight for that envisioned world continues to lead and inspire.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall protests, and New York will recognize them in conjunction with World Pride. Yet, focusing only on Stonewall forgets that it was only one of many places where people have resisted, just like the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge was only one action in the Civil Rights movement.
Policies that seek to erase queer people from public life and public records still make the news, and transgender people remain centered fighting for justice. In the Americas, the average life expectancy for a black transgender woman is between 30 and 35 years. Dallas has lost three women in the past few weeks. Ninety-two percent of two-spirit Native Americans report being bullied so badly in school that they experience lifelong psychological distress. But each person who identifies with one of the initials is more than just a statistic. We are living full lives and we are serving our faith communities.
Some cultures believe gender and sexuality are attributes of the soul, not the body. In those places, accepting LGBTQIA+ people into our secular and spiritual spaces is not a new thing, but a reclaimed truth. Those of us called to dedicate our lives to this enduring fight of reclamation know how easy it is to get discouraged. That is why Open and Affirming Sunday is important—both in churches that are ONA and those that are just now feeling the Spirit lead them toward full affirmation. We need to feel ourselves being lifted up on the shoulders of those who came before as we massage the shoulders of those who will come after. We need to feel the strength of our faith communities behind us.
This year, celebrate by reclaiming stories of resistance in your own communities. Open and Affirming Sunday is meant to be a joyful celebration of the wonderful of the love and diversity that is creation. Love rebuilds hope.
Kimi Floyd Reisch, Mdiv. Program Minister for the Open and Affirming Coalition of the United Church of Christ