Church and Rainbow

An accidental activist

Yesterday’s decision by the Supreme Court of the United States would never have seemed possible fifteen years ago.  It was around that time that I first began throwing my support behind basic human rights for the homosexual and bisexual communities.  It was far from inevitable, though, that I would become an activist for this cause.

During my teenage years, I was very active in an organization called “Youth for Christ.”  I attended weekly meetings in my suburb.  Occasionally I came to city-wide rallies featuring performers of Contemporary Christian Music.  These meetings filled me with a version of Christianity that emphasized particular Bible passages as foundational to the faith and urged evangelism as an activity for all believers.  I began carrying my Bible with me to high school classes, a habit that didn’t end until well into my freshman year of college.  “YFC” taught unambiguous messages about sexual purity and marriage, and homosexuality was only mentioned as a perversion in connection with God’s judgment.

Arriving at college was bewildering for me.  My co-ed residence hall featured a substantial number of people who were attracted to others of the same gender, and I found that my friendships with this group grew stronger with time.  I was struggling, on the other hand, with the other members of my Bible study or my church choir.  I didn’t know what to think; my homosexual and bisexual friends meant a lot to me, but my beliefs proclaimed that they were not merely confused but dangerous.  Over the next four years, I evolved quite a lot in my beliefs and friendships.

During graduate school, I served on the Graduate and Professional Student Senate.  Many of the officers in the GPSS became friends of mine, and soon I realized that several of them were homosexual or bisexual.  At the time, married student housing on the University of Washington campus was not available to same-sex couples.  By contrast, same-sex students who registered as domestic partners with the city of Seattle were protected from discrimination in private housing.  The GPSS planned a major campus rally to draw attention to this situation, and I decided to come along in support of my friends.

When the day arrived, I was given a sign that read “human rights are not special rights.”  (At the time, some critics argued that allowing same-sex couples to be in housing designated for married couples was to award them special privilege.)  When our march reached “Red Square,” the center of campus, I planted the pole of my sign on the ground, which put the sign right on my chest.  Red Square was filled with TV news crews, and this posture kept my face and sign in one shot.  That night I appeared on multiple nightly news broadcasts.  Happily, the rally was a success, and the University changed its policies.

Since that rally, I have continued my engagement with the LGBT+ community.  In particular, singing with the Nashville in Harmony chorus has helped me to understand how beliefs like those from my youth have been used to harm many members of the community.  I have also seen first-hand how much joy and care this group is ready to shower on the population at large!

Yesterday’s ruling for marriage equality has removed one of the largest impediments to healthy life for members of the LGBT+ community.  There are still plenty remaining, such as state laws that permit employers to fire their workers for homosexuality.  I believe, though, that the tide has turned, and legal discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has only a limited time left.  I am proud that I was able to come to my senses before harming this community any more than I did as a youth!

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