The Speech – March for Equality, Fort Wayne, Indiana, June 11, 2017

It is an honor, and truly humbling, to be here to speak to you this afternoon.

I’ve never been much of an activist. I’ll admit, I do occasionally find joy in being disagreeable. And the sarcasm is strong with this one.

But I own the fact that I’ve had it easy. Garsy and I raised four cool kids, kept our sphere of influence small.

The good life, insular and private, in which I never had a reason to win.

Something invigorating happens when you look up from the mundane and notice the magnificent people around you. Through the lens of mindful contemplation, you truly see your neighbor, who you delightfully discover is so much more than overalls and mumbles. The silent store clerk who rings up your smokes with trembling hands. My youngest child who, at the age of fourteen, in the bravest act I’ve ever witnessed, handed his mom and I a note saying, “I think I may be a boy.” My daughter, who, after years of emotional upheaval, became a beacon of healing and hope for herself and others and found the courage to come out as a lesbian.

Until just over three years ago, I never believed in anything enough to fight for it. I was loud but voiceless. My tired mantra, “It is what it is” withered to dust and blew away when it met the harsh wind of standing in solidarity with my kids, welcoming and absorbing and deflecting the ridicule.

Strangely, it was like the fog clearing on a humid Indiana morning. There was corn! And the corn was good! Being a witness to their struggles and victories, I find myself at the place in my life where I’m trying to live up to who I think I am, or who I might want to be.

At last year’s Pride, I wanted to be a hugger. I made this shirt. I didn’t expect a lot of takers. Pride attendees get props from each other, not from old straight cis dudes like me. Wandering around the pavilion listening to the music, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there stood a young girl, a teenager, nondescript. “I think my friend needs a hug.” She pointed to another young girl standing some distance away. Her hands covered her mouth and she seemed to be crying. I opened my arms and she ran to me. Or maybe I ran to her. We both needed that hug. She cried on my shoulder as we held each other. Finally, she pulled away and, voice quavering, told me, “What those people are saying out there? I hear that all the time at home. And it hurts seeing it here.” My heart broke for her. I can tune that shit out. The Pride protesters are nothing to me but a bunch of people shouting words that don’t impact me whatsoever. In the right ears, however, their toxicity lacerates a sacred space within the soul of all of us.

Sacred. Soul. These are loaded words. But research shows that a majority of us gathered here know what I’m talking about. The Reverend Elizabeth M. Edman, in her book Queer Virtue, refers to the mysterious ability in each of us “to perceive ourselves as a person of greater value,” to recognize “God’s extraordinary touch,” or to “hear God’s encouraging voice whispering into [your] ear, “You go, girl”; “You go, boy”; “You go, you fabulous genderqueer child.”

I want to emphasize that this is not at attempt tell LGBT people to be anything other than “the extraordinary souls you already are.” I’m not trying to “impose the notion of spirituality” on you. I speak from the perspective on one who is pluralistic in belief, an independent spiritualist, reverently agnostic, but thoroughly Christian by upbringing and in practice. Christianity is what I know, what I embrace and rebel against, and what I seek to impact.

Every speech needs statistics. A recent study by the Marin Foundation, based in Chicago’s Boys Town community, found that 86% of LGBT people were raised in a faith community during their youth. 54% of LGBT people leave their religious community after the age of 18. 76% of LGBT people are open to returning to their religious community and its practices.

Is the hunger real? Do LGBT we all, deep down in a place we seldom visit, lack what the religious community provides? That is for you to decide. I believe that God is people. I look in the mirror and I see God in all his glorious imperfection. I look across this lawn and I see the God I want to hang with. We are the only God I can see and relate to in this life. In these bodies. You are God to me.

I’m a U2 fan. And perhaps you, like me, can relate to the lamentation in the song Acrobat: “I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in.” Maybe you’re searching for a table of fellowship where you’ll be offered the cup by willing hands. The Affirming Church Directory on gaychurch.org lists, eight places here in Fort Wayne. Eight safe spaces, in the city of churches.

Or maybe it’s time to create our own sacred spaces. What does one look like? My spiritual hero Gregory Boyle urges us to go out and “create a community of kinship such that God, in fact, might recognize it . . . a circle of compassion with nobody standing outside. You do that by going to the margins, and you stand with the poor, and the powerless and the voiceless, with those whose dignity has been denied, with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable, so the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”

Edman’s desire is my desire: “that progressive Christians will rise up and demand a full stop on the frontal assault being waged on queer people in the name of religion.”

Souls peppered with hate as they enter an open space where they are free to be who they know themselves to be. They are my heroes. Born that way. Stars just below the horizon waiting to rise in splendor of authenticity and genuineness and PRIDE!

With the blessing of the local Pride leadership, my family and I are assembling a group of individuals called Faces of Love. On Saturday, July 22, we will gather at Headwaters Park. We will drink coffee and juice and eat donuts and granola bars and fruit and donuts. We will break the bread of fellowship and unity. And we will wait.

Full stop.

In silence, we will be the answer to the question:

What God would damn a heart?

Not the one I see in us. In you and me.

We have room. If you’d like to be a one of the Faces of Love, see me after the event.

God is people. We shape our faith according to our own inner desires and longings. We are all people. We are one at the table of fellowship, and it is good for my soul to be there.

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