Dear Gil, I'm sitting in a downtown Helena, Montana cafe. Spread before me is your email request for a statement from me, the African American United Methodist Church Scholars & Clergy endorsement urging ordination of gay clergy, and a copy of a Montana District Court ruling. The third dismisses a case brought by six same-sex couples against the state of Montana for violation of equal protection as guaranteed by the state constitution. I’m trying to absorb the meaning and ramifications of the judge’s ruling, his recognition of LGBT discrimination yet his unwillingness to set (as he sees it) a precedent of the Montana state judicial branch ordering its legislative branch to change discriminatory statutes. You and your colleagues’ statement flow through my thoughts, as does your life experience.
You, Gil, have lived through many precedent-setting times. I think of the Supreme Court decisions in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 ruling race-based segregation of public schools to be unconstitutional and Loving v. Virginia in 1967 striking down bans on interracial marriage. You grew up in North Carolina watching your parents navigate a Jim Crowe world and later during your high school years a segregated Dallas. Returning again to North Carolina during college to visit your grandfather, you saw his fear and heard his stiff warning when he wouldn’t let you go out in a car with friends –friends who were white and female. I remember you telling me this story when we were driving from Birmingham to Selma last summer, 55 plus years separated our trip from the one with your grandfather. Later at dinner, you reflected that back then, you wouldn’t have been able to eat in the restaurant we were in. These experiences are tiny windows into the vast world of discrimination, which you had to push against to survive and thrive; a pathway of thorns that wounded you in body, soul and mind yet at the same time grew your wisdom and compassion.
Not everyone can make the move from oppression to compassion but you turned that corner, and in turn you now shine the light of your experience onto other travesties of defamation and despair. With the arc of justice, you use the experiences that have bent you to now lift others up. The power at the base of you and your African American colleagues’ statement is the credibility that you have to speak of injustice. Your words do not come out of a lofty intellectual idea of justice; your words are seeded with lived experience. You have faced down hatred, ignorance and bigotry, and you recognize their ugliness no matter where it is directed.
The LGBT community should be humbled that you join us in turning the tide of injustice. I say, “should be” because not all stop to consider that it is because of the pain you have suffered that allows you to understand and speak out. Your compassion was formed in the crucible of lawful violent acts meant to demean, demoralize, and defeat, even unto death. You know the reality of such evil and out of that knowing you can imagine what that beating-down does to others. But you offer your hand anyway without knowing if there is mutual respect and commitment. As one of many in the diverse LGBTQ community who tries to comprehend your gift, I take the hand that you are extending. We share calluses and scars from different struggles, but we join for the same fight, one for dignity, equality, and safety for all people.
With love and appreciation beyond words, Yours truly, Marilyn
Your response to my question (Respond to the statement of black United Methodist Scholars urging the end of our denominaion's discriminaion against same gender loving persons) reflects a gift that I find unique in you. You have the capacity to understand and express a sense of empathy for the racial journey that I have traveled. Often I get the impression that many white persons find it difficult to acknowledge the racial bias and bigotry (legal and cultural), that I and other black persons of my generation, have experienced. My/our history becomes "invisible" because to remember black history causes some who are not black to deny that history and/or to feel guilty about that history. Remember when Michelle Obama said, "For the first time...." Those who responded to her negatively were bothered by the fact that she "dared" to remind the nation of the journey to justice of those of us who are black. But, if we do not remember the past, we cannot celebrate the remarkable progress of the present. You engage in neither denial or guilt as you understand that history, and thus you are able to write about it.
I agree with your words, "We share calluses and scars from different struggles, but for the same fight, one for dignity, equality and safety for all people." This is why we are "sister and brother" in our Truth in Progress pilgrimage.