I grew up in an environment where I was not really made aware of queer people. Actually, the only definition of “queer” that I knew was “strange” or “odd.” I remember using it this way at the dinner table once and being fiercely reprimanded and silenced for using that “dirty” word.
I quickly learned what that word meant, and I learned that I should not talk about “homosexuals” apart from the context of Biblical condemnation.
A large population of queer kids grow up facing bullying and violence when people throw words like “gay” or “f*g” in their face at school and at home. This is the visible kind of bullying that is most often addressed on Spirit Day and in the news. What I want to address here though, is the violence of invisibility; not only in conservative circles, but also in more progressive places.
This is a far more insidious kind of “bullying” that happens in everyday life for queer people. There’s this ideology out there that implies that “bullying” is something only pro-active in nature, suggesting you have to do something to bully. There’s also a pervasive belief that “bullying” is something that is mostly done to teenagers in high school.
While those observations hold some truth, a large part of violence (or “adult bullying”) perpetuated against queer people happens every time we disregard them in our heteronormative speech and actions (sins of omission). This is a far more prevalent and insidious type of “bullying” done by society and church.
Several years after that dinner conversation, I left home at 18 and I ended up going to some more progressive churches. Ironically enough, I was facing similar problems of non-representation and heteronormative patterns in these progressive places. While queer people were not condemned, their liberation was often not worked for.
It was perplexing seeing a kind of shallow indifference instead of the condemnation I was used to.
Countless seemingly small things are debilitating to the very spirit of queer people.
- Clicking on a church’s website marriage tab, and being greeted by a beautiful bride and groom as the cover photo with no accompanying representation of queer couples.
- Listening to stories that are solely influenced by a heteronormative narrative.
- Hearing speakers talk to the men in the audience and casually make a joke about something their “wives must do” which implies all men are or will be in relationships with women.
- Hearing the gender binary reinforced in church through scripture, sermons, hymns and conversations.
- Being told “God loves gay people,” yet not seeing a fight for their liberation.
I know to some these may seem like little irrelevant acts, but they are small acts of violence that continue to build up over time. They are an insidious bullying of LGBTQ youth and adults.
“Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” – Ovid
I know several progressive Methodist churches like to talk about “constructive conversations,” but too often I have seen those same churches do little to change the language and ideology used in their own places of worship. I think a lot of this is due to ignorance. I think a lot of this is due to privilege. I think a lot of this is due to cowardice.
Just because we may not directly contribute to systems of oppression does not mean our hands are clean. We must actively fight against those systems of oppression. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist clergy person, said it beautifully, “I can no longer be a silent supporter, but will now be an activist speaking for our LGBT brothers and sisters in the Church and beyond.”
We all must choose how we will respond to injustice in our world.
Scriptures demand that we “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17, NRSV)
Spirit Day is an incredibly important day to recognize and defy all the bullying and violence done to queer people by being subversive to these particular systems of domination. As followers of Jesus, we can stand together in solidarity and fight for those who are bullied, bruised, and beaten – by physical violence, violent words, or through the violence of erasure and invisibility.
“By electing Israelite slaves as the people of God and by becoming the Oppressed One in Jesus Christ, the human race is made to understand that God is known where human beings experience humiliation and suffering…Liberation is not an afterthought, but the very essence of divine activity.” – James Cone
God exists where there is brokenness and pain. This is shown through the incarnation. We stand with all queer people on Spirit Day for liberation.