Editor’s note: On June 27th, in response to the marriage equality ruling from the Supreme Court, Katy and her wife Laurie, shared a video about why it mattered to them that they were able to have their wedding ceremony within their United Methodist Church home, officiated by their own pastors, despite the discriminatory prohibitions of the Book of Discipline. Watch the video here.
Here’s a little more context to the video that Laurie Lee and I made, one that explains my quip in the video, “I’m a life-long United Methodist, I’m not going anywhere.”
I added this statement, because I am the married lesbian mother that I am today, not despite The United Methodist Church, but because of it.
Like many, I knew at an early age that I was lesbian. I was maybe 12 or 13 years old when this realization hit me. At the time, I was in a joint youth group made up of kids from my home United Methodist church and the United Methodist church down the street. That youth group had a leader who was a breath of fresh air for us kids living in our conservative, Catholic, blue-collar community located 55 miles west of Chicago. She talked openly to us about sex, drugs, STDS, GRID (now known as AIDS), poverty, and world-wide injustice. During her time with us, I spent many Saturdays volunteering at the domestic abuse shelter for women where she was a counselor. Unfortunately, too soon for me, she quit leading our youth group, but not before she told me of this wonderful place called the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and how one day I would go there and see for myself the beauty of being the kind of person I was growing into.
At the age of 12, I also became a wilderness camper and canoer through a program offered by the Northern Illinois United Methodist Church Conference. For six years, I traveled every summer with a new group of kids up north to the Boundary Waters. Here, surrounded by the beauty of the water and land, I formed deep connections to people who were strangers, discovered the inner and outer strength I needed to portage a canoe on my back, and matured into a deeper relationship with God. In pictures of me during those trips, I look like a very butch girl who is extremely happy.
This was as close as I had ever come to feeling fully integrated as a human.
My school years were spent trying to survive without anyone knowing I was a lesbian. However, in the back of my mind, during the times when I contemplated suicide, was the knowledge that I was strong and not alone. I finally came out during my junior year in college, 1988. When I went home for Christmas that year, I had dinner with the pastor at my home church, who was a good friend to my family. This pastor was the first “adult” that I told about my sexuality. He was very liberal, and I had heard him preach against The UMC’s discrimination when his dear friend committed suicide after losing her ordination upon coming out.
I remember him telling me that I was a beloved child of God.
I remember him telling me that I was supposed to be in connection with others – that my love for a woman was in fact what God intended. The summer of 1989 I told my former youth leader that I was a lesbian. She told me to get myself ready for Michigan. I asked my mother if I could borrow the family car so I could go to the Festival, she agreed, but then asked WHY I wanted to go to the Festival. That led to my coming out to her. It was my one and only conversation with her about my hopes and dreams to be a thriving lesbian teacher, partner, and mother. Unbeknownst to any of us at the time, my mother had a brain tumor and by February of 1990 she was gone.
Our pastor was an enormous support for my family after my mother’s death. He openly listened as I implored him to use inclusive language at my mother’s memorial. And he did. Listening to him talk about God the Mother was so healing for me on that day. It was the first time I had heard those words. He was also pivotal in helping my father accept me for who I am. He counseled my reluctant father to embrace me and my lesbian identity. Most importantly, our pastor reminded my dad that I am a child of God.
The rage I experienced over my mother’s death left me extremely angry with God. I left the church without any intention of returning. After an extremely awful break-up, and the never-ending grief I felt over my mother’s death, I came back to The United Methodist Church. I landed at a church that I enjoyed, but I didn’t feel fully included. The pastor at that church recommended that I try Broadway United Methodist Church. It was there that I truly came to know, deep in my soul, that my lesbianism was a gift from God.
Shortly after my first visit to BUMC, I met Laurie Lee. Eighteen months after we got together we were traveling to Laurie’s brother’s home on Long Island. We were stopped in traffic next to a United Methodist Church in East Hampton, NY, when I noticed that the sign in front of the church announced that my childhood pastor was serving there! We pulled into the church, and unbelievably, he and his wife were pulling into the parking lot, too. We ended up having dinner at their home, and in a very loving way they inquired about our intentions for each other. I am positive that breaking bread and praying with them that night set the course for our marriage this year.
I can say, “I’m not going anywhere,” because I’ve not received the abuse that so many others have at the hands of The UMC.
I know I’m fortunate that my church home, under the leadership of Greg Dell, Vernice Thorn, and Lois McCullen Parr, has pushed me to grow and thrive and to recognize that I am beloved, and to take the grace I’ve been given to work for justice in a hurting world. In turn, this church has stood steadfastly by me during my most turbulent times.
Key people in The UMC have shaped me and loved me, and because of that, I am the OUT, PROUD, LESBIAN that I am today.