I am tired of sanctimonious New Age experts pronouncing that fear is an unnecessary negative reaction to events that may never happen. Stop for a moment with me; hear/touch/feel the emotions of a child lying in bed, knowing that sometime during the night its body will be violated again. Remember those Jews hidden in occupied Europe as the sound of troops systematically carrying out door-to-door house searches; did they not have real cause for fear? More recently in Rwanda and Kosovo as genocide became the preoccupation of the military forces, was there not just cause for fear, for terror both day and night? In El Salvador Oscar Romero was assassinated as he celebrated Mass, because of his commitment to the struggles of the marginalised was there not cause for fear? And for those South American women, mothers and wives, who wait day by day, year by year for news of their menfolk snatched at night, is there not cause to fear the outcome of military reprisals? Fear is a normal emotion, designed to alert our bodies to predictable events – preparing us for the “flight or fight” response.
We, the GLBT community, live in a world in which we are marginalised and dismissed as evil and worthless. While ever there are those who, within religious organizations, preach and teach that we are the spawn of Satan; while ever governmental bodies refuse to redress the social injustices to which we are subjected; while ever the perception remains that those who are not heterosexual are child molesters and a threat to the nation’s security, we will continue to live in fear of reprisals if our sexuality is identified. Fear and terror pervade our bodies and both our sweat and urine are permeated with the odour of fear. Since fear has impacted on my life I would share these experiences with you.
In 1983 in the North East of New South Wales, two people put to air on the local community radio station 2NCR-FM, a programme, Gaywaves. This programme was opposed by the spokespersons of the churches, by the various branches of the media, by elected members of local Government, and by all those who responded to the newspaper editorials of the day. The members of the Board of 2NCR were subjected to a terrible onslaught by both the media and by representatives of their own churches. In fact, had it not been a requirement under the Public Broadcasting Act that air-time had to be allocated to all community representative groups, the programme would have been buried, and the protesters would have succeeded.
The cost to the individual programmers, and to a sponsor, was high. From the media came a daily barrage of inaccuracies, either as “Letters to the Editor” or as editorials. Threats against the programmers were published, and station officials were strangely reluctant to repair external studio locks. A campaign suggesting that AIDS could be caught by eating at a particular restaurant (owned by one of the programmers) had the effect of turning away the clientele, and the subsequent bankruptcy of that business. One sponsor sustained such a brutal attack that he spent six months having reconstructive surgery in Brisbane. Though the police were swift to arrest his assailant, the jury freed him, for he claimed he was but defending himself after a homosexual advance. As the other programmer I discovered how hatred could spread through a community like cancer. My eldest daughter continually had her college assignments marked down by her lecturer who was also a member of the Board of 2NCR-FM, and it took an appeal to the Board of Studies to have the situation remedied. In the five years my son travelled on the school bus from home to attend High School in the closest town, no one would speak or sit next to him. During the years of my second daughter’s marriage her husband’s family openly and constantly condemned my sexuality, thus creating an atmosphere of hostility. While my car was garaged here on the Farm the brakes were tampered with even though my surname and address were never broadcast. It was a time of terror that was matched only with our determination to keep the programme on air.”
Fear and terror, yes! But it wasn’t just stubbornness that kept us on air, and it was not the well wishes of family members that rolled away the clouds of anger and hostility that engulfed us. No, behind both of us, or rather linked into every fibre of our being, was an ongoing experience of God. A few years down the track, he was a lecturer with the Inner Peace Movement and I was a priest. It is only when we are tested to and seemingly beyond our limits that we are able to proclaim triumphantly that it was God who held our hands, God who provided shelter from life’s storms, God who reached forth to heal all those wounds deliberately inflicted.
As a priest, I observe the varying colours of the seasons of the Church as they are reflected in the hues of my stoles. Red speaks to me fires of hatred and the anger directed against us, but it also encapsulates the fierceness of God’s encompassing love for all people. Green not only reminds me of the envy thinly veneered beneath slander directed against us, it also represents the new growth possible after winter’s bleakness is past. Gold, rarely worn, offers a glimpse of Christ’s glory waiting just beyond death’s door, and I surely prefer this symbol to seeing it as a mark of cowardice. Purple, the colour of passion, worn as the Church remembers the agony of Jesus, is also the colour we claim as our very own. White is the combination of all colours, the undivided light, and symbol of the potential of every human being in community. The rainbow, symbol of God’s promise, contains and combines all these colours. I am a child of the rainbow.
How do we let go of our fear? Mostly we keep a little of it still tucked inside our hair shirt; a little of it to remind us of the acts spawned by hatred of any who are perceived as different. As to the rest, well I guess we turn to the One who has always been by our side, and we ask for help on a second by second basis. At the time, we have no awareness that we are carving new paths in political and religious wildernesses, that we are creating new boundaries by our refusal to bow under seemingly impossible odds. We just do what God asks of us. We stand, feet firmly braced, confident that no matter what happens God will not let go of us. Whether we speak out as programmers, as priests or as ordinary people, we who simply cannot keep the truth of God’s love to ourselves will always have an advantage over those who choose a closet experience. By exposing ourselves as disciples we eliminate the looming terror from all those threatened acts violence of which our critics speak. We call their bluff; it is a case of exposing their hatred, often phrased as Christian concern, or seeing them retreat to the sidelines. For myself, I would rather see and hear my opponent than lie abed worrying about possible future violence. What is the worst that can happen to me? Could it be worse than a life in which I had denied my sexuality and my Saviour?
Whether we belong to the GLBT community or a violated child, whether we are members of various minorities or are disabled in some way, there is only one way to live through the circumstances of our fear. And that one way is God. No person can with the best of intentions or even with magic can alter our circumstances. Only God can and will hear when we cry, and only God will not leave us. How do we let go of our fear? When we turn to God our fears are replaced with a peace that is unshakable. We too know the presence of the Other in the fiery furnace.
Rev. Vera I. Bourne of Lismore, N.S.W., Australia, served as Outreach Clergy at Christs Community Church.