Some years ago I served on a panel of LGBTQI community leaders for a local community college. I was there as a representative of the queer spiritual community; among the panelists were a couple of businesspeople, a hardcore activist and the college’s police chief, a Latina lesbian.
The night went well, with lots of back-and-forth, good conversation and questions. We got down to the very last question of the night when a woman in the back of the room came to the microphone and asked: “What is it you people want, really?”
The police chief gave a simple answer that resonates with me still today: “I want to walk down the street in my neighborhood holding my girlfriend’s hand and nobody give a damn!”
Fast forward to 2021 and I believe we’ve arrived at that inflection point. Call it Inclusivity Junction, where the mainstream culture train has just arrived — and you know what’s not on the menu in the lounge? That toxic cocktail of white male supremacy and Christian exceptionalism that Beth Moore just pushed away and that Glennon Doyle’s 1.5 million-follower Instagram account fairs quite nicely without.
On that train, the Christian and political right keeps pouring that ages-old patriarchial exceptionalist hooch out of their hip flasks while their car is so far back that they can’t see the sign on the depot announcing where the rest of us have arrived. They might as well be in the last car of the Snowpiercer, completely unaware of just how poor in spirit they actually are.
And what’s playing on the TV in the lounge up front? Commercials where LGBTQI people are just… there. As in, unremarkably, so many comedies, dramas and movies we’re just part of the cast of characters in whatever story is being told. Our revolution has arrived, and it was in fact quite televised. Netflix and equality, anyone?
We’re also the CEO’s of major companies. We’re all over the military, within all ranks and branches. We’re among the theologians in the progressive wing of the Christian faith — without being viewed solely through the lens of our queer identity. We’re in professional sports of all kinds. We’ve already become so unremarkable that it barely registered when the U.S. Congress approved the nation’s first out gay (and quite openly, happily married) Secretary of Transportation.
Not to understate the real difficulties facing the transgender community right now; they remain vast, deep and too often deadly. But I lay all of it at the feet of the folks in the Ignorance Class cars of the culture train — and eventually even they will have to de-board and sit in the same depot with the rest of us and look around and realize that there aren’t any scapegoats left. Perhaps there will be mirrors in the gift shop.
Meanwhile, we LGBTQI folks (and our allies) have enjoyed riding in the car with the panoramic view because we’ve faced life with eyes wide open, teaching the community around us how to live and survive for a long time.
Need good fashion sense? Come to us. Need openness and creativity around sexual practices? Come to us. Need a hot and well-attended party? Come to us. Need gender definitions blown up and re-written? Come to us. Need to understand what it really takes to be married? Come to us. Need to learn what affirming and progressive theology is all about? Come to us. Need to learn how to die with dignity despite being rejected by family and the community at large? Come to us. Need to learn how to survive and thrive during a pandemic? Come to us.
In other words, we’ve fought many of life’s worst challenges as a regular feature of our existence. We know how to paddle the canoe while being buffeted by the twin waves of patriarchy and Christian exceptionalism caused by a political/religious right wing that still gleefully ignores the “No Wake” signs posted by our society’s more civilized members.
Do you disagree? Then tell me this:
Who is gunning down black men in the streets? Who are the authors of the voter-suppression bills surfacing in our statehouses? Who makes sure women are paid 70 cents on the dollar — and still far too often demonized as man-hating (probably lesbians), angry (especially if you’re Black) or just plain hysterical if they stand up for their own equality?
Tell me: Who stormed the U.S. Capitol? And who blessed the ones who did? And who is now trying to explain it away, minimize it, or just plain excuse it in the name of “healing” and “unity”?
Who is telling us that gender confirmation surgery is mutilation? Who is telling us the state should have the right to decide what medical procedures a woman may or may not have?
Who is now telling us that COVID-19 is a dark-state plot to take over our lives, that we don’t actually need to do anything to protect ourselves, and that this pandemic will eventually blow over like a common cold? Who is now characterizing everything that has been done to fight the pandemic as a scheme to rob you of your individual rights and God-given liberty? Who is now accusing us all of simply overreacting?
We know who they are, and we recognize that smell on their breath: It’s that patriarchal exceptionalist hip-flask hooch. And like a lot of hillbilly hooch, if you let too much of it into your life you’re flirting with blindness.
For the rest of us who may enjoy a nice normal (perhaps bottomless) mimosa with our Sunday brunch, it is of course foolish not to queue up for the vaccine. It is foolish not to ask our doctors all the questions, foolish not to stay informed, and foolish not to protect ourselves, our families, our friends and society.
Again, our people already know what it’s like to hear CDC safety precautions like a dog whistle calling us back to safety. We’ve been wearing condoms for decades, so a mask is hardly an imposition. (And just for the record, the HIV pandemic is not over yet… It’s just well-managed.)
Due to COVID-19 there are more than 500,000 people dead in the United States — 17,000 in my home state of Georgia alone. There are still 1,000 people a dying daily. Once again, I find myself at far too many funerals; I don’t like that particular familiarity.
And this is to say nothing of what COVID-19 does to its survivors over the long haul. It’s a truly nasty virus. Now that there are three equally good vaccines available, please get one of them. It’s such a simple thing that I truly struggle to understand how some might regard it as a choice. How many must die before we’re all convinced?
People need to get vaccinated, wear masks, socially distance themselves, avoid large public indoor gatherings, wash their hands, not pick their noses (okay that last one is from me) — and this pandemic will ease so much sooner than if we had kept fighting the paper tiger of “creeping socialism.” (Spoiler: If you get real close to that tiger, it smells like that hip-flask hooch.)
Seriously, no one’s actual rights are being trampled here.
In fact, everything I’ve said about this is truly a moral imperative. It’s called following the commandment of Jesus when he said, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.”
I think my friend the Rev. Dr. Delman Coates said it best: “We are waiting on God to change our circumstances. Meanwhile, God is using our circumstances to change us.”
In conclusion: I had to come on strong in this article because I’m tired of all the faux swagger from people who swear they aren’t going to get the vaccination for one reason or another — especially coming from the evangelical religious right. Did they not see their White House poster boy Mike Pence get the jab? He was practically first in line. (I’m also thinking he secretly adores a brunch mimosa.)
So don’t drink the hip-flask hooch; don’t risk being blinded to what’s actually happening; don’t fall for the anti-hero in this particular story. Are side effects from the vaccine possible? Yes; I’ve actually experienced them myself. But they’re also quite limited and rare. Would I subject myself to them again? Absolutely; it beats the alternative.
Now, why did I start off by talking about equality and inclusion and end up urging everyone to follow CDC guidance and get vaccinated? Because all the talk tracks I’m hearing that oppose all this public-health common sense are old tapes I’ve been hearing for decades from the Neanderthal car of the culture train. They’re the mutterings of the same sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigots who have kept women’s pay off-par for generations.
Whether you live or die is of the utmost importance to me — to all of us. So my question for the LGBTQIA community today is this: Will we step up and teach our world how to live with dignity, honor and unconditional love? Or will we flirt with cultural and political blindness by ordering what the patriarchal exceptionalists at the end of the bar are having?
I think I know what I’m giving up for Lent. How about you?
Editor-in-Chief of Whosoever and Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church of Atlanta, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994, have been in a committed partnership since the early 1980’s and have been legally married since 2015.