It's been an interesting and informative day. The local Interweave chapter, based at the Edmonds UU Church, sponsored a day of exploration of various religious approaches to the issues of sexual minorities; we had a Jewish rabbi, a Christian (UCC) minister, a Muslim (Sufi) woman, and a UU minister (me). We had hoped to have a Buddhist leader, but somehow wires got crossed and he didn't make it.
But 27 people showed up at EUUC to listen to us clergy expound on our particular tradition's approach to BGLITQ issues. I learned a lot, and I thought I already knew a lot!
I told the story of how I became interested and involved in the struggles of my BGLITQ friends. Here is part of what I said today:
ROLLING OUT THE WELCOME MAT
I tore open the letter eagerly. F. had been one of my closest friends in college and we had almost lost touch in the intervening years. Now here was an answer to my recent, tentative reaching out to the new address printed in our alumni bulletin.
I scanned the page. Gee, not a cartoon, not a joke, not a trace of her characteristic humor.
Wait---she’d been in an accident. She’d almost died. Paramedics had patched her up and hours of surgery had saved her life. What? It was an attempted suicide? My friend?
Trying to digest all this news, I arrived at the final lines of her letter.
“I’ve known something about myself for a long time, Kit, and I just can’t be dishonest about it any more. I hope you’ll understand, because we’ve been friends for a long time. But I’ve got to be honest or I can’t live. And I don’t really want to die. I just want to be who I really am and I’m starting with the people who know me well. I’m a lesbian. I’m attracted to women, not men. Trying to hide that fact led me into a disastrous marriage, and now this attempted suicide as I’ve tried to deny my own identity. I hope we can still be friends. Please let me know what you think. Love, F.”
I was unprepared for the rush of thoughts and feelings I experienced at being entrusted with my friend’s news. I had never known a gay person who was out of the closet. I had wondered about a few acquaintances in college, but the word homosexual was not really in my vocabulary.
I felt extremely ignorant--and a little scared. I had invited F. to come visit me while my husband was out of town and I didn’t want to renege on my invitation, but ..... I was scared.
Now you may have noticed, I’m an extrovert--almost off the scale--eager to meet people, quick to offer a friendly gesture, undaunted by strangers.
Yet till my friend talked with me about what it was like for her to be a lesbian, and until I was able to ask her questions and understand some of her struggle, I was just as scared as anybody else. I joked around and I avoided people I thought might be “that way”. When I realized that F. was still the funny, laughing, loving person she had always been, that she was no threat to my safety, and that she needed my friendship more than ever, the world shifted on its axis and my view has never been the same.
Some time after F. came out to me, I attended an inservice for school counselors, intended to help us work with our gay and lesbian students. I sat down in the lecture hall, looked toward the podium, and did a doubletake. There was the mother of three of my students, sitting behind a small sign which identified her as the president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She too did a doubletake as she saw me sitting in the audience, and when we talked afterwards, she told me that two of her sons, young men I had known in their junior high years, were gay.
And I’ll never forget a beautiful young woman named B., whose compulsion to be honest forced her out of the closet as a 7th grader. In 9th grade, after she had endured two years of rumor and suspicion in silence, she came to me looking for a place where she could talk openly about her whole self, where she did not have to pretend.
And then there were R. and M. and B. and T., whose despair erupted into multiple suicide attempts and hospitalizations before they were able to understand their isolation and loneliness and take steps to come out into the sunshine of honesty. These were also my students, several years ago, and at that time, I did not know how to help them.
Since then, I’ve come to understand what a sacred privilege it is to be entrusted with the knowledge of a person’s sexual orientation and to receive that knowledge with respect and compassion. No other response will do for me. No other response will do for our society.