Show 'em Who You Are!

Show 'em Who You Are!

“Why do people always try to go where they’re not wanted?”

It’s commonplace for queer and transgender people to feel like they don’t belong and are not accepted.  Each encounter can give rise to a concern that something threatening may be coming. This is increased when people are at the intersections of more than one targeted identity.
People who carry homophobia, transphobia, and racism also carry briefcases of opinions about why those people are disgusting, not worthy, perhaps not even human. Sadly, the church - which professes to be the home of love and giving and understanding - can sometimes be really unwelcoming. Briefcases and church doors can both be closed.
Members of these marginalized groups who seek entry have tried changing the hearts of the church, in small and large, patient and impatient, even self-effacing, ways. They have made their presence EVIDENT or OBVIOUS. Often, these efforts made the opposition uncomfortable even having to see people that they did not understand. 
In our denomination, the inclusion of queer and transgender people has been slow, steady since the founding of the UCC in 1957: the Gay Caucus (now the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition) formed in 1969; in 1972, Bill Johnson was ordained in the UCC, becoming the first out gay minister ordained in any major denomination; General Synod passed a resolution in 2003, affirming the participation and ministries of transgender people; and in 2005, General Synod formalized its support for marriage equality.
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” - Schopenhauer
UCC demonstrators for marriage equality in front of MA State House in 2003
History is filled with examples of this truth - the inevitable process in learning, especially when the root idea is something that people don’t understand - laughed at, hated, then acknowledged with “well of course they are.”

1969: “Gender transgressors” stood courageously against a police raid at The Stonewall. Bloodshed and progress.
1994-2011: The “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell” military directive attempted to create middle ground when middle ground helped no one. Gays could serve in the military if they kept their sexual orientation a secret (i.e., lied and made themselves miserable). No one seemed willing to hear why gay people wanted to or should serve. 
2003: A Massachusetts constitutional convention held off a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage in as “one man-one woman.” It was defeated on the very last vote by a diverse community of LGBTQI+ people and allies, including many churches. Later that year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry under the state constitution. Connecticut also achieved marriage equality with a successful campaign in 2009. 
At the Massachusetts State House, I witnessed crowds fueled by fear and hate. I watched blood vessels expand in people’s necks. I heard and felt some of the ugliest and most frightening rhetoric imaginable. It was personal.
Renee Manning, transgender woman (now ordained - May 2023) as she spoke at the 35th anniversary celebration of the MA Conference ONA resolution in 2019
It was at that time that I realized that this was about my core, and that my whole career as an educator had been preparation for this personal, self-defining moment. I won the second career lottery. I got to flip my energy from the schoolhouse to the State House and the sanctuary.
I made a pledge to be Open and Affirming in the broadest way in my life. I wanted this safety and validation for everyone - those starting out with their own queerness and those who have had a life of struggle. I learned a basic, true tenet of living in community: my issue is your issue and yours is mine. 

Hezekiah Walker sang, “I need you to survive.”  Pastor Martin Niemoller warned us that if we do not speak up and lay it on the line for others, there will be no one to stand up for us when people turn against us.

Society has felt broken for a while. Although states throughout the country continue to introduce legislation and policies that target them, gay and lesbian people are generally far more accepted in society and the church than in the past. Yet, transgender people and individuals with non-binary identities continue to experience heinous, shocking treatment. Far too often, churches are the perpetrators or watch silently as it happens. The numbers and level of trauma are hard to fathom.
This is not a pity party, but a rallying cry. Visibility matters, so show people who you are. Show them your worth. Show them how accomplished you are. Show them a way of being that is beautiful. You are the pot of gold at the end of this centuries-old rainbow. It rains. Sometimes it even pours. Then the sun comes out.

Let it be so.


kathie carpenter.jpg
Kathie Carpenter

Kathie Carpenter is ONA Coach for the Open and Affirming Coalition, and ONA Ministry Team co-leader for the SNEUCC. She chaired the historic MACUCC ONA Team from 2003 and was an ONA consultant for 17 years.   

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