Indulge me some history, if you will.
As an LGBTQ person in the United States in 1969, your name (along with those of your friends and family members) would be listed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, because as a homosexual, you would be considered prone to blackmail and to overt acts of perversion.
It was a 1950 issue of Coronet magazine that said the same thing, and I quote, “The male sex deviant descends through perversions to other forms of depravity such as drug addiction, burglary, sadism and even murder. Once a man assumes the role of homosexual, he throws off all moral restraints.”
Your name would be monitored by the United States Post Office as well, that any homosexual trappings received through the mail could be reported to the police, prompting your arrest.
Imagine that ominous knock on your door followed by, “Excuse me, sir, but is this your Martha Stewart Living Magazine?”
You would be dishonorably discharged from the military.
You would be arrested for holding hands with a partner.
Your neighborhood would be periodically “swept” with the intent to arrest any and all discovered wearing clothes (and I quote) not “for their gender.”
You would be fired from your government job, fired from your teaching job, fired from your professorial job; all with no legal recourse available to you.
And, of course, as was the case until 1973, you would be deemed mentally infirm by virtue of The American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a sociopathic personality disturbance.
So you see, 1960’s LGBTQ people were triply condemned. We were condemned by authorities as being criminals, by religion as being sinners, and by medicine as being sociopaths.
In 1969 New York, the State Penal Code disallowed services to LGBTQ patrons. This code was written to prevent premises from becoming, and I quote, "disorderly houses." Apparently 1969 New York considered homosexuals to be disorderly. I, for one, have good reason to believe otherwise.
Given this climate, maybe it makes some sense that it was organized crime families who opened businesses that would provide services to LGBTQ clientele. And even with the notoriously corrupt relationship between organized crime and the New York City Police Department, these businesses could still expect to be raided at least once each month.
Entrapment was best thought of as something of an ongoing street game facilitated by police.
And so it was that the Stonewall Inn – a gay bar since 1963 - had a “light cue” on the dance floor to forewarn dancers in the case of one of these raids. You see, touching while dancing was also a punishable offense. And it was on June 28th, 1969 that the “light cue” did its job, as usual.
But what followed was anything but usual.
Instead of acquiescing to the usual demands, those pressed against the walls of the Stonewall Inn on that night refused to show their id’s, refused to identify their genders, refused to leave the property. Upon being brutally clubbed in the head simply for asking that her handcuffs be loosened, one unidentified lesbian shouted to the growing crowd, “Do something.”
And from the early chants of solidarity and from the exponentially growing crowd and from the rising choruses of “We Shall Overcome,” what we now call the Stonewall Riots arose.
“Do something,” she shouted. And people responded.
Following the days that left that inn a smoldering shell – people: gay and straight, black and white, male and female, old and young – a veritable rainbow palette of humanity - gathered in Christopher Park to discuss, to plan, to organize, to demonstrate, ultimately giving rise to the first Gay Pride Parade on June 28th 1970 and to the establishment of June as Gay Pride month.
That’s the history.
And so it is that Pride is a month dedicated to LGBTQ people and their many allies, absolutely. It’s a month dedicated to a people who compromised something of their very essence – pressed it down, hid it away, pushed it back – that they might remain safe, even alive, as members of an unready society. And it’s the story of those same people who – at long last and at great risk – finally emancipated that something of their very essence in spite of that unready society.
So, while we like to think of this coming out, if you will, as something gay people are called to do once, I suggest we re-frame this coming out as something every person is called to do repeatedly. I suggest we re-frame this coming out to include every person who – at long last and at great risk – finally emancipates that something of essence which has been pressed down, hidden away, pushed back, in spite of that unready society, whether that “society” has taken the form of partner, family, church or community.
In other words, while we like to think of this coming out as an individual matter of orientation and identity, I suggest we frame this coming out as a universal matter of authenticity and courage.
She was arrested for voting in her hometown of Rochester, New York – and convicted in a widely-publicized trial. Even so, she emancipated something of her very essence on her unready society ultimately to give rise to women’s suffrage. You know one of her many evolutionary contributions as the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
And in so doing, I might suggest that Susan B. Anthony came out.
He was arrested for sabotage and imprisoned for 27 years. Even so, he emancipated something of his very essence on his unready society ultimately to give rise to the end apartheid in South Africa.
And in so doing, I might suggest that Nelson Mandela came out.
And, of course, she was arrested for sitting down in defiance of an Alabama law requiring her to relinquish her seat to a white person. Even so, she emancipated something of her very essence on her unready society ultimately to give rise to a boycott of the Montgomery bus system and a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.
And in so doing, I might suggest that Rosa Parks came out.
And, of course, he was arrested five times. Even so, he emancipated something of his very essence ultimately to give rise to the end of legal segregation of African American citizens, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It would earn him a Nobel Peace Prize.
And in so doing, I might suggest that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came out.
This is the deeper story of Pride. It’s the universal story of all who would emancipate that something of their very essence which has been pressed down, hidden away, pushed back, even amidst an unready society, trusting that it might serve something of a purpose in our world.
So, the deeper story of Pride isn’t about coming out as gay, you see. The deeper story of Pride is about coming out as you.
“But some people won’t like me,” the ego argues.
Well, the truth is that some people don’t like you now. So, coming out as you – emancipating that something of your very essence which has been pressed down, hidden away, pushed back – allows you move forward knowing that you’ve finally found your authentic tribe by right of consciousness.
The illusion that everyone should like you is nothing more than an egoic ploy to keep you from ever living a fully realized life. The illusion that everyone should like you is nothing more than an egoic ploy that would divert your loyalties from that which is in here to that which is out there. It’s to create a false idol of every human opinion, every stagnant comfort, every loud voice, every passing trend.
Now, I would like to address one elephant in the room in a clear fashion. If your life is somehow touched by the intersection of religion and LGBTQ issues, here’s what I want you get: the Judeo-Christian Bible has never condemned you.
The so-called “clear teachings of the Bible” on LGBTQ issues are found in no more than nine references – nine references contained in 66 books, written over some 1,000+ years – the most cited being those found in Genesis and Leviticus, and virtually all of which address matters of violence, not sexuality; matters of conquest, not sexuality; matters of rape, not sexuality; matters of tribe, not sexuality; matters of abuse, not sexuality.
If your life is somehow touched by the intersection of religion and LGBTQ issues, here’s what I want you to get: the Judeo-Christian collection has been misunderstood, misconstrued and misinterpreted; twisted, distorted and weaponized to sanction humanity’s lowest impulses and deepest prejudices against those of certain religions, against those of certain geographies, against those of certain genders (women, I’m talking to you), against those of certain colors, against those of certain classes and yes, against those of certain orientations and identities for centuries.
If your life is somehow touched by the intersection of religion and LGBTQ issues, if we were to review everything Jesus himself had to say about it, we would find nothing.
Now as I think about it, maybe Jesus did have something to say about it. He’s recorded in the non-canonical book of Thomas as having said, “If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you. And if you don’t bring forth what is within you, it will destroy you.”
Yes, as strange as it might seem to some ears, I have to wonder if the deeper message of Pride and this teaching of Jesus are strikingly similar: is there something of your very essence which has been pressed down, hidden away, pushed back? And, is it time to emancipate that something of your very essence, in spite of an unready society, trusting it to serve something of a purpose in our world?