LGBT Courage

“The Courage to Be Yourself,” Bob Ryder

This morning as we continue our series on “What does it mean to be a people of courage?” we’ll consider the courage of LGBT people as part of the observance for LGBT history month, and National Coming Out Day this past Thursday.


CNN AC360:  (CNN Published on Jun 26, 2015)

Social Media Posts following the Orlando Pulse Nightclub massacre of 2016…

“21 Tweets that Highlight the Strength, Courage, and Overall Badassery of the LGBT Community” (

  • Proud to say what I say,
and do what I do,
and love who I love,
and trust what is true. #PoemforPride#mygayass

Tweet posted by Hannah Hart 1:23 PM – Jun 12, 2016

  • despite it all, I’ve never felt more proud to be gay. being part of the lgbtq+ community is a blessing, and no violent act will change that.

Tweet posted by Tyler Oakley 12:56 PM – Jun 12, 2016

  • You can’t silence us. Have you met a gay person before? We’ve been fighting to live our lives since we were born.

Tweet posted by Ryan O’Connell 5:18 PM – Jun 12, 2016

 e e cummings “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

Over the last half century, we’ve seen many examples of what can be achieved by the human spirit.  Humans have walked on the moon, and explored the solar system with spacecrafts and telescopes and robots of astounding technological prowess.  We’ve seen the mapping of the human genome. We’ve seen the dawn of the information age with virtually instant access to almost any information accumulated in the history of civilization and digital technology that allows face to face communication around the globe in real time.  We’ve seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, Nelson Mandela elected President of South Africa, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, John Lewis crossing the Edmund Pettis Bridge, multitudes showing up in Washington DC to protest misogyny and sexual violence against women.  Our parents’ generation – when they were kids – could barely have imagined some of the wonders we seen.

Just as inspiring as those achievements is the progress made by LGBT people in their quest for civil rights and an equal place in society.  To be alive at a time in human history when a people so widely oppressed by governments and the church and broad segments of society has made such progress against ignorance and hatred – well it makes me humble and it gives me hope.  When so many friends and neighbors and fellow citizens have endured scathing bigotry and condemnation – often from their own families – yet continue to carry themselves with dignity and make profound contributions to every aspect of civilization, it’s an amazing thing to witness.  Of all the people I know, my LGBT neighbors and friends seem least prone to bitterness, and they set an inspiring example of courage – the courage to be yourself.

 There were people who mistook me for gay when I was in high school, and I suffered some abuse from classmates and a few teachers who felt emboldened to harass me for that mistaken perception.  So, I have a tiny inkling of what it’s like to be hated for who you are.  In addition to fear for one’s physical safety, there’s a withering humiliation that all too easily internalizes and mutates into self-loathing.  One of the most insightful observations I’ve ever heard on the subject was from Bishop Desmond Tutu who said about the church’s oppression of LGBT people, “We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities.  We make them doubt that they too are children of God – and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy.”  I knew that feeling to a small degree.

 On the other hand, of course unless one has personally experienced the reality of minority sexual and/or gender identity, we can barely imagine what it must be like to face such physical and social violence. When I first began experiencing puberty, among all the baffling and embarrassing aspects of that metamorphosis, it never occurred to me that I might be rejected or attacked by family and friends for being who I was, or that I wouldn’t fit into society.  For those of us who are white, heterosexual and cisgendered, it’s very hard to imagine the existential agony of being persecuted for something so central to who you are, and even more so to imagine the courage it would take to express your authentic thoughts and feelings openly to a bitterly hostile society.

This past Thursday (10/11) was National Coming Out Day, a part of LGBT History Month. Doing some research for this morning I listened to stories of LGBT women and men who had to figure whether and how to share the truth of their sexuality – the truth of themselves – with families, friends, colleagues and employers, congregations and communities in general. As part of the LGBT History Month celebration, today’s calendar date is dedicated to Gavin Grimm, a young transgender man from Virginia who sued his county school board for the right to use the boy’s bathroom, consistent with his gender identity.  A NYT article from this past May recounts details of the story, including these …

Mr. Grimm’s journey into the spotlight began in 2014, when he was 15 and starting his sophomore year. At that time his family told his school, Gloucester High School, that he was transgender. Administrators were supportive at first and allowed him to use the boys’ bathroom.

But amid an uproar from some parents and students, the school board barred Mr. Grimm from using the boys’ bathrooms and adopted a policy requiring students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms for their “corresponding biological genders.” The board added that “students with gender identity issues” would be allowed to use private bathrooms.

The A.C.L.U. argued that requiring Mr. Grimm to use a private bathroom had been humiliating and had, quoting him, “turned him into ‘a public spectacle’ before the entire community, ‘like a walking freak show.’”

And as of May 22 this past spring…

A federal judge in Virginia has found in favor of a transgender student whose efforts to use the boys’ bathrooms at his high school reached the Supreme Court and thrust him into the middle of a national debate about the rights of transgender students.

The Judge in the case found that…

Mr. Grimm’s transgender status constituted a claim of sex discrimination and that the bathroom policy had “subjected him to sex stereotyping,” violations of the law.

Quoting Gavin Grimm himself…

“I feel an incredible sense of relief,” Mr. Grimm, now 19 and headed to college in the fall, said in a statement after the ruling. “After fighting this policy since I was 15 years old, I finally have a court decision saying that what the Gloucester County School Board did to me was wrong and it was against the law. I was determined not to give up because I didn’t want any other student to have to suffer the same experience that I had to go through.”

 Where does courage like that come from?  That isn’t just a rhetorical question – I actually wonder about it.  Where does one find the courage to be yourself in the face of such hatred?  I hope I’m never in a situation where I have to be that brave.  People like Gavin Grimmand Harvey Milkand Ellen DeGeneres, Janie Spahrand Chris Glaserand Gene Robinson, and indeed members of our own congregation find somewhere in the depths of their spirit the strength and tenacity to speak truth to power, to demand they be treated with the fairness and respect by their governments and congregations and communities, and they make our communities and congregations and nation and world a much better place for it.  It is miraculous in the most literal sense of the word, and they are owed a debt of gratitude.

 So how to repay that debt?  If we are to honor the courage of our LGBT sisters and brothers, perhaps we must begin by summoning our resolve to transcend the idea of “us vs. them.”  The accomplishment of people like Gavin is to help society see them as one of us rather than as someone alien.  It might not sound like such a big deal to say it that way, but getting people to let go of tribalism is no less an accomplishment than the Apollo program. He took one small step for a man, and a giant leap for human kind.  As in the metaphor of space exploration, the work of peace and justice has lightyears of work remaining.  If the world is going to be transformed, if justice and equality are to increase, it has to be approached in the same spirit of dignity and service to our neighbors as our LGBT sisters and brothers practice.  We need to summon that same courage, that same resolve, to confront bigotry and tribalism with self-respect and compassion, helping the world to see itself as one people.

I’ll close with one more reading, this from a 2012 article in Psychology Today by…

Brian Mustanski Ph.D. “Top Five Reasons I Have Gay Pride – Reason 2 Courage and Resilience”

Psychology Today – Posted Jun 19, 2012

President Obama said it best when he recently celebrated “the millions of LGBT Americans for whom everyday acts require extraordinary courage.  The young people who came out as gay or transgendered to their parents, not knowing what to expect.  The two moms or two dads who went to an open house for a PTA meeting not knowing how they would be received.  The couple that got married, even if their bosses or neighbors wouldn’t approve, at least not right away.  Most of these heroes didn’t set out to make history, but that’s exactly what they did. Bit by bit, step by step, they bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.”  And that is something to be proud of.