PRIDE 2020

“PRIDE 2020,” Susan Ryder

 Psalm 139:13-14
For it was you who formed my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Galatians 3:28
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Lady Gaga
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way

The US has come a long way regarding the rights of LGBTQA persons in this country over the past decade – well, in the first six years of the decade anyway. In 2015, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states. And just last week, LGBT rights advocates won a sweeping 6-3 decision that protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees from being disciplined, fired or turned down for a job based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts joined the court’s “liberal” judges to deliver the surprising 6-3 victory for those arguing for anti-discrimination protections. Writing for the court’s majority, the Justice Gorsuch argued that the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination in employment also effectively banned bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity, even though few if any members of Congress thought they were doing that at the time.

Still there is a long way to go. The current administration has fought tenaciously to remove protections from the LGBTQ community, most recently announcing they were removing federal protections against health care discrimination for transgender patients, reminding us that we can never become complacent advocating for equality. The good news is a group of LGBTQ organizations and medical professionals have already sued to block that effort. The Church has made progress as well. We are a tri-union congregation, and two of our three denominations, the UCC and Disciples, have long been advocates for the LGBT community. In the last decade, the Presbyterians joined the growing list of inclusive denominations by affirming the ordination of LGBT persons and marriage equality, adding to their previous advocacy for basic civil and human rights.

As is our custom on the last Sunday of June, our service this morning is dedicated to LGBT Pride. In a proclamation issued on May 28, 2010, President Barack Obama designated June as LGBT Pride Month in the U.S. Even before that proclamation was issued, the last Sunday in June has been celebrated as LGBT Pride Day, in observance of the 1969 Stonewall riots; President Obama made it official over 10 years ago with these words, “This month, as we recognize the immeasurable contributions of LGBT Americans, we renew our commitment to the struggle for equal rights for LGBT Americans and to ending prejudice and injustice wherever it exists.” Obviously, PRIDE month was observed differently this year. As the usual parades and celebrations were canceled early-on due to COVID-19, people around the world took to the streets this month for a different cause – to protest for racial equality, an end to systemic racism, and to champion the black lives matter movement. Today is the 51st Anniversary of the Stonewall riots, so it seems a good moment to acknowledge that the gay rights movement also began with protests – which included Black members of the LGBTQ community.

Now that an entire nation has been galvanized to protest and demand rights for Black Americans, it is fitting to look back at the history of the gay rights movement, in particular how black activists helped pave the way, and how their actions are connected to the protests of today. Bobby Berk writes, “The current movement for equal rights, safety, and protection of black people is a fight for all black people – and that includes those who are trans, gay, lesbian, and gender non-conforming. Therefore, fighting for black rights means fighting for gay rights, and vice versa. Besides sharing a history of protest, struggle, and a long battle for equality, the two movements both focus on bringing about change through activism. The earliest gay rights organizations, like the Gay Liberation Front, also fought for the end of racism and equal treatment, and some of the leading figures and activists of the civil rights movement, like James Baldwin, Angela Davis, [Bayard Rustin] and Audre Lorde, were also gay. And now over 50 years later, the two movements remain more connected than ever. Black members of the LGBTQ community, especially trans women, are disproportionally affected by violence. 26 trans people were killed in 2019, and trans women face higher rates of homelessness and incarceration. Protecting the wellbeing – and lives – of these members of the black and gay communities is a challenge we can face together. Because a threat to one of us is a threat to all of us.”

The sustained, worldwide eruption of Black Lives Matter protests over the death of George Floyd is already inspiring a deeper understanding of the very meaning of Pride Month, points out Tina Casey. “The connection goes to the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement as personified by Kei Williams, a self-described Black transmasculine person, who is a Black Lives Matter founder and is an organizer with the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. Soon after the first George Floyd protests occurred, mainstream media also took note of the connection. On June 2, for example, reporter Jessica Sager noted that ‘the Pride Movement began with the Stonewall riots against police brutality and oppression in 1969, which were largely led by LGBTQ+ people of color … making Pride, at its core, a voice for intersectionality since its inception.’”

Leading LGBTQ organizations have been quick to voice support for Black Lives Matter protestors. On May 29, for example, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement signed by more than other 100 other groups. And GLADD issued its own statement taking aim directly at intersectionality. “There can be no Pride if it is not intersectional,” the GLAAD statement read in part. And “Global Pride,” the first-ever worldwide gathering of the LGBT+ community, put Black Lives Matter at the center of their event yesterday. In drawing attention to the connection between Black Lives Matter and Pride Month, LGBTQ organizations — and their sponsors in the business community — are already preparing for a different approach to Pride Month events next year.

The modern gay rights movement began with riots, marches, protests and people raising their voices, as they raised awareness and brought about change. They included black gay men, lesbians, drag queens and trans women leading the fight against police brutality towards the gay community. As current activism demands action to change the police brutality and murder of people of color, it seems an obvious pairing that can only make both groups, and their allies, stronger. Because a threat to one of us is a threat to all of us.

Only halfway through the current calendar year, 2020 has already developed a reputation for being chaotic. Of course, that’s stressful and anxiety inducing. But It might also be a reason for hope and a source of inspiration. As in the past, natural disasters and political upheaval have tapped into humanity’s capacity for resilience and our determination for social justice. The traditions of PRIDE and Black Lives Matter – both in the spotlight of national and worldwide attention this month – are only the latest manifestations of the human spirit’s struggle for freedom, and of Jesus’ vision that we are all sisters and brothers in the family of the sacred. For there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for WE are one. Here’s wishing we all continue to hope and fight for increasing advances in human rights, and the discomfort to move us toward its realization as people of the sacred mystery.  Amen.