As the calendar turned to June this past weekend, it marked the start of Pride month, a time to uphold and celebrate the dignity of the LGBTQ+ community.
Pride started as an effort to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which were a response to a police raid on a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in New York on June 28, 1969.
It is an appropriate time for people of faith and religious institutions to acknowledge the LGBTQ+ community. For example, here was the beautiful tweet from Fr. Jim Martin, SJ:
To all my many #LGBTQ friends, Catholic and otherwise: Happy #PrideMonth Be proud of your God-given dignity, of the gifts God has given you, of your place in the world, and of your many contributions to the church. For you are "wonderfully made" by God (Ps 139). #PrideMonth2019
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) June 1, 2019
Martin is the author of the inclusive Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ community can enter into a relationship of respect, compassion, and sensitivity. (It is an exceptional book with resources that can be easily implemented in a pastoral setting, while also offering a refreshing perspective on God’s love).
Furthermore, America Magazine published an article about the impact of Catholic leaders and faithful in their response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s, which struck the gay community especially hard . Author Michael O’Loughlin provides an honest and hopeful account of the pastoral ministry toward the LGBTQ+ community in the name of the Church, driven by a deep love of God found in others.
O’Loughlin is providing a space for those who are marginalized by society, those who are suffering, an opportunity to tell their story. In addition, he is not only archiving history, he is offering a vision of Christianity that shows the best of our community.
In light of the empowering words of both Martin and O’Loughlin, there remains the harsh reminder that the hurt and injustice toward the LGBTQ+ community is real and not a thing of the past. From the recent “right to discriminate” legislation, to influential tweets that lack compassion and respect, to repeated acts of violence and injustice, we are reminded that while the events at Stonewall were 50 years ago, the crimes and injustices against the community continues.
Last November, the FBI reported an increase in reported hate crimes for the third straight year. The annual report showed there were 7,175 bias crimes in 2017 involving 8,828 victims. Victims targeted due to their sexual orientation or gender identity comprised 1,470 — or nearly 17 percent — of all victims.
The 1,470 victims were involved in 1,249 separate bias incidents. Nearly 60 percent of these incidents targeted gay men, 25 percent targeted a mix of LGBTQ people, 12 percent targeted lesbians, 3 percent targeted heterosexuals, 2 percent targeted bisexuals and 1 percent targeted transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
This only accounts for reported hate crimes. Many hate crimes are not reported for a variety of reasons, and not all hate crimes are reported to the FBI. You can read more about this here. The point is that the numbers we read here are concerning, but they are just a part of a much larger, untold story of violence and injustice.
In a study commissioned by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), 4 out of 5 LGBT students reported experiencing harassment frequently in school based on their appearance or perceived sexual orientation.
And what are the effects of this violence on the community, especially among LGBTQ+ youth. Consider these facts from the Trevor Project:
This morning, Fr. Martin offered the following tweet in response to his timely tweet mentioned above:
LGBTQ people are five times as likely to attempt suicide than their straight counterparts. Youth are especially vulnerable in this regard. These, then, are matters of life and death. So it's important for the church to remember that LGBT issues are sometimes life issues too.
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) June 3, 2019
The key words here is that this is a life issue. There is a pressing need for our society, for you, and for me, to respond with love.
As a Christian, I look to Jesus and how He walked the road with His companions. He opened eyes and hearts, He led with compassion and justice. While religious leaders pointed to the law, He pointed to the heart, reminding all that God’s love is unconditional and that all are as Psalm 139 says, “wonderfully made.”
This is not what members of the LGBTQ+ community are often told, and it is not how they are often treated.
Last August, in attending a Sugarland concert, the country duo utilized the Patty Griffin song “Tony,” as a call to action, a call of acceptance and love. It offered me an inspiration for my ministry and my life, and I pray it does for you as well.
I am thankful to the influential voices like Fr. Jim Martin, author Michael O’Loughlin, and Country music duo Sugarland, (among many other brave and inspirational leaders) for their messages of love and acceptance. They point us to a better way, one of appreciation, gratitude, and oneness.
I am grateful for those courageous and inspiring members in the LGBTQ+ community who not only live their true self, but advocate for the needs of others. They inspire me to write this post, to come to know God in a greater way, and to be a better friend and ally.
May this month of Pride be the time that we celebrate the dignity of all, especially the LGBTQ+ community. May we remind each and every person that they are wonderfully made, and a blessing to us as companions on this journey of life.