Zella Ziona was 21 years old when she was killed on October 15th 2015.
For my partner Lisa and me it was a happy day — it was the first time we celebrated her birthday together. We had a wonderful day full of laughter, tenderness, and the simple joy of having found each other and being so absolutely in love.
Marc Pourner was 28 years old when he was killed on November 14th 2015.
For Lisa and me it was a busy day. We were more than just a little excited. Just a day before, on the 13th, we got our marriage license — in the middle of Texas. Lisa, who has lived here all her life, could barely believe it. For her it was a miracle. After all, the infamous Sodomy Laws were abolished in Texas only in 2003. Our wedding was scheduled for November 19th and there was still so much to do. We were in a bubble of delirious happiness.
I was born and grew up in Europe. Now, in April 2016, I have been in this country for nearly seven months. During this time, at least two people who identified somewhere on the LGBT spectrum have been killed in hate crimes in the United States. Dozens more were severely injured, tortured, or beaten bloody, suffering from broken bones, severe burns, or even brain damage. Hundreds more were verbally assaulted, intimidated, and bullied for being who they are.
I grew up in Germany where I read affirmative stories about gay and lesbian couples in the country’s most popular youth magazine in 1997 when I was 13 years old. I grew up there in the Lutheran church with a gay and very beloved pastor. I grew up knowing that loving someone is not wrong. Coming to the United States was a culture shock. What disturbed me the most (and certainly still does) is that the Bible, God’s love letter to us, is used to persecute certain minorities.
Just yesterday, my wife told me that her heart still beats faster with nervousness when we hold hands in public. I smiled and said I was proud of her. Yet on the inside I was so sad to hear that something that is absolutely natural and not a big deal for me, still is for her. Then again, she grew up in this country, she remembers harsher times. Sometimes the damage those harsher times have done shines through.
I remember one surprisingly warm afternoon, early last January, in Fredericksburg, Texas. We were sitting on a bench in the town square, enjoying the sun. I explained to her a little bit about the German heritage of the city. I was happy, really happy … and I kissed her. It was then that she said the words: “Be aware of who is around us.”
I laughed and looked around.
“Why?” I asked, completely oblivious. Was this about the family close to us? “Can kids not see two people kissing each other?” I asked. No, that wasn’t the reason.
“I don’t want you to be scared but you have to always know who is around you.”
I frowned. “But why? It’s not like someone is going to kill us for kissing.”
My wife lowered her head and it felt as if the breath had been knocked out of my lungs. I looked around. I saw the family with their two cute little kids. I saw a young couple feeding each other ice cream. I saw an older gentleman walking by and a group of kids sitting in the grass listening to music. A scene as harmless and non-threatening as it can possibly be. Yet there she was, my wonderful wife, always aware, always on guard.
Sure, I had heard of hate crimes and some of my new friends had told me about their own experiences, but those stories seemed so far away and while they did affect me emotionally, they were not part of my life. Until I read that yes, a trans woman died on my wife’s birthday and a gay man was murdered while we prepared our wedding.
Coming from Central Europe, I never had to be afraid. I never felt unsafe where I lived or worked. Never in all my life was I truly scared of another person, or scared for my life. Do I have to be afraid now because now I know I “always have to be aware?”
No! Because there are also the smiles, the congratulations, the words and gestures of support and friendship from strangers, no matter if we are at a restaurant, applying for a job, or buying a car. There are good people around us, too!
No! Because when we bought our wedding cake the bakery owner laughed and said, “Everyone deserves a cake!” Despite all the religious freedom laws, the United States is not a homophobic country.
No! Because there are too many young LGBT people who are afraid, who run away from home or are thrown out, who contemplate suicide and fall into depression. I cannot be afraid because it is my duty as an adult in a same-sex marriage to be a symbol of strength and hope for them.
No! Because my God did not die so I have to live my life and express my love in secret. My God rose from the dead so I can be fully loved, can be fully accepted and good the way I am …
… and I believe that He will help me, you, us to spread that love to those who have been hurt and to those who have caused hurt, because reconciliation and healing are for all.
About Franziska Garner
Franziska Garner was born and grew up in Germany. In September 2015 she moved to the United States and married her partner Lisa. Together they are building a ministry (www.wetfeetministry.com) with a special outreach to the LGBT+ community.
“I Hope” photo from FreeImages.com/Len Nguyen