This guest post is by Melissa Mead.
I had no idea that as I walked from my vehicle into my church on that April day in 2009, that I would later be asked to resign from my position under suspicion that I was gay.
I had no idea that the staff pastors were having secret meetings for weeks, discussing this suspicion that was based off of the fact that the iconic equality bumper sticker from the Human Rights Campaign was visible on my vehicle.
I had no idea that when one of the staff pastors sat down with me to ask my opinion on what the Bible actually says about homosexuality, he wasn’t looking for my educated exegesis. He was looking for a way to twist my words to provide incriminating evidence for those secret meetings.
I had no idea that the pastor and his wife, who had become family to me over the years, would say that I could keep my job, if only I agreed to go to reparative therapy (which I promptly declined).
As I sat in the pastor’s office that day, I thought about how the pastor and his wife had become another set of parents to me. I had attended the small private school at the church since I was 3, and had known the pastor and his family since I was 12 years old. I was close with their daughter, as we grew up together in youth group and started attending the same Christian college the same year. Every time they came to visit their daughter, they made time to visit with me, too. They watched me develop my skills in Biblical study and homiletics and always said they were so proud of me.
Sitting in that office, 15 years later, as they talked down to me as if I had contracted some mental disease, I knew this moment was going to change all of that, and I was so heartbroken by their rejection. They felt that it would be too risky to keep me on staff in my administrative role, because I worked in the children’s ministry, and if word got out that I was gay, parents might be concerned that their children would be molested, because homosexuality somehow meant that I was a potential pedophile.
I had no idea that the church that had felt like home, my safe place since I was a child, was now the most unsafe place I could set foot in.
All because of a bumper sticker.
When I woke up on the Sunday morning after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, I felt this heavy weight of emotions that I couldn’t quite define. Days later, I began to realize what it was that ached so deep in my soul: the reminder that even in 2016, after opinions have shifted on marriage equality and the Supreme Court ruling that made my marriage to my wife legal, I am still a target of rejection as an equal human being, a target of violence based on religion.
We are still targets of religious based hatred that runs so deep, it causes parents to disown their children, it causes some pastors to celebrate the deaths of LGBTQ people, and it causes some to perpetrate violence in which the LGBTQ community and their allies are horrifically murdered. It caused the church I called home to tell me their sanctuary was no longer my sanctuary. The manner in which this hatred is played out may differ, but the source of the hatred is the same. The source is a perversion of different religions that at first were revolutionary and wonderfully offensive because they let everyone in, but are now appallingly offensive because of whom they leave out.
Some people don’t understand why LGBTQ people consider their local gay bars and clubs to be community centers or, to use the word in its most literal sense, sanctuaries. These are places where, for a brief span of time, LGBTQ people feel safe to be themselves, to be with others who have shared life experiences, to revel in that sense of community…this is the “koinonia” we read of in the New Testament. It’s that incredible comfort and warm feeling that rushes over you when you truly come as you are and feel accepted. I have felt this whenever I’ve visited my local gay bar. I know the people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on that fateful night felt it, too. It’s what draws people together. I didn’t feel that “koinonia” as I served my last two weeks in the church.
These sanctuaries and safe places feel sacred to us, because they are the one place to take cover from a world full of violence and injustice. Whether it’s your local gay bar or your congregation, you feel a sense of reprieve from all the darkness in our world and ideally, should feel refreshed to go back out into that darkness, ready to stand against it and show compassion to “the least of these.” So, when those safe spaces are violated by that injustice and violence, especially when that violence is done falsely in the name of religion–when innocent lives are lost–it is equivalent to a wrecking ball demolishing the building. When this happens, we can respond in a variety of ways.
We can grieve.
We can stand together.
We can be compassionate to one another.
We can rebel against this notion that excluding “the least of these” is the holy way.
We can rebuild.
We can celebrate who we are with pride, and let our symbols express that we will overcome injustice and oppression.
That equality sticker is still on the bumper of my truck, a reminder that while I experienced a small amount of injustice and oppression at the hands of the church where I once felt safe…even though they communicated through their actions that I was not valued as a human being, the truth and justice that I am, in fact, an equal can never be taken away.
About Melissa Mead
Melissa Mead is a former youth minister that resides in Indianapolis, Indiana. She now works in finance for a sportswear company, while still dedicating time to study theology and the intersection of faith and politics. Her blog can be found at www.calamitychronicle.blogspot.com.