Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Blast Some God-forsaken Closets

"If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door."

--Harvey Milk


Prophetic words only become so when experience proves them. Sometimes that experience comes soon, and sometimes it takes lifetimes, deathtimes, and a lot of mundanity and action in between.

Tonight, Gus Van Sant's biopic of Harvey Milk premiered across much of the nation, including at the art deco landmark theater, the Uptown, which is 3 blocks from where I live in Minneapolis. It's a fabulous movie, and I hope it wins wide crossover support, like Milk himself did. Go see it if you can!

But it reminds me that there's been a movement for equal gay rights for many, many years now. It is growing closer to winning certain inalienable rights, those rights which cannot be "alienated, surrendered, or transferred," according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Alienated. A word that stands alone to describe the condition of a human being without community, whose community has been taken away, or has cast her out.

Human beings are alienated when their rights are abbreviated, rescinded, withheld, or just plain laughed at, particularly when these rights are supposedly inalienable.

One might say there's a big difference between rights being surrendered and rescinded, voted down, taken away, trampled on by the big wheels of popularity. Since when are rights open to a popular vote?

Prop 8 passed. Prop 6 was defeated *thirty (30) years ago*. What's wrong with this picture? The same tactics were used then as now, only then they didn't work. Why now?


Milk's words were prophetic. He was assassinated. And yet the bullet did not shatter all closet doors.

It was in carefully-crafted closets that Prop 8 developed its power, because the authentic voices of faithful gay and lesbian people that opposed it were too few, unheard, or just plain silenced.

"Milk" helped to make the point that the "leaders" of the movement at the time considered Milk's unabashed faggotry too much, too out, too embarrassing and provocative to change minds and win people over. They were wrong, and 30 years later, they are forgotten. What about the people who are our leaders today? Who even are they? And where are they in the church? God’s forsaken some closet doors, so let’s hear about it.

My church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, supposedly prides itself on inclusivity and living the words of Christ, but instead supports closets more than it supports gay and lesbian people living openly, unafraid, and completely mundane lives.

It was these closets that helped pass Prop 8.

Church closets passed Prop 8. And I don't mean closets where the communion plates and candles are kept, the choir robes and the acolytes' torches, the stale wafers and banners, the vestments and other finery that helps make church what church is to people, no matter their traditions.

I mean those closets that "well-meaning" persons of power and privilege throughout the church put their pastors in in order to "not disturb the waters."

I mean those closets that bishops put their pastors into when they make them choose between being pastors or being people.

I mean those closets that suffocate the very people who wish to serve Jesus and his people, who love their people and would lay down their lives for them, but who are given the command by their church to sacrifice their humanity instead of their lives, to bury themselves in their service, and to make themselves less than 3/5 human.


Church closets passed Prop 8, because without the enforced silence of great numbers of gay and lesbian people of faith, the lie would stand revealed, and this is the lie used against us: that we are out *en masse* to harm children and families, that we hate God, and that our families and relationships are not of equal worth. Once this lie is shot to the ground as it should be, the case against full, equal civil rights for gay and lesbian people would fall to the floor and only a handful of people would vote against equality for us and our families.

It is clear that we need a voice around which to unite, like Harvey Milk’s. Such voices exist, and some of them are calling out with similar words of anger, hope, and kindness. Milk said, "You gotta give 'em hope," and he was right.

Hope comes from realistically dealing with anger, meeting it with love, and directing loving anger into constructive paths of action.

Anger can drive hope in a way that nothing else can. Because anger points out the space between the words that elevate and the actions that denigrate.

Anger can drive hope 12 blocks down Market Street to City Hall and blow open closet doors without bullets. It can fill those 12 blocks with thousands and thousands of people to grieve and remember when bullets are brought to bear. And it can turn apathetic hearts to action that makes certain dignity doesn't go down without a great fight.


It almost seems like movements are most effective when they are small but well-organized, when a thousand people can be called together in fifteen minutes (as was said in “Milk” the movie), when the soapbox is just a foot off the street.

So what is our organization to be? What our voices? And what is impeding them? How can we organize to blast those closet doors off and find the liberation that just about any of us can struggle to achieve, hope that a boring financial worker can transform into a brilliant political career, and hope that any couple may have the same mundane respect for their relationship as any other couple?

What shape will this movement take, that will give hope to millions of gay and lesbian people who are still told that their relationships, that their lives together and their individual lives, are at best second-class, and at worst worth destroying?

That hope is out there, and it lies in the prophetic future that will prove the dreams of thousands of people and hundreds of years, to be free, to live in a state of basic, human respect, in which you don't have to choose between your work and your husband, your calling and your family, your integrity and your willingness to make this world a better place.

You gotta give 'em hope. You gotta love your people, too. Let's do it. Tell me your ideas for this movement, for finding voices, for channeling loving anger, for acting in ways that are not just a blip on the nightly news, but change hearts and minds, and finally, change laws.


  1. That quote above is amazing! I just finished reading about Milk in Advocate, but had not heard that quote.
    Excellent thoughtful writings here!
    Glad you stopped by my blog!
    Here's to gay Lutherans! (been going to a Lutheran church for about 5 yrs. now.)
    Take care

  2. Thanks, Wendy! Glad you came by mine too. Happy weekend-after-Thanksgiving!