Saturday, July 9, 2011

15 for 15 VIII: Why I Must Be Out

"You must remove any mention of your sexual orientation from your paperwork, resubmit for assignment elsewhere, and not mention it in any interviews with churches."

       --ELCA Official, recommending the only way she saw me being able to get a first church


I am resuming my series of 15 meditations on 15 years of being out today, because on this of all days, I understand more deeply every LGBTQ person's obligation to be out, if they can:  because we can.

This ability is definitely not available to everyone.  But if there are to be fewer people of all ages who are forced by our society, by their religions, employers, civil governments, families, friends, and other major factors of their lives to be in the closet, those of us who can be out must be out.

One year ago today, Justin Aaberg took his life in Andover, MN, not 20 miles from the gay mecca of Minneapolis.  I cannot, nor can anyone, ever know the despair that Justin felt that led him to the point of ending his life.  Organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which lead in suicide research and prevention, caution against drawing too strong a line between being bullied, harassed, raped, humiliated, and taunted, and one's suicide.  

The reasons for suicide are complex.  But it cannot be disputed that Justin suffered significant ill treatment, not because he was gay and out, but because those who could have helped prevent this abuse did not, and because those who abused him were pushed in that direction by their parents, their religions, their popular cultures, and yes, in some cases their educational system and civil governments.

Because Justin can no longer be out, I must be, because I still have a voice, and that voice must both speak and be heard for my own dignity and that of others.

Because Justin was out when he could be, he was able to be a friend to those who, along with him, underwent this kind of abuse at the hands of those who knew all too well what they were doing, and did not stop to consider what they were doing meant to someone who did not deserve such treatment.
That kind of friendship is vital to those who live in fear and persecution.  It sometimes does mean the difference between life and death.


I have not always been able to be out.  And because I have not always been able to be out, I must be out now, whenever I can be.

At some point in my life, it no longer became possible for me to acquiesce in this system of oppression that said I had to be in the closet.  The closet was never a safe place, because it has its own side affects, and sometimes what is meant to save actually can help to kill.  But the closet remains, its door ajar, every time a new person comes along and I face the challenge of opening or closing that door.  It becomes all too easily a default position for one's whole life, even in our country, where homosexuality is no longer criminalized in our laws.

Still, in dozens of countries throughout the world today, one can literally be put to death for being gay.  Uganda is not the only country that has contemplated, or even passed, strict laws against homosexuality.

In the countries in which one's life is literally at risk for being LGBTQ, the closet may be one's only means of survival.  When it is, it should be used.

But for those of us who have passed the age of majority, live on our own in countries that do not actively seek our destruction, and can make choices about where and how we live, I at least put the question to those who are not out but could affect much positive change in their circumstances if they were:  Why not be out?

Ultimately, the choice is up to each person who could be out whether or not actually to be out.  There regrettably still are consequences, in employment, in housing, in family life, in vocation, and in other fundamental aspects of our lives, to being out.  Being out is not simple, and is sometimes problematic.

That said, I am convinced that the more people who are out who possibly could be, the less these systems of oppression will have the opportunity to tell us who we are, where we can work, where we can live, whom we can marry, and what we as human beings are worth.

And the more who are out here, where we can be, the more support there will be for those who are being persecuted throughout the world, and the more voices speaking from a place of personal authenticity will be raised to shout to the world that such violence against people cannot continue.  

This is why we must be out.


I have paid my own price in being out in terms of my vocation to the ordained ministry.  I actually did hear the words spoken above, by an official of my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), that if I wanted to live into the vocation for which I'd been educated, trained, and in which many people over the years have supported me with their prayers, money, time, and energy, I would have to forsake the part of my personhood that got me there.  I would have to deny the animating energy that puts life into my living.  I would have to be dishonest, and that was that.  

Yet that was much higher a price to pay than not getting a church, indeed, much too high a price for me to pay.  And true to her word, to this day, not one church has interviewed me to be their pastor.
The same person later told me, after the rules of the ELCA were changed to allow open and partnered LGBTQ people as ministers, that she deeply regretted ever having to say such a thing.  I can understand that regret.  But I’m not the only one who has been told these things, and the church should be the last place to encourage duplicity.  

Beyond the actual harmful messages that those in the ELCA and in many other church bodies have told and still tell those who are LGBTQ, these churches yet have to atone for encouraging their own ministers of the Gospel to lie in order to become ministers of the Gospel of truth.

And the church ought not to be in the business of making liars out of its leaders.
On the civil and societal front, being out is key to ever securing our rightful place at the table of full citizenship, and to make it impossible for political leaders to use me and people like me as political fodder to scare their like-minded constituents into getting them elected and re-elected.  
In Minnesota, my home and current state, we are now known for the wacky anti-gay politicians that we are producing.  Rep. Michele Bachmann, and her unfortunate husband, Dr. Marcus Bachmann, are using LGBTQ people and the fear of some around same-sex marriage in order to help launch their presidential campaign.  

But I have a deep feeling that if he could be out, Dr. Marcus Bachmann would be out.  

Instead, he runs a clinic that seeks to change LGBTQ people by telling them that they do not have to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, in fact, that these ways of living are wrong and contrary to God's word, and that they are even "barbarians."  One man went undercover to discover and communicate the truth of what Bachmann's clinic practices, which you can read here.

Because Dr. Marcus Bachmann, and other purveyors of anti-gay "research," "therapy," and anti-gay religious-based rhetoric, such as Dr. George Rekers, whose research helped ruin lives while he got to vacation with paid gay companionship, cannot be out, I must be out.

For in order to stop such therapy from having legitimacy in the eyes of many as it still does now, those many must know who we really are as LGBTQ people.  And when they cannot know who we are from us, they must take the word of people who wish us erased from the pages of history, from the present, and from the future.


There are many reasons to be out, and many reasons why I feel I must be out.  But being out and coming out, as a complicated, ongoing, and life-long process, still presents times when I could say that I'm gay but I don't, because in the moment it feels too hard to do so.  In offering to elderly people why I am not married, for example, I don't say it is because I cannot marry, or because I don't have a boyfriend, but simply that I am not married, end of story.

These sorts of moments, which are moments of truth that pass as the proverbial ships in the night, are so important because they are where real change happens, and where, once frankness defines the basis of a discussion, real connection can possibly happen on more than an intellectual level.

Of all the reasons why I must be out, perhaps greatest reason is the prospect of those deep, personal, and connected conversations, and the relationships that can ensue from them.  

My hope, for myself and others, is to find the strength in the most difficult moments to speak out the truth of our lives to those for whom that truth might effect the most ultimate good. 

Together, we can achieve that good, for ourselves as individuals, and for those whose voices cannot be heard.  

1 comment:

  1. I love and respect the words you've written. I hope they inspire many! <3 your cousin, Tammy :o)