I have been going through some old writing files trying to de-clutter some space. And for all you young whipper-snappers, “old files” does not refer to electronic files on my computer; it refers to actual paper files filled with hand-scrawled and hand-written lined paper.
It is amazing to go through some of these files, not only to see my handwriting, and read passages about things that I thought were important at the time, but also to realize that—damn—I was a pretty good writer back then, and that there are a lot of gems hidden in those manila file folders that take up so much room. I may even use some of them periodically as inspiration for this blog… Thus, a newly titled Category: “From the Vault of Writing While a Youth.” (VWWY for short.)
Take for instance the following hand-written article… deductively the year had to have been 1995—twenty years ago—and I was trying to make my way as a young, newly out young person in the State of Vermont. As a fresh-faced, recently graduated from university, ideologically persistent, politically intrigued, and ambitious young person looking for my own voice in rural Vermont, I used to volunteer as a news reporter for Vermont’s only gay and lesbian newspaper, Out In the Mountains. I received several assignments and traveled all over the state (or even into New Hampshire!) to attend functions, events, and do interviews, and more than once, my pieces even landed on the front page of the monthly OITM paper.
Since I was already going to attend the Vermont Coalition of Lesbian and Gay Rights (VCLGR) Annual Town Meeting that year, I decided—or the editors asked—if I wouldn’t take some notes and write up a report or an article, or my impressions. Mind you, this is well before the issue of gay marriage reared its head in the State of Vermont. The VCLGR was an active group of gay and lesbian professionals and concerned citizens who were pushing the envelope and promoting LGBT rights before it was fashionable to do so. Interestingly, since I have returned to Vermont—20 years later, and now that gay marriage has been on the record books for several years—most all of the LGBT advocacy organizations in the state seem to have evaporated. I’ve done online searches like you wouldn’t believe, and they’re all just gone or defunct!
In some respects, that is exactly the dream that we were hoping for—to have gay and lesbian lives become so inculcated into society and the norms of citizenship and civic life, that human rights advocacy organizations didn’t even need to exist. The point being: “we’re there; we made it; there is no more struggle to be angst-ridden about.”
But, having worked as a professional LGBTQ advocate for the last twenty years on the west coast, I know that the above statement is nowhere near the truth. And now we are mere days away from a ruling by the Supreme Court that will have a landmark, or an apocalyptic, effect on LGBTQ rights and marriage in the United States. (Obergefell v. Hodges, case originally heard April 28, 2015).
In anticipation of that decision, here below is the transcript from my notes in 1995 from the VCLGR Annual meeting in a workshop entitled “LGBT in Organized Religion.” (At the time I had recently been denied access to seminary due to my innate identification as a gay individual, the criteria of exclusion set in a Papal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II in March of 1992—the year I planned to enter seminary—and affirmed and upheld by Pope Benedict XVI in a Papal Encyclical in November 2005.)
I realize that the transcript below doesn’t have to do with gay and lesbian marriage rights; it really had to do with defining community in the 1990s for gay and lesbian people. In some ways the two topics are completely disparate: gay marriage has more to do with assimilant equal rights and being able to participate in a civically-recognized contract amongst others in the community; the transcript deals with coping and accepting variant communities within a religious tradition, and valuing new or alternative forms of traditions and ritual as an alternative to complete rejection.
And yet, both topics have many things in common: a struggle to be recognized and valued by the greater community; an angst at exclusion from rituals and traditions shackled and held hostage by fear- and power-mongering member of the majority; authenticating, coping, and valuing the love inherent in gay and lesbian people…
Above all, the reader must retain the knowledge that this transcript—a personal reflection—was written in 1995, when the author was 25-years-old, when the world of LGBTQ people was less visible in the mainstream media, when shame was standard as a public response to homosexuality, and secrecy was still a necessary element to retaining a job, or public stature, or any hope for advancement in one’s career, or the ability to find and secure housing, or any other number of normal everyday elements to living a life in a capitalist, heterosexist, patriarchal society.
What I like about finding this transcript, and re-discovering the youthful pain, and sorrow, and exuberant hopefulness, and salient questioning of the world… is that it asks questions that have been asked by other, equally persecuted, people in the world throughout history. The Psalms continually beseech: “Why do you reject me, Lord? Why hide your face from me?” (Psalm 88:15). Continuously they ask for deliverance from injustice: “How long, Lord, shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked glory? How long will they mouth haughty speeches, go on boasting, all these evildoers?” (Psalm 94:3-4). Constantly they beg for redemption from tormentors: “”May the Lord bring all this upon my accusers, upon those who speak evil against me. But you, Lord, my God, deal kindly with me for your name’s sake; in your great mercy rescue me. For I am sorely in need; my heart is pierced within me.” (Psalm 109:20-22). Both the Feminist Theological tradition and the Liberation Theological tradition, and even the Creation Spirituality movement, have all striven to find a place where not only are advocates and participants of those theologies and movements—which are comprised mostly of minorities—affirmed and accepted, but are allowed to express the tremendous love that they have to offer. Creation of new stories and new traditions are a sacred thing—God created the world and man because it was a joyous thing to Him; God loves stories…
And when, in this transcript, in Part II, when in my youthful strife, I start to ask whether my own creation of my own personal traditions—created out of desperation and love—might supersede or make obsolete the lessons of “altruism” and love that had been learned through the other tradition—the one that had rejected me,… the transcript ends. And did I discontinue writing for fear that I would find an answer that could not be tolerated, could not fulfill the new traditions I was creating? Maybe. But perhaps I found this transcript all these years later so that I could answer my younger self with the wisdom and prudence I had learned since then. Perhaps now, if I could speak to my younger self with compassion and sympathy, I would tell him that, “No, your traditions are not exclusive of the beatitudes and love that Christ revealed. The inherent spark is there, because your traditions were created out of Faith for what is possible, Hope for a better tomorrow, and Love that can be shared. What’s more, these are only three virtues among many that you have within yourself—Strength, Temperance, a sense of Justice, and Prudence—that can guide you through the times of distress and persecution.” And then I would say, “Thank you for your Prudence…for here I am, the product of your vision.”
I attended some pretty great workshops at the VCGLR [sic] annual meeting this past weekend. One of them—LGBT in Organized religion—seemed to reveal more about the individuals attending the workshop than about the topic at hand. Many expressed a need for the “tradition” involved in denominational or ritualistic services, and claimed an alienation from those traditions because tenets in those religions ignore, denounce, or discriminate against us as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered people.
For such a relatively small workshop group, we had a wonderful diversity of denominations and religions represented—Anglican, Episcopal, Catholic, Jewish, Quaker—and it was clear that not all those in attendance were offset by a need for “tradition.” Indeed one woman who identified herself as Quaker felt that lack of tradition was what appealed to her about the silence associated with the Quaker meetings she attended. For her, this internalized the presence of God and made her religion “her own.”
But what about those of us who miss being able to associate with a concept of community, or traditions with which we grew up and through which make us feel comfortable? How can we morally commit to a creed in which while listening to it we are continually offended by its language (patriarchal or discriminatory)?
The fact is there are places of worship or celebration where leaders have made an effort to make us feel welcome. The Unitarian Church, for sure, sponsors many gay and lesbian activities within and out of its services. Many are familiar with the kind and open-hearted views of Rabbi Joshua Chasen of the Hassidic Jewish community [of Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington]. But welcoming arms do no make for welcoming policy. Many places of worship or celebration, while providing a place for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, still denounce these [innate sexual orientations and identifications] as being in a state of sin, as evil, as against the Word of God, etc. Some can bear these stigmatizations in order to continue participating in the traditions they believe in… Others of us cannot help but see the hypocritical current underneath the façade of acceptance that may drown us.
I heard the following tirade concerning Barbara Snelling  more than once during the conference: ‘Barbara Snelling may be open and supportive in the efforts to help gay and lesbian people adopt children, and therefore be a reasonable ally, but she is also Bob Dole’s campaign manager for Vermont. Since Bob Dole supports and rallies support from the Christian Coalition, how is it possible that we can even consider Barbara Snelling as a recipient of our electoral support?'
I think in the backs of our minds, we have to ask ourselves the same kinds of questions about organized religion. Granted, the question is a bit more difficult when considering one’s spiritual life. That’s why this is such a difficult issue to handle.
I have a tough time dealing with the “tradition” argument also. The tradition of a religious celebration was equated to the identity one had with one’s ethnic culture… one is a certain ethnicity; one lives it every day; one must celebrate it regardless of persecution. Amen.
But think about who we are… We grew up gay or lesbian, or however we identified… Many (most?) of us didn’t become aware of why we were so different until we were older and discrimination became harsher, more poignant, as we looked for a community or something to which to belong. It wasn’t our fault that there wasn’t anything.  The sadness of the closet is that gay and lesbian youth are not provided with models. We grew up learning to cope with not fitting in to any of the molds that a hetero-sexist society provides. We have no traditions. The traditions that this society provides are not reserved for us. The only traditions we have are the ones that we crafted for ourselves.
The same is true for those of us who love God/the higher being/nature/etc. in the face of persecution. And this is a wonderful thing. To invent something, to create and hold dear to our heart that invention… that’s our magic, our knack. It makes whatever we’ve created empathetically ours. And what’s better is that we, unlike some of our contemporaries, are very good at sharing and not pushing our own conditions on others. It is sharing our experiences, our sorrows, our tribulations, our ecstatic joys, that bonds us and creates traditions. We must think of the traditions we have created and coddle and nurture them… and rejoice in them.
The tradition one creates may include participating in the gathering of a community in an organized religion… That’s wonderful if it is a part of the joy one has created. But there are other traditions that can be just as sacramental, just as joyous, just as holy: Second Sundays Out at the Pyralisk (a monthly queer dance party); the VCGLR Annual Queer Town Meeting; reading poetry…
This thinking may feel like a lonely road, but it shouldn’t be. The fact that there was a group of us together in a workshop with the same concerns proves that we have a fellowship. We may not choose to worship or pray at the same places with the same beliefs, but we all choose to create a tradition of praise and celebration of some sort. How wonderful that we could share it with one another!
For myself, to have met and shared with the articulate people of our workshop was an honor and I’m grateful to have been part of such a wonderful experience.”
In those years, people will say, we lost track
of the meaning of we, of you
we found ourselves
reduced to I
and the whole thing became
silly, ironic, terrible:
we were trying to live a personal life
and yes, that was the only life
we could bear witness to
But the great dark birds of history screamed and plunged
into our personal weather
They were headed somewhere else but their beaks and
along the shore, through the rags of fog
where we stood, saying I
Okay… I’ve just read a poem by Adrienne Rich from her new book Dark Fields of the Republic (Poems 1991-1995), which has me thinking about the selfishness of my perspectives on religion. I tend to follow a feminist theological perspective in regards to my own spirituality and my views on religion. It was my intent in the article I wrote about a VCGLR workshop on organized religion to not push that view or bias, but [rather] be positive about any individual’s (or denomination’s] methodology of personal satisfaction in regards to religious fulfillment.
What I questioned myself about after reading Rich’s poem was whether or not creating one’s own traditions to fulfill one’s own needs make obsolete certain tenets of altruism that organized religions advocate for [individual] salvation (for example: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you…’).
 Barbara Weil Snelling (born March 22, 1928)—widow of Richard Snelling, a long-serving Republican governor of Vermont—was elected the 76th Lieutenant Governor of Vermont [as a member of the Republican party] in 1992 and served two terms (1993-1997), suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1996 while campaigning for governor. She was elected to the Vermont State Senate in 1998, where she served until she retired in 2002.
 “We must first understand that a community is not a family and cannot be substituted for one. A community provides a public arena for discourse and a marketplace for goods and services; it is the boards upon which we stage the play, not the play itself. This is a great deal more than we might hope for or expect. For too long, we’ve been indulging in a double dose of wishful thinking: believing that the mere existence of a community can satisfy the longing every kid has for a family of his or her own.
“A larger and more active gay community cannot ameliorate the isolation and loneliness of teens who are not part of it; in some ways the community exacerbates that isolation, by seeming to make coming out a ticket to entry when in fact it is often not, when it is more likely an invitation to rejection by one’s family and friends. Teens who manage to find the gay community, or those who just hangout—are confined to the margins, where they are ignored, shunted off to social service agencies, or viewed as sexual objects. Far more teens, of course, have no contract whatsoever.” (Due, Linnea. Joining the Tribe: Growing Up Gay and Lesbian in the ‘90s. Anchor Books, Doubleday: 1995, p xliii [Introduction]. ISBN: 0-385-47500-4.)