A group of us PFLAGers watched Milk Friday night at the Real to Reel in Johnson City. We went to the Acoustic Coffeehouse after the show. I am really proud of this group and I am honored with their friendship.
Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk, an activist, the first openly gay person to be elected to major office in America. He was elected supervisor in San Francisco in the mid 70s. He was assassinated at the age of 48. What a powerful show. Sean Penn and the other cast members were awesome.
As I watched, I realized that this is why I do this.
Harvey Milk inspired people across the country that there is hope. "You gotta give 'em hope," he said.
Kids growing up in places like Elizabethton, Tennessee hear from the pulpit, Sunday after Sunday, that they are sick or sinners or other horrible things. No preacher thinks he is preaching to them. He doesn't even know who is in his congregation. These kids will never reveal their secret and certainly not to the preacher.
But they watch. They see loud, red-faced angry men pounding Bibles. They see laws being passed designed to keep them forever in the closet with their secrets, because as they are, they are not fit for society.
They hear their ministers, their teachers, their parents, their elected officials, the neighbor down the street, the other kids in school. They hear the constant put downs. They know what those words mean. "Queer, fag--you're so gay." It means they know they can never be who they are, express love as their supposedly "normal" heterosexual classmates can and do. No big wedding days in their future. It is a life of fear and self-hatred and 'God why did you make me this way.'
But Harvey Milk and others like him who were willing to come out and to be alive, fully alive, gave them hope. Allies who came out as allies gave them hope.
Harvey told the truth. You are not sick. You are not a sinner or a pervert. You are a valuable wonderful human being just as you are. Your preacher is wrong. Your family members are wrong. They will get it or they won't. If they don't, it is their loss because it is your life. You have power. Together we will make this world a better place. There will be a wedding day in your future, if you want it, to the person you love. There will be respect and dignity. That is the kind of hope he gave. He gave it by word and example.
Harvey Milk died 30 years ago. Much has changed since then. Much has not. But the change is happening now.
It is happening even in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) It was in 1978 that the PC(U.S.A.) passed its statement that said "homosexuality is not God's wish for humanity." Milk was in office the summer that it was passed.
It took 30 years. Last summer the General Assembly said that hateful, misguided, and harmful statement has "no further force or effect." The General Assembly also sent to the presbyteries an amendment to our constitution to remove the last piece of discriminatory legislation. Many presbyteries will be voting Saturday and throughout the week.
Finally, it is possible that openly, out and shout, gay and lesbian people with partners if they have them will be ministers in the church. These are some pretty strong people who have heard that same crap, had those same doubts, held those same secrets. But they have hope.
They will be good ministers. Like Heather over at Holy Vignettes:
So, I felt when we began this thing that it was winnable, but only if everyone put in a lot of work and so on.Yes, it is just a church vote. But when the square Presbyterian Church starts getting it, it is a sign that change is happening.
Here are some of the YES votes from the past few days:
Scioto Valley (Columbus and southern Ohio)
Great Rivers (Peoria, Illinois, and environs)
Tres Rios (west Texas?!)
Sheppards and Lapsley (central Alabama, includes Birmingham)
Needless to say, these are not all places infested with activists.
Let me tell you a little story about Sheppards and Lapsley. In 2006, General Assembly was in Birmingham. Usually More Light Presbyterians and That All May Freely Serve host a worship service on the Sunday of GA. Usually a local church is more than happy to have us. In Birmingham, there was not a single Presbyterian church that would have us in the door. We held the service at Pilgrim UCC on the outskirts of Birmingham. (They were great.) And now the presbytery votes YES on this measure.
I haven't really been willing to say I might be ordained before the next GA. I haven't been willing to hope for it. But now, maybe I am.
Let's do this for Harvey and for Heather and for the millions of gay and lesbian kids all over this country.
Let's give 'em hope.