Friday, September 27, 2013

Courage On The West Coast

Berto Gandara
Integrity Blogger

3,730 miles is the distance from my hometown in Puerto Rico to where I am currently living: Orcas Island, Washington. This enormous distance reminds me of the vast journey I have witnessed these past eight years. I am astounded at the many changes I have experienced in myself and the world around me. I have gone from being a Puerto Rican Roman Catholic priest of a missionary order in the Caribbean to an openly gay Episcopal priest, married to another priest, and immersing himself in this new culture, language and church. From not thinking possible to be open about my sexuality, or any way LGBT people could be more welcome, to experience major victories for LGBT people in the world and in the country and to be told my by father how proud he is of Hugh and I as a couple. There are so many things have I seen transformed in these past eight years since I moved to New York City. I have witnesses changes that as a nineteen year old boy going off to seminary in 1983 I would have never dreamt of, and if I had had the courage to dream them I would probably would have been terrified.

Yes, there is still so much evil and ignorance in the world as we have witnessed with the killings in Pakistan and Kenya and nearer to home at the cold hearted attack on a plan to make accessible healthcare for all. On the other hand the LGBT community has found signs of hope, although so much more still needs to change. Arriving on Orcas Island, three weeks ago, I was greeted by a story that illustrates this journey. I share this small story because I wish to give hope and encouragement to all who continue to struggle and find it hard to be who they are as LGBT people.

Orcas Island is small, just 57 square miles and under 5,000 inhabitants. It is a rural community, accessible only by ferry or plane. When my husband and I arrived at Orcas we were surprised to find the main town, Eastsound, awash in pride flags. It seemed that every store had a pride flag. After a couple of days we inquired if there was some pride celebration going on and we were told this heartwarming story. This summer a gay couple, David and Lee, had established a bakery in the island. As part of the opening celebrations they had flown the pride flag out of their establishment. Soon after someone approached the couple to convey a message from a group of anonymous community members that wanted the flag removed. They told the owners, “We’re okay that you’re gay, but don’t throw it in our faces.” They also told them it might damage their business. After a very troubled summer to get their business started and a terrible car accident in which they almost died, it seemed the community was not welcoming them in their midst. Lee and David decided to remove the flag. They wanted to be good neighbors and not ruffle any feathers. When locals noticed that the flag was gone a letter to the editor was sent to the local paper titled: “Fear is ignorance; anonymity is cowardly.” In a very short time the letter received enormous attention, an outpour of support for the bakery and a cry of “put back the flag” came from all corners of this little community. This incident galvanized the community and soon not only the bakery but what it seemed every store in town had the pride flag. This past Sunday I attended the Eucharist at Emmanuel Episcopal church, here in town, and what a pleasant surprise was to hear that the vestry, the adult forum, and the staff of the parish had decided to join and fly the rainbow flag from the church flag pole. Indeed we have come a long way, there is reason to hope which gives us strength to continue working for the rights of all!

I am looking forward to contributing to "Walking with Integrity" and in my following articles would like to explore on how Latinos and Latinas respond and address the issues around LGBT rights.


Matt W. said...

What an incredibly inspiring story. Thank you for sharing.

Jose R. Gándara-Perea said...

And to complement this story, watch this video: