I am honored to be Integrity USA’s President. Yes, I realize my name was the only one on the ballot! But you did have the option of writing in other choices. So, yes, I am honored and my goal is to serve you and our organization well.
The year 2015 has been an historic year in both the Episcopal Church and in the United States in the long journey for full inclusion and equal rights and rites for persons who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning…LGBTQ folks. We can legally marry our same gender partners in both church and civil ceremonies. Yes, that is remarkable, but it is only one step of many on a still long path to where we are entitled to be.
While we can marry, we can still be fired from employment in too many states. We can still be conveniently overlooked in the clergy deployment process in too many dioceses. We still face obstacles in adopting children, especially second parent adoptions. We are still the objects of those who want to inflict bodily harm on us because of who we are. The actions and attitudes of a County Clerk in Kentucky over the last few weeks’ stand witness to how much still needs to change for us to be fully included in both society and church.
Twenty five years ago I was in the same position I am in now: President of Integrity, having been elected in 1990. We had recently concluded the work of the General Convention of 1991. That convention was a water shed convention born out of the pain of exclusion…..and that pain began to surface in Phoenix, Arizona, as the convention progressed. The pain also began to be healed at that convention. Two gay deputies came out on the floor of the House of Deputies and the building did not collapse. The first serious debate about LGBTQ issues of inclusion took place before hundreds if not a thousand of deputies and bishops. I will never forget the impromptu gathering outside an exhibit hall after that debate as we formed a circle and began to sing songs and hymns, many with tears streaming down our faces, particularly as we sang “We shall overcome.”
That was a beginning and much has changed. Much has not changed.
At the 1991 General Convention, unpleasant events actually enabled me to meet with the Presiding Bishop, the Vice President and Secretary of the House of Bishops and my own bishop. We began conversations that would continue after the convention. I was able to negotiate the first meeting of an Integrity President with a Presiding Bishop, namely Ed Browning. That led to a meeting between him and the Board of Directors of Integrity….another first time event. These meetings came at a great price to Bishop Browning. At times we seemed to be engaging in clandestine events! Yet he was intent on being true to having said that there would be no outcasts in the Episcopal Church.
Neither I nor the board at the time could have achieved what we were able to do without the hard work of my predecessor as President of Integrity, Kim Byham. He and I often took different approaches to issues, but we worked together and I count him as a dear friend as each of us has aged and allegedly mellowed over the years! None of us works alone.
We all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. We walk on the bridges others have built as they have gone before us. We are obligated to build bridges for those who come after us, even if we are not likely to ever have need of what we have built.
Over these past years I saw canonical changes, resolutions, etc. that were intended to bring equality to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers……or at least they did on paper. Reality hasn’t always been the same as what was “on the paper.” We have much work to do.
I have witnessed the election and consecration of a gay male and a lesbian female as bishops of the church even as we became more and more aware of hundreds of openly out and proud LGBTQ clergy in our church. But such is not true everywhere. Our sisters and brothers in some provinces of the church and in some diocese must continue to stand behind closet doors as they engage in their callings as priests, deacons and bishops of our church. We have much work to do.
The year 2015 will go down in the history books as another water shed year because we gained the right to marry the person we love in both our church and in secular society. Again, that is not true in all places…..subtle and not so subtle barriers continue to exist.
Let me also be clear that being able to marry the person we love does not equate to having achieved equality as LGBTQ persons. We can still be fired from jobs because of sexual orientation and gender expression/identity in too many places. We have no protection of guarantees of housing or public accommodation in too many places. Our children…all children and teens….do not have the protections they need against being bullied and harassed in schools and in society. Our trans sisters and brothers who find themselves incarcerated face even more terrible discrimination from authorities that has the potential to undo what they have achieved in their lives simply trying to live as the person God created them to be. Too many of our trans sisters and brothers are being murdered with law enforcement not apparently giving these cases the attention due them. Those living with HIV/AIDS are often denied critical medications needed to treat them while they are in jails and prisons. We have much work to do.
And, my sisters and brothers, the demon of racism continues to raise its ugly head within our LGBTQ community and within the broader community. The insidiousness of racism further compounds the work we must be about in achieving equality in our church and in our world. None of us are free until all of us are free. We have much work to do.
I am very aware that there has been some turmoil and dysfunction within Integrity. My goal is to address and resolve those issues as much as they can be resolved. Part of that resolution will be the transparency of how I and the rest of the board of directors operate. For a few examples: minutes of each board meeting will be published on the Integrity website following their approval at the subsequent meeting. Financial reports will also be published once approved and accepted at a board meeting. Dates, times and locations of board meetings will be posted on Integrity’s website so that any who wish to attend may do so. Board meetings are always open except when discussing personnel issues (and the acquisition of property, which is highly unlikely to be an issue for us!).
We all have work to do until that day when Integrity herself can retire because there is no question anywhere in our church about the full inclusion of ALL LGBTQ people and the motto that “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You” is truly a reality.
I am indeed honored to be President of Integrity USA. With the help of our Board of Directors, our Provincial Coordinators, our Chapter Convenors, and with the help and support of every member of Integrity, we can address and resolve the issues that remain before us. Let us strive forward to what lies ahead with the wind of the Holy Spirit pushing us and the still small voice of God calling us. We have much work to do.