Saturday, June 28, 2014

Raise a Glass: Stonewall at 45

On this date in 1969, a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York's West Village, a dive bar frequented by drag queens, street youth and other marginalized members of the LGBT community, was probably expected to be routine by the police and even the bar's Mafia-linked owners.

What unfolded instead, however, was that this time the people had had enough and fought back.  A riot ensued, attracting 500-600 people, and quickly spilled into the nearby streets.  The cops were outnumbered and tried barricading themselves inside, but were quickly flushed out of the only place that many of the bar's regulars could call home.
"Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us.... All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course," wrote participant Michael Fader. "We felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren't going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it's like standing your ground for the first time."
The melee lasted a few hours, but riots happened again twice more that week, and emboldened the city's (and then the nation's) LGBT community to start organizing itself in earnest, setting into motion the progress that continues today.  The following year, the first pride marches took place, not only in New York, but Los Angeles and Chicago.  The closest Sunday to the anniversary of the riots has become the focus of New York's pride celebrations. This event has become such a turning point in the movement that numerous groups across the country have appropriated the name of the bar as part of their own; making it synonymous with the quest for safety, freedom, and equality.

In the years since, we've stepped much more into the center of the culture, and one of the prices of assimilation is that many neighborhood bars like the Stonewall have passed into memory.   We have earned the right to be fully ourselves in many mainstream places, including many of our churches, and the Internet has made whole other kinds of community possible.

Crowd outside the Stonewall Inn the night the Supreme
Court ruled against DOMA and declined to defend
California's Proposition 8
The Stonewall, however, lives on, after a fashion.  It was largely destroyed in the riots and shut down shortly thereafter.  However, it re-opened in 1990 in half the original space, and both in 2011 when New York's marriage law was enacted, and last year when the Supreme Court issued its landmark rulings on marriage equality, it was there that we gathered.

As a sign of how far we've come, the bar was made a national historic landmark in 2000. President Obama referred to it, along Selma and Seneca Falls, in his second inaugural address as turning points for people under oppression. Last month, the National Park Service used the Stonewall as the venue when announcing a panel to identify and mark more key people and places in the LGBT rights movement, dating back to at least 1924.

I wasn't born yet when the riots happened, but I appreciate what they mean for me and the people on whose shoulders I stand.  I ask you to join me in raising a glass to the men and women who stood their ground on that fateful night, 45 years ago.

Were you part of the Stonewall Riots or similar key moments in LGBT liberation?  Please share your experience in the comments.

Christian Paolino is the Chair of Integrity's Stakeholders' Council and the Diocesan Organizer for Newark.  A graduate of William Paterson University and New School University, he blogs at The Verge of Jordan.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Matt Haines: Sometimes You Can Only Smile

Pride season is full swing throughout much of the country and thousands will line up on the
sidewalks of our nation’s cities and cheer at the marchers parading through the streets. The interests of the LGBTQ community will be showcased in powerful—and colorful— ways. More and more those cheering will notice churches marching in support of their community. Many Integrity members and chapters will be marching this season, joining with our interfaith brothers and sisters in this annual outdoor liturgy.

Matt Haines
This year I fought every cynical bone in my body to get up early to head for the parade. I have
marched so many years in a row and wondered if it was even still worth my time. Several friends
had told me that Pride was something a person grows out of and that the real work has been done. Thankfully, I didn’t fully believe that. I was able to fake a caffeine-fed smile and headed down to the parade staging area.

It amazes me that Churches marching in Pride still causes quite a stir. Just last week while
marching behind Integrity’s banner with the slogan "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You!" I heard countless people yell "thank you." I could only smile. For so many in our community, the church represents oppression. Yet, when these people see us stand with them, it changes that perception and hopefully works to undo some of our legacy of oppression.

I spoke to a young pedal-cab driver after the parade who wondered which group I represented. I told him "Integrity" and explained our work with the Episcopal Church, and bragged that our bishop was in the parade. This young person had no clue what a bishop was, what Episcopalian meant, and even what a denomination was. He was the quintessential non-churched Northwesterner and finally asked if we were Christians. I told him yes and smiled. Still pedaling he turned around and said "I am so glad to hear that there are churches that aren’t mean." I stopped smiling and tried to fight back tears.

"Me too," I said. Then he turned back again and said "thank you." I could only smile.

Matt Haines is Integrity's Vice President for Local Affairs.  He is a native Oregonian

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Live Out Loud: An Interview with the Rev. Stephanie Spellers

If you, or your parish leadership, is not sure why Integrity is asking you to consider becoming a Believe Out Loud Episcopal Congregation, we commend to you this short (12 minute) interview between Neil Houghton, our former Vice-President for Local Affairs and an ongoing collaborator on the Believe Out Loud workshop curriculum, and the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, a prophetic voice for radical inclusion.

Stephanie helped found the Crossing emergent-church community which is resident at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston, and is now on the staff of the Diocese of Long Island.  She's also the author of Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other, and the Spirit of Transformation, described as "at once a theological, inspirational, and practical guide for congregations that want to move beyond diversity and inclusion to present a vision for the church of the future: one where the transforming gifts, voices and power of marginalized cultures and groups bring new life to the mainline church."

In her conversation with Neil, Stephanie counters common questions like "We're afraid if we do this, they'll call us 'the gay church!'"  We hope her message leaves you inspired and energized to explore the welcoming church movement and what it can mean for your congregation.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

We Need a Little Christmas

It dawned on me - apropos of nothing - in the days between the Supreme Court rulings on DoMA and Prop-8 and our Pride celebrations here in New York last year that Christmas and the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots are roughly opposite each other on the Earth's orbit.  I liked that idea.  For people who observe them both, there are definite parallels in the emotional and physical build-up that occurs in the weeks prior, with much anticipation and even some anxiety for those of us upon whom others depend for the experience to be a positive one.

Bishop Dietsche on the Episcopal
float at NYC Pride
The similarities grew stronger for those of us in the New York area with the election of a new bishop, the Right Rev. Andrew Dietsche, who bears a striking resemblance to St. Nicholas. He and his wife on the Episcopal float lent an authentic presence to the giant sign behind them proclaiming "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" given his supportive actions for our community in his first year in the episcopal seat.

Fresh from the news that same-gender couples in New York and other states with marriage equality would soon be eligible for federal benefits, we gathered on the street with some new faces and some who we last saw at the prior year's march, and began our time together in prayer.

And we were in need of a celebration. Our city in recent weeks had seen a rash of violence against gay men, culminating in the death of Mark Carson.  The other diocesan bishop in town (across Fifth Avenue) responded with yet another bulletin insert decrying the advance of marriage equality to same-gender couples.  The wait for the SCOTUS rulings -- though they ultimately ended up in our favor -- did little to settle the nerves. Not to reinforce stereotypes, but I was reminded of the scene in the musical/movie Mame, where a family fallen on hard times scrounges together whatever they can find to make a celebration in the face of adversity.

So we danced, waved, and marched down Fifth Avenue, just as our sisters and brothers in Sacramento, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Houston (to name a few) bore witness to their own neighbors about the love of God which our church offers.

And then Monday came.  Figuratively, at least, because some march attendees weren't even home yet when the cold reality of the world was thrust at them in the form of a screaming anti-gay tirade on the subway.  The rest of us went back to meetings and spreadsheets, diapers or -- for many of us -- the help wanted section.  And -- like that once-wealthy family who had fallen on hard times --  I wondered what it would take to preserve the feeling of solidarity and power that was so strong just days before.

The answer, if you ask me, lies within all of us.  The way to keep the message that God loves you -- with the gender you claim and the orientation you feel, not the ones the church and society has long said you should -- alive, is to be that message to one another, and to the world. Not once a year, but every day.

We've decided, together, to make the church safe and inviting to all, no exceptions.  Who is going to tell those who haven't heard that news yet, and who are feeling they are without love and without worth?  We can't wait for next year's Pride, because unfortunately some of them won't make it that long.

In parts of the country where this work has been going on a long time, and victories like marriage equality aren't even so new anymore, there's an air of battle fatigue. People have told me, repeatedly, when I raise this issue, that "we marched in that parade, back in the 'eighties!" as if that means the work is done.  Dude, that's great, but someone who was born in the 'eighties didn't see you there.  She needs to see you today.

What I and the leadership of Integrity is asking you to pray on and consider, is how you (No, not her.  You.  Well, her too.  But right now, this is about you.) can be Integrity, right where you are.  It doesn't have to mean going to a chapter social for bad coffee once a month or running for a committee position.  We're inviting you -- here and now -- to blow the doors off that model if it doesn't work for you.  We want to know what you think will work for your parish, for your diocese, for your community, that queer kid you know who thinks all religion is evil.

As we have mentioned in prior posts, we are actively looking to recruit Diocesan Organizers who are connected to what is going on in their area and will work with us to connect with more bishops, congregations and ministry organizations.  We need thoughtful writers to share first-person witness on how LGBT inclusion intersects with their own faith stories.  We need voices representing the church at marriage equality events, protests and rallies.  We need people to simply speak up when people say Christianity and LGBT folks can't or shouldn't mix, and say, "Well, actually...."

Maybe you're already doing these things.  If you are, we want to know about it, so we can tell others the good news.  And we want to know how Integrity can help you do more, reach further, and feel like you're part of a bigger picture.

We've been told -- and we believe -- there are many folks out there who would consider (or reconsider) a church home if they were convincingly told a place exists where they would be truly safe, welcomed and even celebrated.  We know such places exist, because we've seen them.  To bring the two together, thousands on thousands, one at a time, will take the effort of all of us.  We want to know what you're willing to bring to the table.

Are you a current, active Integrity member?  If you have thought about it, used to be.... please prayerfully consider recommitting.  Is your parish connected to either Believe Out Loud, our Parish Partner Program, or both?  Maybe they would be if they knew it was important to you.

These are both annual commitments and we know they slip people's minds, but we need your support and involvement just as much, if not more, today as ever.

Again, the rest is open to discussion.  If this message has touched you even a little, please introduce yourself to your Provincial Coordinator and let them know who you are, where you are, and why this work matters to you. 

We recently published our updated Mission and Vision. In case you missed it, here they are again:

Our Mission

Integrity USA's mission is to inspire and equip the Episcopal Church, its dioceses, congregations, and members to proclaim and embody God’s all-inclusive love for LGBTQ persons and those who love them.

Our Vision

Integrity's vision of its success is that The Episcopal Church thrives as a beacon of love, justice, and compassion, where ALL PEOPLE are equally embraced and empowered.
If that sounds like a lot of work, it's because it is.  To make it reality is going to take commitment from a whole lot of us, but it can be done.  The Christmas story sounds pretty far-fetched, too, but somehow, in spite of human nature and great odds, we make it real by being just a little bit kinder to one another every year, if only for a few days.  Like Christmas, the good news message we share at Pride could be extended further, to more people and more places, so that what we know about God's love extends to all genders and orientations and classes and colors, and becomes real to those whom we meet who have been taught to think it was not possible.

All you have to do is believe.

Christian Paolino is the Chair of Integrity's Stakeholders' Council and Diocesan Organizer (Newark). A graduate of William Paterson University and The New School, he blogs at The Verge of Jordan.

Friday, June 20, 2014

On World Refugee Day, Integrity Remembers LGBT Asylum Seekers

Friday, June 20th, is World Refugee Day, when the plight of displaced persons around the world is upheld for advocacy and prayer.  The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori, issued a statement which says, in part:
"Remember in prayer all who flee persecution and suffering in search of security and peace, remember the baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace, and reaffirm our commitment to welcoming the stranger as Christ himself."
Throughout 2014, Integrity has shared messages from the LGBT Faith Asylum Network, an organization led by our former Executive Director, Max Niedzwiecki.  Max also addressed the April meeting of the Integrity Stakeholders' Council.

LGBT-FAN helps connect LGBT asylum seekers with individuals and groups who are willing to help with housing, job placement, the asylum/immigration process, and spiritual care.  Where possible, they help to foster a community for these displaced people by guiding them to places where others share their cultural/ethnic experience.  In addition, LGBT-FAN seeks to educate faith communities about the struggles LGBT asylum seekers face, in the hope of building much-needed additional support and outreach.

The situation for LGBT people in many countries throughout the world is dire.
  • There are laws against homosexuality in over 80 countries around the world.
  • In over 70 countries, you could be imprisoned if you are part of the LGBT community.
  • In 7 of those countries, the punishment is the death penalty
  • In some of those countries "corrective rape" is common and sometimes committed by government officials.
In the past year, Nigeria, Uganda, India and Russia all created new anti-homosexuality laws.  Violence has increased against LGBT people, often with the tacit approval of government officials and church leaders.  The Anglican archbishops of Uganda and Nigeria, along with their backers in the West, have voiced their approval for the new legislation in those countries.

Once here, asylum seekers are not eligible for government social services nor permitted to seek employment for at least six months, while they are trying to sort through the immigration/asylum process, often without the funds to pay for legal help.

On this World Refugee Day, we ask that you learn more about the work of LGBT-FAN and consider whether you are being called to assist their work in some way.  We ask that you speak about the plight of LGBT asylum seekers within your faith communities; there is a good deal of information available on the organization's web site for sharing.  You can read first-person accounts from some of the people they have been able to help, learn about the innovative ways different groups are providing assistance, and consider whether a program might be possible in your area.

Some LGBT groups have elected to dedicate part of their presence at Pride events toward building awareness of the LGBT refugee community.  Reflecting the need for anonymity or their "facelessness" situation, asylum seekers or those representing them wear masks or even bags over their heads, carried placards, etc.

Please hold LGBT asylum seekers and those working to assist them in your prayers as they attempt to find a safe home where they can live authentically without fear.

Christian Paolino is the chair of Integrity's Stakeholders' Council

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Toward a Hermeneutic of Abundance: A queer response to discourses of parochial scarcity in the Episcopal Church

Eastertide in the Western Church has come and gone. The shift of liturgical season seemed remarkably quick this year, as each Eastertide seems to get shorter and shorter as the years go by.  My liturgical plate during Holy Week was unusually full this year, as was requisite of my duties at Christ Church in Cambridge, MA, and each liturgy leading-up-to and during the Triduum seemed to guide me through the mysteries of our faith in a new way. And here we stand, on the other side of the cross—liturgically, at least.

Yet, I have a secret to share with you: I find myself still standing in that one place we live our entire lives of Christians—within the unsettled fear and doubt of Holy Saturday—and for reasons that may not seem typically discernable. 

Detail of "Church for Sale" by Ed Kohler
Some Rights Reserved. Used under Creative Commons License
This afternoon after church I had the pleasure of serving on an inquirer’s discernment committee under the auspices of the Diocese of Connecticut. Today was our final meeting, so we addressed issues I have, in my own thinking, ignored or tried to ignore; issues that diocesan discernment materials make quite plain, namely the future of the Episcopal Church. I was confronted, due to the language of the diocesan materials, with the reality that the church is getting ready for a number of involuntary changes, the shapes of which are not yet apparent. As numbers seem to dwindle in certain parts of various Provinces, fundamental questions are being asked about what it means to "do" church, and what that could look like in an era that may have significantly fewer parishes. 

Now, I am in no way attempting to tout the falling numbers line that many critics of the Episcopal Church seem to relish. I don’t actually know what these numbers look like, so I am unwilling to make predictions about the future of our tradition. Diocesan discernment materials, however, both in my own diocese and elsewhere, make it clear that the extant parish model is causing significant doubts within diocesan leadership, doubts that are, therefore, all over the ethos of such discernment materials. 

While the discussion we had on this issue was fruitful, prayerful, and eye-opening, the only thought ringing through my mind as I left was "you poor walking anachronism; why couldn’t I have been born a decade earlier?"

The discussion unsettled me in that it asked all of us to asses our vocational goals, and it forced me to really think about what those goals might look like. Yet, not only did our conversation cause me deep distress about the future of my ecclesial vocations—as both a musician and one considering ordination—it struck me in a such a manner so as to remind me of the fears I encountered as I came of age during the recent economic crisis. 

The moment I left home and began my undergraduate studies, the economic situation took its tragic downward spin. Everywhere I looked, whether within the academy, the musical community, or as I searched for part-time work, the ethos was the same, saturated by a gloomy hermeneutic of scarcity. I must admit, even within my own place of privilege as a white male student, this gloom wounded me terribly; to this day I continue to suffer moments of the same absolute terror I experienced nine years ago. This terror has come to figuratively re-closet me—it forces me to keep my hopes and dreams held close, though without the confidence or means to pursue them, lest I lose them forever in the murky seas of scarcity. 

Now, after having discovered something precious and, dare I say, fragile, I fear for its continued existence. When I was seventeen I fell in love with the idea of the liturgy; when I was twenty I began to practice it as a musician at the Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle—it was then that I fell in love with the liturgy itself. It was the liturgy, particularly manifest in celebrations of the Eucharist (celebrations of total abundance in the midst of scarcity) that made Christian theology begin to make sense. The life of the liturgical church transformed Christianity (which I had for years disliked just short of total abhorrence) into a real, truthful, salvific orientation. In that space, in that community, both sonically, physically, and cross-temporally, the Incarnation became something I sought to see in the world around me. Without the liturgy, in liturgical space, and within a tradition that called me into its vast historicity and kaironic community, it becomes more difficult to seek the face of the Risen Lord in the world outside that space. Its very queerness set it apart from everything else in the world around me, and it provided an antithesis to the broader ethos of scarcity. 

While I respect and understand the need to explore what it means to "do" church without the structures we are used to, without sacred buildings, without our Anglican legacy of musical transformation, without choirs, and, dare I say, without full-time clergy (a matter to which many of the newer discernment materials point), I worry that a hermeneutic of scarcity is the only thing propelling us to navigate these ideas. I find it an incredible opportunity to think about what our baptism is really about, yet I find there the same hermeneutic of scarcity which was omnipresent when I came of age. Now, it threatens to engulf that very thing which I love the most—the one thing in the world that makes sense to me as a queer man. 

We—members of the LGBTQ body— have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice much for our place within the Church. As our stories become stronger threads in the tapestry of the Christian narrative, welcomed into the life as fully-recognized members of the Body of Christ, we need to ensure that what we're fighting for survives. We have managed to begin a re-acknowledgement of our tradition's queerness by the virtue of our presence and by the virtue of what Christianity stands for. We fought for a place to worship; now, will we let this uniquely queer space continue to exist? 

While the situation is doubtless different from diocese to diocese, we should begin to ask ourselves what the role our renewed presence within the ecclesial body might look like. While the narratives of scarcity seem to take over, we, as LGBTQ communities of faith, should steadfastly resist them, resounding the Eucharistic hermeneutic of abundance as we continue our work within and outside of the Church itself. We fought (and continue to fight) for a home that was always our home, even if not always dogmatically. Let us make sure the home for which we fought continues to stand—to ensure that our unique, queer, liturgical abundance continues to speak.

Sean R. Glenn Integrity's Diocesan Organizer for Massachusetts. He is a composer and conductor of sacred choral music, and holds a Masters in Theological Studies from Boston University and a Master of Arts in Music from the Aaron Copland School at Queens College. His home on the web is