Today, I Mourn…

In the wake of the shootings in Orlando, several groups in Olympia joined together to sponsor a vigil Sunday night. Earlier in the day I was invited to share some remarks at the evening’s vigil, and I prepared some words not knowing what format the vigil would take.

That evening in Sylvester Park the space was created via open mike and open community to share and deeply hear the emotions and experiences of the LGBT community, and especially the LGBT community of color, who were the targets of this horrible act of violence. 

I was asked to come to the mic, and I did so, recognizing that I spoke not for those most directly affected, but as a part of the greater community of friends and allies who were deeply hurt by these events and whose work is to listen and support, and to work to create a better world for all.

When invited in the morning I didn’t know how long I would have to speak, and at the vigil times were set at 3 minutes apiece. I went on a bit too long with my prepared remarks, which I regret, and I share them here in full:

I am honored to stand here in memory and solidarity tonight, humbled by the fact that I know that I, as a cisgendered straight man, was not the target here.

But while not all of us were the target, we are all the victims.

I stand here tonight in solidarity, being from a community that has historically has been and continues to be persecuted. I understand the fear and pain that comes from that fact.

And I stand here as a member and leader of a faith community. I recognize and accept the role religion has played in perpetuating hate and violence. Religion can be the source of much division, pain and hurt, and to say it does not would be disingenuous.

And at the same time, I believe that religion can be a source of inclusion, affirmation, love and comfort. And it is in that spirit that I am here.

So let us extend words, thoughts and prayers of healing to those who have been physically, emotionally and spiritually injured by the events today in Orlando. May their healing be complete and come speedily. And let us extend words, thoughts and prayers of comfort to the victims and their loved ones. May their memories be a blessing to us all.

But we know that is not enough. It is not enough to mourn for those who have died. There is so much more for which to mourn.

Today, I mourn for the fact that despite the progress we make as a society, there are those who wish to move us in other directions.

Today, I mourn for the fact that in the face of overwhelming evidence of the destructive nature of firearms, we are incapable as a nation to do anything.

Today, I mourn for the fact that there are those whose hearts and minds remain closed and unwilling to accept those who are unlike them.

Today, I mourn for this willful rejection of the humanity of another and the denial of human dignity and rights.

Today, I mourn for the impulse to respond to one act of hatred with another.

Today, I mourn.

Today, I mourn for the fact that what was supposed to be a safe space turned out not to be.

Today, I mourn for the fact that those who sought welcome and acceptance were told they were not.

Today, I mourn for those who were murdered simply because of who they were.

Today, I mourn.

Today, I mourn for those whose murder causes tremendous pain to their loved ones who held them close.

Today, I mourn for those whose murder has become the long-hoped for reconciliation with family and friends who rejected them.

Today, I mourn for those whose murder will just deepen the estrangement.

And today I mourn for those whose murder is their coming out story.

Today, I mourn.

It is a common refrain to say that love is stronger than hate, but I’m not going to say that. Love and hate, like anger and sadness, are only emotions, feelings.

What we should say is that acts of love must be stronger than acts of hate. It is only what we do, not what we feel, that can change the world.  And so we commit ourselves to acts of love. To acts of welcome, to acts of acceptance, acts of celebration, acts of connection, acts of community, acts of resistance and acts of justice.

May the memory of those who have died inform how we who survive shall live. Let us now open up our hearts, clench our fists, lift our feet and raise our voices  to create a more just and peaceful world, free of hatred and oppression and violence, where we all stand together and see that we share a common vision, a common cause and a common future.

Supreme Equality

It’s been an exhilarating week in our country with history being made by the Supreme Court.

As you are well aware, yesterday the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a Clinton-era law which defined marriage as solely between a man and woman. This had the effect of denying federal benefits to thousands of couples who have been married under state law. At the same time they paved the way for California to reinstate same-sex marriage with a decision on Proposition 8.

The overturning of DOMA comes at the end of a long road of struggle and toil towards equality. We need only look at the recent history in our state, in which multiple political battles were waged and multiple grassroots efforts were organized, first for the inclusion of non-discrimination language in state law, then for domestic partnerships, and then for full marriage equality, first passed by the legislature and affirmed by the citizens of Washington.

While at the same time, it feels like things have progressed so quickly. Over the past few decades public opinion on marriage equality has changed radically and we are in a place on marriage equality in this country considered unthinkable not too long ago.

I’m convinced that the exponential trajectory of gay rights in this country has to do with personal relationships and connections. Once being gay became increasingly not something to hide in a closet, it increased not only the number of out gay people, but the number of people who knew an out gay person. As more and more people had openly gay friends, coworkers and family members, the more attitudes changed. It says a lot about the power of personal connection. Our relationships have the power to change our hearts and minds.

Which is what marriage is all about isn’t it? What I fear gets lost sometimes in the focus on the legal aspects of marriage is that marriage is more than a legal relationship. It is a spiritual relationship which brings two people together in a partnership of mutual concern and support. It is based in love, but also in compromise, sacrifice, work, compassion. While the legal steps to marriage are simple-a fee and a license-the spiritual steps are much greater and require more thought. Marriage is a relationship which has the power to change our hearts and minds.

And the Supreme Court affirmed what is being proven nationwide, that same-sex couples have the same potential to form such a partnership, and it is discriminatory to legislate otherwise. That all of our citizens must be equal under the law. It is a blessing to witness long-committed couples be validated and accepted by the state, and it is a blessing to know that couples just starting out will have the same access and benefits as granted to opposite-sex couples.

There is still work to be done, however. There are still many states that have yet to pass equal marriage laws, and a fair number have constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. We can lend our support to that ongoing struggle for full equality.

And we know, that despite the positive efforts by the Court to affirm equality for gay citizens, those came the day after the Court dismissed key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. This, to me, was unfortunate because the Act maintained something that was still needed. Sometimes positive action by government is needed to correct for a history of discrimination, and the patterns of oppression which the Voting Rights Act sought to correct are still unfortunately still alive. Sometimes we need a little inequality to bring about equality.

In the Torah reading this week (parashat Pinchas), Moses is told to ascend to the heights of Abarim in order to view the Promised Land which he himself will not enter. He asks that God appoint a successor to take over for him after his death, and God chooses Joshua to assume the mantle of leadership. The community has come a long way under Moses, it was a feat to get to where they are–they are a long way physically and mentally from Egyptian slavery. And there is more that lay ahead.

Society evolves. That is what our Torah teaches and what the Court has proven yesterday. And it evolves through a combination of changed hearts and minds, committed relationships, a vision of justice and the blood and sweat of those who wish to see change. There is work to be done, but we ascend the heights and celebrate victories along the way.