Last week at a Christian conference one of the evening worship services took on a spirit all its own. While it was meaningful for many, for me, it triggered some painful memories of people trying to “pray my gay away.” Because it has been a common experience for many LGBTQ+ folks, churches are not safe places or sanctuaries.
Later that night a group of us ventured out into the city to the local gay bar to dance. It was exactly what I needed to shake the bad energy from the worship. As our small group danced among the sea of people I reflected on the similarities between churches and gay bars. The darkness of the bar flashing with colorful beams of light was reminiscent of the light streaming in through stained glass windows. While I had been unable to connect with the Spirit in the worship setting, the rhythmic beats of the loud music lulled me into a prayerful, dancing, trance of sorts. The regulars, visitors, staff, and DJ, for those few hours were a community.
For decades, gay bars have been safe havens for the LGBTQ+ community. A safe space to be ourselves, free of judgment. The gay rights movement started in a gay bar in 1969. For the LGBTQ+ community the bar or nightclub is a sanctuary. This rampage was not just an attack on a bar, it was an attack on a sacred and safe sanctuary, a community of people.
When we, as people of faith, respond to this hateful action we must be acutely aware of the history of hate and discrimination that taints our well-meaning actions. We must recognize that for my beloved queer community, this was an attack on one of our sanctuaries, our safe spaces. But above all, you cannot remain silent, silence is complacency, silence is passive agreement. Stand with us and speak with us. Use your pulpit and places of power to speak words of affirmation and love for the LGTBQ+ community because it’s what Jesus would have done.