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Disclaimer: The following stories were told to me by a coworker, who is gay and has lived her entire life in an area of the country where religion rules and equality for gays falls by the wayside. Names have been changed.

Kerry and Susan, recently married in Ontario, Canada, returned to their home in Georgia. In their town, jobs are hard to come by—especially jobs that correspond to their education and interests. As a newlywed couple, they found the first jobs available and moved into a small apartment. They couldn’t afford much–but its coziness couldn’t be matched. Susan found a wonderful little bedroom set on Craigslist for a little over a hundred dollars; Kerry bought a small television at Goodwill. Happiness, for them, came from the love that they share. Their apartment may not have ceiling fans or a dishwasher, but they didn’t care. Susan goes to the library to use the computers. She checks do-it-yourself sites for cheap homemade furnishings and decorating ideas and writes them down. Occasionally, when she gets a few extra coins in the tip jar at work, she prints off some of the pictures—in black-and-white, of course. The color pages at the library cost an extra ten cents to print. Kerry’s position at the local supermarket is less lucrative, but somehow they make ends meet.

Their life together would be much easier, of course, if they didn’t have the legal fees. You see, Susan was married before and has a young son, Samuel. Susan’s ex-husband, Mike, is a car mechanic and a drunk—and is fighting Susan for custody of two-year old Samuel. The custody battle has been vicious and ugly—and Susan and Kerry aren’t sure if they can continue fighting for custody with their limited income. The newlyweds have a home, but without Sam, their home seemed incomplete.

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Across town, Billie and Jordan have been together for several years and are enjoying financial stability for the first time in their relationship. Billie has been working at the local discount store for several years as a part time employee—it was the only place that hired her after her injury, and even though the pay is low, she remains loyal to the company for hiring her. The source of their financial stability, however, comes from Jordan’s new job as a custodian in the local prison. Benefits, full-time hours: it’s everything they needed in this difficult economy. That is, until Billie fell again.

 ****************

James still remembered the first time he saw his daughter.

She took her first breath and unlike other newborns, she didn’t cry. She looked up at the doctor, wide-eyed, and then squinted to shield her eyes from the light that she was seeing for the first time.

The doctor looked at James, “It’s a beautiful girl. Would you like to hold her, dad?”

James, with tears leaking from his eyes, couldn’t muster a response. He nodded as the doctor gently handed over his daughter. They had waited so long for this baby—so many treatments, so many years—and he was finally holding his daughter in his arms.

James thought about that moment as he drove home. Louise, his beautiful daughter, was now finishing her last year of high school. He wiped away tears as he drove. How is he going to explain to her that her mother left? How is he going to explain why she did? He could never show Louise the note that her mother left behind.

James,

By the time you read this, I’ll be gone. You will never see me again, and Louise won’t either. I can’t take it. I can’t raise a daughter that will never have children. That will never have a boyfriend. Where did we go wrong? Where did I go wrong? How could our daughter be gay? Good luck Jim. I guess you can handle her sin, but I can’t and neither can God.

Mary Beth

 ****************

When Billie fell, Jordan panicked. She had to get to work, but Billie could be injured badly and needed to get to a hospital. Billie had a medical condition—every once in a while, she would simply faint. But this time was different. When Billie fainted, she collapsed and her head hit the corner of the coffee table.  There was a lot of blood on the carpet, but Jordan knew that she had to get Billie to the emergency room—she was still unconscious. Billie’s insurance didn’t cover ambulance rides. Jordan would just have to explain to her boss, the head custodian of the prison, that it was an emergency.  She wrapped Billie’s head in a towel to stop the bleeding and lifted her into the backseat of her beat-up Corolla and sped to the hospital.

 ****************

Kerry and Susan have come to a crossroads. The judge presiding over the custody case for little Sam has a strict ideology about situations like theirs. Judge Phillips, Susan’s lawyer explains, does not believe that a household led by two women can adequately raise a young boy. The prospects do not look good. Their legal marriage from Canada does them no good in Georgia .There is a likely chance that Susan’s ex-husband will be rewarded full custody of little Samuel, despite the evidence of his drinking. Judge Phillips might also decide to award custody to the State and send Samuel into the foster system. The lawyer has one last idea: if Kerry and Susan live separately, the judge might change his mind. He has some precedent of awarding custody in such situations to single mothers.

Kerry and Susan, despite their finances, find an apartment for Kerry nearby, and tearfully they move her out into a separate home, despite the fact that they can barely make ends meet as it is.

 ****************

James wants to send Louise to college but can barely afford it, now that he is a single parent. He still hasn’t told Louise the reason her mother left—and doesn’t plan to. He can’t bear the thought of her feeling guilt over her mother’s absence.

James takes on a second job that takes him away from home almost every night. When his wife left, she took their second income with her.

Louise, having been abandoned by her mother, now rarely sees her father. She cries herself to sleep almost every night, wishing things could go back to how they were.

 ****************

Kerry and Susan can’t afford to live apart. Their two incomes simply don’t support their two apartment payments. Kerry’s parents live in Pennsylvania and they offer to take her back in during the custody battle.

The once-happy newlyweds who dreamed of their life together on their long drive back from their wedding weekend in Ontario now live separately in Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Susan cries herself to sleep every night, all alone in their apartment, as she wishes she could see her son and her wife. She wonders if life will ever be like the dreams that they once shared.

 ****************

Jordan races to the hospital and admits Billie into the Emergency Room. After Billie is taken into an examination room, Jordan calls her boss at the prison to explain that she had to rush her partner to the hospital. He asks her to meet with him early the next morning—and adds that she shouldn’t bother to dress in her normal custodial uniform.

Billie, thankfully, only has a mild concussion and gets twenty-seven stitches. As they drive home, they worry about Jordan’s meeting with her boss the following morning, aware that it will probably be her last day in her new job that allowed them their first taste of financial security.

 ****************

Susan and Kerry have now lived apart for nearly a year and have grown apart. They cannot afford plane tickets and cannot afford the time off work to make the long drive from Georgia to Pennsylvania. They haven’t seen each other since the separation.

After several months of depression about their situation, Kerry and Susan find that the tears don’t flow as easily anymore. They cry less at sappy movies. Their conflicting hours at their jobs don’t allow them to talk on the phone very often, and six months into their separation, the custody battle is still unfinished.

 ****************

In most states, an employee cannot be terminated for missing work due to a spouse-related medical emergency. In most states, a gay couple cannot legally become spouses.

Jordan was fired from her job for missing her shift to drive Billie to the hospital.

 ****************

Louise never saw her father after he picked up the second job. She began spending time with people who led her into some bad situations—and even though her father picked up the second job to be able to afford her college tuition, Louise ended up in jail for drug possession after high school instead of a college dorm.

James used some of the money he had been saving to post his daughter’s bail on the night she got booked.

He had been working particularly long hours recently. When he picked her up at the jail, it was the first time he had seen Louise in over three weeks. Neither of them had seen Louise’s mother since she left.

 ****************

Kerry and Susan, after more than a year apart, decided to end their relationship. Living apart, not being able to see each other, and the stress of the custody battle proved to be too much for their young marriage to bear. Not long after, custody of three-year-old Samuel gets awarded to the state, as Judge Phillips deemed Susan an unfit mother due to the fact that she will never have a man in her life to be a father to the little boy.

She still lives by herself in Georgia.

 ****************

Epilogue: If you thought these stories were going to have happy endings, then I am sorry for letting you down. But this is the environment for too many people in this country, a country that claims it is the land of the free. Inequality can be tangibly measured, in things like custody battles and terminations from jobs. It can also be an immeasurable force—such as the devastation a family feels after a mother leaves because she can’t stomach the idea of her daughter being gay.

The state of Washington has a unique opportunity to be on the cutting edge of equality this Tuesday. Legal marriage is just a step to erase the stigma that LGBT people feel every day in this country, but most certainly a step in the right direction.

In speaking with just a few LGBT people here in Georgia and South Carolina, I realize even more fully that the people of Washington state have a huge opportunity. Referendum 74 is a step forward on an issue that LGBT folks here in the South could only dream of.

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Yesterday, thousands of area high school students made a commitment to love people.

It was a simple gesture, really. It didn’t involve signing up for a movement. It didn’t involve rings or pledge-cards or little rubber bracelets that we so often associate with social movement. The people involved weren’t professional activists. There was no need to boycott any product or service. The people involved simply gave up one thing in their lives for the sake of love.

Yesterday, thousands of area students made a commitment to love people.

They had nothing to gain by doing this. In fact, most of the people involved didn’t necessarily directly represent the cause they were committing to. Most of the students involved simply wanted to recognize the hate and condemnation that emerges toward certain groups in society. The hate may not have been directed at them personally, but they decided to do what they could to shoulder the burdens of another for a day.

Yesterday, thousands of students made a commitment to love people.

In our world, there is a group of people that are torn down. They are ridiculed. They are told they need to be “cured” of their supposed illness. They are condemned. They are verbally and physically assaulted. They are disowned by their families. They endure emotional suffering that no person should ever have to deal with.

Yesterday, thousands of young people made a commitment to love people.

This persecution happens more often than you’d think, even if you think it happens a lot. The group becomes the target of insults and threats. They are called names. They are pushed to the fringes, forced to assume an identity of social posturing, forced to defend themselves against the barbs and arrows of “truth” and “morality.” And the people who represent “love” and “acceptance” are the ones shooting the arrows.

Yesterday, thousands of people made a commitment to love people.

shhhhDespite this, a group emerged that decided to stand up, silently, against this persecution. Instead of retaliating, instead of fighting, they were determined to simply stand and be silent. In the same way that Jesus, hours before His death, stood silently in the face of insults, this group decided that silence was better than arguing, fighting, and hate.

Thousands of people made a commitment to love people.

Yesterday, thousands of area high school students made a commitment to love people. They acknowledged that silence in the face of ridicule could be the loudest, most powerful witness of love and acceptance. They silenced themselves to recognize that hatred and persecution still exist—and to distinguish between defending “morality” and defending love. This Day of Silence, started by students, became a beautiful picture of Christ-like love.

People made a commitment to love people.

Yet this love has opposition. Many people kept their students home from school to oppose the Day of Silence. Last year, a church group voiced their frustration by protesting a local school. They held up signs and yelled (at students) for the sake of “truth” and “morality.”

What was Jesus’ response, hours before his death, when the crowd screamed their frustration at him? Oh yeah—silence.

Interesting, isn’t it? The most complete picture of Godly love in this situation came not from the church group, but from the group that decided to oppose, silently, injustice and hatred. For everyone who participated in the Day of Silence yesterday, may you continue to understand that true love doesn’t need to be the loudest and most vocal.

In fact, true love can even be silent.

“If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.” 1 John 4.20-21 (The Message)

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The other day, I had an incredibly humbling experience. I was walking around the UW campus with no real agenda (I had about three hours until my next class) and merely trying to enjoy some of the ever-fleeting sunshine.

 

As I walked through Red Square, I noticed a man carrying a large sign—hoisting, rather, for it was incredibly large. It read, “GOD HATES THE SINNER” in bold, angry letters that were meant to grab my attention, lest I be cast into a pit of eternal damnation. The man was shouting, nearly incoherently, about his perception of God as a vengeful, angry, bitter Being who has watched His creation turn on him and on itself. I was intrigued, so I stopped my aimless wandering and started walking closer to him.

 

Did I mention there was a crowd of about one hundred gathered around him?

 

The man put down his sign and began “preaching” as I immersed myself in the crowd of people, listening to the man’s tirade.

 

People were raising their hands, objecting to what he was saying; when he called on them, he would scream at them for being fake Christians and hypocrites. Or he would call them “demons,” “evildoers,” and “hell-bound” if they expressed any disbelief in God. Interestingly, the man was quite a student of the Bible—he recited verses and whole passages as if he was a scholar. But his take on the verses, such as calling God a “hateful, angry God” simply didn’t jive with anything that Jesus taught.

 

He spent a great deal of time discussing the evils of being gay, yelling about how Hell was a place where gay rape was prevalent. As he screamed about this, he became very graphic and crass, seemingly thinking that such language was fine as long as he was using it in a hateful manner towards those “more sinful” than himself. Many people in the crowd became disgusted and left.

 

Disheartening as it was, I stayed for about two hours, listening to the man shout epithets and slurs toward everyone that God “hated.” I need to confess that it would be hard for me to think of an example of another time I have felt such dislike and disgust for another person—especially one who called himself a follower of Christ.

 

Not long before I decided to leave, something interesting happened. A girl walked up to the crowd and immediately raised her hand.

 

He called on her, and she stated, “I’m gay. How come Jesus doesn’t love me?”

 

The man had a perfect opportunity to explain that Jesus’ love was not exclusive. He could have gone into great detail about how Jesus loved her more than anyone possibly could. He could have described that Jesus loved people regardless of sexuality, regardless of sin, and regardless of any baggage that a person had. But the man didn’t.

 

He responded by calling the girl a “muff-diver.”

 

I think the sound of God’s heart breaking was lost in the sound of the collective gasp that escaped from the crowd. The girl paled, then turned red, and then got up and left.

 

I could write pages about how the man was clearly misled in his beliefs. I could go on about how he might have ruined any chance for the girl, and the crowd, to open her heart to God’s love. I could even go into the details of why the man’s theology is clearly incorrect. But I have a feeling that if you are reading this, you are already formulating those thoughts on your own. I’d rather look into something else.

 

The girl hadn’t been listening to the man—she simply walked up, raised her hand, and asked “Why doesn’t Jesus love me?”

 

I have no way of knowing how she got the impression that Jesus didn’t love her based on her sexual orientation, but it couldn’t have been from Jesus’ own words. Scripture makes it very clear that Jesus loves everyone—He is love. She, therefore, could have only gotten that impression from those who call themselves Christians. Not just the berating, yelling man. Somehow, today, the church has allowed the myth of a hateful, spiteful God to be perpetuated to the extent that she, like most, thought that Jesus based His love on lifestyle or choices.

 

When I use the term “church,” I don’t mean the institution—I mean me. I mean you. I mean every individual who allows Jesus to be distorted into someone who died for some, not for all.

 

It is easy to look at the man’s response to the girl’s question as a tragedy. It is easy to find fault in what he did. It is far more difficult for me to look at myself and find fault for smaller, perhaps more unnoticeable things.

 

When the girl got up and left, I didn’t get up and walk over to her. I didn’t try to explain that the man was nuts. I didn’t try to show her who Jesus really was. I simply stood there amongst the crowd, silent.

 

What a tragedy.

 

“If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.”  1 John 4.20-21 (The Message)

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