Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Three men on a Wednesday

By Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Fath Together

Wednesday night is rolling around again, but this time the story is different.
For on this Wednesday night, an 18-year-old man by the name of Max Singer is taking positive action against something that bothered him.

Armed with food, youthful energy and the unifying belief in accepting all people, Singer is organizing a youth march on Holland City Hall for Aug. 3

Max wants to raise his voice in protest, and give courage to other youths finding their voice, by demonstrating against the city council’s decision not to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the city’s non-discrimination ordinances.

On Wednesday, Max will ask the Holland City Council to reconsider its June 15 split vote.

He felt compelled to action after sitting through his first Holland City Council meeting July 20. He listened to the majority of supportive voices come from outside Holland. He realized how he felt on the issue and believed there were others in his age group who had remained quiet or unaware.

So he is organizing, through Facebook, a 5 p.m. march on Holland City Hall from Smallenburg Park. The culinary arts student decided he would provide food and cook for people, according to his proud mother who appeared Friday night in Grand Rapids at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids.

She was present for the showing of the Queeries movie, “Through Our Eyes,” the powerful documentary of earnest young gay Christians struggling with the messages of shame and condemnation they hear from their Sunday pulpits or in their homes.

One by one, the youths in the movie told painful stories of their inner struggle of trying to be themselves, while hearing soul-crushing messages from their faith leaders that who they were was unacceptable to God.

One youth told of being kicked out of his home by his father for being gay, while his crying mother said nothing in dutiful silence.

Another told of trying to pray away the gay and finally realizing after three years “the gay” would not go away.

Others told of knowing in their hearts, in their Spirit, that they were all right with God and of hanging on to that belief one day at a time.

I was glad to be watching this movie with other gay Christians from Plymouth United Church of Christ and St. John’s United Church of Christ. These are just two of at least 23 churches on our ever growing gay-friendly list of supportive churches.

I was glad to be with allies like Holland PFLAG, West Michigan Pride, Grand Valley State University GLBT Resource Center and of course GIFT (Gays In Faith Together) where we proclaim the news with resounding boldness that God makes no mistakes and Yes, you can be a person of faith and LGBT.

And I was glad we had set up information booths in the lobby telling of area gay-friendly churches and programs to affirm the LGBT community.

But before we watched the movie and saw the struggles of those in the documentary, we were reminded of the very real struggles of our neighbors in Holland.

Max’s mother spoke at the request of local journalist/facilitator Tommy Allen who wanted everyone to know what was happening in Holland. She told of her son, who like most his age, was oblivious to the City Hall actions. Since the vote, she has had signs in her front yard declaring her space a discrimination free zone. Sometimes the signs are stolen and she just makes more. On July 20 she brought her son to a council meeting and it was life-changing.

For a young man who had been raised in a family “committed to diversity” the young man with Hispanic and African-American siblings felt he had to “do something.“

He figured food would more readily bring people together, So he will feed them before the peaceful march. As his mother spoke at the theatre, others offered to bring food as well.

Contrast that with the actions of two men from the previous Wednesday.

They, too, saw something that “bothered them.”

Walking back to his car following a Michigan Equality reception for the new executive director, Denise Brogan Kator, Dave Battjes was attacked in downtown Grand Rapids.

He was wearing his pink Michigan Pride t-shirt and two young thugs in their 20s threw him up against a wall, punched him in the ribs, called him a gay slur and told him gays don’t deserve to live.

One young man encounters struggle around difference and wants to widen the circle. Two other young men encounter difference and want to destroy.

What messages have they been hearing that makes them think it’s ok to attack what is different? Who else is listening to those messages?

What are we doing to counter those vitriolic messages of dismissal and dishonor with messages of love, acceptance, affirmation and grace?

What are we doing so that no other child or adult, on a documentary movie screen or in our own backyard has to hear false and painful words about who they are and their place in the world?