Remembering Lawrence King

Lawrence King?s young life tragically ended in his junior high computer lab in Oxnard, California. Larry, who identified as gay and sometimes dressed in a ?feminine? manner, made the mistake of asking his fellow student, Brandon McInerney, to be his valentine. Apparently the idea of this was so abhorrent and shameful to the fourteen year old Brandon that he brought a gun to school, walked into the classroom, and shot Larry directly in the head.

It is tempting to gasp, express dismay, and then convince oneself that this is an isolated incident that is tragic but, thankfully, an anomaly. However, this dismissal ignores the disturbing statistic from the 2005 California Healthy Kids Survey that 28% of gay and lesbian students report being threatened or injured with a weapon, a rate that is five times that of other students and consistent with national findings. In such an environment, it is no wonder that social engagement, educational aspirations and overall academic achievement can suffer. Students who experience harassment because of sexual orientation or gender expression are more likely to skip school, drop out, reject college, suffer from depression and substance abuse, and under perform academically.

Both the Mennonite Church and Church of the Brethren have included language in their sexuality statements that expresses sorrow at the violence and hatred directed towards gay and lesbian people and calls for understanding and even the pursuit of civil rights (note: bisexual and transgender people are not included in the statements ? the obsession is with ?the homosexual.?) Such sentiments, however, have had little impact. This year BMC proposed a booth for the exhibit space at the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference that would focus solely upon providing education related to lgbt hate crimes, job discrimination and housing discrimination. The request was denied, with the committee citing homosexuality as ?an issue which causes passionate divisiveness in our denomination.? It is a telling comment when violence directed towards lgbt people is understood as ?the issue of homosexuality.? Is anti-Semitic violence the ?issue of Judaism??

In practice it is difficult to interpret pious denominational words as little more than an exercise in cheap grace. What efforts have any of the denominations made? What can they point towards in terms of fulfilling this promise? Where have they made a difference? I can think of no instance where the Mennonite Church USA, the Mennonite Church Canada or the Church of the Brethren has spoken out to challenge lgbt directed violence, discrimination or the violation of human or civil rights. Indeed, denominational officials from Mennonite Church Canada were vociferous in their opposition to marriage equality. The courageous congregations and the few pastors who have taken seriously this message of non-violence and understanding have found themselves becoming targets of discipline, derision and hostility.

Lawrence King is dead. May he find a peace that was denied him in life. Brandon McInerney, age 14, will probably spend most of his life in prison. Thousands of young lgbt kids have just gotten the message to be very careful about coming out or displaying any type of gender non-conformity. All are victims of a tragic homophobia that is reinforced by the policies and practices of the Mennonite and Brethren denominations. It is up to each of us to end this shameful complicity. Speak up, come out, talk to your friends, challenge your congregation, demand that your pastor break silence, organize your campus, ask more of the larger church, and get involved in the movement for lgbt justice. For the sake of other young people like Lawrence King and Brandon McInerney, it’s time.

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The Change Must Start Now

BMC is consistently denied exhibit space at denominational events.

A close friend of mine was recently asked to wait 10 years for the Church to be ready for her to be an out lesbian and accepted in ministry.

Brethren and Mennonite listservs frequently opine that “within a few generations, LGBT acceptance won’t even be an issue.”

Denominational staff people have suggested that the youth and young adult population of today’s Church need not discuss LGBT issues, because being LGBT simply “isn’t an issue” for that demographic.

For at least nine years, BMC volunteers have been sponsored by United Church of Christ Partners in Service and/or Lutheran Volunteer Service.

These are just a few reasons why I feel underwhelmed by the overwhelming sense of false support for LGBT individuals within the Brethren and Mennonite Churches. I was raised to believe that any one person could make a difference; as long as I stood up for myself, I was doing the right thing. As I stand up as a lesbian and a member of the Church of the Brethren, I wonder where the support has gone.

We have reached an interesting place in the Brethren and Mennonite Churches. Support for LGBT individuals seems to be spreading throughout both traditions, and at times I am even surprised by the number of people willing to claim an ally identity. All too often, however, I feel perplexed by individuals who personally whisper their support of LGBT individuals, yet remain publicly silent. When times are tough (and times are always tough), these individuals abandon their progressive leanings and remain silent.

Being an ally is a powerful identity. Being a good ally is even more powerful. I am frustrated and disappointed with the repeated experience of allies not exhibiting the kind of bravery necessary to create real change. How many of us belong to congregations who “support” LGBT individuals, but have yet to join the Supportive Communities Network and really come out to their denomination and local community? Granted, this is not an easy task. In fact, LGBT individuals face an enormous risk upon coming out to family, friends, and their congregations. Without facing this risk with courage, we would never see change. Allies also face a risk when choosing to stand up for equality and justice. Taking this risk is what creates an amazing ally. As Anais Nin stated, “…the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” What is stopping us from taking the risk of making our support public?

 I call allies to action. Move your congregation to join the Supportive Communities Network. Speak up at meetings when the vote could easily be turned to a landmark victory for LGBT persons within the Church. Be that voice of dissent, unwilling to budge on issues of equality and justice. Remaining silently supportive is a detrimental act for the movement, and it is causing a great amount of hurt to individuals, families, and the church as a whole. Start the change. Do not allow yourself to relax and wait for equality and justice, because every day the chance for action passes us by. Most of all, stay committed to your beliefs when difficulties arise; for an ally is hardly an ally if they are unwilling to act.

We can no longer wait for a great revolution of change within the Brethren and Mennonite Churches. The change must start now.