This post is part of the OOPS series, Media and Publics in Dark Times.
A few weeks ago, I went to the Stonewall LGBTQ Solidarity Rally. It was the first demonstration I had participated in since the election of President Trump; for various reasons I had not felt the need to go to one before that. Instead, I had been fighting the president’s discriminatory politics in other ways, through deeper dedication to organizations and to work I started long before the election of Trump. Going to the rally, I was excited to feel the empowerment and community that a demonstration gives you, feeling a part of something larger than you. Demonstrations are a way of public organizing, a way to publicly show a standpoint, and to see others doing the same, disrupting the illusion of being alone in the hardest of fights. I was looking forward to gaining some energy from others in the community, before going home and continuing my work. However, the rally had the absolute opposite effect on me.
I am a member of both the LGBTQ and the Christian community. I am a queer follower of Jesus, a gay believer in God. As such, I believe in the unconditional, endless love of God. That we are all created equal, that we are all loved, and that while we are all human, and as such all make mistakes, our worth as human beings cannot be taken away from us. While I believe resistance is truly important in times like these, I am convinced that this resistance could be, and should be, led by love. I have one foot in each of two communities that are divided by many years of hate and hurt. The LGBTQ Solidarity Rally became just another hurtful reminder of how big that divide is, at a time when I had thought I had just started to find my beautiful, happy middle. Instead of feeling a part of something bigger, I felt like an alien in my own community.
There were of course many signs at the rally, my favorite being: “Women who were bi for 10 minutes in college for all human gay rights” — witty, while still clear in its message of resistance. However, a lot of signs used the rhetoric used by Trump and his administration, only to attack the latter. Signs like “God hates Trump,” based on the Westboro Baptist Church’s signs “God hates Fags,” were seen, cheered, and photographed — as were many other signs making fun of God, Jesus, and Christianity. Funny how a rally in solidarity of followers of one religion attacked another religion to make its point. I wonder what happened to the idea that it does not matter what God(s) you pray to, that everybody is welcome? While I understand, and respect, that many LGBTQ individuals have been hurt by Christianity, that Christianity has been the leading oppressive tool towards queers, Muslims, natives, and many, many others throughout the past centuries, I am still against the rhetoric used in these kinds of protests. To me as a queer Christian, someone who is always fighting for my right to be within both communities, it was offensive. The way the LGBTQ community, in the rally outside of Stonewall, uses bullying, uses “God hates…” signs, ridiculing Christians and Christianity, talking about how ugly President Trump is, as a way of pushing back against unlawful Executive Orders, made me feel like more of an outsider than ever before. While there are many ways of resisting President Trump’s way of ruling the country, those are ones I am not comfortable with.
Erving Goffman writes in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life about the importance of how one is perceived in the world, and the difference between how one acts in public versus private. This is not only true for individuals, but for communities as well. As the rally outside of Stonewall was an LGBTQ solidarity rally, a public rally by and for the LGBTQ community in support for our Muslim and refugee kith and kin, what was said and shown at the rally becomes the public standpoint of the LGBTQ community of New York. Photographed and reported by media all over the United States, and spread on social media all over the world, the rally created a perception of the LGBTQ community as being non-Christian and exclusionary. Whether that is true or not is less important, it is the appearance that matters; as Hannah Arendt underscores, appearance constitutes reality in politics. As politics is created in public interactions, what we think is unimportant compared to what we communicate through our actions. It is what appears in public that matters, because that is what can be heard and seen by others, Arendt argues. While there were many signs saying “I’ve had it with hate” and “Gay women against hate,” there were just as many talking about God’s hate of Trump, making fun of Trump’s apparently orange skin color, and joking about Trump’s small penis. To me, that is not the way a community of love should behave in public. It does not matter if the opponents are already using that type of rhetoric, being the bigger person is what will lead us forward.
The day after the rally I, as on all other Sundays, went to church. My pastor, Pastor Elyse of the Church of the Village, that day held a sermon right on the topic of what I was feeling during the rally. Under the title Resistance is Never Futile, she talked about the importance of resistance, but also about God’s radical, endless love:
And yet, that radical love that God possesses truly belongs to everyone, even the woefully and harmfully ignorant, even those who live evil, even the president. As I reflected on that truth while writing this sermon, tears came to my eyes because I know even if my love fails, it is true that God’s love knows no bounds — which is not a pass, but is a beautiful invitation to be transformed.
My church is my happy middle. It is an inclusive church with an openly queer pastor, and it is a space where my queerness and my faith are mutually celebrated. In the sacredness of that church, I no longer feel like I have one foot in two divided communities, but like I am a part of an all-inclusive community. An all-inclusive community that, through love, welcomes all while resisting any and all forms of hate and bullying. Although I am in no way trying to convince anyone to become Christian, I do think that is the type of rhetoric and movement that will bring us forward, that will unite us and make us the most successful in resistance during President Trump’s time in the White House.
I firmly believe in resisting President Trump’s Executive Orders, in fighting his politics, and any other politics that argues that some people are worth more than others. However, I do not believe in using bullying or hate, or ridiculing Christianity in doing so. The way we are currently protesting, we are further dividing our communities in a way that is benefitting President Trump and his administration. I went to the rally to get riled up, to become excited to continue my work; I came home feeling disappointed, feeling like I am fighting a daily fight for a community that does not have my back. Instead of showing a united front, we are making our differences more evident than our commonalities. It does not matter if we have a common enemy in hate and ignorance; if we continue to divide ourselves up by different identities we will continue to be perceived as a shattered group. Moving forward, we have to build bridges between us, showing that while we might be different, we have a lot of things in common — the most important of which is that we will never accept the spreading of any type of hate, ignorance, or discrimination in this country.