Secrets from a secret city

Published 4:13 pm Wednesday, June 7, 2023

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My last parish was in a small town in Northern New Mexico. You may have heard of it: Los Alamos, the home of a National Laboratory and the birthplace of the atomic bomb. It was a wonderful place to serve, but some aspects of life there felt out of touch with other parts of the country not tucked away in that secret city. Notably, there seemed to be a culture of fear around celebrating one’s identity as LGBTQIA+. The reasons for that fear run too deep for words here, but the fear was felt by so many who weren’t sure they would be accepted and loved by their friends, family, or the federal government. A group of folks at the National Laboratory offered support, but it simply wasn’t enough.

With a groundswell of support and a dream for something more, Los Alamos Pride was conceived, and a parallel group, Friends of Los Alamos Pride, came along as a group of allies supporting our LGBTQIA+ siblings. I was honored with an invitation to join the planning group who were working tirelessly to launch a week-long celebration of those who had been overlooked, silenced, or even abused for the simple reason that their love looked different than what has been called ‘heteronormativity,’ the idea that heterosexual relationships are the norm and homosexual relationships are aberrations.

At our first meeting, something happened that left an indelible mark on my soul. Across from me sat a person named Orchid (name changed for privacy). Orchid superficially presented as a man and was born biologically as such. Yet she felt more herself by using feminine pronouns and embracing other traditionally feminine practices, like painting her fingernails and wearing make-up. Even when others were speaking, Orchid kept looking at me throughout the meeting. I wasn’t sure what to make of the everlasting stare, but I knew it wasn’t hostile. Behind her eyes was pain, and I could tell my presence, with my priestly garbs, was disturbing her.

Roughly halfway through the meeting, Orchid asked for some time to speak. She began by sharing how uncomfortable she was sitting across from a priest. She assured me it wasn’t anything I did but simply what I represented. I kept listening as she shared how a group of Christians had spent an ungodly amount of time harassing her. They would leave notes at her house. They would follow her around town and insult her. In short, they acted nothing like the Christ they professed.

It was worse than what I can write here, the torment with which they harassed her. The room was silent as if everyone was waiting for the tension to explode into shouts and aggravation. Instead, I did the only thing I knew to do: apologize on behalf of the institution I served and commit to showing her the love she deserved. Her eyes got big, and as she began to weep, she said I was the first Christian ever to offer her something other than hate. All that I could do then was cry too.

What she shared reminded me of why Pride is so important. All Orchid wanted was to be seen as a whole person whose identity and life choices weren’t constantly being questioned. She wanted to live a life where she didn’t have to fight for her right to be open and public about who she is. Here, we would do well to remember that Pride emerged out of necessity and was won through the blood, sweat, and tears of those like the Stonewall protestors who bravely put their bodies on the line so that those coming after them might have a brighter future.

If Pride Month makes you feel uncomfortable and you identify as heterosexual, remember that your identity as a straight person would never be what gets you threatened, abused, or killed. If Pride Month makes you uncomfortable, imagine the greater discomfort felt by our siblings when their right to love was deemed illegal. If Pride Month makes you uncomfortable, dare to direct your frustrations inward, wondering what it is about another person celebrating their identity that produces resistance within. Set aside your convictions. Set aside your dogma. Endeavor first to see the human being in the face of our LGBTQIA+ siblings before resting comfortably in a belief that doesn’t let you see the human beings before you.

To all who read this who have felt the pain and exclusion from the Church, I am sorry.  I can’t speak for the whole Christian Church, but I can speak for myself as a priest and pastor.  I am sorry.  And while you don’t need my voice of affirmation to know your sacred worth, I’ll offer it here so there can be no equivocation on the matter:

LGBTQIA+ persons are whole and beautiful, and you are not disordered in the eyes of the God I have come to know in Jesus Christ.

You know this already, and you certainly don’t need a priest at an institutional church to tell you this. I hope you know in the depths of your soul that you are loved and worthy of love. And if you struggle to know this, I’m here if you need me.

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington