Equality as a Multiple Choice Test

pencilsCircle all that apply.

1.  An LGBT person should be equal to a straight person in their ability to:

a)  Be treated as their partner’s next of kin in a hospital.
b)  Inherit joint assets upon their partner’s death without having to pay steep inheritance taxes.
c)  Claim employment benefits or pensions that would be due an opposite sex partner.
d)  Rent a house from any landlord.
e)  Get and keep a job they are qualified to hold.
f)  Stay at any public overnight accommodation, be served at any restaurant.
g)  Worship at any church they want to attend.
h)  Be a minister at any church in any denomination in which they feel called to serve.
i)  Get married in any church they belong to.
j)  Get married in the state in which they live.
k)  Adopt children with their partner.
l)  Teach at any school at which they are qualified to teach.
m)  Act in a leadership capacity for children’s scout troops, church youth groups, or youth athletic teams.

2.  I have a responsibility to:

a)  Make sure I do not discriminate personally against LGBT people.
b)  Do what can be done to make sure local, state, and national governments do not institutionalize discrimination against LGBT people.
c)  Make sure my friends know it is not okay to put down LGBT people by make disparaging comments or demeaning jokes.
d)  Stand up and illuminate discrimination when I see it, and if possible, do something that will help bring it to an end.

How did you do?  Probably most of my regular readers will circle every answer, but I am well aware that’s not the case for everyone.  My own experience and observation leads me to believe that people in general are circling more answers now than they were thirty years ago.  Thirty years ago a lot of people refused to circle any of them.  Now, I think almost everyone circles at least one or two.

And that’s not nothing.

Standing here, as a lesbian, surrounded by other LGBT people and strong allies almost all the time, it’s easy to forget how hard it is for many, many people to circle even a few.   A lot of people have been taught from birth, and from a bunch of different angles, that LGBT people are mentally ill, or sexually perverted, or pose a danger to “decent” society.  They’ve been told over and over that “good” people must avoid homosexuals at all costs.  So all they know is the myth.  They never get to see the plain old people involved.  They never get to see our hope, our pain, our frustrations, our creativity, our woundedness, or our surrender to authenticity and love.

But we’re much more visible than we ever were before, so it’s hard to escape hearing about us.  And I think that most everyone, at some point, has heard a moving story about something that happened to an LGBT person, a compelling story about some injustice that would touch any compassionate soul.  And that story might cause a formerly intolerant person to think to themselves, “Well, that’s just not right.”  And in thinking that, they wind up circling one of the answers on the test.

And that’s not nothing.

Going against everything you’ve been taught, to circle that one,  is actually pretty radical.  Taking a solitary stand in opposition to what seems like everyone and everything you have ever known is pretty hard work.

But I won’t deny it, it’s usually very difficult for me to appreciate that.

Too often I expect a person paralyzed by everything they’ve ever learned, to get up out of their wheelchair and run toward me.  But the reality of it is that I might be better served by celebrating the miracle that they, for the first time ever, wiggled their big toe.

I wonder if you are like me, and you get totally frustrated and hurt when a few of the people you love don’t just cruise on down the multiple choice test.  “Yep, yep, yep, that’s me, yep, that one too…”  Or when they make it all the way through the first question, but stall out big time on the second.

I want everyone I love to know that equal is equal.  It’s either equal or it’s greater than or less than.  It’s as simple as elementary school math.   When something happens and I realize that some of the people I love can’t circle all of the answers, when they maintain friendships with people who hardly circle any, when they are clearly not interested in acting or speaking out to end institutional discrimination against ME, I feel betrayed and belittled.  My first inclination is to strike at them with angry words, or short of that, simply walk away, back into my own circle where everyone is LGBT or a strong ally.

But though it feels compelling to do that, it just doesn’t feel right.  So instead I sit with it.  And I start four different essays, exploring it.  And I talk about it with people I trust.  And I sit with it some more.  Until eventually, something comes that feels right.

In life, there’s how we would like things to be, and there’s how things are.

I’d like it if everyone was very well aware that equal is equal, that anything else is greater than or less than.  Because I want to believe that in my life I will experience at least a little time in which I am equal, not less than.

But actually, how things are?  Equality is more like a multiple choice test.  And some people will circle every single answer, and some people will, miraculously, manage to circle one or two.

And my job is to reach for Her grace to help me make peace with that, so I can love them all.

And that’s not nothing.

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Marg Herder
Marg Herder is the Director of Public Information for EEWC-CFT, a Christian feminist organization working for gender (and LGBTQIA) justice in Christianity since 1974. She is the content manager and developer of the organization’s website, Christian Feminism Today. Marg identifies as a trans* lesbian writer, musician, and feminist spiritual seeker. She works to draws attention to the ongoing violence directed at women and LGBTQIA people in this “Christian” society, the desperate need for an understanding of God that includes the Divine Feminine, and Christ/Sophia’s desire that each of us move deeper into our own practice of non-violence.

10 COMMENTS

  1. I’m glad I came across this tonight. One of the ladies that was not present to hear my devotional at breakfast this morning posted a meme that said, “Share if you think marriage should be between a man and a woman.” My heart sank when I read that. I nervously ask for her email so I could send her the devotional. I let her know that my heart was racing and my hands were shaking in anticipation of sending it. I also asked her to read with an open mind. I feel so ill-equipped to stand up for what I believe. This helped me to take a step back and remember that change takes time. What I had to share with her tonight was enough for now. If we dialogue, and I hope we do, I think the words will come to me then that I need. I’ve at least opened the door…let’s see if she decides to come in now.

  2. Hi Scree,

    I appreciate your question very much, especially the humble (and humorous) way in which you asked it. Thank you.

    I don’t think many people who are aware of themselves as LGBT would decide to walk right into a church that they know is less than fully welcoming. I suppose there are instances of this, but I don’t know of any.

    The relatively frequent scenario, that I am aware of, is when people grow up in a certain church or spend many years active in one as an adult and after all those years of involvement discover that they are LGBT.

    If the congregation is not affirming, what happens at that point can be troubling, as it tends to result in psychological and emotional wounding.

    I was naively stunned when, years ago, saying those two words, “I’m gay,” changed everything about my acceptability to share in equal fellowship in the church I grew up in. While moments before that I was an accepted and active member of a faith community that was more like family than not, immediately following the utterance everything changed. I was the exact same person I had been moments before. Yet other’s perceptions of me had changed. I became understood as someone more repellent and dangerous, due to nothing other than the utterance of two words.

    I think it’s hard to understand the depth and importance of the connection some people feel for their faith community.

    When some LGBT church members realize their own orientation they are strongly urged (or required) to either leave the church or never express their orientation (remain celibate). Some, knowing this, remain totally closeted, a situation that is psychologically damaging in its own way. Often the experience of one realizing their orientation while connected to a non-affirming congregation is just thick with shaming. It seems like it’s always intensely painful emotionally and spiritually, as the subtext is none other than God does not accept you as you are, so we, the people of God, do not either.

    So you would probably be thinking at this point, “Why not just get the heck out of there?”

    The short answer is that ones friends, family, and very identity are often intricately woven together with one’s church. And I’m not even going to get into the psychology of salvation, that’s another post for the future. To be required to either cut all ties with something that makes up such a huge part of your experience or stay and admit that you are innately sinful (in some way that the people around you are not), is an awful choice to have to make.

    In my own case, I was faced with this choice (a brief telling of the story is available here http://margherder.com/3rdmargaret.htm) and I chose to leave for the reasons you mention. I have a dear friend who did not leave, and instead chose to remain in the denomination and work for equality. Both choices were difficult. Both roads were painful. Both of us found our way to peace.

    As a person of faith, I attempt to do what I can to invite love, compassion, and forgiveness into this world. It is my opinion that no person with a deep and abiding faith in God wants other people to suffer due to the preventable actions of another. But because some people of faith cannot circle these items, preventable suffering occurs. I do not think everyone is aware of the mechanism involved, nor how one might personally take steps to prevent the perpetuation of this injurious pattern.

    I don’t want to impose my beliefs and values on other people of faith. As I said in the post, my job is simply to love people, right where they are. But I don’t think that precludes me from clearly identifying what I see as a problem, and urging people to try to find a way to love others with, perhaps, more abandon.

  3. Please forgive my ignorance, but I have trouble understanding why g, h, i and m are even desirable outcomes. Disclaimer: I am a straight white male, and non-religious to boot, so it’s probably simply a question of having my head so far up my own arse that I can’t see anything around me. Still I would like to understand.

    Why would anyone want to be a member of a church (or any group for that matter) that is bigoted against them? As an outsider, it appears to me that the whole point of belonging to a church is to belong to a group. If that group does not fully accept you, then they don’t really accept you at all. Who would want to join a church that is willing to take their donations but not let them fully embrace the faith (h) share the milestones of their life with the community (i) or participate in church activities (m)?

  4. Thank you for commenting, Jemand. It seems in my very unscientific observations, the ones you mention are the more difficult for many people (and also “k” for some).

    There is a strong aversion to legislating what religious institutions must do! I think the nuance you mention, compassionate persuasion as opposed to legislative imposition is probably seen as a more attractive option by most people.

    Though I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir, I must add that the failure of some Christian people to extend radical hospitality to LGBT people more often than not only serves to drive people away from Christ or cause intense personal suffering. And that seems to me to be in opposition to what we are charged to do, namely spread the Good News and love one another. “We don’t want your kind to share in our fellowship” hardly seems to reflect the teachings of Jesus.

    But of course, as the post says, I think my charge is to love everyone right where they are.

    Thanks again for your comment.

  5. There’s a distinction for me in the first one between all the rest, and g, h, i, and partially m.

    All the rest I strongly support institutional force and law to back up these and make them reality already. When it comes to private church entities, however, I still feel it’s necessary to use softer social / cultural power to attempt to persuade, rather than the law.

    I was first inclined then not to circle those, but I think since I do support them happening, perhaps the very different methods don’t necessarily mean I shouldn’t.

  6. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I so appreciate being able to hear different perspectives, both on the issue, and on the way I am thinking out loud through my writing.

    I think your distinction between tolerance and approval and endorsement is very relevant and you have provided me with some delicious food for thought. At first glance, to me, tolerance seemed quite different than approval and endorsement. But upon reflection I can see how those two things may be quite interwoven in the minds of many people, and perhaps even my own. Perhaps a post for another time!

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts.

  7. It’s odd: I’m able to circle all the answers to question two, but on question one, I’m able to circle many, but not all. But I don’t think that means that I am “partly intolerant.”

    Being able to circle all of the answers is more than “tolerance.” It’s approval and endorsement. To me, being “tolerant” means that even though homosexual people are making moral choices that I do not agree with, those choices are theirs to make, not mine; and I have no right to enforce the choices that I would make, or punish anyone for not making those choices “my way.” And in fact, tolerance requires behaving in a gentlemanly enough way that no one could detect my moral views without directly asking me.

    When I was a young man, that attitude towards homosexuals was called “liberal.” Now, however, anyone who holds to what the Christian faith teaches and has always taught about sexual morality is, ipso facto, a bigot.

    people in general are circling more answers now than they were thirty years ago

    Probably true. In my case, however, I think it is safe to say that I am circling the same answers that I would have circled thirty years ago. If I am less liberal now, it’s not that my views have changed, it’s that the standards have changed. (For the record, I would circle (thirty years ago and now) A through F, and L on question one, and all answers on question two.)

  8. Thanks Lisa, I hoped this would help you too, so I’m glad to hear it did.

    Melanie, your encouragement, collaboration, and support is so meaningful in my life, I can’t begin to tell you.

    JoMae, you are so welcome. Your own work and your story has been very meaningful and helpful to me. So thank you, in return, for the many gifts you are sharing with the world.

  9. Hi Marg,

    Thanks for this gracious post. I’m one of those who learned from childhood (a looooong time ago) to be afraid to circle any! Little by little I’ve learned to understand. My children taught me some, and friends like you. Thanks to folks like you, folks like me can grow in understanding and admiring others.
    You have many gifts, Marg. One is loving encouragement. I’m sure I’m not alone in being thankful for that!

    Still growing,
    JoMae

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