A Guest Post by Criselda Marquez
CFT member and website contributor Criselda Marquez attended the 2015 Gay Christian Network Conference, and was kind enough to share a reflection here on Where She Is.
Compared to the vast majority of LGBTQ people I know, I’ve had an easy experience being a gay Christian woman. I have never doubted God’s love for me or my worthiness for that love. My struggle was with being accepted by the Church. Being a lesbian never felt wrong to me, even when I tried to make myself feel bad. One night, I lay in bed and, putting the emphasis on a different word each time, I said over and over again, “I’m a lesbian.” Somehow, I thought if I said it enough and just right, I would be able to make myself feel bad…the way others said I should feel. Fortunately, it didn’t work.
So, to say I’ve been privileged in my journey to knowing and accepting my true self would be a huge understatement. Last year, while attending my first Gay Christian Network conference, I was sadly exposed to the many, many stories of those subjected to ex-gay “ministries” and the extreme emotional and physical pain so many others experienced because of their evangelical upbringing.
I’ve never been directly and blatantly discriminated against because of my sexual orientation. I’ve not had family members or churches I attended tell me I needed to change my orientation. In short, I’ve never been persecuted or gay-bashed, verbally or physically. So, as I heard the stories last year at the GCN conference, all I could do was empathize.
The same was true when I first learned about Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas. The first time I heard about WBC, along with so many others, was following the death of Matthew Shepard in October 1998. WBC showed up to picket Matthew’s funeral with signs proclaiming “AIDS Cures Fags,” “Matt In Hell,” and the most famous, “God Hates Fags.” I just could not imagine the additional pain his family and friends felt after seeing those signs. Not only that, but how would these hateful words impact those less secure in their faith and orientation? The murder, and later the picketing, ultimately led me to come out publicly to a class I was teaching at that time. I knew I needed to humanize the subject of homosexuality to begin to bring more compassion.
Fast forward to January 2014, the last day of last year’s GCN Conference, when I approached Susan Cottrell. I wanted to get Susan’s feedback on a letter I had started writing to my own mother. I approached Susan because she was a mother of a queer child; I knew nothing else about her. What I would come to learn is that she espouses love. The message she and her husband Rob share is all about love. Since then, following their example, I have tried to embrace love in all aspects of my life.
So, when it was announced at this year’s Gay Christian Network conference that WBC would be picketing outside the convention center, you could feel the heaviness in the room. But I felt calm. Next, it was announced that local churches would be there, not just to counter-protest, but to form what was being called a Wall of Love. Hearing this made me cry, complete with lip quivering! Yes, I cried just hearing we would be supported by local church leaders.
Since being exposed to the WBC protesters might be difficult for some attendees, other conference goers were invited, if they felt so called, to join the Wall of Love counter-protest and to escort other LGBTQ Christians past the WBC pickets. I didn’t hesitate. I knew immediately I’d be waking up early Saturday morning. My privileged experience as a gay woman, and as one who has been taught to “love first” by Susan and Rob Cottrell, pushed me to be there for others.
WBC was NOT going to intimidate me, and I wasn’t going to let them intimidate any of my fellow conference attendees, either.
When I showed up on Saturday morning just before sunrise, in a light rain, the first thing I saw was a police car. It took a second to realize they were there because WBC was going to be visiting us. That is the moment it started to become real for me. I was about to come face-to-face with the WBC for the first time, the anti-gay group I’d only read about during the past 17 years.
Before that fact had a chance to sink in, the first “brick” in the Wall of Love appeared. As we gathered, I looked to my left and saw a large group walking toward us. When I realized this was the Wall of Love, I was overcome with emotion. As they formed what would ultimately become a Tunnel of Love, the tears rolled down my cheeks. I had to turn away from them so I could gather myself because the feeling of unconditional love was so overwhelming in the moment.
Not long after that, WBC appeared, carrying signs and a speaker of some sort. I never saw it, but I heard it. The first song they played was their version of “Happy.” I didn’t hear the words because I was trying to grasp that this was really happening.
Ultimately, I placed myself across the street from them to direct attendees so they would be able to experience the Tunnel of Love and avoid WBC. Less than 30 minutes into their visit, the rain slowed and we had another visitor…GOD. God appeared with a sign of love in the form of a rainbow. The clapping and cheering as people saw the rainbow was beyond awesome. What greater message of love could we have had that morning!
After stopping briefly to view the protesters from afar, most attendees were able to cross the street on their own. There was one mother, however, who, as she approached the corner, was overcome with tears. She was so saddened by what her son had or might yet experience in his life as a gay man. It took her several minutes to gather herself enough to let me escort her around the group to the Tunnel of Love. She was deeply impacted by the presence of WBC and not in a good way.
At one point, I asked someone to take my picture with WBC in the background. I was going to do my standard thumbs up to represent my Texas A&M Aggies, but that didn’t seem right. Before I knew it, I found myself holding up the ASL sign for “I love you.” Despite their inability to act with love first, I still love them as fellow human beings— just as we are all called to love one another.
So I’m grateful to the Westboro Baptist Church. They gave me an opportunity to practice acting with grace and love.
Thank you, WBC. I love you more than you know.
© 2015 by Christian Feminism Today
Index of GCN 2015 Conference Content on Christian Feminism Today
Introduction to the #GCNConf Series
Introduction to weconnect Featured Speaker Wendy Gritter
Interview with weconnect Featured Speaker Wendy Gritter
The Wall of Love at the Gay Christian Network Conference (on the Patheos Emerging Voices blog)
An Opportunity to Practice Grace and Love (guest post by Criselda Marquez)
Trauma and the LGBTQ Christian
Our Job Starts and Stops with Loving Each Other
Together At the Table: Inclusive Communion and Intimate Conversations (guest post by Erica Lea)
The Words of the LGBTQ Christian Experience
Precious God, Forgive Them, Because They KNOW What They’re Doing
The Gay Christian Network Conference: The Kingdom of God Unfolding (guest post by Marcy Bain)