The Word is Gay

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[dc]A[/dc] while back, I was in a room full of fairly conservative church folk, largely in positions of church leadership, who were trying to understand “the homosexual question”. There were 75 or so of them who, in all fairness to them, were really trying to create a safe space to talk.

The format of the event was a short talk from the denominational representative, and then each person that wanted it got three minutes, max, to talk without interruption. It was instructive to hear all the opinions in the room, and it quickly became obvious that what was most prevalent in that room was just lack of knowledge.

I was a guest, so I was determined to not speak up – I was just there to listen. I sat through people talking about the “homosexual agenda”, through concerns about Biblical fidelity, heard stories about how it was not an issue in their church because of how they had a homosexual couple visit back in 1994 and they treated them just like normal people.

Sigh.

Finally, I had had enough. The people in the room that knew me were a little nervous when they say me stand in line to go to the front of the room to claim my three minutes.

“I am a guest here, and I had not planned on saying anything. Instead, I wanted the opportunity to learn from all of you. However, it is probably safe to say that in my context, I minister to more openly gay people than any of you do, and I wanted to share something with you I found.

“Most of the gay people I know tell me that the only people who call them homosexual are Evangelical Christians who want to ‘convert’ them. In other words, when you call a gay person a homosexual, you are using code that tells that person you are probably not an open, accepting person. And I can tell from the conversations that I have heard here today that whatever the positions in this room on this issue, no one yet has said they wanted to be inhospitable.

“A fundamental human right is to get to decide what you want people to call you. And the people we are in this room talking about want to be called gay. Gay is always appropriate. There are other words – lesbian, queer and so on. But the safest one is gay.”

And I sat down.

Crickets.

I ducked out to try to find the bathroom. When I came back, three people were in the hallway, waiting to talk to me.

One was an elderly man who had marched back in the sixties, who wanted to know how he could learn more. One was a female college student who thanked me for my “prophetic voice”. And one was a 20 something man who came out to me. I was the first church person he had told.

If letting people know that calling people what they want to be called is important, we have more work to do than I had thought. And if our conversations don’t lead to us having enough knowledge to know what to call people, we are simply having the wrong conversations.

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If you liked this post, you might enjoy my newsletter Confessions of a Street Minister.

7 thoughts on “The Word is Gay

  1. Jon

    Well said. I see this as one of the biggest barriers in Evang circles. One man told me: “Their agenda is to make us all think their behavior is happy and fun and that’s why they want ti be known as ‘gay.’ They’ll always be homosexuals to me!” And so the wall never gets broken down. I don’t know about you but I don’t like being called a heterosexual by my gay friends…

    Reply
  2. Liz

    Hugh – Thanks for doing that and thanks for sharing this. I remember when I first gained this information. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know better and realized it was because I had lived so much of my life in an “evangelical bubble”. Even though I had become an affirming/accepting person I was still giving off the impression that I was judgmental/disapproving because I was using a term associated with that attitude. Since then I have tried to be more aware of these types of language barriers that need to be torn down which is why I really liked something that a friend of mine wrote called “On Gay Terms” this is on my blog Serendipitydodah. Here’s the link if you want to read it http://serendipitydodah.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/on-gay-terms/

    BTW – With your permission I would love to also share this post on my Serendipitydodah blog (which is a space created for LGBTQ people and friends and family members of the LGBTQ community who are attempting to develop and maintain healthy, loving, authentic relationships.)

    Reply
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  6. robg

    Hugh:

    Good for you for addressing the group at that meeting, and helping them understand how words matter.

    Thanks also for saying “A fundamental human right is to get to decide what you want people to call you” — I have never heard anyone say that before, yet it is key for being respectful to other people. I will be quoting it in the future!

    Reply
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