Yet another Sunday morning I was awakened by phone texts telling me of a mass shooting involving the queer community. When it happened with the Pulse shooting in Orlando, I arose at 5:00 and wrote a new sermon I preached at 9:00 and 10:30. This time I was in San Francisco, preaching at City Church.
I had not finished my sermon until close to midnight the evening before, so early Sunday morning I set about making changes to the message. I didn’t write anything down. The sermon was already memorized. I made the changes in my head. I had a big suite in my hotel that allowed me to walk in a circle, past two windows that looked out on Union Square and its lit Christmas tree and skating rink.
As I put words to my thoughts about the Club Q shooting, I noticed that everyone was skating counterclockwise. I was mesmerized watching the skaters turning back time. Now, as I added to my sermon, I wished I could turn the clock back eight hours and warn everyone to flee before the mayhem began.
Occasionally people come to Left Hand Church that draw suspicion. I hate that, but in today’s world, we have to protect our church members. Just a few weeks ago someone arrived well before the Sunday evening service with a lot of questions that aroused concern. Kristie, my co-pastor, engaged the person in conversation and they left before the service began. We monitored the doors for the remainder of the evening, and every Sunday since. Unfortunately, that is our reality.
Attacks of the queer community have been on the increase since 2016. Thankfully, in my case the attacks have only been emails, letters, texts, and a few phone calls. But I am always aware of my surroundings.
The veteran who tackled the Club Q shooter and undoubtedly saved lives was a straight man, at the club with his wife and children to see the childhood friend of his daughter perform in a drag show. That’s the kind of place many queer clubs are nowadays. Everybody wants to see a drag show, and the time around the Transgender Day of Remembrance is when many reach out warmly to our community. I do not want to lose sight of that. The majority of Americans support us. A vocal minority do not.
The preachers and politicians vilify us, and then wait for the young men with an unfinished prefrontal cortex to do their bidding for them, buying long rifles, and on marching orders from their leaders, gun us down in mass. Then their leaders abandon them and say, “What? Who, me?” And they have the rest of their lives to think about their blind loyalty to the rhetorical instigators of very real violence. All of this while the preachers and politicians can’t find the connection between inflammatory rhetoric and tragically misguided action. Some of the instigators were running for their own lives down the halls of the Capitol building after the violence they incited on January 6. Still, they didn’t get it.
Outside of the messages I receive, I do not face much prejudice. Last weekend I coached TEDxMileHigh speakers, emceed part of the show, and not a single person made reference to the fact that I am a transgender woman. I have served on the Town Board for the Town of Lyons since April, and not once has anyone made reference to my gender identity. In the world I inhabit, being transgender is old news. No one cares. Will we pass the town budget? That’s the important stuff.
Until another shooting takes place. Then I am forced to confront the reality all around me. I read about another precious transgender man or woman who loved people without exception and whose death left a gaping a hole in the fabric of their chosen family. Many of us have been rejected or marginalized by our families of origin. Our chosen families are precious to us, and we cling to them with a tenacity that shows how hard-won that family is.
Chosen families go together to Club Q, or Left Hand Church, or the taco restaurant, or the big table at the pizza place where we can laugh and cry and live inside the bonds of a shared life of precious meaning. And yet again, that sense of place and belonging was shattered, this time just minutes before the beginning of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
At City Church, after my sermon, Emily McGinley, the lead pastor, read the name of every trans person murdered in America in the past year. She did not yet have the names of those who died the previous night. The list was already long. The names were read with reverence, each pronounced tenderly.
I had preached on the death of Lazarus, and how Jesus mourned with Mary, showing solidarity in her suffering. I suggested that it was the shared mourning that caused Mary to cast her lot with Jesus. He understood. He understands. Hatred has its day, but love wins. It is the hope onto which I tenaciously hold. It is the Christmas tree on Union Square in San Francisco, and all the queer couples who gathered around it on Sunday evening, after the shooting, as if they knew to come to the manger for hope.
What do we do now? We keep telling our stories and staying in close proximity to those who are frightened by us, to show them our humanity, and for us to see theirs. Meanwhile, mothers and fathers grieve and mourn. Chosen families lose their grounding. And those described as “the sweetest person you’ll ever meet” will meet someone no more. And life goes on. The skaters skate counter-clockwise, unable to turn back time, and the losses mount. life after precious life.
Dear God, save us.