Next Sunday, June 28, 2015, marks the forty-sixth anniversary of what is often called the catalyst of the Gay Rights movement, the Stonewall Riots. LGBTQ+ people are slowly gaining acceptance in mainline protestant churches, but it is an ongoing process. There are vocal opponents to equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, and many of these opponents claim their Christian faith as the foundation of their opposition to equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community. Suicide is still a very unfortunate reality for many LGBTQ+ youth; transgender people, in particular, are often the targets of violent hate crimes; access to rights for LGBTQ+ people vary drastically across the United States, and many LGBTQ+ people have very little support in their faith communities and families. As such, I offer below two prayers that can be read on Sunday, June 28, by Christian faith communities to celebrate Gay Pride Month (every June) and commemorate the forty-sixth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The first prayer is meant to stand on its own or be incorporated into a liturgical rite to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, the second prayer is much shorter and is meant to be an intercession read during the Prayers of the Church. I follow this by a brief history of the Stonewall Riots and LGBTQ+ Pride Month in addition to a note on terminology.
Transcendent God, you took human form and with it human sexuality and gender, entering into our broken world, bearing our suffering along with us. We remember that on this day, forty-six years ago, a riot broke out as a response to years of victimization and oppression. We lift up those lives and their voices, remembering their hardships. We ask you to send your spirit to us that we may give voice to those without one, and work together to end the oppression of your children who are hurt by discrimination based upon their sexual orientation or gender. As your son, Jesus Christ, healed the woman who touched the hem of his cloak, help us to provide healing to the LGBTQ community, removing the barriers that separate these your children from access to hope, safety, and life abundant. Let this church be a safe haven. Through your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.
On this day we remember the Stonewall Riots that took play forty-six years ago, and all the people who have been oppressed based upon their sexual orientation or gender. We ask that you bring hope where there is none, healing where there is hurt, and acceptance where there is hatred. Lord, in your mercy,
hear our prayer.
LGBTQ+ History, Stonewall Riots, and Gay Pride Month
While today LGBTQ+ people are receiving more federally recognized benefits, the late 1960s were a very different time for the LGBTQ+ community. Sodomy laws were in effect that criminalized same-sex sexual activity, people who would in today’s terminology be called transgender were often times forced into sex work and were often times the victims of hate crimes and police brutality. In today’s society, LGBTQ+ people can often times find safe-havens in the form of advocacy groups, on-line communities, and gay bars, this was not the case in the 1960s. Gay bars were often outlawed, and the few gay bars that were in existence were not safe places to be, often subjected to police raids.
The Stonewall Inn was one of these early gay bars. It was run by the mafia, and was by no means a safe place for LGBTQ+ people, but it was one of the few places that LGBTQ+ people could gather as themselves. On the early morning of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn. On any other night, this would very likely have simply ended the bar service for the night, or it may have resulted in the bar being shut down. This particular night, people fought back. Patrons were emptied out of the bar and arrests were being made when someone allegedly told the crowd of patrons, “Why don’t you guys do something?” The crowd retaliated and went “berserk,” fighting against police, as some called out “gay power” and others began singing the spiritual “We Shall Overcome.” The rioting continued for several days before it was finally subdued, but the message was clear: the community was not going to take this anymore. Overnight, it seemed, gay rights organizations formed and existing ones saw an increase in membership and community response.
Gay Pride Month occurs every June to serve as a testament to the brave people who stood up after years of oppression on that night. Pride is understood as the opposite of the social stigma that the LGBTQ+ population had to endure for years (and still does, in many ways). It is a celebration of being true to oneself in addition to being a call for greater visibility, self-affirmation, and acceptance by larger society.
For further reading on the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the Gay Rights movement, I recommend David Carter’s book Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution.
LGBTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (and/or Questioning), and the plus sign stands for the many other people of differing sexual orientation, sexuality, and gender that may not fit easily into the categories of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and/or Queer. This is an umbrella term that is meant to represent what is in actuality not one community but a wide diversity of people with varying sexual preferences and/or gender identities.
Acceptable terminology is still evolving for the LGBTQ+ community. The reason the terminology is still in flux is because there are many voices being added to the movement that have not had the opportunity to share their experiences or stories before in a safe environment and only recently have had the privilege of even being listened to. There are many terms and acronyms out there that can be confusing, especially for straight, cisgender men and women who have not been exposed to LGBTQ+ language. Confusing terms (or being confused by terms) is bound to happen, and that’s okay. The important thing is to be respectful, and ask respectfully if you do not know what a specific term means. There is a fairly comprehensive list of terms here: http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of-lgbtq-term-definitions/.
Another frequent question is “Why is it important to use this language? Can’t we just say homosexual and heterosexual (or gay/straight, etc.)?” This touches upon the issue of communities of people being given the agency to name themselves. One of the most important parts in the journey of any community being granted a voice when they previously had one is that they are granted the ability to name themselves instead of being forced into the categories and names that the larger society gave them, especially as these categories/names are often very limiting or hurtful. This is why it is generally no longer acceptable to use the term “negro” to refer to African-Americans, or “retarded” to refer to someone who is differently abled. Many write this off as being overly-P.C.—the frustration can certainly be understood, especially when what is considered offensive may seem to someone outside of the LGBTQ+ community as changing every day. But the bottom line is that it is a sign of respect and affirmation to call a community by the name that they recognize as their own. As I said above, if you don’t know the right word, ask respectfully. Most people in the LGBTQ+ community are more than happy to explain what terms they are most comfortable with, especially if they are referring to themselves.