My wife and I had been married for less than two months when we excitedly attended the Gay Christian Network’s* 2016 conference in Houston, Texas. We were especially looking forward to hearing Mary Lambert perform, and I hoped one particular song would make it into her set list for that night: Lay Your Head Down (or, as it it sometimes called – the “Fuck you, Sarah McLachlan” song). I appreciate Mary’s poetic expression of pain, sadness and grief all mixed up with healing, joy and hope. When I experience and/or see pain and suffering, especially when caused or made worse by injustice, I am sometimes flooded with difficult emotions that can completely overwhelm me. I learned a long time ago that if I get stuck in a place where pain, suffering and injustice are all I see and emotionally connect with, I will burn out. The only way for me to sustain connection and work for justice in such a painful world is to hold all the hurt and wrong alongside that which is good and healing and hopeful. More specifically, I have to celebrate the good; I have to practice gratitude; I have to lean into joy. I resonate with the way Mary Lambert’s song, Lay Your Head Down, expresses holding many emotions and experiences in tension. She did perform that song, and I laughed and cried.
When my wife and I got engaged, I moved from my home state of California to her home state of Tennessee. She proposed the morning we set off from CA (she had flown out to make the cross-country drive with me), and I proposed three days later on the first evening we spent in our first home together. This was September 2014. The previous month the governor of Tennessee’s case against recognizing same-sex marriages was heard by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Tanco v. Haslam). Less than two months later, the Sixth Circuit ruled 2-1 that Tennessee’s ban on same-sex marriages did not violate the Constitution. Eight days later the same-sex couples involved in the case filed and application for review with the US Supreme Court. On January 16, 2015, SCOTUS consolidated the TN case with those from Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan and agreed to review it. Thus, Obergefell v. Hodges was in the hands of the Supreme Court. We, like many same-sex couples, lived with the fear and hope of this looming decision. Though we planned to marry in CA where same-sex marriage was already legal, we waited for the SCOTUS ruling and hoped that when we did get married, it would be recognized in TN and nationwide. On June 26, 2015, the LGBTQ community celebrated a victory: SCOTUS ruled 5-4 that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution requires all states to grant and recognize same-sex marriages. We were overwhelmed with joy and quickly set a wedding date for the upcoming fall.
On November 14, 2015, on a deck of a cabin overlooking Lake Tahoe, Kim and I joined our lives together in a covenant partnership and legal marriage. Among other things, we promised: I will laugh with you and cry with you, loving you faithfully through good times and bad, no matter what obstacles we may face. We were still in a bit of an amazement daze when we gathered in January with hundreds of other LGBTQ Christian folks in Houston. It felt so good. I felt free and hopeful. This is progress, I thought. Things are getting better. We were excited for what was ahead, including summer and celebrating Pride month together for the first time as a married couple.
Halfway through the month’s celebrations, on June 12, 2016, six years ago today, a shooter attacked Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, FL, killing 49 and wounding 53. The entire LGBTQ+ community was harmed by that traumatizing act of terror. I remember watching news and social media for information. I remember reaching out to many queer friends, just checking in, knowing that even though we might live a thousand miles away from Pulse, we all live with the threat that such hate produces. I remember feeling numb, feeling anger, feeling anguish. As Mary sings in the 2017 EP version of Lay Your Head Down, “Humanity is frightening.” Being faced with such targeted destruction of life, seeing the capacity people have for hurting others, is overwhelming.
From Mary Lambert’s 2017 EP version of Lay Your Head Down (listen here):
I cry because sometimes my only power feels like tweeting a hashtag, and that is so vapid and useless Or I cry because I'm human and I'm connected and there is immense sadness in the world I cry because humanity is frightening Because one person consumed with self-hatred and armed with one gun can kill an entire room of people I cry because shame propels so many of us I cry because so many people forget how important it is to cry or are made to feel weak when they do I cry because I want to close my eyes I cry because I can't And I cry because there is also good There's also chocolate cake and love and Harry Potter And the brilliant gasps of magic of holding a hand And hammocks - I love hammocks! I cry because it is late in the summer and all the fireflies are winking at me and the moon is out and it wants nothing from me I cry because my heart used to be an atlas with all the continents cut out I cry because I am full now and sure and say yes when I mean yes, and no when I mean no and can love you with all of my breath I cry because I am so well Because I live so well And how could one person possibly be so fortunate to live with all of this light
I’m writing about this one attack against a community of which I am a part because it is Pride month and the anniversary of this event. I also want to acknowledge the countless attacks against other marginalized communities, especially BIPOC. Individual attacks and structural injustices are a war waged against these communities every single day. Misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia are all threats to the life and flourishing of the communities and individuals targeted by their hate. Ongoing mass shootings and the refusal of so many in power to address them. Police brutality toward black people and the rejection of the Black Lives Matter movement and further entrenchment in white supremacy. Physical, psychological, and political violence against trans folks, especially black trans women and trans kids, and the rendering invisible of these beautiful lives. Sometimes “I cry because… there is immense sadness in the world.” When such pain and suffering is ever-present, it is a real temptation to collapse into despair, believing that evil and injustice will always have the final word, that all is lost. Such despair is exhausting; it saps all energy to continue fighting against injustice. As I sit in the heavy and difficult feelings of this day’s attack six years ago, and in all the attacks raging around me, it is absolutely critical for me to cultivate connection, look for and celebrate goodness, and lean into joy.
It is pride month after all. This month is a mix of remembering and honoring the protests and fights against injustice as well as the parades, gatherings and other celebrations of queer identity and expression. We are resilient. We are powerful. We are beautiful. I am so grateful for all those working for inclusion, for justice, for flourishing. I am so grateful for the love and demanding hope I witness within the LGBTQ community. I am thankful for my wife, for the gift of loving her and being loved by her, for the joy we lean into together “no matter what obstacles we may face.” I had a small moment of joy last week when I was listening to Lay Your Head Down and longing for the camping trip my wife and I were going on this weekend. We planned to unplug, enjoy nature, and try out our new tent hammocks. Mary Lambert’s enthusiasm for hammocks made me chuckle. “I feel you, Mary,” I said to myself as I anticipated sleeping in my new hammock. And it was wonderful. I slept better than I have in quite some time. This weekend was a much needed space for the renewal of rest and reconnecting with simple pleasures. Other moments of joy and celebration coming up this month include my birthday and attending Nashville Pride. Sometimes “I cry because there is also good” – cake, holding my wife’s hand and hammocks!
Note: The Gay Christian Network changed its name to Q Christian Fellowship in 2018.
Want to be an ally? One way to support the LGTBQ+ community is by donating to our organizations doing important justice work. Choose an organization like Q Christian Fellowship, The Trevor Project, The Human Rights Campaign or many others and donate this month. Another way you can support us is by engaging politically, such as by voting for leaders, policies and legislation that protect us and against those that make us more vulnerable to discrimination and attack.