But because of one of the projects I am doing for work these days, I felt I had to listen. You see, I am organizing within the Episcopal Church for the full inclusion of our gay members within the life of the community. Compared to most Christian outfits, we're not that bad on this, especially locally. Many parishes have gay members; there are gay, lesbian, even transsexual priests; heck, to the horror of the fundies and our own conservatives, this denomination even made a partnered gay man a bishop. But it would be great if we could move from "not bad" to good at this elementary facet of respect each others' dignity, so I'm working for the folks who are organizing to get us over the hump.
One of the steps along the way has been a thing called "the Listening Process." Gay people wanted to stop being talked about and start having real conversations with our more conventional brethren and sistren. We persuaded the official bodies of the church to say that such things should take place about 30 years ago, but mostly this "listening" has been a good idea that doesn't happen. And despite not always playing out the whole process, we, this particular church, have muddled toward putting up with and even loving each other.
However this season, the small, very gay, parish where I am a member, St. John the Evangelist in the San Francisco Mission, was invited to engage in some listening events with the people of a suburban church. Uh oh -- I knew I had to put my body where my mouth is and go to these things. It seemed an odd idea. I've been out so long in the world and in the church that I've almost forgotten the angst that too many LGBT folks still suffer in hetero-Christian-land. I'm a "I'm here, I'm queer, get used to it!" kind of person. So I didn't know what to think.
Off a little bunch of us, gays and friends, trooped on Sunday to a very friendly suburban congregation. We shared worship followed by a very nice potluck lunch. One of our folks quite bravely told the story of how hurt he had been by being forced by another denomination's authorities to hide his relationship with his partner. Then we broke up into tables of about six people each to discuss further. Each table consisted of one or two of us visitors and the rest from the local congregation.
I found myself at a table with several mature parishioners from the suburban church and several of their quite elderly visiting parents. Now this was in a room with a low ceiling and some 40-50 people. That is, once we started talking, the din was cacophonous. Though we could barely hear each other, we gamely attempted to address the discussion questions.
After a few minutes, the elderly woman seated next to me reached out and gripped my arm. She was elegantly dressed and groomed, every hair in place, carefully made up. She seemed tiny to me, wispy. Her very white skin was almost transparent; I could see a bit of blue vein peaking through her scalp. She whispered with a slight accent I couldn’t place.
"I worked in fashion. They all worked there. There were so many of them. They were so creative. There was a young man, he used to ask me to go places with him, to be seen with him. We'd go places together. You know, so he'd be safe."
"When was that?" I asked.
"The Hitler times," she answered. "Then we came to this country and I worked in fashion. There were so many of them. They were so beautiful."
The din overcame us both. We stopped trying to talk, but she squeezed my arm.
This was the sort of thing that happened in "the Hitler times."
The pink triangle with the bar was used by the Nazis to tag repeat "offender" homosexuals.