Yesterday was National Coming Out Day. Today is the 12th anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death, the young man whose death brought national attention to hate crimes.
Twelve years after Matthew's death, I wish we could say that hate crimes are no longer a frightening reality in this country for many LGBT citizens. But recent news tells us otherwise. Bullying and beatings continue. In recent months, the country grappled with the suicides of six youths largely attributed to homophobic bullying. Justin Aaberg. Asher Brown. Raymond Chase. Tyler Clementi. Billy Lucas. Seth Walsh. These are not just names. These are young men who had dreams, friends, and families. Our world is poorer for not having seen them into adulthood and known the gifts they would bring us as adults.
Then on Sunday, news spread quickly of two teenagers and a man who were attacked by a gang in the Bronx for being gay. The young men were tortured for hours. This on the heals of reports of another man being attacked at the famous Stonewall Inn.
Having served as a Partner in Peace at the recent Charlotte Pride Festival, I can assure you that the religious voice rallying against the LGBT community is still out there. Using the right of free speech as a shield to slew hateful words and threats, these protestors demonstrate a dangerous ethos in the American public. This is not about politics, or free speech. This is about the insidious nature of hate to hide behind any excuse justifying violence.
Religious persons who would condemn love in any form have lost the essence of faith. From 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, "1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." Without love, we gain nothing. Without love, sermons and prayers fail. Without love, we've lost religion.
We have seen in recent months that hate speech is not just a few words shouted in the air but serves as emotional weapons assaulting the LGBT community. Enough is enough.
We, the progressive people of the Piedmont and beyond, must pledge to be silent no more in the face of hate crimes. Silent no more when politicians pander to discrimination like Carl Paladino. Silent no more when religions hide behind misguided interpretations of scripture to support state and church sponsored bigotry.
I am proud to be the minister of one such church who served as partners in peace at the Pride Festival, ensuring that pride attendees had safe passage into the festival past the protestors. Yesterday evening, a vigil was held in Charlotte for the youth who committed suicide. Faith communities were in attendance. This is a critical step toward breaking the silence. We, progressive persons of faith, must continue to overcome the tidal wave of hatred.
And if you should be a LGBT youth reading these words, please know that you are not alone. Please hold onto the knowledge that there are communities outside the bullies and religious rhetoric; communities who love and support you. Please, hold on for the world will change for the better.
May love be the legacy left in the wake of these recent deaths. May love spur us to speak in the tremor of silence. May love call our hearts beyond fear and into the vision of diversity, straight to the heart of the prophetic promise held in each rainbow.