A Lesson Learned

Ten years ago I volunteered for a marriage equality non-profit in Connecticut called Love Makes a Family (LMF).  I was a passionate Divinity School student eager to stand up as an ally for LGBTQ rights.

As part of my work on LMF’s Speakers Bureau, I attended a workshop that trained us as public speakers and advocates for same-sex marriage in the state.  One of the exercises was to come up with a 30-second introduction to ourselves that communicated why we were advocates for marriage equality.  I thought this would be a simple exercise.  I thought the hardest part would be squeezing as many reasons for supporting LGBTQ rights into my 30 second spiel as possible.  But as I tried to jot down ideas, I quickly discovered I didn’t know what to say.  No, wait.  That’s not quite right.  I had a good idea what to say.  The problem was that I didn’t know how to say it.

Time ran out, and my speech was not ready.  But, thankfully, others volunteered to stand up and tell their stories.  At first, I didn’t listen with full attention, but kept working on my own speech in my head.  And then my attention was seized by the story of one man, whom I’ll call Bill.  Bill and his partner had wanted to marry for some time.  But that was no longer possible because his partner was not a U.S. citizen and had recently been deported.  His partner’s chances of gaining admittance back into the country were slim.  If Bill had been able to marry the man he loved, he never would have been deported.  International travel wasn’t financially possible for him, and he wasn’t sure how their relationship would survive.  His voice quavered as he told this story, and everyone in the room was shaken by the reality that Bill and his partner would never have the life together that they so longed for.

He sat down.  Another person stood up to speak, and then another.  I listened with full attention.  And with each story I heard, I learned the most important lesson any ally can learn.  When I had started writing my speech, I made the giant mistake of thinking it was my job to speak for the LGBTQ community.  That’s not my job.  Bill’s story is not my story.  It was my job to listen, to learn, and — only then — to speak from my own experience about why I fight for justice for LGBTQ persons.  So I stood up and told my story.

My name is John.  I am a heterosexual man in love with and married to a woman.  I have never felt uncomfortable holding my partner’s hand in public.  I have never questioned whether my parents, friends, or church will approve of our relationship.  I have never worried that moving to a new state with different marriage laws could complicate how my partner and I are able to care for one another and our children.  And I advocate for LGBTQ rights because no one should have to worry about these things.

 

John Anderson
 
John Anderson is a stay-at-home dad and a scholar with a Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago and a Masters from Yale Divinity School.  He has taught at numerous colleges and is published in the Journal of Religious Ethicsand in the book, Queering Religion, Religious Queers.  John is passionate about bridging the gap between the academic study of theology and the church, and teaches and leads discussion groups in congregations whenever he can.  He is especially interested sexuality education as a ministry of the church and is a certified facilitator of Our Whole Lives, a comprehensive sexuality education curriculum.  John lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his family.

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