When I started to think about what to write during LGBTQ History Month, I first imagined doing research on pioneering activists, particularly religious leaders, of the Carolinas. And then I stopped, and re-thought the question: Who makes history? My answer might surprise you.
We often describe historical movements in terms of their leaders. We think of the front men/women/persons who took a stand, or organized, or theorized, or inspired. We remember Leonard Matlovich, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Audre Lorde, and Harvey Milk. But a movement is about more than just the leaders; without followers, a leader is useless. A movement is made, and makes change, because of all the people who catch its vision and act on it.
In the 1990’s, feminist theologian Mary Rose D’Angelo pointed out an obvious, but usually overlooked, fact about early Christianity: We only know about Jesus of Nazareth, who was called the Christ, because of the people who remembered him. For at least a generation after Jesus’ death, there was no “Gospel” that we are aware of; there were only stories about Jesus, most likely passed on through oral tradition in this largely pre-literate ancient culture. People who were eyewitnesses to Jesus told other people about how Jesus and his teachings had changed their lives. These other people, in turn, kept telling Jesus’ story.
The stories were eventually written down, by people whose names or pen names are still known to us: Matthew and Mark and Luke and John and so forth. Christians know these stories today because a whole community — not just a single leader or a few leaders –caught Jesus’ vision and kept it alive.
And that, dear reader, brings me to you. You are making LGBTQ history, right at this moment.
All of us make history! We hold Pride celebrations in the rural South; we organize and form campaigns to prevent or change anti-queer laws; we create organizations that strengthen each other and our community; we get married and form families. All of this happens because of individuals who affirm their sacred worth, and make a stand in one way or another. In my denomination, for example, the Metropolitan Community Churches, we respect and honor founder Troy Perry, who acted on his conviction that his experience of divine grace in his life was more important than others’ anti-queer interpretations of the Bible. But MCC would have gone nowhere if not for the countless others, throughout these past 54 years, who caught that same vision. The same goes for spiritual movements of all kinds: we, ourselves, make their history. Each of us has this same spiritual superpower: to acknowledge the truth of our lives, and to tell our story without apology.
History is nothing but the telling, and re-telling, of our stories. However it is that you tell your own story — whether it’s out loud to the world, or whether it’s to a select and safe number of people — I hope you tell it, without shame and with great pride. The world needs to hear it, and your truth deserves to be known.
What story do you have to tell? And what history will you make when you tell it?
The Rev. Dr. Joan Saniuk is Pastor of MCC Sacred Journey in Hendersonville, NC, which will celebrate its final worship service this October 30.