Two nights before the election, I found out that Steven, a former student of mine, had died at the age of 27. This young man had been a warrior for LGBTQ justice in high school. He endured the worst kinds of bullying as an out gay kid in a very unaccepting place. And yet… he spoke to the entire faculty of 120 people about why allowing kids to get away with saying “faggot” was not okay. He went with us to a lobby day for an anti-bullying bill in the state legislature and spoke eloquently to his elected representatives. At a Challenge Day event, he told classmates how much their taunts wounded him. And always, always, through all kinds of struggles after high school, his big open heart was there for his friends.
That grief I was experiencing over the death of Steven most certainly intensified the grief I felt on Wednesday morning after the election. If he were still alive, Steven would be less safe than he had been the day before, and perhaps even less safe than he was as a teenager. Teenagers will now experience a major shift away from the civil and human rights gains that have been made for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. They will come of age in a country where laws and executive orders that protect them will be challenged and overturned. It’s no wonder that calls to suicide hotlines have increased dramatically since the election. Our kids are at risk.
After a day of grieving and talking to pastor colleagues I began to check in with my friends who are going to be in so much danger under the new administration. One by one, I messaged my transgender and non-binary friends, asking how they were doing. Many were grieving. Most expressed fear of being out in public. One had already experienced shouted slurs. Many were making plans – changing gender markers, considering a move to a safer region of the country, lining up medical care.
I messaged my in-laws, who are African Americans in their 70’s. My mother-in-law said she was angry. “…[A]ngry at the people who did not bother to vote. Angry at people who did not see what Trump was, and most of all those people who saw what he is and voted to support him…He frightens me.” My father-in-law said he had to quit watching the news.
Last night at MCC Hartford, we held a Transgender Day of Remembrance service. About 100 people crowded into our small church space and in one part of the service we lit nearly 300 candles to remember transgender lives lost to violence in the last year. Amid the mourning, one of our speakers lifted up the strength and resilience of the transgender community and the support of so many non-transgender allies and friends. We need these reminders of resilience and solidarity in this moment.
I’ve seen a lot of talk on social media about “getting over it” and “moving forward.” I’ve had people tell me that I’m over-reacting to the election. How I wish that were true. In my own Metropolitan Community Church denomination, we are being targeted. A swastika with the acronym “MAGA” (Make America Great Again”) was chalked in front of our MCC church in St. Petersburg. Feces were smeared on the door of our MCC church in Baltimore. On Sunday, a protester planted himself in front of our MCC church in Tampa.
We do not need to get over it. We must not allow the rhetoric of this election season and the rhetoric of the coming administration to become normal. Those of us with privilege and power will need to be vigilant, to speak out, to act up, and not to lose heart. As we are able, all of us will need to fight together for healthcare, for black and brown lives, for immigrants, for refugees, for LGBTQ people, for Jews, for women and for so many who will be targeted. We cannot leave anyone behind.
We will get tired. Our communities will get tired. And yet, people of faith and clergy are needed now more than ever – to be pastoral, political, and prophetic. We need to take care of our congregations, our communities, and ourselves. Let’s do this, my siblings. Let’s show up for one another and be strong together. Like Esther, we are here for “such a time as this.”
Rev. Marie Alford-Harkey is the President and CEO of the Religious Institute, a national multifaith nonprofit dedicated to advocating for sexual, gender, and reproductive justice. She met her wife April at their beloved alma mater, Episcopal Divinity School. Marie, April, Chaplain Dog Sandy, and cats Memphis and Emily Jane live in Connecticut. Marie is an ordained pastor in the Metropolitan Community Churches. She blogs sporadically at Love is Strong as Death.
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