The Fierce Urgency of Now
Interweave Continental 2012 Sermon Award
by Rev. Erin Splaine
The plan this morning was to preach a sermon
entitled - Fragile and Rooted. Well that was the
plan anyway. I have moved that sermon to the 29th.
Today’s sermon might well be titled Best Laid Plans
of Mice and Ministers as this morning is a perfect
example of what happens when something happens
during the week that catches my attention. The
sermon I had planned and was preparing to write
at the start of the week was not the sermon I felt I
needed to write by the end of the week.
The same thing happened twice last year. It has
happened in other years as well and will happen
again in years to come usually with only a little
consternation. Yet, today’s sermon comes to you
after a few sleepless nights and fretful days because
the larger issue that has my attention and deep
concern has direct personal meaning for me.
What does one do when the issue at hand is
about you? Ultimately, I concluded that regardless
it is my job to bring issues into this moment in a way
that allows for access points along the way so that
we might navigate them together. Every sermon is
meant to be a starting point for conversation and
consideration. Today is no different. For those of who
might want to continue the conversation sooner rather
then later — please join me in the Children’s Chapel
So what happened? Late Wednesday news broke
that the Obama Administration would not sign an
Executive Order barring discrimination by federal
contractors against employees who happen to be
lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender. In doing so
the Administration cited that they would instead be
focusing on a similar legislative process involving
the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that
resulted in the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
The upset about this news, as expected, came
from every corner of the LGBT community but from
nowhere else. And why would it, on it’s face it is a
strategy that makes sense — not to mention that it
is an election year and the democrats need to be
careful. Yet for several reasons when we take a look
at the deeper meaning and repercussions the picture
is far from clear.
First, one can argue that morally the end of Don’t
Ask Don’t Tell came years ago and the Administration
risked very little political capital to make it a reality
— they came in at the end of the wave. Second, as
the ACLU stated the Executive Order was the best
chance of protecting federal employees, as there is no
end insight for ENDA — which has been introduced
in every Congress since 1994 and yet passed the
House only once in 2007 — only to die very quickly in
Finally and most importantly to this morning’s
sermon — national support for ending workplace
discrimination against LGBT Americans has the
support of 74% of the country. For generations the
LGBT community has been told that change comes
slowly — incrementally and we have also been told
for decades that risks can’t be taken during election
years — there are just too many more important
issues at stake.
A Presidential signature seven months away
from an election on an issue that ¾ of the American
electorate supports feels like safe incremental change
and yet it didn’t happen. The Administration made
what turned out to be a smart political calculation —
that the only part of the electorate that would be upset
by this non-event would be the LGBT community.
My message this morning is not about any one
politician or political party but to the larger community
to begin the conversation about our national priorities
as a people. To raise the moral argument that it is
time — past time — that full and equal protection for
Transgender, Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Americans
become one of our top priorities and no longer the
issue that waits.
listen to the sermon
These last few days I turned to Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” for
inspiration. Let me be very clear about this point
— in using Dr. King’s letter for inspiration, context
and connection I am in no way equating the LGBT
struggle for civil rights with the civil rights moment of
Yet, I was drawn back to Dr. King’s letter for many
reasons primarily because he was writing to an
audience that surprisingly was not yet fully supportive
of his actions and his resolve — white colleagues
who were considered moderate theologically and
socially and yet who had gone about criticizing his
actions, cautioning him that it wasn’t the right time
to push back against social norms and the laws of
segregation, telling him that people weren’t really
quite ready to change — that change doesn’t happen
To the admonition to slow things down — to wait
for people’s comfort levels to change before full and
equal citizenship could be expected Dr. King wrote,
“This ‘wait’ has almost always meant ‘never’. It
has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the
emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an
ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see
with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that ‘justice
too long delayed is justice denied’.” What is true in
terms of his urgency then is true for the urgency of our
When we look at a more complete picture one
begins to understand that slow and incremental are
in-fact red herrings. When considering whether or
not it is time that LGBT Americans be granted full and
equal citizenship the question I would ask in return
to those who would still advise me to wait is just how
long is enough time?
In October of 2010 over half a million people took
part in a grassroots march for equality in D.C. So I
ask is 2 years enough?
In May of 2004 equal marriage was ruled to be
constitutional in the Commonwealth. So I ask is 8
In 1994 ENDA was first introduced in the Congress.
So I ask is 18 years enough time?
In April of 1992 almost a million people took part
in the last organized march on Washington, D.C. for
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender civil rights.
So I ask is 20 years enough?
The first national march on Washington for Gay
Rights took place in 1979 almost a year after Harvey
Milk was assassinated — is 33 years enough?
The first rally for Gay and Lesbian civil rights took
place in Philadelphia on July 4, 1965 — 4 years
before the Stonewall Uprising — is 47 years long
The first Lesbian rights organization was founded in
San Francisco in 1955 — is 57 years enough?
The first Gay Rights organization was founded in
Chicago in 1924 — is 88 years enough?
Emma Goldman — a voice that could not be
ignored — began speaking out publically for
Homosexual Rights in 1910 — is more than a century
The first trial and conviction — in this country — of
a woman accused of being a lesbian took place in
Plymouth, MA in 1649 — is 363 years enough?
Moreover, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Gay
people have been part of every community, of every
generation, of every civilization, of every culture since
the beginning of time. So I ask is forever enough time
I respectfully submit that just because most of
America has not been paying attention does not
mean that we are a new voice in the struggle for our
own basic civil rights. Just because most of America
has not been listening does not mean we have only
silently lived our lives in the shadows.
Just because most of America has not cared
enough to realize the enormity of the toll our
community has borne — and still bears — does not
mean that we have lived in peace.
Bisexual, Gay, Transgender, Lesbian Americans
and our allies have been marching and organizing
for years upon years. Transgender, Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual Americans and our allies have been
pounding on the door of equal treatment under the
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law and equal opportunity for decades upon decades
— generation upon generation.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Americans
have been killed and injured because of who we are
— we have suffered physical and emotional violence
for centuries upon centuries. It is past time that our
civil rights become one of our countries top priorities.
I don’t know why I am who I am — I just know that
I have been who I am for as long as I have had blue
eyes, for as long as I have been dyslexic, for as long
as I have had a greater aptitude for athletics rather
than mathematics. I know that the same is true for
some — not others on the continuum. In so many
ways beyond but most definitely including sexual
orientation and gender identity — life is an unfolding
— a journey — a process of becoming who we are.
That we live in a world that says that here and
now in 2012 it is okay for our government to create a
second-class of citizenship because of who we are is
LGBT Americans are not asking for special
consideration and treatment anymore than we are
asking for special rights. We have been asking
for equal rights and now we are asking for equal
consideration and treatment. That we have to ask at
all is maddening.
Nonetheless, we are asking that our generations
long struggle for equal rights become a priority
— do so means changing how we engage in the
conversation — how we act — what we expect and
accept from our political representatives regardless of
our party affiliation.
In ‘The Letter From a Birmingham Jail’ Dr. King
answering those who would have the protests in
Birmingham put on hold in order to give the new
mayor who was seen to be more “gentle” than the
outgoing mayor a chance wrote “the new Birmingham
administration must be prodded as much as the
outgoing one, before it will act.” Regardless of his
friendliness Dr. King wrote like the mayor before him
the new mayor is “dedicated to maintenance of the
It is true that the current Administration is
considered to be more ‘gay friendly’ than any other.
Yet when expected to fulfill a campaign promise
to sign the Executive Order barring workplace
discrimination the Administration balked. There is
widespread doubt within the LGBT community that
without prodding and a growing chorus of support the
administration will spend only limited political capital
now or in the future to further the cause of equal
treatment under the law for all citizens.
Because that is what we are talking about equal
treatment under the law — the assurance that the
government will prosecute if someone is fired from a
job or denied housing because of their gender identity
or sexual orientation; that we have equal access to
adoption; that we not worry as we do in certain states
that we would be kicked out of a restaurant because
of who we are; that our birth certificates and passports
match our identity; that we become eligible for the
1000 plus different federal rights and protections that
are denied us because regardless of state laws our
federal government prohibits us from marrying those
whom we love.
There are some who have said that the fact that I
am an out lesbian minister living in a predominantly
straight community has had some small measure
of benefit not just for LGBT youth and adults but for
those who identify themselves as straight as well. I
have to admit that there have been times that I have
believed that might be true.
Yet of late I have begun to question if perhaps I
have unwittingly contributed to the lack of urgency
in the ally community to the issue of full equality
under the law for LGBT Americans. I have begun to
question whether or not by blending in I have perhaps
contributed to an understanding among those who do
not identify as Bisexual, Lesbian, Transgender or Gay
that our lives are fundamentally the same — because
the are not.
I don’t know what it is like to walk into CVS, or the
mall or Fenway Park and not worry if it is safe to hold
my girlfriends hand. I don’t know what is like to live in
a world where I don’t have to think before I speak for
fear of calling her hon or sweetheart because I know,
even here in Massachusetts, what can happen if the
wrong person hears me say just that.
I don’t know what it is like to have my government
acknowledge me as a full citizen. I don’t know what
it is like to turn on the television and not hear how I
am wrecking the institution of marriage, or that I am
by the very fact of my existence immoral — grotesque
— sick — that I am unfit to be a parent, or a teacher
or a minister — that it is not safe for me to be
around children — not because of the content of my
character, because I am a lesbian.
I do know what it is like to live in a world where the
very core of who I am is dismissed as a mere choice
— as if it were akin to picking out a new set of drapes.
How is it possible that there are those who still
believe that after thousands of years of oppression
— after thousands of years of violence against
us — after thousands of years of governments trying
to legislate us out of existence — of organizations
creating doctrine to demonize us — of individuals who
would demean and threaten us — and still do — how
is it possible for anyone to think that the strength my
community has needed to endure all of that and more
hangs solely by the thin filament of a choice?
The enormity of our strength comes from being who
we are — the fact of us will never change no matter
how many people would wish it were so.
I do know the spiritual, psychic, emotional, and
physical energy it takes to get up every day and live
in a world that at best dismisses me. And I’m lucky
because I live in the relative — but by no means safe
confines of Metro-West Boston it is painful to think
what it takes for Transgender, Gay, Bisexual and
Lesbian Americans to go about living their daily lives
in places like Charlotte, NC — or — Louisville, KY —
or — Phoenix, AR.
I do know what it is like to come within a hairs
breadth of physical harm because of who I am — but
thankfully I am one of the lucky ones because I have
only endured the threat of physical violence. Justice
Department statistics show that crimes against LGBT
people are rising by steady and alarming rates every
I do know all too well that this kind of violence is
nothing compared to the violence my government has
wrought on my community. Had the AIDS pandemic
started in a community that my government actually
cared about — had it not been known as “the gay
cancer” then perhaps my government would not have
ignored for years the request by the Center for Disease
Control for funding for much needed research
If action had been taken earlier who knows how
many lives could have been saved — how much suffering
could have been avoided. Yet starting in the
early 1980’s in the face of our government’s sinful
indifference the Bisexual, Lesbian, Transgender and
Gay community did what we had to do — we tended
to our sick and we buried our dead. We did so in very
large measure on our own.
There is a growing anguish fashioned by indifference
and institutionalized inequality in the Gay, Lesbian,
Bisexual and Transgender community the size
of which I have not sensed since the AIDS crisis. Yet
unlike then we cannot overcome on our own.
I know that many of you have done so much to make
civil rights for all Americans a reality. I know that
many of you have been speaking up and out for equal
rights for Gays, Lesbians, Bisexual and Transgender
people for years. I would never and could never
diminish or discount your work — your intentions —
your strong hearts — because I am grateful.
But as I said earlier this is a different moment — a
moment that if we are to live up to our First Principle
– that we would honor the inherent worth and dignity
of every individual then now is the time — we are the
ones we have been waiting for.
In the beginning of the letter Dr. King wrote, “we are
caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in
a single garment of destiny.” He is right.
We are interdependent, connected to each
other, related to each other simply by virtue of
our existence together. Our lives, our world, our
universe are ordered toward and depend on our
interdependence. No one — nothing can exist on
it’s own. If it is unacceptable to you regardless
of your sexual orientation or gender identity that
our government treats people unequally under
the law based on sexual orientation and gender
identity — than
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