FROM WIKIPEDIA: “The UpStairs Lounge arson attack occurred in 1973 at a gay bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the United States, and resulted in the deaths of 32 people due to direct immolation or inhalation of fumes. It was started with Ronsonol lighter fluid on the steps near the entrance. The most likely suspect was a man who had been thrown out of the bar earlier that day; he was never sentenced. It was the deadliest arson attack to take place in New Orleans at that time, and one of the deadliest attacks on LGBT people in United States history. Funerals and coverage Coverage of the fire by news outlets minimized the fact that LGBT patrons had constituted the majority of the victims, while editorials and talk radio jockeys made light of the event. No municipal figures made mention of the fire, and only one clergyperson, Reverend William P. Richardson of the St. George’s Episcopal Church, agreed to hold a small prayer service for the victims on June 25. Some 80 people attended the event, and Richardson was rebuked by Iveson Noland, the Episcopalian bishop of New Orleans, for the service the next day; Noland received over 100 complaints from parishioners concerning the service, and Richardson’s mailbox filled with hate mail. Eventually, two memorial services were held on July 1 at a Unitarian church and St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, headed by Louisiana’s Methodist bishop Finis Crutchfield and led by MCC founder Rev. Troy Perry, who had flown in from Los Angeles. Several families did not step forward to claim the bodies of the deceased. A few anonymous individuals stepped forward and paid for the three unknown men’s burials and they were buried with an identified victim named Ferris LeBlanc in a mass grave at Holt Cemetery.”
I want to be very clear about a few things: L-G-B-T each makes for an array of hopes, needs, expectations, challenges, and experiences. There is both group-identity and experiences and within the groups individual identity and experiences. Being a diverse population each person has a unique story to tell and unique ways of interpreting “life.” I also know or have been told that there are tensions amongst this lettered group; at least in some quarters. Some Ls don’t like Gs and some Gs don’t like Ls and some Ls and Gs don’t like or understand Bs and Ts. What a mess! But it is the truth isn’t it? Truth telling is hard. Recently I inquired about the discrimination and bias between African Americans that are dark and light skinned or how about “mixed-marriages?” Or is there some disparity perceived or otherwise between Creole and Non-Creole? It’s a mess!
These points of dissonance and discord, hidden or not, blur the truth and some of the absolutes that we should seek and find and name. When Jesus came upon possessed peoples he called out to the demons. From the Gospel of Mark we read: When [the one possessed] saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” It is true; many are the demons, which live within and around us. Yet, there are over-arching truths that can be discerned and fleshed out and centered upon even within this mess!
Truth: every human has value and worth. Truth: every human that is despised or disenfranchised or marginalized because of who they are shares a common bond. Black men and Gay men share a bond of intolerance and prejudice as an example. Lesbians and Straight Women face the same workplace biases. Transgender and Bi-Sexual persons share disenfranchisement and even curiosity alongside of Latinos whose language and culture we refuse to often acknowledge. Strange bedfellows perhaps but none the less it boils down to what is right and just before the Law of this Land and what is right and just within the circle that calls itself religion.
Both religion and our laws start with certain “ideals” such as: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Declaration of Independence set the tone and portrait of what our government and its people would be about.” A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34 sets about the ideal from which Christianity sets or should set its pattern of belief. These ideals become corrupted with the demons of bigotry, distrust, self-interest, misogyny, homophobia, racism: in short, the quest for superiority over another. It plays out not only in governments and religions but in philosophies and cultural trends. “Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Buddha was preaching in a male-dominated society,” he stated in an interview. “If [Buddha] stressed feminist viewpoints, nobody would have listened to him. The important thing is that now, for the past thirty years, we have worked to change that” The Dalai Lama. “[Aristotle] saw women subject to men, but higher than slaves” Wikipedia. Finally, “Always justify the burdens you impose upon girls but impose them anyway. . . . They must be thwarted from an early age. . . . They must be exercised to constraint, so that it costs them nothing to stifle all their fantasies to submit them to the will of others.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau. No age nor faith nor government has the corner of bias. I used women as the easiest example of such. But it knows no boundaries even within L-G-B-T. But we can find common ground.
To start, the common ground of our being: “respect the dignity of every human being.” Next, the shared experience of bias and hatred: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” Martin Luther King, Jr. Finally, the spiritual realm as taken from the book of the three faiths of Abraham: “He made the man and he made them woman He made them in his own image.” From these points on, the possibility of unity and Pride with a Purpose can become reality. I do hope and truly hope that when the PRIDE march takes place it is not just another excuse for a party but rather both a celebration of Life, Acceptance, Tolerance, and at least symbolic solidarity with all disenfranchised groups. Will there be banners and signs quoting Dr. King in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters who have struggled? Will there be signs and banners in Spanish decrying violence economic and social in solidarity with our Latino brothers and sisters? Will there be emblems and symbols that call for religious toleration even in the face of religious persecution and not just of LGBT but of women, of the cast systems, of any violence in the name of faith? I truly hope that we have learned deep truths since that fateful day in 1973; a day that the city went silent.
There is an old gospel song that goes like this:
Lift every voice and sing
till earth and heaven ring,
ring with the harmonies of liberty.
Let our rejoicing rise
high as the listening skies;
let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us;
sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
facing the rising sun
of our new day begun,
let us march on, till victory is won.
As Rector of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church my authority and voice are limited to this church and this parish. That while I am sure that our entire Diocese regrets its actions on that day and the days that followed, I will say this for we of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church: We humbly and deeply regret any historic hurt, pain, or prejudice shown to our brothers and sisters of the LGBT community and beyond. We regret and seek your forgiveness for our sins of the past. We seek reconciliation and solidarity with all of God’s good creation, that together we may be one. The Rev. William H. Terry, Rector, St. Anna’s Episcopal Church. Please join me with Fr. Richard Easterling for a special worship service at St. George’s Episcopal Church on Saturday June 22 at 2:00 pm, 4600 St. Charles Ave. and I hope to see you at some of the other events and memorials going on during the PRIDE weekend.