Saturday 4th July 1998 was a very significant day for me as it was the day I attended my first gay pride in London. It was the first time I felt a true sense of freedom. Marching through London on that warm afternoon, I sensed the whole city was celebrating my freedom to be queer.
Almost one year later, a year after my walk to freedom, a gay pub in Soho, the Admiral Duncan, was bombed in a targeted attack on the LGBTQ+ community. 3 people were killed and many more maimed.
It was a dreadful time for LGBTQ+ people everywhere but this attack followed a bombing in Brixton aimed at the black community and another in Brick Lane aimed at the Bangladeshi community. All 3 bombings within 2 weeks. Communities in the minority, communities of difference all targeted. Freedom did not feel so close at hand.
Many steps have been taken in the journey of LGBTQ+ liberation since then though. In the UK we have the single equality act, the civil partnership act, the equal marriage act and so for some it would seem that gay is now mainstream.
In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay Priest consecrated as Bishop in a mainstream Christian denomination in the Episcopal diocese of New Hampshire. Hooray, gay is mainstream in the church now as well! BUT…..
4 years after his consecration, Bishop Gene was asked by the then Archbishop of Canterbury not to attend the Lambeth Conference due to take place in 2008 in his capacity as Bishop. Instead, he was asked to attend with a diminished status; to attend but not fully participate. For some bishops in the worldwide Anglican communion, Gene’s way of life was an abomination, it defied scripture. At this point, Gene had been in a committed relationship with his partner Mark for over 20 years.
Of course, that is a long time ago. Gay Bishops are invited to the next Lambeth conference only this time it is their partners who are asked to stay away. A new Archbishop with a similar problem!
Hate crime against LGBTQ+ people is on the increase with 1 in 5 people experiencing it within the past 12 months (www.stonewall.org.uk). Worse still for trans people, 2 in 5 have experienced hate.
Living out an LGBTQ+ identity is a criminal offence in 72 countries in the world. In 8 of those the death penalty is still applied. In others considerable prison sentences are handed out. In the Maldives, a homosexual conviction can lead to a whipping of 20 strokes.
In St Matthew’s Gospel Jesus foretells his own suffering and death and instructs his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him. Scriptures like these have been used by Christians at times as a rallying cry to LGBTQ+ people to amend our ways. To carry our crosses of abomination and in doing so, deny our God given natural inclinations, to deny ourselves love. BUT…..
The Jesus I know is love. He is the reason I can be true to myself; He is my freedom. He is more likely to be singing songs of liberation and freedom then passing sentences, planting bombs, overseeing flogging or execution. In fact, there is no supposition here; Jesus is for equality and against oppression of any kind.
The cross we must all take up in His name is the cross of liberation. The cross that stands up against oppression. The cross that does not keep its head down because “I’m alright Jack”. It is the cross of the rainbow flag seen here at a rally against LGBTQ+ oppression in St Petersburg in 2008.
We are wonderfully fortunate at St Chrysostom’s to be centred in an inclusive and equal love of Christ and for a lot of LGBTQ+ people, me included, freedom has been found in this community. But in our beautiful corner of Manchester we must take care not to be complacent and where it is safe to do so, we should call out all forms of oppression and prejudice. This is our way of being God’s rainbow people.