Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
—St. Francis of Assisi
Now this is something I can do
In three days, the Indiana House would vote on HJR-3, a proposed amendment to our state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage. It would also ban recognition of anything substantially similar to marriage such as civil unions and domestic partnerships.
My friend Diana had approached me for help organizing a protest prayer and meditation circle at the statehouse.
At this time, in this place, the least I can do is hold space for peace, love, and compassion.
With no time to lose, we got to work crafting an invitation and notifying the folks in the Freedom Indiana campaign to coordinate site logistics.
I could meditate, sending loving-kindness to everyone in the statehouse on both sides of this issue. This much I could do.
I was so relieved that Diana was organizing this event.
Knowing there would be an oasis of peaceful loving energy emanating through the halls of the statehouse somehow made it bearable to be there. Maybe I could endure the divisive rhetoric, the chaotic energy of demonstrators, and the tension in the air that would surely be present that day.
The early days
Over a decade ago, I was on the front lines of this struggle as a founding member of the Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance (INTRAA) and Indiana Equality, the statewide coalition originally formed to fight employment discrimination in the LGBT community.
We got pulled into fighting the same-sex marriage ban fairly quickly.
In 2003, the backlash to Massachusetts legalizing same-sex marriage was swift and furious. Powerful political interests preyed on people’s fears, employing a strategy of getting marriage amendments on ballot initiatives nationwide in order to turn out conservative voters and consolidate political power.
Their strategy worked very well, too.
By November 2004, eleven states had amended their constitution to include a ban on same-sex marriage. By 2006, ten more states joined them (“History of Same-Sex Marriage in the US, 1970 to Now”, The Boston Globe).
The tide seemed unstoppable.
It’s no wonder at that time, no real money or resources were coming in to Indiana to help us fight this assault. We were a deeply red state, easily written off as a lost cause. Those of us left to do the work were all volunteers holding down “real” jobs and doing this on the side.
But we persisted anyway, reaching deep into our own pockets to fund the efforts, taking time off work, sitting down with friends to ask for money to defray printing and mailing costs (oh yeah, no Facebook to help us get the word out either). Sure, major Indiana employers like Eli Lilly and Cummins would issue statements opposing the measure, but the big checks were not forthcoming. Burn-out was always nipping at our heels.
It was a Sisyphean effort, and the best we could hope for was to delay what seemed inevitable. Ironically, thanks to the conservative nature of Indiana, a constitutional amendment must first pass unamended in two consecutively elected state legislatures before it can go to the people to be ratified.
Our strategy was simple enough: keep resetting the clock.
Someday, perhaps this relentless assault from the right wing would dissipate or die of its own accord.
Those were difficult times. I eventually succumbed to the burn-out and retreated, leaving the fight to the next generation, who I prayed had the energy and stamina to see it through.
A new strategy
So, with memories of these past experiences on my mind, last Monday on my lunch hour I made my way with my meditation cushion and yoga blanket to the statehouse.
I may not be up for the political machinations anymore, but I could meditate, sending loving-kindness to everyone in the statehouse on both sides of this issue.
This much I could do.
Even though my husband and I are legally married in Indiana, as a transgender couple our marriage is not truly protected until same-sex marriage is also recognized.
It’s a hell of thing to watch with bated breath as people in positions of power wield it against you and the people you love, all in the name of “letting the people decide” if you should have basic rights others enjoy.
Even though my husband and I are legally married in Indiana, as a transgender couple, we know our marriage is not truly protected until same-sex marriage is also legally recognized. Friends of ours in similar circumstances have faced legal challenges to their marriages, usually posthumously. When the surviving spouse should be mourning, they are instead fighting protracted legal battles with insurance companies over survivor benefits.
For the past thirteen years, we have been careful about who we let in, about who we share our truth with. Just writing these words here scares me, and I realize once again, how difficult it is to live authentically, to own your story and share it with others, when you fear retribution for simply being who you are.
That’s why I was eternally grateful to Diana and other friends from church who were present last week as the House debated a proposed amendment to HJR-3 that would strike the second line banning civil unions and domestic partnerships.
In times like this, seasoned advocates like to think we are impervious to the rhetoric of hate, that we’ve heard it all before and know what to expect. Even so, as the Speaker announced it was time to take up HJR-3, I instinctively moved closer to my friends. There seemed to be safety in that circle which just hours before had been filled with loving peaceful energy from the meditation and prayer vigil.
Now, we huddled outside the House chamber waving signs and watching the television monitors closely.
With a republican super majority in both chambers and the backing of Governor Mike Pence, passing HJR-3 unamended seemed like a sure bet. Had our luck finally run out?
But then something miraculous happened.
A few brave republicans proposed, then argued passionately for the second clause to be struck down. And even more miraculously, enough broke ranks with their caucus and joined the democrats to pass the amendment to HJR-3 by two votes (52-43), potentially resetting the clock on the ballot initiative yet again!
What happened next, I did not see coming.
As most people were cheering joyously, I broke down. I could not stop crying. I reached out and Diana was there for me. She held me whispering softly over and over, “It’s alright. It’s going to be all right.”
Her husband encircled us both with his arms, and I knew she was right. It may not happen this week or this year, but eventually it will be all right. We will all be able to share the untold stories inside of us without apology or fear.
What a day that will be!
Later, I understood my emotional release that night in the context of a story the Rev. Meg Riley told upon hearing President Obama’s remarks affirming LGBT citizens’ lives in the wake of the DOMA and Prop 8 Supreme Court decisions last summer.
She said that when she heard those words from a sitting president, places deep inside of her she didn’t even know were broken started to heal.
Diana is right when she realized, “My friends are harboring deep wounds and that healing is desperately needed—in our families, in our political system, in our media, in our culture, and in our country.”
Thank you for being there for me as part of me broke open and started to heal that night.
Building Bridges, #1023 in Singing the Journey
Building bridges between our divisions.
If I reach out to you, will you reach out to me?
With all of our voices and all of our visions,
Friends, we can make such sweet harmony.
This post is part of the 30 Days of Love UU Blog-a-thon. Be sure to check out other posts in the series and sign up for more from 30 Days of Love: A Spiritual Journey of Social Justice sponsored by the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.