Suffering, death, resurrection. Easter, it’s a gay journey

When Living Waters announced they were closing down, I decided a good way to mark the event was to hold a vigil for members of the LGBTQ community, straight friends, and allies. It was a terrible night weather wise, and at the last minute we had to move it from outdoors at Taylor Square to the upstairs at the Stonewall Hotel. #Vigil4Hope was held to remember LGBTQ people who had taken their own lives because the torment of trying to reconcile their faith and sexuality became too much.Like many similar vigils, we lit candles at the #Vigil4Hope. A symbolic act? A ritual?

Lighting a candle for one of our LGBTQ community who has taken their life actually changes nothing. It’s too late. They are gone. Whilst the focus is on the person no longer with us, the symbolic act is more for the vigil holders’ benefit and it also creates awareness.

Symbolism, however, can be nothing more than an empty, ritualistic tradition. For example, some religious people will attend a service this weekend. One of only two they attend all year; the other being Christmas. The priest will reprimand the swollen congregation for not attending the other fifty Sundays. Far from being a meaningful act, their attendance at church was possibly motivated by nothing more than fear, guilt, tradition or sense of obligation.

Other Christians will find the celebrations over the Easter weekend profoundly meaningful. Good Friday is a day of deep reflection, believing that God came in the form of human flesh to save a lost humanity. Then, on Easter Sunday, they rejoice that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day and the hope they believe that brings.

Being raised as a traditional Anglican and later becoming a popular preacher in Australia’s Pentecostal mega-churches for many years, I am very familiar with the meaning and symbolism of Easter.

Easter essentially symbolises three things. Suffering, death and resurrection. The suffering of Christ once arrested and tried, the death by crucifixion and then rising from the grave on the third day. Many LGBTQ people are intimately familiar with these three experiences. They echo the journey many of us have taken.

Suffering

If you were able to sit through Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, you know the iconic images of a limp, loin clothed Jesus hanging soulfully on a cross are far from the reality of a Roman crucifixion. He suffered and beaten so much he was unrecognizable before he hung on the cross.

Coming to the realisation we are gay, lesbian or transgender happens, if not in our early years, around puberty. This can be a frightening revelation, as we may never have heard any affirming messages; probably only derogatory statements. Immediately, the person thinks of themselves as ‘abnormal’, dysfunctional, broken or bad. And so…the internal suffering begins. The internal torment can be so intense it has driven some to suicide. But they can also suffer in their homes, churches or workplaces through rejection or discrimination.

“Not these days,” you say.

My friend, you live in a bubble.

All is still not well for many LGBTQ people, not only in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and other parts of the world but only kilometres from where you are now. The impact of the discovery about ourselves depends on where you live, the family or culture you’re raised in and if religion is involved. The reality is that there are gay and lesbian youth, in Sydney’s suburbs, whose parents have seriously threatened their teenagers with the words “you better not turn out gay or I’ll kill you”. They live in fear. Many of us lived with this internal torment for years – even decades. I have worked with people still coming out in their 50s and even 60s. Tragically, more of their life was spent suffering in a closet tormented by demons of shame and fear, than out.

Death

Easter also symbolises death. So many of us lived double lives. We created a persona and image in order to be loved, accepted and fit in to an overwhelmingly predominately straight world. We did everything to kill and eradicate the gay self. In order to experience true self-acceptance and live authentically, the false image we have created to protect ourselves must die. Parents and friends may grieve when the true-self comes out and pretend-self dies. The person they thought we were no longer exists.

Resurrection

Which brings us to the resurrection. There is nothing more liberating than to have come out the other side of gay shame into gay pride. To know you are not broken and needing fixing, sick and in need of healing. That self-loathing transforms into more than just self-acceptance – but self-love. We emerge, leaving behind the cloak of shame and denial that we once shrouded ourselves in.

The LGBTQ journey is a privileged, sacred path. Not unlike the mythic hero’s path described by Joseph Campbell. Our orientation or gender identity has forced us on a journey that only four to six percent  get to experience. A journey we didn’t choose but life gave to us. What we once may have considered a curse, we now see as a gift that we embrace and celebrate. Those of us who make it through the maze find peace, resolution, pride and a life of rich experiences.

A time of refection

So this Easter, while you are having your four-day weekend, take a moment to remember our LGBTQ brothers and sisters here and other parts of the world who still suffer. Some face death. And celebrate your own resurrection into being true to yourself.

© Anthony Venn-Brown