Tag Archive | LGBT

20 Years: From Ally to Accomplice

It’s been twenty years now since I publicly declared myself an Ally to LGBTQ persons. Twenty-three years, if you include my trembling words at a church meeting in South Bend, Indiana. But twenty since I—as a writer—“came out” in print. That decision began the twenty most creative, rewarding years of my life. Nothing has been so life-giving to me as to stand alongside these persons, offering my witness in their pursuit of dignity, visibility, affirmation . . . and simply LIFE.

I have grown immeasurably in my self-understanding as well. Today I would declare myself an Accomplice to LGBTQ persons (and to persons of color and immigrants, too). That is, I want to be clear: full human flourishing is not something I already enjoy and (from that vantage point) hope to extend to others. NO. Full human flourishing is a shared project. Until others are also free, my own sense of freedom is merely an illusion tempting me to indifference. My goal is to be an active accomplice in everyone’s pursuit of flourishing . . . thereby to take my own small turn at bearing the risk of challenging and thwarting the systems that threaten life.

Here, on the 20th anniversary of my own journey “from Ally to Accomplice” I share these two pieces from my first steps:

Spirituality and Coming Out
Originally written, October 7, 1999

October is home to National Coming Out Day. Still, it surprised me recently when some students of mine asked me to share some thoughts on spirituality and coming out. You see, I’m straight. But as I pondered what to say, I realized that I do have a “coming out” story of my own to relate. Two years ago, following my first ever GLBTA meeting at Luther College where I teach, I was reviewing with the faculty advisor the constituency covered by the acronym, “Okay, I know it’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, . . . and what? What does the ‘A’ stand for?” “Allies,” Janet replied. And I said, “Oh, that’s me! That’s where I fit in.” So this is a short reflection on my “coming out” as an ally for GLBT persons.

I “came out” in February 1997. By then I had already come to a fairly well-developed sense of why I affirmed the integrity of sexual orientations other than just heterosexual. Driven by more than simply tolerance, I was increasingly persuaded that God’s freedom to love, affirm, and include such persons was far bigger than any of the prejudices I grew up with. I had a number of gay and lesbian friends, and I was openly, even articulately supportive of them———-behind closed doors. Not that I was in any way anti-gay in public. I was just decidedly silent.

While a graduate student at Notre Dame I read through the regular waves of debate over homosexuality in the daily student newspaper (debates carried out almost entirely by straight persons). I was disturbed by the rhetoric, but remained otherwise quiet. Notre Dame’s Catholic tradition wasn’t my own. This was not my issue. Not my cause. Bottom line: not my life. So why take the risk?

In the spring of 1996 I began teaching at Notre Dame, and very subtly my perspective began to change. The mass of Notre Dame undergraduates, previously just a sea of faces to me, suddenly and inescapably had names . . . feelings . . . and lives. Then, the following February I read a poem in Scholastic, a weekly student magazine. Entitled “Living in Fear,” it was written by an anonymous gay senior student at Notre Dame and recounted his daily four-year battle toward self-acceptance while driven by fear to remain in the closet. This time, perhaps because this wasn’t a debate but a poignant lament, I wasn’t “disturbed but quiet,” I found myself weeping and raging. Late into the night I poured myself out onto paper in a long letter of response that I titled “Words offered at the end of the day to an unknown friend living in fear.” In it I ransacked the Bible for every manner of image to comfort and affirm him (and there are many of these!). As I put it in the letter, “I see now that if God keeps silent in the face of your anguish, it is only because I wouldn’t lend God the use of my words.” Later on I wrote, “Against all this [the fear] that you know so well I can offer only words—but maybe this is precisely what I have not done often enough or loud enough or long enough.”

When my letter ran in the next week’s Scholastic, I was “out.” An ally. And there was no going back. I received a good number of e-mails of gratitude—but also more than a few words of derision. Coming out—even just as an Ally—has its price. But also its rewards, which leads me to my point about coming out and spirituality. I had reached a place where for me not to come out publicly as an ally of GLBT persons would have been, by my silence, to deny the very graciousness of the God who has encountered me. Instead, coming out as an ally has afforded me the chance to get on with the essential work of integrating my personal spirituality with my public commitments—the vocation of living my whole life in response to God’s grace. I know from friends that this is true for GLBT persons as well. It’s hard to hear the gospel in private if fear keeps you in the closet in public.

So I might be tempted to close with an invitation to all GLBT persons to “come out,” but I don’t think that’s my invitation to make, at least not directly. I can say, if you’re an Ally still in the closet, National Coming Out Day is for you, too. However, my direct task is to keep on “coming out” myself as an Ally, again and again, to do what I can to make the room beyond the closet a place that is safe when the closet door is opened by someone from the inside. And that’s not something I do as an “extra” or “add-on” to my spirituality; it’s the way I bear witness to the God I know

*     *     *

This is the text of my letter which originally appeared in Scholastic Magazine, February 27, 1997.

Words offered at the end of the day to an unknown friend living in fear.

I need to say this quietly in deference to your eloquent anguish. But I need to say it nonetheless. And I am angry, and it will be hard to keep my voice down; angry not at you but for you. And if I misread the last lines of your poem and you already know all this, that’s okay. I’m sure someone else needs to hear it.

You say, “God knows, but God loves me anyway.” Wait. Let me say it gently but firmly—unequivocally. God does not love you “anyway”—despite your being gay. God does not need to overlook the way you are to smile at the beauty of your humanity, at the earthy reflection of divine love as you are gaily—and I don’t mean just “happily”—imago Dei.

Do you hear me, my friend? I will be downright strident about this because I see now that if God keeps silent in the face of your anguish, it is only because I wouldn’t lend God the use of my words. Well, here they are.

When Hosea spoke of a day when God would have pity on “Not-pitied” and would say to “Not-my-people,” you are my people—Hosea meant you, and I hope that day is now. When Isaiah welcomed foreigners and eunuchs (ever before outcast from the presence of God) into the Temple—well, Isaiah meant to welcome you as well, and to name your praise, like their praise, as more dear to God than even that of the faithful Jews (or Christians), perhaps because your praise is brought over the objections and insults of so many of us—and yet still finds its way to God. And when Peter, our first pope (no less stubborn than the rest) was treated to that heavenly picnic of assorted forbidden foods it was to remind him of Isaiah’s self-same insight, that the church dare not exclude those who come at God’s own call.

When Jesus stopped to speak and sip with the Samaritan woman at the well, perhaps she, too, thought that his fellowship came to her “anyway,” despite her ethnic outcast baggage. But I tell you, my friend, and I am not scared to be flamboyant if need be: Jesus offered her living words and living water because of who she was. He relished her Samaritan beauty; he chose her for the Kingdom, and when he did, he meant for you to feel chosen, too, not despite, but because of your gayness. So, remember when you walk past the silent, subversive statue of her and him at the well in front of O’Shaugnessy Hall, that while the administration might prefer you didn’t exist, or at least didn’t tell us who you are, Jesus is stopping to chat because you caught his eye not “anyway”—but just the way you are.

Can you hear me, yet, my friend? I am not afraid to be audacious if I have to. When Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, he said to them if any town refused to welcome them in his name, well, on judgment day those towns would fare far worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. Okay, it isn’t in the text—I admit it—but I will say it anyway because it’s true: Jesus meant to say as much to all you same-sex couples who, not unlike those disciples, come, two by two, hoping for a bit of hospitality from the church. What irony that we who have so long burdened you with the guilt of Sodom and Gomorrah find that the fire and brimstone are finally aimed our way.

And when Jesus said that foxes have holes and birds have nests but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head he knew that if ever a day came when churches with their gilded gold and schools with their omnipresent crosses in every classroom thought that now Christ surely had a place to lay his head, he knew that you, my friend, would know better. For with your anguish every night you bear a fearful witness to us all. Until your head rests fully welcome within these walls—until then Christ keeps his weary watch outside with you, still after all these years aching and envious of foxes and birds.

I hope that you have heard, my friend. I tremble for the silent “no” that closes out—and closets in—each day, the quiet daily unmaking of yourself by fears all too well founded. Against all this that you know so well I can offer only words—but maybe this is precisely what I have not done often enough or loud enough or long enough. So, I hope, my unknown friend, that at the end of this day, and the next, and on and on, that when you crawl beneath your covers of so much more than linen you remember these words I offer in gentle but firm—unequivocal, strident, flamboyant, audacious witness: You are loved by God already now, not “anyway,” but fully because of who and how you are.

And I wait with you for the day when “no” becomes “yes” and you place yourself truthful in our midst. I wait patiently, because who am I to tell you when to step beyond the fears that we have heaped up in your way? And because who am I to think your fear is not, in part indebted to the comfort of my own silence? And I wait impatiently, because I know at least this much that God is anxious for you to share the joy God takes in the very beauty of who and how you are.

A luta continua

A luta continua

“Until the Struggle is Won” is a new choral anthem I wrote to honor the struggle of LGBTI persons in Uganda. The words are informed by my years of advocacy alongside LGBTI Ugandans—and shaped in particular by the friendships I made during my 2013 trip to Uganda. These verses are peopled with faces I know and love. (NOTE: you’ll find a PDF of lyrics here and you can WATCH the world premiere here.)

I’m a decent enough poet—but thoroughly bereft of musical aptitude. So typically I select a tune I know well and then weave words to rest on that melody. In this case I was commissioned to write the text and then my lyrics were turned over to Craig Carnahan, a celebrated Minnesota choral composer, who crafted a five-part choral score to really showcase the words. I’ve seen the score, but I can’t “hear” the notes on the page at all—I only see the intricate complexity. So I cannot wait to hear it performed—which it will be on April 9, 2016!

“Until the Struggle is Won” will have its world premiere by The Singers, in concert under the direction of Matthew Culloton, in Sundin Music Hall, Hamline University, April 9, 7:30pm. The Singers’ Composers Lab Choral Concert blends brand new works from Twin Cities composers with pieces premiered by The Singers over the past 11 seasons. My anthem will be performed right before intermission, during which the audience will be encouraged to make donations to The Uganda Project, a ministry of my church that partners with grassroots organizations in Uganda seeking immediate safety, communal empowerment, and social justice for Uganda’s LGBTI people.

Los Angeles music critic Jim Svejda, host of public radio’s The Record Shelf calls The Singers “awe-inspiring … easily one of the best choral ensembles in America, if not the entire world.”

COMPOSERS LAB: BRINGING SCORES TO LIFESaturday, April 9, 7:30pm – Sundin Music Hall, Hamline University. General Admission tickets: $21 in advance (online at www.singersmca.org) or $25 at the door.

Much gratitude goes to my good friend, Leo Treadway, who arranged for this collaboration between Craig Carnahan and myself.


Until the Struggle is Won

Down in the eastern heart of Africa  /  Where the Nile river starts
There’s a land as pretty as a pearl  /  And a people bless-ed dark
And when God looked on Uganda land  /  And proclaimed it “very good”
Well, she destined this diversity  /  But we’ve not yet understood …

A luta continua, a luta continua, a luta continua, and the struggle— carries on!

Then came the missions and the morals  /  In the name of Jesus Christ
Bearing “good news” neither good nor new  /  Yet the people were enticed
Now the fear that spread in Africa  /  Planted long ago in shame
All too lively now on preachers’ lips  /  Has set hatred full aflame …

A luta continua, a luta continua, a luta continua, and the struggle— carries on!

Against the vi’lence and oppression  /  Turned upon your very own
For the exiles now like scattered seeds  /  Of a future not yet sown
Against the mobs, the threats and beatings  /  And the papers cast you out
For the countless lives, like sparrows lost  /  Now in anguished cries we shout:

A luta continua, a luta continua, a luta continua, and the struggle— carries on!

Where it calls for courage just to be  /  Endless spirit just to cope
May your leaders rich with wisdom be  /  As a flowing spring of hope
May the many bless-ed martyred ones  /  Be not silenced by their death.
Lift their voices up, and join with yours  /  And their mem’ries fill your breath

A luta continua, a luta continua, a luta continua, and the struggle— carries on!

From beneath these ruins, rocks and stones  /  May “Hosannas” ring and roam
The day dawn soon, O Uganda land  /  When you call your Kuchus home
Linking arms and lives o’er continents  /  We are pledged to join your strife:
For we’ve heard that God is with you here  /  So we wish to share your life

A luta continua, a luta continu, a luta continua, until the struggle is won!

text by David R. Weiss
music by Craig Carnahan


Refrain: A luta continua (Ah lootah con-tinoo-ah – Portuguese: “the struggle continues”) was the rallying cry during Mozambiques’s war for independence. It became a popular cry in the Ugandan LGBTI community after David Kato’s murder in 2011.

Verse 1: Uganda’s nickname is “the pearl of Africa”; I intentionally name the people “bless-ed dark.”

Verse 2: The seeds of homophobia in Uganda (as throughout Africa) were planted by Western missionaries, but most recently inflamed by a handful of U.S. evangelicals—particularly Scott Lively—linked to the infamous 2009 “Kill the gays” bill. Hence, “lively now on preachers’ lips.”

Verse 3: Many of Uganda’s leading LGBTI activists have fled into exile for their own safety. Several tabloid papers have publically outed LGBTI persons. On sparrows, see Matthew 10:29 | Luke 12:6-7.

Verse 4: As in every struggle for justice, cross-generational inspiration and solidarity is paramount.

Verse 5: On rocks and stones, see Luke 19:38-40. Kuchu (Koo-choo – origin uncertain) is the word chosen by Ugandan’s LGBTI community to name themselves. Roughly synonymous with “queer,” (although, unlike “queer” it seems not to have had a prior negative meaning in the language in general) it encompasses the entire range of LGBTI identities under a single term. On “For we’ve heard …” see Zechariah 8:23.

A Crowded Manger: Alan Turing, LGBT Ugandans, and Baby Jesus

A Crowded Manger: Alan Turing, LGBT Ugandans, and Baby Jesus
A Christmas Eve Reflection
David R. Weiss – December 24, 2013

It does make for a crowded manger, but this Christmas Eve I cannot but hold all three in my mind at once.

In a decree dated today – Christmas Eve – Queen Elizabeth officially pardoned Alan Turing of his 1952 conviction for “gross indecency” for having had sex with a man. Faced with the prospect of going to prison as a convicted homosexual in the 50’s, Turing chose Britain’s “humane” alternative: chemical castration through massive injections of female hormones. Two years later, overcome by stigma, humiliation, and despair, he committed suicide. He was only 41.

Turing was a brilliant mathematician and a pioneer (many regard him as the founding figure) in modern computer science. There is barely a person alive today whose life has not been dramatically improved by devices indebted to Turing’s genius. During World War II one of his computing machines allowed British Intelligence to decode Nazi messages transmitted in their allegedly uncrackable Enigma Code. Winston Churchill credited (not Turing himself, but) the intelligence gleaned by his invention, as one of the critical factors in winning the war.

In other words, Turing had gifts that were absolutely essential in halting the Nazi menace, including its scapegoating and merciless slaughter of Jews, its politics of hate abetted by a gross distortion of Christianity. But his own contributions to a safer world could not protect him from his own scapegoating and slaughter by a kindred distortion of the Christian message.

Ironically, his pardon comes on Christmas Eve, while in Uganda, lawmakers jubilantly offer a “Christmas gift” to the Ugandan people: a bill that further dehumanizes LGBT persons today, abetted by the same distorted Christian view that killed Alan Turing sixty years ago: the conviction that God hates those who love the wrong people with tenderness.

Listening to the rhetoric employed in Uganda and hearing – in my case, through firsthand reports coming from friends there – the extent to which LGBT persons and their allies now feel UTTERLY exposed to social hatred and physical peril, I hear an echo of the same dynamic that ran through Germany in the 30’s and 40’s. All manner of economic-political frustration and social-religious anxiety is getting focused on one category of people. In Germany it was the Jews (although various “others” were swept up in that nightmarish era as well); in Uganda it is LGBT persons. Because they are few enough and different enough (in ways unnerving enough), they’re made a lightening rod for the ills of an entire society.

Sidenote: I have received pleas for emergency aid from the Uganda partners that my church works with. Fem Alliance & Youth on Rock in particular serve persons who are especially vulnerable with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill looming so large. Leaders in these two groups, have already received death threats following the bill’s passage in parliament. These are young persons, 25-30 years old, whose lives are at risk because they are determined to be there for others in this perilous hour. If you feel able to make a special year end gift to Wingspan-Uganda, we will pass these funds on quickly to help these groups keep their members safe in the days ahead. This link will take you to the church’s donation page where you can make a secure tax-deductible gift to the Wingspan Uganda project (second from the bottom in the list of designated gifts).

Uganda is hardly unique in this. It happens with particular force in a number of African countries, in Russia, in the Caribbean and elsewhere. The dynamic changes a bit with each contextual shift, but in each case the hatred of morally malleable people (they are not “evil” people, but people with insufficient moral resources to resist the forces that push them to and fro) is marshaled into a frenzy of hateful action or lulled into a stupor of deadly indifference.

Uganda hits me hardest because I traveled there. I know the beauty of this land: the sights and sounds and smells of this pearl of Africa. I have experienced the gracious and friendly character of its people (even those who now may be threatening my friends there). And I have come to love some Ugandans as my own kin. I wish I could do more than merely tremble at such distance.

Tonight, shortly before midnight, I will venture into my church’s sanctuary to remember the baby Jesus, who some 2000 years ago made his appearance in a manger on Christmas Eve. (I know some bits of the birth story may be more myth than history. But the very point of myth is to help us see clearly what we might otherwise miss.)

This child, in whom some of us see the very tenderness of God touching our world, arrived unheralded by the powers that were, but announced to shepherds – among the least respected people of the day. Born to a poor family, swaddled in rags, and laid in a manger, Jesus arrived utterly vulnerable. Surrounded by cattle and sheep, he seems no threat to anyone. But the hymn ascribed to Mary, which we know as the Magnificat, says otherwise. He will grow up to challenge the ruling forces of the world, subverting the plans of the proud and rich, and uplifting those who hunger and who are humiliated. Whether Herod the Great actually sought to kill him by slaughtering innocent babes across the land is less important than that his adult life embodied Mary’s song to such an extent that he was killed, crucified as a threat to public order. Which he most surely was. And is.

Tonight I will remember – and I ask you to remember, too – that this babe in the manger has QUEER written all over him. He is the incarnation of God’s desire that whatever hinders our full flourishing – our life abundant – should be challenged and overcome. He is, in flesh, the hope of God that our lives might be limned by the tenderness of our love not by the boundaries of a morality shown again and again by history to be anything but loving.

So, odd though it is, I will see in the manger tonight, Alan Turing, a beloved child of God whose gifts the world desperately needed, although it loved him not. I will see in the manger tonight a whole host of LGBT Ugandans, also beloved children of God, now huddling in fear while the world around them swirls with hatred. And there, in between Alan and these Ugandans, I will see Jesus, keeping their company and promising to risk his life for their well being … BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT HE WAS BORN TO DO. Merry Christmas.

David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at drw59@comcast.net and read more at http://www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” He recently published a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book, When God Was a Little Girl. Learn more at http://www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com(/small>.