Reflections for the Union Pride Service
Good morning! My name is Elisa Lucozzi and I am the pastor of Guilford Community Church and a proud member of the queer community. It is my honor to be speaking to you this morning and share some reflections on growing up queer and Christian and what Pride means to me.
In just my brief introduction thus far I have said two things about who I am that for many people, including myself at times, seem to be diametrically opposed – I am queer and I am Christian or more accurately I follow the radical teachings of a brown-skinned Palestinian Jewish man who came to show us what right relationship, justice, inclusion and love are truly meant to be. This often means in my life that I haven’t been fully accepted into either community – Christians don’t accept or trust me because I’m queer and queer people don’t accept or trust me because I’m Christian. And when some people find out that I’m ordained and a lesbian well I joke that they look at me as if they just spotted a unicorn!
Let me tell you a little bit about how I became this unicorn you see in front of you this morning. I was brought up in a very traditional Italian Catholic family in the early 1970s. Church and our involvement in the life of the church was a central and foundational part of my family life right up through my teenage years. My church and the members of the parish and clergy were my second family. We worshiped together, sang together, ate together, shared celebrations and sorrows together. My church family blessed me with a sense of belonging and identity.
That was all good until one day in my sophomore year of high school I found myself kissing my best friend goodbye and just for clarification I’m not talking about a peck on the cheek. In that moment the years of always feeling somehow different both finally made sense to me and completely terrified me. In that moment when I felt her really kissing me back I remember thinking “oh! that’s what everyone is talking about!” This is what my classmates giggle and whisper in the hallway at school.
So while one part of me was joyful and felt completely alive, I also instantaneously knew that another part of me wasn’t ever going to be able to return to the church family that been such a source of strength and connection for me. In anticipation of the rejection, I would most certainly experience, I left the church. I became spiritually homeless. This was a significant loss in my life, one which left me feeling like an outsider, lost and grieving especially since I hadn’t yet found my queer community and didn’t even have a clue about how to go about that. Remember that was before the internet, Googling, FB or any other social media.
There was a community that emerged to embrace me between losing my church family and finding my queer community and that was in the music department of my high school. Yes, I lived Glee. The first time I saw the show it was as if someone had been following me through my high school years. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that if it wasn’t for that safe space, I might not be standing in front of you right now.
I spent more than 10 years not connected to any faith community until a dear friend who identified as bisexual invited me to attend Christmas eve service with him at his church. I was completely convinced that if I even dared step foot in the doors of any church that a bolt of lighting was going to come down and zap me! Somehow, he convinced me to go. Attending that one service changed my life forever. Not only did the Boston Gay Men’s chorus provide all the music for the service but there in the pulpit was the first unicorn I had ever seen – the pastor of this enormous UU church in the heart of Boston was an out lesbian!
After that I got to meet other queer folx serving as pastors and began to see the whole idea of being both queer and a pastor as something that was possible. However, it was while praying with the scripture passage that was read this morning in one fell swoop I both finally understood that God loves me exactly how I was created and that I was called to ministry to help others know that as well. In these words “I have called you by name and you are mine.” I heard that I have always belonged and that there is nothing or no one not even the church can tell me that I am anything less than God’s beloved.
Of course, there is a whole lot more to the story but I’ll just add that any time I get to stand in the pulpit and talk about what it is like for me as a queer person from the most authentic part of my being is a healing moment and I hope helps to bring a little healing for all of us. While the church has come a long way in its acceptance and inclusion of queer folx, I know that there are still many queer folx who have been deeply hurt by their faith communities and continue to be. The church and all the other institutions that our society is so based are in deep need of healing. I hope moments like this Pride service help to inch us the tiniest bit closer toward that healing so that we can all live life with pride being our most authentic selves.
Pride is a loaded word in religious life. In some faith traditions, pride is identified as the root of all sins. It is listed as one of the seven deadly sins. One scripture utilized against the Chávez quote was from Proverbs: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” So, needless to say, in Christianity, pride, in general, gets a pretty bad rap.
Which leads us to one of the quintessential expressions of LGBTQIA+ celebration – Pride a yearly celebration of the LGBTQIA+ movement that happens every June. Why June? Because it was on June night back in 1969 that Sylvia Rae Rivera, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Stormé DeLarverie, and Marsha P. Johnson—black and brown women, three who identify as trans and one who identify as a butch lesbian along with other members of our queer family said “ENOUGH!” These brave, sassy and fed up souls were at the front lines of the Stonewall Uprising, standing against the power of the state and a sociocultural setting that declared the existence of our queer communities unlawful and deviant. The freedoms and pride I experience today are because of them and those like them. They are my ancestors.
Stonewall, you see, was an uprising against police brutality – one with a fabulous flare and chorus girl kick lines yet still a protest not unlike the protests we have seen rise up around the country against the police brutality lobbied against our black siblings, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. You see Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQIA+ movement have always been connected, bound together. It was because of black and brown trans activist that the modern movement for LGBTQIA+ rights was born.
And as I seek to honor my queer ancestors I have to also honor and lift up those who are coming after me – the many queer youth I have had the privilege of knowing and whose example I try to follow. It is because of them that the boxes we put ourselves in have been blown apart. It is because of their courage, their wisdom and their ability to call out BS in the “socially acceptable” structures of gender and sexuality – it is because of them that this cis gender, lesbian doesn’t have to be limited by the stereotypes that exist in both the straight and queer communities.
We need to relearn history. We need to stop whitewashing history and silencing the voices of our black, brown and indigenous sibling. We need to stop “straightening up” history and silencing the voices of our queer siblings. Protesting is not the enemy. It is a vehicle for change. It is a sign and symbol that others who are not as affected by oppression actually care for those whose daily well-being, for those whose lives are at risk of being snuffed out by that hatred and oppression. When prejudice prevails, it is then that pride becomes even more vital. The strength to counter shame and bondage and danger with the acts of being more proud and freer and more committed to radical and transformative love is the most potent weapon we have against prejudice and its effects on ourselves, on our neighbors and on our world. Even when our own judgments of ourselves based on internalized shame, guilt, and hatred tell us, “I am not worthy,” we have to listen for the voice of truth that reminds us we are fearfully and wonderfully made; we are God’s beloved in whom God is well pleased. It is from our own belovedness, we are called to fight for others whose belovedness is not seen or valued.
Queer folx are uniquely equipped to show the world what inclusion, belonging and love can truly be. We know what it means to love fiercely in the face of adversity, oppression and hate. We know deep in our bones what courage, integrity and compassion look like and after all aren’t all those things what is at the heart of every religious and spiritual tradition?
I’d like conclude my reflection with a poem by J. Robin Kimball entitled “The Bigger We Get”
“The Bigger We Get” by J. Robin Kimball
We should have called it AUDACITY MONTH,
To prevent them from saying “what do you have to be proud about.”
What we have, and thanks for asking, is courage, strength, resolve,
And a deep disinclination to let death drive us back.
We’re not precisely “proud”
That a set of connections in our brains and hearts drives us to connect our hearts and lives to Certain Other Folks,
We are proud that we are audacious in the face of hate.
We are proud that our answer to ugliness is to make our lives as pretty as possible.
We are proud that we dance when they want us to pray, and we scream when they want us to cry.
We are proud that the more we’re wished away
The louder we get.
The louder we get.
The louder we get.
We are proud of our daring friends
Who send our wedding announcements out to their families
And have those conversations with us, for us, loving us.
We are proud of the churches we carve our of our own bones
When other churches turn us out.
We are proud that we become furious when they want us afraid and that we become art when we are furious.
We are proud that we reach for each other still.
We are proud that the smaller they ask us to be
The bigger we get.
The bigger we get.
The bigger we get.
We are love incarnate and we should let that love shine with pride! Thanks be, may it be so. AMEN