In the last week, I have marched in solidarity against homophobia in Peru, while celebrating a major step against homophobia within the PC(USA), for which I voiced support at the 221st General Assembly.
On Saturday, I marched in the parade following a law allowing civil unions between any two people was archived by the Justice and Human Rights Committee. Several congress members voiced horrifyingly homophobic and uninformed opinions, so the march was entitled “¡Indígnate contra la Homofobía en el Congreso!,” or “Get Indignant against the Homophobia in Congress!”
Homophobia is rampant in Peru. Sometimes it is subtly informing your child that you are glad they are straight and cisgendered before they inform you others. In other cases, churches will blatantly deny the existence of homosexuality and instead infer the presence of a demon.
During the debate, one congressperson blatantly used the Peruvian equivalent of “f***ot,” when explaining to an openly gay congressmen, Carlos Bruce, that the word “gay” is not Spanish. LGBTQIA+ Peruvians are working tirelessly to educate folks that the word used, maricón, which actually means “coward,” has nothing to do with them. The offending congressmen apologized for the remark, but did not recognize the lack of relevance of that statement, regardless of the slur, to the overall discussion.
That was just one of thousands of uninformed statements uttered by conservative leaders and churches in Peru. Evangelical and Catholic churches sent thousands to protest with such fear-based arguments as “Think of the children” and “What’s to stop incest?”
Meanwhile back in the states, the necessary number of presbyteries voted in favor of changing the PC (USA) definition of marriage as “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman” this Tuesday. A change that I personally voiced support for and advised in favor of as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate at the 221st General Assembly in Detroit. A step for progress that makes me proud, though I am hopeful that we quickly remove the latter clause which I feel still reflects an unwelcoming tone.
In conjunction with both events, I have found images of myself spread across the web. I see my face in the background and foreground of articles covering both major events. And not just in those shared by my mother or a friend. In fact, Facebook suggested an article on the presence of the Harvey Milk Foundation in Peru in opposition to homophobia with me in the background of the featured photo. While this visibility strokes my ego some, I also feel exposed and more vulnerable in a way that is totally novel to my life.
For most of my life, I have been able to disconnect myself from the struggles of those in underprivileged places. While it’s allowed me to be a more evenhanded advocate in some cases, it has also distanced me from understanding those struggles.
Of course, I am just tangentially visible. Right now, I’m an unknown face. I could be tracked if necessary, but I am not exactly worried about that. Visible exposure is new for me, but just a small gesture compared to what several others are doing.
Comparatively, I am connected to several people who have taken on even more exposure. My mother and several other Presbyterian pastors around the USA spoke to our local newspaper on the ratification of Amendment 14F. One pastor wrote an article for Cosmo, which puts her in the crosshairs of both congratulations and criticism towards the PC (USA).
Here in Lima, a local news station produced a profile piece on the pastor of the Lutheran Church I attend, Pablo Espinoza, who came out of the closet in his forties and raised three adopted children. He will receive major criticism and possible threats, but he still chose to take that on. Worse, one older member of the church has stopped attending after her children called her and told her not to go back to that church with the “sick pastor.”
If I feel exposed just seeing my face on the news, how must others like my pastor feel?
Of course, this vulnerability is necessary because the politics of identity are inherently personal. Political movements, no matter how large and seemingly autonomous are still made up of people at their core.
What does that mean? It means these movements, like individuals are still fallible. Although movements are formed because humans are stronger when united, they are equally fallible. Likewise, some willingness to be exposed as an individual is essential. Movements are strengthened when that exposure goes hand-in-hand with willingness to challenge oneself and grow.
Years ago the LGBTQIA+ rights movement placed gay white men at the forefront and erased the experiences of lesbians, bisexuals, trans folk, intersexed, asexual, and especially those people of color with similar gender or sexual expressions.
Admittedly, this movement still has issues welcoming all those groups, but that inclusion is now an active part of the conversation. One which successfully challenged me, in my privilege, to recognize the pain of that erasure in others’ lives. One which also led me to openly challenge the inclusion of “traditionally between a man and a woman” on the General Assembly floor in front of 800 commissioners and delegates, 90 percent of whom voted in favor of that additional wording.
Seeing my face attached to a few snippets within the slow march of progress for equal rights has reminded me how important it is to be self-critical. It has also reminded me to enjoy those moments and recognize my value and the value of others, ally or direct beneficiary of the movement, in choosing to show up.
Plus, movements draw their strength from people. People can intercede at the individual level to speak with others. No doubt Pablo feels some sadness that an elderly member’s children are harassing her, but this is exactly why he openly exposed himself: to force people to acknowledge his previously ignored identity.
Members of my church, including Pablo and David, have started visiting her and conversing with her. With patience and an open heart, the hope is she will come around and pass that same message of love and acceptance onto her children who are immersed in the fundamentalist teachings of most churches in Peru.
Admittedly, these realizations are not intellectual epiphanies. You will not see me leaping naked from a bath tub screaming, “Eureka.” I am just connecting personal experience to that intellect. Personal experience steps in when frustration clouds my intellect, which reduces my ability to show compassion.
Compassion allows me to show grace towards those who are slow to recognize LGBTQIA+ rights, those who fail to stand firm against homophobia, and even those who cannot find it in their hearts to accept the LGBTQIA+ community. By showing grace, I model how others like me (read privilege) can open themselves to respect LGBTQIA+ folks and eventually take steps towards breaking down barriers with the community.