I began last spring on a journey: a journey of understanding what living in DC meant, a journey of being a part of the Washington Community Scholar’s Center (WCSC) and a journey of living in the powerhouse of our country as an African American queer person of faith. Each of these journeys would develop in its own unique way, but the one I want to reflect on now is the journey of being in the hub of power as a systemically oppressed person. Growing up in a predominantly African American neighborhood in Philadelphia, I always noticed that the world I lived in was not the same world as Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, where I traveled to attend high school. As I rode the train from inner city Philadelphia, I watched the world around me change from row houses to open spaces and large houses. This journey changed my perspective; I was then aware more than ever that there is and was a world greater and broader than the worldview with which I once grew up.
Entering Washington D.C. was a relief from the Shenandoah Valley. Please hear me correctly, as I have also come to love the Blue Ridge and Appa- lachian Mountains that nestle campus. However, I was excited to be in my ‘natural’ habitat once again. Growing up in Philadelphia, I have come to find comfort in the busyness of the city and the nightlife that seems to never go to sleep. To say the least, I was excited. As I mentioned before, this would be a journey that had yet to reveal its significance. Interning with the Human Rights Campaign, a national non-profit that is working for the justice and liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, and queer (LGBTQ) folks, allowed me to be in the hotbed of the many efforts and strides being made by the LGBTQ justice movement. One of the most vivid and beautiful times had to be the Rally for Marriage Equality as the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) began hearing the deliberations over the cases surrounding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 (Prop 8). These legal statutes barred and discredited the federal recognition of Same-Sex/Gender Marriages.
Although I once believed in my justice system, as an African American young male adult I have become accustomed to the justice system failing at being just and fair. I have seen and been a victim of the justice system when it caters to the priorities set by those in power with money and prestige. This time I rose up with countless others and took this issue to the streets and to the step of SCOTUS. Walking from the Metro to the Court, I could not help but to see and admire the sea of people wearing variations of red and rainbows, smiles and laughter, lovers holding hands with their heads held high. For once the culture of always having some place to go, the culture of failing to realize the people around you, was null and void. Everyone exchanged hellos as if we were family going to gather together another time. We chanted in unison as our spirits lifted to the air in the sea of love and affirmation. Our hearts beat together as we waited to hear what may be going on inside. Our prayers soared to the sky and our cries of justice and freedom pierced the world as they watched.
As one voice we chanted and sang, prayed and rejoiced. A pivotal moment occurred as a marching band proceeded through our tunnel of people standing on either sidewalk in front of the court. Young males marched with horns blaring, drums rolling, routine in progress; their heads held high as they began the processional of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a religiously based organization that promotes the traditional understanding of marriage. They walked through our tunnel chanting, “One man, one woman.” I was overwhelmed; I listened as the people I was once singing with and praying with turned into a crowd of anger and frustration. Those standing in opposition to DOMA yelled and blared as if the people parading through us were our enemies from distant land.
I was torn; as a queer identified person I had a place on the side of justice in opposing such a law that does not and will not allow love in all of its forms to be recognized and celebrated. I could not help but become angry at the injustice that was being done to a people that have historically been marginalized. While processing all of this, I watched as those who supported DOMA walked. I saw my family, even my mother in the people that chanted and called for a system that only recognized the heterosexual understanding of marriage. I grew up with that framework. I live in that framework. I was ashamed to stand where I was with people yelling at each other like enemies and not like friends who can meet each other at the table.
DOMA is officially repealed and seen as unconstitional, but where does this leave me? I believe it leaves me where the Spirit wants me: living my life as a two-world walker, a bridge builder. I look at EMU as an extension of MCUSA and as a sign with joy and sadness: joy because we have come so very far in the three years that I have been a part of this Church and a member of this campus, and sadness for we still have far to go. I rejoice that change has happened and continues to happen, but I lament that there are people on this campus who are oppressed: not just LGBTQ folks, but those who are opposed also. Both of my identities have been seen as enemies shunned and cast out. Somewhere along the line, those who oppose marriage equality for religious reasons have forgotten that the message of Christ is for all and that we are to be ‘ambassadors of reconciliation.’ Those in support of marriage equality have often forgotten that we were and are marginalized people seeking liberation, and that to marginalize someone else is to perpetuate the cycle from which we are seeking freedom.
The call then is for each of us to remember who we are. To remember the story we are writing and have been writing. Looking to EMU, I challenge our community to remember our ancestors and the struggle from which they came to this country, to look at how we as a community have been marginalized in the past and even in the present. When we remember our journey and our own story, connecting to another can be done with ease. This by no means solves the issue of our hiring policy and how it still marginalizes LGBTQ people, but looking at the world through this lens allows for the motivation to be from the inside out, drawing from the story each of us carries. May we remember our stories and may we use those stories to empower ourselves and the world to end injustice and oppression.
-Chris Parks, Contributing Writer
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