Where are the Queer Quakers: NEYM Day Four
This afternoon I attended the Worship Sharing* group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Friends, one of many worship sharing groups held each day of the New England Yearly Meeting of Quakers (NEYM) during our week-long gathering. Unlike the much larger North American gathering call Friends General Conference, which has a full program of LGBTQ activities organized by the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC or as I like to call them the Flibity-Gibitz) this worship sharing is the only LGBTQ-specific programming during the New England gathering.
Among New England Quakers we have LOADS of LGBTQ folks. One of the lead couples in the landmark Marriage Equality lawsuit resulting in marriage for same-gender folks are Quakers from Northampton Meeting and will soon celebrate 20 years living as couple. Pretty much everywhere I turn in every group, commitee, meeting for worship, and dinning room table I see LGBTQ Quakers at this gathering.
I do find it odd at NEYM to enter an LGBTQ-designated space when so much of the gathering is queer. Even the straight Quakers here are queer–so many non-gender normative and exceptionally open people! Wse have little need for our own space because we are fully integrated into the community. Even among the high school Quakers (Young Friends) I find a safe healthy space for people to be honest about their gender identity/expression and their orientation. Straight athletic teen boys have no problems suggesting that for an upcoming Rest & Relaxation high school retreat the program might consider offering spa treatments including facials with cucumber eye masks. No one snickered when it was suggested. The other boys agreed it would be a super idea. Another asked if they could do bread making again. In their discussions about sexuality, they are frank about their orientation, experimentation and questioning.
At NEYM I find that the LGBTQ people gather together because of our affinity with each other not because of the affliction of oppression leveled against us by the majority population making it necessary to seek refuge. We don’t have to meet in order to survive or to assert a part of ourselves that we must hide in all other spaces. And as a result, we grow, we thrive, we serve and strengthen the community. You will find one or more of us on nearly every committee and working in the youth programs with infants to high schoolers. Some of us have our own children in these programs. We’re part of the furniture and the fabric of this gathered community.
We are becoming old news which is good news–post-LGBTQ–with the queer part of us being just that, a part of us, an important part with a rich and sometimes challenging history, but still only a part of the whole integrated person. You will not find most of us even taking on LGBTQ issues. We are freed up to actively contribute to disccusion and action on issues of torture, earth care, myriad peace and social justice concerns, Quaker outreach and so much more. Since we don’t have to expend all of our energy living in closeted stealth mode or fighting for our right to belong, we instead use that energy to contribute to the community.
This week at sessions most LGBTQ folks will not atteend the LGBTQ worship sharing. Those who do, like I did today, will most likely experience blessing and fellowship and friendship. And those who don’t enter this designated LGBTQ space will also find the same in multiple places without having to compromise who they are in order to be full members of the community.
*from the LGBTQ Worship Sharing handout.
About Worship Sharing. This is a process to enable deep meaningful sharing to take place in a non-judgmental atmosphere. One person shares, distilling the promptions of the Spirit on a subject (perhaps but not necessarily, related to the themeof Yearly Meeting or an experience at Sessions) into a single statement, speaking from their won experience. Others actively listen. The contribution is received and reflected on in the silence. Everyone gets a turn to speak. There is no immediate response, no debate or discussion but a period ofsilence between contributions.