I really dislike blogging about current events. There are a number of reasons for this: One is that these posts take anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to write, and I don’t want to invest that effort in something that will have a short self-life. Another is that I don’t have the staff or resources to do it well, and with the exception of a very few subjects, I don’t have the knowledge. And that shallow sort of posting that would result just encourages hot-takes, which provokes much more heat than light, which is sorta the opposite of what I want to do.
As I write this, there is a news story that has the attention of a lot of people. A lot of people are commenting on it – all people who don’t know any of the participants, and largely are people who don’t share any major identities with the participants. And I have resisted saying anything of substance about it, and I have had some people message me and ask why.
So, I thought I would take this time to tell you a story.
On Sunday, June the 12th of 2016, I was at the beach. I had snagged a weekend away and had turned off my phone, and we were enjoying the small town of Carolina Beach, which was our happy place when we lived in North Carolina.
It had been a rough year, and we were thankful for the weekend away. That Saturday night, after a day at the beach, soaking up the sun, we ate at our favorite restaurant and I ate popcorn shrimp. It’s funny the things you remember.
The next morning we lounged around the hotel room, moving slowly. We went out for coffee and donuts and then headed towards Fort Fisher, to take the Ferry to Southport, a cute little marina town and home to perhaps a dozen antique shops and flea market operations. Once there, we intended to grab lunch before spending the afternoon antiquing before slowly edging ourselves toward the 3-hour drive home. It was a trip we had made many times.
We stopped at the Fort Fisher Park gift shop – I was looking for a particular gift for a friend, and I had seen something similar at the gift shop before, so I stopped there, to see if they still had it. They did not. Renee and I hit the bathroom before heading to the ferry, and when I was done, I went to the car to wait for her.
While I waited, I turned on my phone for the first time in nearly 36 hours. It was around noon, and I got a bunch of texts from friends – all of whom were LGBT. All of them mentioned a nightclub shooting.
It turned out the night before, a madman had shot up a nightclub in Orlando, deliberately targeting members of the LGBT community. He killed 49 people and wounded 53. I called Kelly, who was the assistant director at the LGBT Center in Raleigh at the time.
She was in tears.
That night they were planning a vigil in Raleigh. They wanted me to be there. Could I do it?
Yes. When Renee came back from the restroom, we changed plans, grabbed a quick bite, and headed home.
That night I sat in a parking lot, holding a candle and listening to Trans folx and Queer folx and Gay folx and Non-Binary folx cry and confess their fears, their anger, and their rage. I hunted out the folk I knew, hugged them and prayed with the ones who wanted it, and listened to the ones that didn’t.
The next day I wrote a post that went sorta viral, with a title like, 6 Things Straight Christian Folks Can Do In the Aftermath of the Pulse Shooting. It got lost in a site redesign, but it wasn’t brilliant. It did things like asked us to listen, to offer help as defined by the people who needed it, and to curate and amplify and prioritize the voices of people with less power than we had. It was the most shared thing I wrote that year.
Then on Tuesday, I got a call from the LGBT Center. They had a group of people who were grieving hard, and they wanted a clergy person to be there to help them process, and would I be willing to do that?
I reminded them that I was straight, and questioned if I was the right person to do it. They laughed and said yes, but that the Ven diagram of clergy folks and people they trusted pretty much only had me in the overlap.
So I said that of course I would.
That Thursday night, I sat in a room, surrounded by people who had been persecuted by people who looked a lot like me and had held exactly the same credentials I held, and together we talked about the things that scared us, and the things that gave us hope, and mostly, I just listened and held space. And after that was done, there was hugging and crying and for not the last time in my life, I felt honored that I got invited to sit with hurting people in the midst of their pain.
I don’t tell you that story to highlight my role. I wasn’t any sort of hero or star at all. But I did want to tell it to make a little room to talk about something else: How to use our platform.
Historically, only movie stars and politicians had platforms. But now, we all do. And the whole world is listening. Even people like my great-aunt, who has 222 Facebook friends and is a retired librarian, have a platform these days. I mean, imagine the length a retired librarian would have had to go in 1995 to get her message out to 222 people. Now, she need only hit enter on a post on Facebook.
So, since we all have an audience, I think we all have an obligation to use it wisely.
When something happens, I do a sort of internal algorithm. It starts with something like, am I more identified with the victim or the oppressor in this? When the Pulse nightclub shooting happened, the victims were largely Latinx and LGBT, neither an identity I hold. However, both of those identities have been persecuted by Straight Christian people, which ARE two identities I hold. So I identified, in this case, more closely with the oppressor.
Another question is, “What can I do?”. Where can I bring my gifts to bear? I can show up, in a way that doesn’t center me. I can ask the people affected how I can be helpful and then do that thing. I can use my assets (like a social media following) to speak to people who look like me and tell them what I had learned.
And the last thing I consider is, “What is mine to do?”. In that case, I made myself available, and then as I was asked, I showed up in ways they deemed helpful.
But I had, at that point, worked with and among the LGBT community in Raleigh for a decade. I had a deep well of trust built up. I didn’t just show up with my hot take on what they should do, or ought to feel, or how to move on. They didn’t need my words – they could speak for themselves. They needed my solidarity. So, based on trust acquired over a long period of relationship, they asked for what they needed. And I said yes.
So, that is how I handle contemporary events. I don’t do hot takes. I don’t rush to have a position on controversial issues. I don’t use my platform to incite anger. And I don’t ever want to tell people who have been harmed how they ought to feel, or what they ought to be doing.
Instead, I ask myself: Am I the victim or the oppressor? What can I do? What is mine to do? What needs to be said? Who needs to hear it? And, perhaps most importantly, am I the person who needs to be saying it?
Sometimes, that means I’m just amplifying minority reports and voices. And sometimes, it’s calling out people who look like me and asking them to do better. And sometimes, that looks like being silent.