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Back in October of 2001 I walked into a Quaker meeting house in Hartford, CT to finally attend silent worship. Over 10 years before in Wales I nearly sat through a meeting during my honeymoon with my wife. We were both 25 years old, conservative, Bible-believing, Pentecostal Christians looking for a place to meet with Jesus.

Since we had arrived at the Quaker meeting house about 20 minutes before the service, we nosed around in the front room and perused the literature prominently displayed. None of it sounded familiar. The language seemed vague, shadowy to us–suspect. “…that of God in everyone…the Light of the divine…the seed within.” We understood these words individually, but the way the Quakers strung them together, they smacked of the dreaded heresy of our day–NEW AGE. We dashed out of there in search of a proper church with a proper God that we recognized.

Years later, no longer married, no longer “straight,” I felt adrift in my spiritual life. I had just moved back up North from Memphis, TN. After two years of coming out and attending a warm (though not completely affirming) Episcopal church, I wanted to find a place of worship in my new home of Hartford, CT. I tried the Episcopal churches in the area, but although they were effusively welcoming of gays, I perpetually felt underdressed among the posh and well-groomed New England Episcopalians. Also, the churches I visited felt dry, stuffy, and conservative in the restrained way the priests and their staff conducted business.

I had begun work as an infusion teacher at the Watkinson School, the first job in which I was openly gay, and a place where the administration encouraged my creativity as I worked with both teachers and students to infuse the 9th grade with innovative, and hopefully effective, teaching and learning strategies and techniques. Through working with students like Daniel, May, and John and collaborating with teachers like Christina, Jen, and Steve, I felt the sludge in my brain begin to loosen up as critical thinking and fresh ideas began to flow.

Since a co-worker, Diane worked in the Middle School, I did not have too much interaction with her. I heard rumors that she was openly Quaker. This intrigued me. I never met an actual Quaker, and here was one among us in this progressive private school. I learned that David, an Upper School history teacher was also a practicing Quaker. After interrogating Diane to find out what actually happens in a Quaker meeting, I decided I to visit.

A few weeks before terrorists had attacked the USA. I visited lower Manhattan nearly a month after the downing of the World Trade Towers and other buildings. In my early 20’s I worked in the executive dinning room on the 50th floor at the American Express building directly next door to one of the towers. On a Saturday in October 2011 I returned to my old stomping grounds, but nothing looked the same, and the fire still smoldered. Military personnel with guns patrolled. Workmen removed debris and hammered more plywood over building facades as dazed tourists walked around silently. Most businesses were closed. Everything was covered in grey ash. The scenes I saw that day in New York mirrored the emotional state of the country at the time. Citizens were shocked and stunned. Many of us felt terrorized and vulnerable for the first time in our lives.

In that state of mind a week after my visit to NYC, I entered the Hartford Friends Meeting. There were perhaps 25 people sitting on pews facing each other. The pews formed concentric squares. There was no altar, no pulpit. There were no songs, no prayers, no sermon. Just silence. Stillness. This quiet lasted a full hour.

I did not feel bored or uncomfortable, which surprised me. Instead I felt I had come home, but to a home I had never been in before. The silence surrounded me and filled me and comforted me. After years of being pummeled by words, and weeks of terror alerts, breaking news, and a quick buildup to war, the silence felt like a balm to my troubled mind and panicked heart. I sat in that silence like in a hot bath, surrendering to it.

Over the next few years I continued attending meeting for worship. I would sit there and imagine I was as an overused clunky desktop computer in need of maintenance. Each meeting I sat in silence allowing the Spirit to do a scan disc operation over all the data I had collected through the years. I imagined God conducting a defrag of my mental and spiritual hard drive closing up the gaps, removing digital junk that took up room and slowed down processing.

A year later I began writing Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House. My brain felt freer as I began to process nearly two decades receiving gay conversion therapy and ex-gay ministry. By 2004, after a clearness process with a small group of Quakers at Hartford Meeting, I decided to leave the Watkinson School and attempt to work as a theatrical performance activist. Now, nearly 10 years after attending my first Quaker meeting, I will embark on a six state, cross-country, train tour sharing my work about gender non-conformists in the Bible and my growing concern about climate change.

The practice of quiet contemplation may seem to some like a bland, heartless exercise for the rare esoteric mystic. Perhaps it’s not for everyone. I know I cannot do it for long by myself in my own study. But gathering with others in that silent place week after week, I have sifted through much inner debris. I have wrestled with my own demons. I have developed new ideas and found new direction for my work.

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Read about the three weeks I just spent at Haverford College as Friend in Residence. All my worlds collide–queer, Quaker, scholar, activist.

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Photos from Green Street Friends Meeting and Haverford Friends Meeting

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No, I am not going to be a bride tomorrow. The age old advice to brides about what to wear going down the aisle also applies to the big step I will take tomorrow. I embark on something new–speaking to a group of victims’ advocates about LGBT crime victims. In a way it is something old for me as I began my career years ago in New York City working in criminal justice at an alternative to incarceration for youth offenders. I first worked as a teacher and then the director of education. As a result, I spent time in the courts, and I got to learn about victims of crimes firsthand.

Throughout the United States (Canada and beyond too I imagine) on the local and state levels there are people who work directly with victims of crimes. They may do direct work almost immediately after a crime is committed, particularly physical or sexual assault, to assist the victim  navigate the medical, legal, personal morass as a result of a violent crime to an individual or a loved one. The work of the advocate becomes especially important when domestic violence is at the heart of the crime. On the state level, victims’ advocates help update victims as the perpetrator goes through the system, comes up for parole, or is ready to be released from incarceration.

Tomorrow I will spend time with a group of victims’ advocates, administrators, parole officers, and others involved in the welfare of victims,  and I will speak specifically about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer concerns. As LGBTIQ people we often face multiple complications when we are victims of crimes. Sometimes law enforcement officials exacerbate the trauma we face instead of lessening it. Sometime medical staff cause more harm than healing. Sometimes we face a direct bias that effects the help we need. Other times we suffer because of the ignorance or misunderstanding from a well meaning but ill informed professional who wants to help us.

I am going to borrow from my performance work and present my play Queer 101–Now I Know my gAy,B,Cs, which serves as a primer about many LGBTIQ issues, identities, and intersections of identities. This will give us a jumping off point to help talk about basics–proper terminology, differences between gender and sex, going beyond binaries, etc. Then we will go deeper.

No don’t things will get blue–no not in the x-rated sense or a delicious cobalt blue frock. Things may get blue meaning they might get sad because of the sad realities many LGBTIQ people have faced in addition to the crimes  perpetuated against them. Police, press, lawyers, family, medical personnel sadly  can deepen the nightmare many of us have fast when dealing with crimes against us.

I am pleased that this group wants to meet. I know they care about victims, and they want to do the best job possible. This encourages me. As I have done research the past few weeks, I have soaked in all kinds of stories. Still I would like to hear more  if you are willing and able to share.

Have you been a victim of a crime–not exclusively a hate crime–any crime? What was your experience as a victim of a crime when dealing with police, medical personnel, legal professionals, and others? What did you need? How did those who were supposed to help you actually end up failing you? What did someone do or say that was helpful to you? I would love to carry your story with me.

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For further reading visit The National Center for the Victims of Crime and see their recent study: Why It Matters
Rethinking Victim Assistance for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Victims

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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.

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