There was a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people were not seen, heard, discussed, or even thought about in most of our society. No one knew who they were. What people did wrongfully assume about them was that they were sinful people who lurked on the margins of society. Those of us who identified as part of the LGBT community kept quiet, often for fear of what could happen to us if we courageously spoke up.
Though it wasn’t all that long ago, that time is over, and most of us can agree, thankfully so.
In modern America, LGBT people are everywhere.
Even in neighborhoods or cities where there aren’t many visible LGBT people, we are in comic books, in the newspaper and on television. In fact, according to GLAAD’s Where We Are on TV report, at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, LGBT characters represent 4.4 percent of all scripted series regular characters on the five broadcast networks – an all-time high. While it’s easy to change the channel on a TV show, you can’t change the channel on your neighbor, a co-worker, or a family member who has come out.
As much as media representations of LGBT people help educate and raise awareness, it’s the real-life stories of our community that make the deepest and most meaningful difference. We are working in offices, shops, and factories. We are in schools, as teachers, parents, and students. We are worshipping in the pew next to you. We are volunteering at civic centers and community organizations. We worry about the economy, unemployment rate and the safety of our troops and our nation. We are shopping for cereal and dish soap at your local stores. We are at your family gatherings, passing the gravy and chatting about our lives.
We still see stigmatization and scare tactics from those few anti-LGBT voices who, for whatever reason, find themselves longing for the days of the LGBT community being hidden. But these views do not representing the reality of modern America. LGBT Americans pride ourselves on serving and giving back to our community and our society, and we have proven ourselves again and again as people deserving of moral equality. This is why it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify excluding gay adults, young people and our families from service opportunities, like with the Boy Scouts of America, the military, and the clergy.
Though their numbers are dwindling, there are still those who, despite (or because of) our progress, continue to view the full participation of LGBT people in American society as a threat. They are increasingly flummoxed because they can no longer declare that we exist on the margins of society.
Well, they can, but they’re wrong, and fewer and fewer people are listening to them.
Some believe that participation in society is a zero-sum game. They worry that if LGBT people are treated with dignity and respect, then conservative Christians will be shunned. Some claim that the Gospel will somehow be lost if LGBT people lead ordinary lives without cowering in fear and resigning themselves to destitution.
However, the Gospel is not actually about the exclusion of LGBT people. For those of us who claim Christianity, the Gospel is the life-giving message that God created us in love, and continued to love us by becoming incarnate, living among us, suffering, and dying for us all. For us, faith is believing that the choice to love lives on, even when it might not make sense, even when life is at its bleakest, even beyond death. The New Testament term for this reckless, upending hope—we learned as children—is resurrection.
There is nothing in there that says, “Keep the gays out” nor is there anything that tells us to give up our hope that those who wish to exclude LGBT people will someday join their fellow Americans in welcoming our families into the fabric of our nation.
Some of the people who best exemplify faith and grace are those who have been shunned from faith, community, and family, and yet have returned to offer a personal and moving witness. They know what grace is, and what it means for all of us. Christianity is not synonymous with the power to keep others out, but with sacrificial, community-building love, and its profound call is to the least of these.
The world is changing. It’s not happening by violent overthrow, but through loving witness, caring conversation, and living our lives as examples of people who care about the community around us.
To those who are feeling left behind by LGBT progress, I want to offer an invitation: You don’t have to be. You can look into your heart, into the lives of the people around you, and even into scripture to see that God is still doing wonderful work. And those of us who are LGBT people or who support LGBT people will be here, with arms open, ready to work with you to make the world a better place for all of us.
Ross Murray is the Director of Religion, Faith & Values at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).