When Evolving is Not Enough

By Dr. Wilhelmina Perry

Ever since President Obama announced that he is “evolving” in his views on marriage equality, the term “evolving” has become a key position of public figures and community leaders. We are appreciative that the President was able to move forward to support his new found beliefs with both policy resolutions and actions that are affirmations for same-gender loving people. However, the term is now codified in the public arena and there have been no challenges forthcoming, in fact, no one challenges the speaker for an explanation or an expectation of movement. The statement, in and of itself, has become the end goal.

 

I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a person say that they are evolving. Usually, I would think that this acknowledgment is a positive thing. However, in a recent meeting with a clergy person, I heard the expression used again. This time I had a very different reaction, I found myself asking him, “What does this mean?” I believe that I asked the question in a perfectly professional manner, but I surprised myself because I realized that my question was accompanied by a great deal of personal passion.

 

Ordinarily, the statement goes unchallenged and I have included myself among those who have been accepting and appreciative of the response. This time it was different and I asked a follow-up question accompanied by a passionate declaration. This time with a bit of strong emotion “What does this mean? How long will the process take? Our children are being thrown out of their homes by parents who do not accept them. Our children are being bullied and harassed because of their sexual orientation and some are being killed. How long will the process take before you are fully accepting of who we are?”

Where’s the Pushback?

 

As I was saying these words, I realized that I was very emotional and, days after, I required of myself to understand why I was being so personally moved. Following this meeting, I gave much thought to my own self as someone who calls herself an activist for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and same-gender loving people. Through my own discernment, I came to understand that the rationale that one is evolving has been too often accepted with no pushback. Let’s look more closely at this expression and unpack the consequences of allowing the speaker to go unchallenged.

 

If we understand that the position of “evolving” places full control in the hands of the speaker, it gives me no idea about the eventual goal or state of being, or the timeline and the steps that I can expect along the way. I am left in a state of waiting and anticipation while I see the lives of homeless gay youth and transgender young people threatened daily as they try to find safety in their neighborhoods and families. Why can’t I expect more than “evolving” when a transgender young woman is murdered here in Harlem and there is no collective outrage from our community? Why should I settle for “evolving” when a local church can post hateful and dangerous statements about gay people on a large sign in the yard of the church, and there is no outcry from the community other than the newspaper ad initiated by my organization, LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent, and other community organizations, people and groups? What does it mean to be “evolving” if our lives continue to be in harm’s way and there is no collective response from clergy, community leaders and/or elected officials?

 

If you ask yourself these questions, you can see why I am not feeling comfortable or accepting of those who use the term “evolving” as a badge of courage and pride for which we should feel appreciative. It actually means nothing if the risks and threats to gay people continue in their churches and in the very neighborhoods where they live, and silence remains the response to acts of harm and violence. It takes great courage and risk to step up and out to support the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual transgender and same-gender loving people. Clergy and community leaders cannot sit and wait for their congregations to grow into acceptance. The role of a true prophetic leader is one who is willing to step forward and engage his members in educational experiences that lead to acceptance. Without this courage, there would have been no civil rights protests and none of the rights that we have gained thus far. It is not the responsibility of some of us. It is the responsibility of all of us.

 

Dr. Wilhelmina Perry is the Administrative Coordinator for LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent. LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent was formed by a group composed of clergy, divinity students, and people of faith who represent diverse religious institutions. The organization was formed to educate and advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and same-gender loving people. You can learn more about them atwww.lgbtfaithleadersofafricandescent.com.

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