A Queer Mennonite Response to Orlando

Last week, following the news of the shooting in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, I experienced a rather emotional week. I spent Sunday on the beach with my partner and my brother, trying desperately not to think about the news, and avoiding all media coverage that I could. By Monday, I felt isolated. Although my family and friends mean well, I turned inward into myself, not knowing how to share or reflect with my straight loved ones.

By Tuesday and Wednesday, I had entered a state of mourning. Mourning for those lost in the Orlando shooting, for those lost in countless other instances of attack, hate crime, racism, and heterosexism throughout the world over the last number of years. I mourn with their families, and the families of LGBTQ2IA teens who have died by suicide in recent months. I mourn that our communities, and more importantly, queer communities of colour have been crying for change since long before Orlando.

Thursday, upon attending a local vigil in memory of Orlando, I became frustrated. Frustrated by all the politicians showing up. The politicians were invited to share their stories and their campaign speeches first. As if their messages of “Oh look, we’ve improved the sex ed curriculum” and other pats on their backs really needed to eclipse our messages of grief and pain on such a night. Frustrated, that for a chance to share my own story, I would have had to wait through an hour of self-congratulatory messaging, when all I would have wanted to say is that sometimes, feeling invisible hurts.

The whole week, I found myself acting strange, snapping at my partner, or having illogical emotional reactions to seemingly normal events. It took until almost a week to realize these reactions, these confusing emotions came from my own grief.

Orlando happened far from my home and to a community that is noticeably different from mine. I do not want to pretend I understand all the nuances.  Of the people most affected by the shooting in Orlando, many were doubly marginalized. The intersections of racial and sexual identities made these people vulnerable. In my privileged white experiences, I do not know what this must be like.

I mourn for my part in this. I mourn, that as a privileged, white, queer Christian, I can ignore race dynamics whenever it’s convenient for me. My privilege allows me to benefit off of the backs of others. I lament the days when I could have spoken up against this, but I haven’t. I mourn the times that I have not worked to make both queer and Christian communities safer for those whose race offers them a different experience of society. I admit that I do not truly understand the effect of this event on many of my LGBTQ2IA brothers and sisters of colour.

At the same time, as a white, privileged, queer-identified Mennonite, a lot of my feelings and processing of the Pulse Nightclub shooting also revolved around my own experiences of marginalization, particularly in the church.

When I heard the news, I thought of a gay loved one of my own, someone who took his life this past year.

I thought of the constant debate in the Canadian Mennonite: letter upon letter upon letter to the editor saying that I am not good enough, valued enough, or loved enough to be “saved”. (So many letters, in fact, that I have not been able to read an issue of the Canadian Mennonite in years, because it does too much of a number to my sense of self-worth.)

I thought of pastors losing their credentials for following what they believe to be the Spirit, nudging them to perform gay weddings.

But most personally, I thought of a classmate. Last semester, I was cornered after class by a well-meaning, non-affirming classmate. After trying to make pleasant, small-talk conversation with me for a few minutes, this classmate started telling me of her understanding of God. As this classmate told me of the danger my soul is in, the importance of purity of action for salvation’s sake, and all the scriptures that condemn me, as a bisexual Christian, tears streamed down my face. Who is this unloving God, who encourages such polarizing and painful discourse? Where is the Love of God that I know in Christ? How is the Spirit calling us to be more loving to one another?

In the past week and a half, since Orlando, my Facebook feeds have been filled with well-meaning Mennonites, offering prayers and voices of support. But where were these voices weeks ago, when I was cornered after class, as countless polarized opinions fill the letters to the editor, as youth and adults who identify as LGBTQ2IA lose their lives in less public acts of violence?

This past week has been the closest I’ve come to wanting to leave the Church.

I am angry.

I am tired.

I don’t want to wait any longer for slow change.

I want my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ2IA and racialized communities to stop paying this price.

I want to be loved for who God made me to be. Not in spite of who God made me to be.

My prayer for the Church is Isaiah 58: 6-8

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

As more and more churches vote on how to proceed, on whether or not to allow LGBTQ2IA members and clergy, I pray the Spirit guides us in love. Amen.image1

This is a colour prayer I drew, in remembrance of Orlando. Each of the shapes represents a unique and beloved child of God, one for each of the 49 victims lost in the shooting. I encourage you to read their names and their stories, in remembrance of the gifts they offered to our communities. Their stories can be found here.


IMG_1748Steph Chandler Burns is a second year Masters of Theological Studies student at Conrad Grebel University College, and a bisexual-identified Mennonite. She spends her time hanging out with youth, playing board games, and chilling at home with her partner, Greg, and their two cats.

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