Everything I thought I believed about the LGBT community changed the day my best friend came out to me.
A bit about me: I grew up in church. I am a Sunday School kid through and through. While I never had an inclination towards rebellion, I possessed something just as dangerous: a proclivity towards complete obedience. So when the church told me that homosexuality was something to be feared, I believed them. They didn’t say it like that — of course they were a lot more politically correct about it — but when we heard that so-and-so was a boy who liked boys, eyes widened and a collective sense of pity filled the room. “Let’s pray for him,” our bible study group leader solemnly exhorted.
When my best friend told me that she liked girls, my first instinct betrayed what I had been taught. I did not want to pray for her. I did not want to quote the bible. I did not want to respond in fear. What I wanted to do, instead, was hug her. What I wanted to do was commend her courage. What I wanted to do was remind her that she was, is, and will always be, loved.
So I did.
We turned her moment of vulnerability into a celebration. I learned that day that love is larger than all the labels that I thought were so important. The day she dared to share a very real part of her self with me was the day I most wanted her to know that there was no one she could be (be it a rabid One Direction fan or a just-came-out-of-the-closet lesbian) that would ever make me back down from the friendship we had built together.
On that day I realized that my view into God’s heart had been a view from the cheap seats. If I wanted to understand better, I would have to look closer.
When I first heard about the massacre in Orlando, I was … not surprised. There have been 133 mass shootings in America this year alone. This is one of my shortcomings as a person. I can easily detach myself from pain and suffering. But as news about Orlando started flooding in and I heard that 50 had been held hostage in a gay bar and mercilessly killed, my heart could no longer stop itself from breaking.
How could this happen? How could I even begin to make sense of it? And what could I — a twenty-something from Manila — possibly do to make it better?
So I took to Facebook with this short status message:
Whether you identify as gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer or questioning, please know that you do not stand alone in this. I am sorry that your community has had to endure a long and tired history of oppression and violence from straight people. I am sorry for the times I knowingly and unknowingly participated in that. I am sorry that the religious sect I identify with has often been the first to make you feel isolated and ashamed. I am sorry for all your losses. I fight with you towards all your gains. Let it be known that I stand with you today and everyday. Things will not always be this way. The tides of history will change for the good and it would be an honor for me to be a part of it.
When God sees the tragedy in Orlando (and all similar situations around the world), I am sure his heart breaks a thousand times over. Please know: you are important and you are loved.
A bit about me: I have come to terms with the fact that stitching ‘Christian’ into my identity means that, for better or for worse, I am declaring myself as a part of the church. By taking up a spiritual label, I am every bit a representative of a religious institution, whether I agree with its dogmas and politics or not. More importantly, I believe that a significant part of my Christianity means speaking up and speaking out when tragedies like this happen.
An hour after posting my status, a girl named Myles messaged me.
I had met her once, briefly, after church. She was very friendly but all I really remember about her was that she was eager to get a new tattoo. Our interaction stopped after I added her on Facebook. But that didn’t matter. She sent me this short note anyway:
Isa, thank you for your words… You said what’s needed to be told. It means so much to me as a Christian lesbian. I appreciate you!
My best friend messaged me around the same time just to say hello and I asked her how she was doing in light of the recent tragedy. She thanked me for asking. She sent me a long message about how broken her heart was. She ended it with: I don’t think anyone cares about how I feel.
I could not stop crying afterwards.
How far have we fallen as a community? How much have we failed? If the people we love feel this isolated and scared, can we truly say that we’ve done our best?
My friend, Crae, asked me to write about being an everyday Christian. We are often told to go out and do great things in the name of the Lord. This vernacular has always confused me. Size, after all, is relative. When we get caught up in moving mountains, we forget the soul-expanding value of the small things.
How a simple “How are you?” has all the power in the world to let the light shine through.
This is what I’ve come to realize: our ministry, our high calling, especially in times like this, is that of empathy. Compassion is the watchword.
Life is too short to keep on looking at God from the cheap seats. We’ve got to move closer. We’ve got to dismiss the fear. We’ve got to settle into the beautiful chaos of love. It is not enough to sit on the sidelines and pray when the rest of the world is waiting for someone to lean in and reach.
We can be the answer. I think that we, now more than ever, are called to be the answer.
If there is something I learned from Myles today, it’s that those who hurt do not want for much. They do not need grand gestures. They do not even need miracles, just a soft place for their broken hearts to land. They just want people to come closer. And in the end, don’t we all? Don’t we all pray for people who will be brave enough to close the distance? Isn’t that the very thing Jesus did?
He spread his arms open as a denouncement to hate. That, I think, is the core of love.