The horrific scene that unfolded this week at Club Q in Colorado Springs reminds us of just how far we have not come in addressing gun violence or homophobic hate in this country. While the investigation into the shooter’s motive is still underway, it seems inconceivable that this heinous act is but a tragic echo of the 2016 shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. The LGBTQ community was again targeted simply because of who they are and who they choose to love.
It is hard to find anything good out of this story, repeated in a variety of settings—movie theatres, synagogues, churches, shopping centers (as of this writing, yet another overnight at a Walmart in Virginia)—over and over again. Victims of mass shootings are sometimes simply random individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time. But often they hail from marginalized communities who are somehow “different” (and therefore dangerous???)
In this instance, though, one faint glimmer of hope emerged, as embodied in comments made by Army vet Richard Fierro, the ex-soldier whose bravery averted many more deaths. His courageous act speaks for itself, but the hope to which I refer lies in the words he chose to describe his act. He said, “that whole group in that building was my family … and I had to do something.” It is true that his biological family (his wife and daughter) was present at Club Q, but he was also referring to the community of LGBTQ individuals who called Club Q their home, their sanctuary from the interminable hatefulness around them. The fluidity with which he used the term family offered hope in the midst of this unspeakable tragedy.
Many years ago, I was invited by my cousin Nancy Wilson to attend the North Hollywood Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) (the church is now part of the United Church of Christ). The Metropolitan Community Church was known as the first “gay denomination” where LGBTQ persons were fully welcomed. My visit was during a time—long before marriage equality—when MCC congregations faced vicious threats, intimidation, and even physical violence. (Nancy later became the MCC’s Moderator—its highest elected official—following The Rev. Troy Perry, the denomination’s founder).
At Sunday worship, we celebrated communion. Every Christian congregation has its own way of celebrating communion (the Christian sacrament that commemorates the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified). Often, congregants simply lined up and came forward to receive the communion elements of bread and cup. But in the North Hollywood MCC, couples came forward together to receive a prayerful blessing along with the elements of bread and cup. Why? Because this was one of the few places that same-gender loving couples could express their love in public. It was a beautiful experience, one which years later I would replicate in my own (largely straight) congregation in solidarity with queer folks who have so long endured such hostility just because of who they are.
Language matters. Violence continues to disproportionally afflict the LGBTQ community. But the beauty in Richard Fierro’s humble telling of his heroic actions at Club Q in Colorado Springs lies in the fluid way he defines family. In press interviews right after the incident you had to ask yourself: was he referring to his biological family? Was he referring to the patrons of Club Q? Did it matter?
In this Thanksgiving season when so many of us gather with our biological families (and, sadly, so many of our chosen families continue to be excluded from these holiday meals), it is important to remember that the boundaries that some declare should divide us are actually artificial divides that we have the power to ignore, thereby welcoming “the family we choose” to sit beside us, welcoming all at our Thanksgiving Table.