A few months ago, when our little group “Zeitgeist at the Equator” was still fondly referred to as “the Sunday group,” and we had just begun meeting at a new coffee shop, the friendly barista there who claims our rowdy little group of gay and lesbian Christians is the highlight of his workday, pulled my friend M aside to share with her what had transpired that afternoon between himself and a couple of disgruntled customers. It seems that while we were in the back corner of the coffee shop sharing the highlights and lowpoints of another week of triumps, family rejections, and relationship developments, the couple had approached the barista indignantly. “There is a group of gay-bashers back there disturbing our peace and we won’t tolerate it! Make they be quiet, or we’re leaving!” they told the barista firmly, probably feeling a bit smug to have taken a stand on such a controversial issue. The barist, who already knew us well enough by that point to know better, calmly explained to the couple that we weren’t gay bashers. In fact, as far as he knew, we were some kind of advocacy group composed of gay and lesbian Christians. This did little to calm the offended couple. In fact, they replied with something along the lines of: “Well then, we’re not sure which is worse! We don’t need to sit here and listen to this! If you don’t ask them to leave, we’re never coming back!” The kind barista didn’t ask us to leave, or even to quiet down, but he did show the angry couple to the door. When he relayed the story to us later as our meeting was wrapping up and we were paying our bills, we apologized profusely for causing him to lose customers. He shrugged and replied, “who needs customers like that, anyway?”

I was deeply touched by the barista’s response, and every time we meet in his coffee shop, I think warmly of the way he defended us when he hardly even knew us. In the months that have followed, I have also thought frequently of that couple. They were offended by the thought that we might be vocal gay-bashers, and equally offended by the thought that we might be vocal gay and lesbians. The only seemingly logical conclusion to draw from this conundrum is that whichever way you approach it, the “issue” of gay and lesbians is simply better left silent and unspoken And this, I think, is exactly where we get the idea that we, ourselves, are unspeakable. It is only a step from that to the labels and phrases many of us have found so closely associated with our identities as one point or another.. unspeakable shame, unspeakable evil, unspeakable pain.

It seems that in an time where screaming, yelling, laughing children are in no short supply, the old adage that children should be seen and not heard is better understood as “gays and lesbians should be seen and not heard.” No, that’s not true at all… I know of several gays and lesbians who have been beaten and even murdered simply for being seen, even if they never made their voice heard.

And while I would like to hope that this is happening less (although I am not convinced it is), progress of any sort is painfully slow, and it seems that an increasing number of people and institutions, my present school included, are settling for our silence. As long as we don’t raise our voices, draw attention to ourselves, or go out and do something ridiculous like raise a fuss about having unequal rights, they will let us slide on by. It’s a concept that many ethnic minorities have long since referred to as “passing.” This, essentially, means hiding or sacrificing what you must of your own identity in order to “pass” for someone who belongs to the majority.

In some ways, I am profoundly grateful for the fact that I am even able to “pass” when I choose to, and am never forced to give up my ability to pass simply by sitting silently in a public place, since my skin color and ethnicity do not openly identify me as a minority. I get to choose when, and if, my minority status is revealed. But there is a serious risk that comes with this choice. When silence affords us the simpler path of blending in with the majority culture, it often becomes easier to choose silence. And in choosing silence, we risk also losing our voice, and in doing so, submit to those around us who are crying indignantly that they don’t want us spoken of negatively, and the certainly don’t want us speaking of ourselves positively, because really, they don’t want us speaking or spoken of at all. They will grudgingly allow us to exist, so long as we keep quiet about it.

But all of us, in our own small ways, are refusing to maintain our silence. We still meet in that coffee shop, and the ten or fifteen of us who show up every other Sunday are just as vocal as ever when we do. I am grateful to everyone who continues to show up and use their voice, whether it is a welcomed sound or not, and I am especially grateful to that barista, who informed that disgruntled couple that if they were not ready to be in space where the public murmur included the sound of a few vocal gay and lesbian individuals, then they were more than welcome to leave.

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