Greater NW Pride From Closet to Resurrection


From Closet to Resurrection


In a recent Facebook posting (April 16, 2019), from “Friend of Dorothy Book,” there was an entry called “Reasons not to stay in The Closet: 1. It’s dark; 2. It smells; 3. It’s lonely; 4. It’s only big enough for one person; 5. It’s exhausting to lie all the time; 6. You might end up in Narnia." https://www.facebook.com/FriendofDorothyBook/photos/a.343204645768504/2110528405702777/?type=3&theater
On “The Rachel Maddow Show” on April 15, 2019, in Rachel’s interview with 2020 Presidential-hopeful “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg, one of the questions/interchanges I focused on was their discussion of being in the closet. Rachel was the first out gay or lesbian Rhodes’ scholar, a decade before Mayor Pete. Mayor Pete came out of his gay closet when he was 33 years-old, in which Maddow responds, “it would have killed me to be closeted for that long. I just think about what it takes as a human being to know something and to have to bifurcate your public life. And for you to have had all of these difficult transitions and experiences and to be aiming as high as you were all of that time, and not coming out until your early 30s, I just wonder if that was hurtful to you?” Mayor Pete: “Yes.” Maddow: “Coming out is hard but being in the closet is harder.” Mayor Pete knew at the age of 15 years-old that he was gay. “There’s this war that breaks out I think inside a lot of people when they realize that they might be something they are afraid of. And it took me a very long time to resolve that. The first person you have to come out to is yourself…I did make sure as a kind of final way of coming out to myself to come out to at least a couple of people.” http://www.msnbc.com/transcripts/rachel-maddow-show/2019-04-15
In my time as the LGBTQ+  Advocacy Coordinator for the OR-ID UMC, one of the items missing on the job description was “working with and counseling clergy, lay leaders, and lay members who are LGBTQ+ and in the closet.” Yet I have been blessed with an opportunity to work with, walk with, listen to, and counsel LGBTQ+ members of this Conference who are in their respective, isolated, individual, lone closet. Having lived in my closet for 30 years, I know how weirdly comfortable yet lonely, and deadly, the self-constructed and society-and-church reinforced LGBTQ+ closet can be. 
This is what we know about the LGBTQ+ closet. The LGBTQ+ closet is a place of deep, gnawing shame, and those who live in it are ashamed of themselves. The closet is a place of insidious hate, and those who live in it know self-hate. The closet is a place of deep wounds and surface scratches that never heal. When living in the closet, one is always thirsty for relationships, in which one can be fully open and loved for who one is. One is hungry for the freedom to be part of a community that honors and respects the God within each and every one of us, but the closet is only big enough for one person, and the door is locked and nailed shut. And the secrets and lies, the deviousness and hypocrisy that surrounds and fortifies the closet are dizzying and maniacal, laughing out loud and ever-present as the LGBTQ+ people in their closets keep trying to remember who they told they are LGBTQ+ to, or who they told they were “straight.” Cancer is in the closet with us, as is heart disease, neurological disorders, mental health challenges, and the strong possibility of becoming addicted to one’s alcoholic drink or drug of choice. This is necessary to deaden the pain of the closet, which is ever close to us, as our minds, bodies, and spirits wither away, day by day. Finally, the closet is a place of death for the body, mind, and spirit of the LGBTQ+ person. 
Countrywide, 46% of LGBTQ+ people are closeted in their positions and roles at work. Human Rights Campaign noted that the top reasons for not being open at work about their sexual orientation and gender identity include the possibility of being stereotyped (38%); possibly making people feel uncomfortable (36%); possibility of losing connections of relationships with coworkers (31%); people might think I will be attracted to them just because I am LGBTQ+ (27%). My hunch is that, in ordained ministry, the number of LGBTQ+ people closeted is higher, and one of the other reasons for staying in the closet is because of the fear of losing a job or being defrocked, censured, or rebuked by a church’s denominational judicial body.https://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/AWorkplaceDivided-2018.pdf?_ga=2.72016981.710171711.1555541301-1647475383.1553121765
As we approach Easter, and the promise of resurrection, I keep on thinking of these words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). While I will focus more on the process of coming out of the closet in future blogs, for now—and for those who are reading this blog today and in the closet—we already know that staying in the closet equals death. That’s why we, who are LGBTQ+, need to remind ourselves, first, we are all made in the image of God, just as we are, in which God the Creator knit us in our mother’s womb (Ps. 139: 13-14). Second, brother Jesus walks with us daily, as Jesus did and does with all outsiders and marginalized and underrepresented and the oppressed of any and all societies throughout time rather than with the majority and the oppressor. Third: God’s Spirit is present and desires us to live open and honest resurrected lives, living into our own resurrection, made possible by Christ’s resurrection. So, maybe in the days and weeks to come, with a therapist, a spiritual director, or a close-knit group of friends, consider a time of self-examination and, if possible silence and closet-breaking. It is a gradual process, to be sure, in which each person must follow their own rhythm and time to come out and to whom. Finally, one day, pull a community of friends and family together, telling, first, one close friend, and then another, sharing the fabulousness, which is in each of us, and let the essence of all that is marvelous about us rise. In time, with time, that part of our lives which we thought were dead or dying in our self-constructed closet—our body, mind, and spirit—might actually sense the Spirit of Christ within us, in the presence of the community around us, hastening new growth and resurrected life. After all, “those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (vv.25-26). To my friends and those who read this blog, I pray that this Eastertide season may be a time of considering moving, if not moving, from the closet and living into the hope and promise of resurrection and new life.

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!