Greater NW Pride: Microaggressions



I’m in the process of becoming a Docent with the Portland Art Museum. This 36-week training course is part art history class, part education class, and part cultural awareness seminar. On October 28, 2109, we had a “Building Inclusive Practice through Anti-Racism,”workshop,  led by Keonna Hendrick and Marit Dewhurst of Brooklyn, New York. Because of the work we do as Docents, and how we interact with the works of art and the people who come to the Museum, it is helpful in making the visit to the Museum a true learning experience.
One of the terms used in the anti-racism workshop was microaggression. It isn’t a new term, but it was helpful to hear it said again, because it is something I experience often in my work with churches. The definition of microaggression is the “subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype” (dictionary.com). For example, “I don’t see you as black,” is a microaggression directed towards someone who is black. Or to say to someone who is gay, “you don’t act gay.” Or to someone who lives with a disability, “I couldn’t live if I had your disability.” 
In a recent youtube.com clip, there was a recording of statements that are “actual things said to pastors who are members of the LGBTQ+ community in the United Methodist Churches in Greater New Jersey. Some by congregants, some by other pastors.”  Pastors who identify as straight were asked to read these comments on camera. These are perfect examples of microaggressions I hear often in my work with churches as an openly gay pastor.
Trigger warning: these statements all hurt. Be careful if you go forward, and take care of yourself. 

Some of the lines read out loud were as follows: 
“I’m not homophobic. I just don’t know what the gays want.” 
“The actions of the General Conference means we don’t have to have a homosexual in our pulpit.” 
“I don’t care if someone is a homosexual, as long as I don’t have to see it in my church.” 
“We don’t have to talk about homosexuality, because we don’t have any of them at this church.” 
“I don’t have any problem of someone is gay, I just don’t want them to get married in the church. If you do a wedding, that’s fine, but I won’t be seen anywhere near here.” 
“I don’t understand why we have to have a flag outside and advertising this. Aren’t we already welcoming?” 
“I don’t want those kinds of people in my church.” 
“Oh well, he’s just as much a sinner as I am.” 
“LGBT, I just don’t have the patience to learn all those letters. Can’t I just use the word homosexual?” 
“Why do you have to be a pastor in the Methodist Church? There are a lot of other churches that take you.” 
“I mean, I love you. I just think we should follow the rules.”
“You’re the right kind of gay person. You know: the one who doesn’t make too much noise.”
“If we advertise that we welcoming to gay people, we are just going to attract of bunch of them here. I don’t want our church to be known as the gay church.” 
“Pastor: are you gay? Because that’s fine with me, except you can’t have gay sex in our parsonage or on any of the church property.”

"I miss the days when the pastor's wife led the Sunday school, and the pastor's kids would run around the church like your normal families would."
All these statements are examples of microaggressions, aimed at LGBTQ+ people of faith in the United Methodist Church. Feel free to open the link and listen to more of the comments. I could only stand to listen to a few at a time.

Someone described microaggression is like a mosquito bite, in which one bite a day is one thing. Now, imagine a swarm of mosquitoes biting you everyday, without fail, and there is no spray that can be used to stop the bite, or any lotion to heal the wounds.
To be fair, I have heard many of these comments in Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations in North Carolina and Oregon where I’ve been pastor, as well as in UMC churches that I’ve been working with in the Oregon-Idaho UMC Conference. 
We have some education to do in our churches, across the denominations, as well as in other religious communities of faith that struggle with the place and presence of LGBTQ+ people of faith. 
And the change begins with each of us, patiently asking the person who expresses such comments, “Why did you say that?” and entering (prayerfully) into a teachable moment.
This begins with one person at a time, and one church at a time. Creating a safe space to have some respite from this talk. To figure out ways of carefully, lovingly, addressing such comments and attitudes, with grace and forgiveness.
Forward together, not one step back. 

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!