I was part of a panel yesterday at St. Paul School of Theology here in Kansas City. The panel was sponsored by Sacred Worth, a group at the seminary which supports and celebrates its LGBT students, most of whom are closeted because they are on the ordination track of the United Methodist Church, and there's no Extraordinary Methodist Ministries and someone should really start one...but that's another post.
At the forum, a topic was raised which has been rolling around in my head for a while now. A young man I know and like very much asked how welcoming churches ensure that their LGBT members are known for more than being LGBT. The responses from panel members then went mostly to the "labels are so not helpful" place.
I see where that thinking arises, and I understand it. It would be great if we lived in a world in which all were loved and valued equally, and perhaps the need to name ourselves by gender, sexual orientation, affinity, political persuasion, etc. is simply perpetuating the divisions in our society. Maybe if we stopped using labels we would stop needing them. "We borrow our authority from the future" is the way that Pastor Jeff Johnson--one of the deans of LGBT inclusion in the Lutheran church--has put it.
I see that thinking, but I raise you this: we don't live in that world of peace and harmony and equal value. We live in a culture which still privileges straight over gay, white over black (brown, yellow). We live in a world in which women are still paid significantly less for doing the same work as men and are denied opportunities in nearly every field. And as long as we live in that world, I think it is important to name those inequalities, and to claim our wholeness as black people, gay people, transgender people, women, Latino/a/s, queers, radicals and youth. If I left you out, please name and claim yourself.
Not naming ourselves doesn't keep us from being what we are. Not naming ourselves doesn't alter the field of disproportionate allocation of resources upon which we play. In fact, here's my big fear: when we do not name those who are pushed to the margins, we will default to privilege. When we do not have Black History Month, we'll continue to celebrate White History Month. Every month. And yes, that still makes the "score" eleven to one, and that's a big problem. But it's a start.
What do you all think? Are labels not helpful? Is there a way to usher in a new world without them? Or do you need to be named for exactly who and what you are?