In an essay The Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd, an Episcopal priest and an iconic figure within the civil rights community, reflects on how we managed to get to where we are today and what needs to come next.
He starts by recounting his experience during the struggles of the sixties and the lessons he learned about himself and others. He points out that we need to be careful of longing too strongly for a neat, clean narrative arc to our story and our hopes for a quick resolution.
He writes of what is needed going forward:
“Now I find myself in 2011. Do the same old tactics work? Are the issues similar or dissimilar? How do I gauge the present and the future? It seems to me that we are — as always — fully engaged in the present while also being informed by the past and, in effect, helping to create the future. I believe that ours is not a moment in which to shout “Fire” in a crowded hall. It is as important to listen as to speak.
I came out as a gay man in 1978, Immediate reactions I received were often brutal, dismissive, and enraged. They taught me a great deal about communication — I couldn’t control it but I could participate in it. This meant listening to other people explaining what they thought about a number of things — including me. Listen became a very important word in my life.
One thing I learned is that homophobia wasn’t anything alien in my life. As a gay kid, I had been surrounded by it in my family, in my school, in my church, in the culture. So I can say to the most homophobic person repelled by gay stereotypes: “I know you! You’re in my past and part of my story. I understand you. In fact, if I were in your shoes, I might speak and feel the same way. So let’s take a stroll together down memory lane.
[…]If we wish to avoid a religious civil war, whose consequences could be staggering, we have to rebuild what we have. We’ve advanced in civil rights. I know the progress made in gay rights because I’ve moved from being a “faggot” to a gay elder held in considerable respect. My partner and I have lived openly together in our home for 27 years. The gay experience has now become an integral part of the American experience.”
He ends with a note of hope drawn from the differing reactions within the Episcopal dioceses of New York to the legalization of same-gender blessings.