Queer Gifts: Using Them on Purpose
Updated: Sep 25, 2021
The following is a copy of my speech at the Lead Out Loud Economic Summit sponsored by the Utah LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce.
Queer Gifts: Using Them on Purpose
The title of my speech is stolen in part from Dolly Parton who said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a fan. Dolly is my spiritual advisor. She leads me, guides me, and walks beside me.
Dolly has a gift for inspiring and bringing people together. So what is it about her that speaks so profoundly to so many people from so many disparate backgrounds?
I think it’s in part because Dolly knows who she is. She knows she shines. She knows what her purpose is in this life, and she shares her gifts with the world, and has gotten filthy rich in the process. She has known her path since she was just a little girl, writing her first song at the age of 5. She has since written more than 5,000.
She grew up in a family that loved her and encouraged her talents. Because they all knew she was going to grow up and do something fabulous in the world.
But not all of us have been as clear as Dolly on what our unique gifts are, and we may not have been given the proper tools to explore them. Not all of us have had the support systems in place to encourage us, to build us up, or to make us the best versions of ourselves.
When I read this speech to Steven he said I was just looking for an excuse to put Dolly into my speech. But one of my gifts is that I can take in a lot of seemingly random information, correlate it, and make sense of it. - At least in my own mind.
THE NOVEMBER POLICY
That being said, I want to take you back to 2015 - some of you here will probably remember. That November, the local church here in Salt Lake City, let it leak that they were no longer going to accept the children of LGBTQIA parents on to their membership roles. At least, not until they were 18, and only then if they disavowed their “homosexual” parents.
Now, I haven’t been a believer since I was 14, and I haven’t let the beliefs of that religion dictate my own life since, but to say I was outraged at this news would be an understatement.
“Why do you care?” someone asked.
I cared because I knew this policy would hurt my community, I knew it would hurt my family, and more than anything, I knew it would hurt those very children the church claimed to protect, because once upon a time I was one of those kids, as many of you were too.
When it leaked, I called my dad in Australia, a devout convert. Because of the time difference, he hadn’t heard the news, and he was blind-sided. When I asked him how his church could be so cruel, I could hear him crying on the other end of the phone, “I don’t know, son.” Just weeks earlier he had helped bless the daughter of a lesbian couple in his own congregation.
I resigned my membership immediately, along with thousands of others, something I had avoided because I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge that it mattered.
And I carried that anger for weeks.
But then I attended a lecture by my friend, Jerry Buie, at the Genderevolution conference sponsored by the Utah Pride Center. Jerry is a professional therapist and a queer spiritual leader, one of the few non-indigenous people to be given permission to perform sacred sweat lodges and other indigenous spiritual ceremonies.
I had heard Jerry speak before, but this was one of those moments that it all came more sharply into focus, and he spoke of the indigenous cultures here in the Americas in which queer people were embraced and considered gifted. They believed that because some people straddled both the feminine and the masculine, that they had special and sacred insight. In the 1960s an English term, Two Spirits, was coined to describe those with this gift. Long before our Western ideas of sexuality and gender came along, their communities recognized that these individuals had a vital contribution to make. That every member of their community had a vital contribution to make.
Many indigenous, earth-based, cultures all over the world have known for millennia that in order to survive and thrive, they need everyone to bring their own unique, inherent gifts to the table.
In these cultures, childhood was a time to explore and to develop and harness those unique gifts, to encourage them, and to never diminish them.
Queer people were often the spiritual leaders, the diplomats, and the cultural gatekeepers of these societies.
So here I am sitting in this classroom at Rowland Hall Middle School listening to Jerry speak about this thing that I had heard many times before. But this time it was like a magic spell cast upon me—the anger I was carrying around suddenly vanished. And what I felt was pity.
Imagine, your children, children of God, bringing you these beautiful gifts and laying them at your feet, gifts that could enrich you and your community in ways you can only imagine. And imagine turning away those children. Imagine closing the door on them.
And as I listened to Jerry speak, I imagined those 12 old white men in their tower, all in Mr. Mac suits, dealing with this PR disaster and agreeing to agree, to tell their people that these gifts were worthless.
And it made me sad for them, that they would never see the real beauty and the riches of this lifetime. They would go to their heaven on a conveyor belt of Stepford husbands and wives in blue and pink, just like the game of Life.
I remember seeing a story on the local news back in the early 90s, about a young gay Navajo, and what it meant to be gay in their culture. And they interviewed his 80 year old grandmother and asked her what she thought of her grandson, and she said, “We don’t believe in wasting people.”
We don’t believe in wasting people.
We are all inherently born with special powers and unique gifts that can enrich us and our communities, if we seek them out, and we use them on purpose and with purpose.
QUEERNESS IS STRENGTH
One of those gifts for me, I believe, was being born gay. I say it’s a gift because unlike some of my straight siblings, I knew that the prescribed formula for happiness and success that we were given as children, wasn’t the same for me. I was forced to figure out early on what that path was going to be.