An invocation at my church on July 4 weekend grabbed my attention and resonated with me in a new way.
Stephen Reeves, executive director of Fellowship Southwest, and a member of First Austin, prayed: “Right now, it feels as though our freedoms are being rolled back, Lord. Help us know how to join the struggle for freedom for ALL PEOPLE, for we know this is your work, oh God, because you are a liberating god. We can celebrate Independence Day and KNOW that the struggle for freedom is a movement that marches on.”
My wife Layla and I attended a friend’s wedding to her same-sex partner the week prior.
In addition to being held during Pride Month, it was also the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – a series of spontaneous protests by members of the gay community in response to a police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan in New York City.
The riots are widely considered the watershed event that transformed the gay liberation movement and the 20th century fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States.
We love our friend who we initially knew professionally as an accomplished lawyer in both private practice and public service.
Soon after we first met Madison (name changed to protect identity), she was dating a guy we also knew professionally. At some point, she decided to stop repressing her true self and embrace the beauty of who she really is.
There’s no way to do justice to her story or her life in this article, but here are a few things that I knew about Madison on that Tuesday night, standing in a bar in East Austin surrounded by a few folks from our professional circle and many more gay, lesbian, trans and non-binary folks – some part of the wedding ceremony, some not.
- I knew that she grew up in a small, relatively rural Texas town where being is still a scarlet letter.
- I knew that Madison’s sister felt compelled by her Baptist faith to tell folks, including her kids, that what Madison is doing is wrong and against God’s will.
- I knew that after coming out professionally only a few months earlier, Madison was forced out of her job.
- And I knew there were many other personal and professional traumas that weighed on her heart.
The wedding was also four days after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision from the Supreme Court that reversed Roe vs. Wade.
The language of that ruling – and statements by at least one justice – raises questions about whether additional rights will be rolled back by reinstituting laws governing contraception or sodomy, or once again banning same-sex marriage.
We went to support a friend getting married to her partner, Erin (name changed to protect identity), intending to see some friends, do the standard wedding thing, and get home before our weeknight babysitter timed out at 10:00 p.m.
Instead, it was different.
Like most of you, I’ve been to lots of weddings with rote ceremonies. But I’ve never been to one more authentic or emotional for me.
The feeling of fear and dread in that space was palpable. Every woman in that room just had rights taken away under the Dobbs decision and every queer person had legitimate fears that they will be further delegitimized. Dehumanized. Again.
I was struck in that moment, looking around the room, that as one of the very few straight, white males in that space, none of that affected me directly.
I’m not the target of these sorts of court rulings that shun years of legal precedent in the name of political expediency or, worse, misguided religion. I’m not the target of some state’s legislators who will try and use the Dobbs decision to limit the rights of others to fit their view of our social contract.
At one point during Madison’s vows, she read part of a poem from Merri-Todd Webster about the Stonewall Riots where she says, in part: “The riot wasn’t started so two gay men could hire a nanny, a black or brown woman, to raise their adopted child, not so lesbians could have a joint mortgage, or so queer folk could fit in at the suburban barbecue. A parade is no substitute for justice.”
At that point, I remember getting tunnel vision where the surroundings were sort of fuzzy as I more intently focused on Madison’s words. I had never thought of it in those terms.
Madison continued with the poem saying that “those at Stonewall didn’t dirty their hands so yours could be clean, didn’t shed their blood so you could be white and bloodless and safe and nice and buy rainbow merchandise from friendly corporations.”
That was the gut punch for me, landing very close to home.
I looked over at Layla and said, “I’m not crying, you’re crying,” invoking a line from a movie with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, two well-known philosophers of our time.
I struggled with writing this, as I didn’t want to turn the lens toward myself and my reaction, but rather to focus on those who are truly affected and who are on the front lines of the fight.
Griff Martin, pastor of First Austin, asked me to push through and around that feeling because there’s value in one straight white male’s recognition and evolution. To bring further awareness to what’s happening now and what’s on the horizon.
I’ve thought about that night and talked about that night ever since. It has left me with a new experience and a new awareness. And one of my least favorite feelings: unsettledness.
I don’t have a five-point action plan. I don’t have a neat bow to tie on this. I don’t have a linear call to action.
My message is merely one person’s testimonial that I hope will both draw awareness to this issue through a new lens, thanks to the words of Merri-Todd Webster and the story of Madison and Erin, and to give you pause to consider how you might respond.
So, I’ll end where I started by quoting my friend Stephen: “Help us, Lord. Give us strength, wisdom, and courage to not just believe in our heart, or know in our mind, but to follow with our feet. To love beyond our fear and act even when we’re uncertain. Amen.”
A business management consultant, Milligan is currently serving on Good Faith Media’s board of directors