Years ago while serving as a student pastor, I received an email from a 12th grade girl who I’d met three days earlier at a youth ministry event. That night, I’d introduced myself to her and a young man who turned out to be her brother and tried to make them feel welcome. They’d been standing at the periphery of the room the entire evening, and their body language and barely audible responses left me feeling I’d failed miserably in that task.
The girl’s email described our conversation that night but concluded with her relaying the difficulty they’d experienced at previous churches, their resistance to being there, and their parents’ insistence that they attend that evening.
She wrote, “I appreciate you taking the time to come and talk to us. It made a difference. You made me feel visible, and I rarely feel visible, so thank you.”
That has been the single greatest lesson I’ve learned doing this work: see people.
There is nothing worse than not being seen: to be rendered invisible, to feel as though you are a non-person surrounded by visible people: people who can be and dress and feel and speak and love openly, without fear or condemnation.
And there is no greater insult to another human being than to intentionally look past them or through them, to deny their existence or make them believe they are not worth seeing, to relegate them to transparent ghosts hovering in the periphery of the living.
The sickening, predatory legislation generated by Republicans in Texas and Florida and proposed throughout this country is an attempt to erase human beings on the most fundamental level. It seeks to intentionally deny their inherent humanity and to render them nonexistent. Florida’s described Don’t Say Gay bill could be rightly called Don’t See Gay, as it attempts to nullify the intrinsic value of beautiful, passionate, creative, original sentient human beings: cancel culture in the most despicable sense.
Not only that, it nurtures violence and cultivates hatred toward young people who are already at a far greater risk of self-harm and suicide, by weaponizing the law and the Bible against them. It is a standardized, legalized brutality that simply cannot be allowed by decent and empathetic adults who respect science, treasure diversity, and believe that every child deserves to be fully seen.
We need to “say gay” because naming people makes them visible and everyone deserves that honor.
We need to see lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-conforming, non-binary people fully and to demand their unimpeded journey through this planet; to allow them to move and breathe and grow and work and love without fear or constraint—and we need to push back against those who would deny anyone this right because that is slippery slope to collective inhumanity.
To my LGBTQ+ friends who feel more assailed and harassed than ever, I can’t magically make the bigots and the bullies disappear.
I can’t undo predatory and punitive legislation in an instant.
I can’t suddenly make ignorant and fearful people more compassionate or intelligent.
I can’t provide you safe passage through the daily taunts and threats and unprovoked attacks you endure in the places you work, study, shop, worship, and travel.
I can’t make the sadistic politicians or the predatory pastors see their sins and fall down in tearful repentance.
I can only tell you that I am with you in this life and will do all I can to help clear a path, so that one day you can rest and breathe and exhale into your life the way you deserve to.
I am committed to making this tomorrow a reality for you.
But for today, as filled with heartbreak and sadness as it is—know that I see you.