Several UCG members reflect on what Pride means to them.
Good Morning Everyone, My name is Mary Fukuyama and I have been asked to provide some background history about how UCG become an ONA church. Just the other week, a new member asked me what the letters ONA meant, and I was happy to explain it to them.
ONA = “Open and Affirming”, welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, but where does this acronym come from?
UCC = The United Church of Christ, the national denomination with which we are affiliated; they started the ONA process in1985.
This resolution, at the 15th General Synod of the UCC, invited congregations to declare themselves open and affirming for lesbian, gay and bisexual persons within the community of faith.
So basically, it was up to each congregation to consider the issues and to vote on whether or not to become an ONA church.
Let’s pause for just a moment and dial back the clock and look at the 1990s, consider that these times were hostile for LGB folks (T was not yet added).
George H. W. Bush was President (1989-1993)
In 1992 – The Gainesville City Commission passed a reactionary and offensive anti-gay resolution, which affected dropping sexual orientation from a proposed amendment to the county’s anti-discrimination ordinance in 1992. Also in 1992, the Ku Klux Klan demonstrated at a gay pride picnic in Gainesville.
In 1993 – “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was adopted as policy in the military.
In 1996 – Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), forbidding federal recognition of (and benefits for) married same-sex couples was passed.
And in 1997 – Ellen came out on TV, and her show was canceled. (20 years ago).
Meanwhile…back in 1990 at UCG:
In 1990 my friends Madeline Davidson and her girlfriend, the late Iris Greenfield, went to the couple’s workshop at our All Church Retreat. This was a “first” for a same sex couple to “come out” at church. Sandy and Larry were concerned about what reactions their openly loving relationship would receive from the church members and began to look at what course of action could be taken.
I had seen an announcement in the UCC National Newspaper about ONA, and I volunteered to attend a workshop in Massachusetts. Returning to Gainesville with a packet of information, the ONA Task Force was convened. This was the same year that the new sanctuary was being built. It was a risky time to invite controversy, but that is not new for UCG.
We studied the issues for a year (1991-1992), held many seminars; Barb Rienzo and Jim Button led educational sessions with our youth; Larry preached a dynamite sermon “Between Two Gardens” which dispelled misunderstandings related to Biblical references often used to oppress LGB; we had monthly LGB potlucks and sometimes it was only attended by lesbians and Bill Gallagher (our only out gay member at the time), whom we appointed “honorary lesbian status.” On a personal note, I had just starting dating Jackie Davis (how did you meet, people ask, at UCG!). The fact that the church was having open discussions helped Jackie and her two teenaged sons through her coming out process. Thank you for that! We celebrated our 26th anniversary this year. But I digress…
In 1992 the congregation voted to become an ONA church. When the congregational vote finally came up, the only debate was about whether or not to include the word “God” in the affirmation statement. Some members left the church, but a great many more joined.
When Vince Amlin joined the ministerial staff in 2009 the ONA Committee was re-invigorated, church members marched en mass in the Gay Pride Parade (with our first float). The sea of blue “Gay and Straight Together” t-shirts, worn by young and old, gay and straight, was incredible! The next year, UCG was honored with the “business of the year award” from the Pride Center. The support of this church and all the allies has been incredibly important to me personally, and to the LGBT community in Gainesville. Thank you.
“Now more than ever”
Today I am speaking to you as someone who came out later in life, someone who had a lot to lose in the hetero-normative world: a loving husband, two young daughters, a big house, and the security and approbation of the Roman Catholic Church. For me coming out was a very scary process. Traumatizing even.
Some things about my sexuality still confound me. I still don’t fully understand how and why this transformation took place at age 40, except that the seeds of change had been sown much earlier and they only bore fruit at that point in my life. I guess the best way to describe it is to say that it gradually became impossible to continue to suppress my instincts, and this was enabled by finally finding someone to open up that closet door for me to walk through.
I had three lifelines in those days: my therapist, Wild Iris Books, and UCG. Had one of those 3 been missing from my life, I don’t think I would have found the courage to undertake this process of self-discovery. Some of you may have noticed that I’m a verbal person, so talking to the therapist helped me to articulate my feelings and name myself as a lesbian. I’m also a book person, so reading books and articles about others like myself provided affirmation and the assurance that I was not alone. Perhaps most importantly, the ongoing conversation led by Larry and Sandy reinforcing our Open and Affirming covenant here at UCG reassured me that there was a path forward to continue being a Christian and a Christian mother, following the example of Jesus on a more inclusive footing than I had in the Church of my birth. ONA helped me to accept my sexuality as a gift from God, rather than a sin that would ruin my relationship with Christ. Those three years or so were brutal, but it got better, and I got through it.
Then I met Helen in July of 2000. We spent 18 months traveling back and forth from Gainesville to St. Petersburg on the weekends. When she was up here, I often asked her to come to UCG with me. At first, she would come to please me, and this did please me. But after she moved up here, we started attending regularly, and she would look at me after the service and say: “thank you for asking me to come”. We joined the church together in 2004, and last month we were joined by about 300 of you in pronouncing our marriage vows in this beloved place.
Now, I have 700-plus life-lines here in this community. 700 plus strong, sweet supportive souls to sustain me, in my marriage, in my community and in my life. Love is why we are here, and that is why we need PRIDE now more than ever.
Can I get an amen?
Pride, Now More Than Ever.
How do I capture in words what Pride means to me? How can I express to you my thoughts on being one gay man in a great big straight world?
Maybe memories of my closeted teenage Gainesville years in the 80s might put it into perspective.
Those years are not so far ago that I don’t remember the outright denial within myself that I could ever be strong enough to come out to my family. The certainty that sharing the honesty of my sexuality meant the mark of shame, disgust and disease.
The devastation of AIDS was a big city problem that felt remote and distant until a boy in Indiana and three brothers in Arcadia, FL made it very real. We learned about staying “safe” but couldn’t relate to the outrage of ACTUP.
Queer was still a hateful word and you were warned to stay away from “those” type of men. Telling friends, teachers, or a minister that you were gay wasn’t even fathomable. There were no gay icons, role models, or mentors. No witty and fabulous gay sitcom characters.
The risks were too great and the rewards didn’t exist. Self-preservation taught me to wait it out until I was old enough to take care of myself emotionally and financially.
Dare I share my crazy stories of hazy days of Pink Saturdays and Pride Sundays in San Francisco? In those years of mid 1990s to mid-2000s, Pride meant sassy flamboyance and rainbow flags. I lived in a gay mecca at a time of dot-com prosperity and anti-retroviral miracles. Life was lived to the fullest extent and then just a little bit more.
The party started at Thursday night happy hour and Sunday brunch stretched into late afternoon. Except for a long weekend ever June, Pride to me was nothing more than the next day to the next. But what goes up must come down.
Thankfully I had enough sense at the right time to realize I needed to put away childish things. I checked in that other Pride, my self-pride, and got back to Florida and family.
So, what has Pride become to me lately? For the past few years I’ve devoted myself to make up for those lazy lost decades. The concept wasn’t complicated. I took back some of the spare time that I typically had spent spinning my wheels. I added in a bit of my disposable income that was actually at my disposal. I put my time and my money where my mouth had always been.
If I wanted to have pride, take pride and know Pride, then it had to take a role in my daily life. I volunteered. I donated. I spoke out. I took on leadership roles and tried to inspire others to do their part.
The fight for equality didn’t end with marriage. But it sure felt like it did. Pride felt real and Pride felt true on January 5th, 2015.
Love had won. But there were still more fights to come…we all knew Pride in the lifting of the adoption ban. And more Pride when we won the birth certificate battle.
Pride continues in the fight to fill in the patchwork of city and county non-discrimination protections with a comprehensive state-wide law. Next month we will know Pride again when our City passes a ban on the heinous practice of Conversion Therapy.
Pride has become much more personal in recent years. My husband Melvin and I met six years ago at Jacksonville Pride. I proposed to him at this Pride service three years ago. And we just celebrated our two-year marriage anniversary this month.
The month before in September we celebrated his birthday in New York City. We were only there three days but we made certain to take the train to Stonewall National Monument on Christopher Street. The place where the Pride Movement for Liberation and Respect started.
We toasted a drink with gay and lesbian people from across the States and from overseas. All of us there were called to show gratitude and solidarity to those brave men and women who fought for Pride long before we were born. Their battles didn’t end in bruised egos or online rants. Gays and lesbians and transgender people lost their jobs and homes. They were the pariah, the detestable, arrested and convicted.
The riots of late June 1969 sparked the first Pride marches the next year. Drag queens, trans people, effeminate men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes, and homeless youth fought back and started the civil rights Pride movement that continues to this day.
And what of Pride of the future. Is it just a time to celebrate like we have done this past week and continue to do today? Perhaps the Pride to come will be within our diverse LGBTQ community. Our mosaic of colors and cultures uniting and fighting even more of the battles together towards full equality.
My personal sense of Pride will be both of these things. I am days away from the birth of my son. I will become the father that as a scared teenage kid I never thought I would be.
I have the honor of sharing this joy and blessing with my husband and our co-parenting baby mommas, Holly and Arwynn. When we are asked about the how or why we have made the intentional decision to raise this child together, we answer that although we may live in separate houses, Devin will always have one home.
For my part, I intend to do my very best to raise our children to be grateful, humble, honorable and giving. I want my son to know the meaning of Pride in his own way as part of our very modern family and as a part of this loving and caring congregation of friends in faith.
And that is what Pride means to me. May God Bless Us All. Happy Pride!