As you know, I'm a UCC minister who serves a very progressive church in SW Iowa, not a bastion of liberalism by any means. Steve King, he who feared that Iowa would become the new "gay marriage mecca," "represents" (and I do use the term loosely) the district in which I live. I also have a part-time gig as a sexuality educator for an affiliate of a national reproductive-health-care organization (that also provides abortions, so I bet you can guess what it is). My moms are gay, so I generally identify as "queer by proxy." Oh, and I'm a local school board member.
We hear a lot of bad news about being a GLBT student in public schools. A LOT. I know that many of us have experienced a great deal of hatred and discrimination from our schooling years, and that lots of us carry those scars with us. So I wanted to share a perfectly delightful story, and hopefully share a vision of what may yet be possible for the many GLBT students who come through our schools in the next few years.
A few weeks ago, a youth in my church told me that her friend X was planning to bring his male date to prom. I was kind of thrilled, and a little apprehensive. A few days later, I heard the same thing from our HS principal (also a member of our church), in the context of a marriage equality conversation. When I commended him for supporting this young man, the principal said, "Well, first of all, it's the law. And yes, it's great he's bringing his date!" (Isn't it nice to have administrators who get it, and who are advocates for our kids?)
Our high school prom is a really big deal. It is held at a local restaurant, and there is a red-carpet walk-in where couples are formally announced. Parents, kids, grandparents, all sorts of community members come, applaud the couples, and take pictures. I told my youth I was planning to see her at the walk-in, and asked if her friend X was going to. She said no, it felt like a big enough risk just to bring his date. I was sad, but after hearing so many horror stories, I kind of understood. Then my youth texted me yesterday.
"Are u still coming to walk in?" Well, I sure was planning. "Well, X is going to do walk-in now and he really wants some positive support." Well, that settled it. How could I not go?
Now, I live in a very conservative part of the state. I'm pretty much the only pro-choice pastor in the community, and I am certainly the only member of our ministerial association who supports GLBT rights or would perform a wedding for a same-sex couple. I've been called a blasphemer and probably worse by my colleagues. There is not a lot of support for things like marriage equality in my community. For a lot of people, homosexuality = all that ridiculous stuff the Religious Right pushes.
So you can understand my anxiety for X. Would the community be shocked? Would they boo him? Would they throw things at him? Would they be silent? Would the announcer refuse to announce the couple? I imagined all these possibilities.
Well, I arrived a little before the procession began, and it was really neat. I saw the mom of the youth, and she told me what X's car looked like. I also saw who the announcer was, and relaxed a little. He's a cop-turned-post-office-worker, and a really decent guy. He may not be a GLBT activist, but I couldn't see him embarrassing anyone.
The kids started coming, and they were all announced. There were several groups of girls, and a few "girl couples," which it was hard to tell if they were "couples" or friends who simply came together. (Funny how communities have a high tolerance for girls coming to prom with other girls, but guys coming together freaks people out. Yes, this was another reason for my concern.) A couple of the girls held onto each others' arms, which I thought very sweet.
Then, X and his date arrived. X wore a powder-blue tux with a black vest, and his date wore a black tux with a powder-blue vest. (Cute, right?) They got out of the car, clutched arms in the very traditional prom date entrance, were announced cheerfully, and walked down the red carpet to applause and photos (including me, calling like a maniac to a kid I'd never met to say how great they looked).
That was it. No booing, no whispers, even, that I could hear. No outrage, no protesting. Just, two boys walking in to prom, like any other couple.
It is times like this that I'm profoundly grateful for the "Iowa Nice" attitude that lets kids bring their dates to prom and doesn't make an issue of it, even if others don't "agree with homosexuality" (whatever that means). It's also a time when I realize I need to check some of my own assumptions about this community, and to stop expecting the worst from these largely theologically conservative farmers.
In the midst of so much horror, discrimination and violence, I am just so profoundly grateful for the ways that this community steps up. Believe me, if it can happen here, then we have won.
I'm a minister, sex educator, beagle owner, amateur knitter, and crime-drama fan. I live with my beloved Mr. Liturgygeek (aka Backbencher) and our two dogs in southwest Iowa, where I serve a small and progressive UCC congregation.