Amplify the Whispers

Amplify the Whispers February 25, 2011

The following post was written by Kevin Harris, Director of Community Relations at The Marin Foundation.

Out of the many ways that we understand the world and others around us, there are few if any forms of communication that have the capacity to mold us like the power of personal stories from others. It’s easy to debate and get stuck on ideas and theoretical constructs, but the humanizing power and vulnerability entailed in a personal story has the capacity to disarm us and challenge our presumed ways of thinking. Whether they are filled with actions that were influenced by beliefs that we agree or disagree with, a story simply is.

Regretfully, many stories from individuals that are a part of marginalized groups are often silenced and not adequately or accurately represented through different presentations of history and current forms of public discourse and media. Though often more subtle today; patriarchy, racism, classism, and prejudice towards sexual minorities and gender non-conforming individuals still influence the information we hear and how it is presented. In the broader LGBT community, this still seems to particularly be the case for individuals that identify as bisexual, pansexual, transgender, genderqueer, intersex, and others that fall outside of the gay and lesbian mainstream all too often. Within the community, it seems that racial minorities and those from with a lower socio-economic status have even more difficulty making their stories heard across broader audiences.

Another common cause of silence is shame and fear related to how others will respond if they find out. Whether the individual is coming from a more conservative or progressive understanding of faith and sexuality or a place of more or less power/privilege, fear and shame do not discriminate as they can inhibit and silence individuals across the board. The same may be the case for parents of those that identify as LGBT or are struggling to figure out their sexuality and/or gender identity as they may fear that it will in some way lead to condescending perceptions about their parenting and their child, however unwarranted they may be.

Though shame and fear take a while to work through and I by no means have the solutions to the structural and interwoven inequalities that translate into some individuals having less of a voice in public spheres and my own privilege can feed into complacency if I’m not careful (being white and male though not heterosexual), I hope to move forward in using the means at my disposal to amplify the voices and stories that are not being heard with the help of you and others reading this blog as one avenue. If you have a story that you feel others reading this blog could benefit from and would be gracious enough to share a part of it, I would love to connect with you if you could send me a message at

Everyone benefits when people are empowered to share their stories and places are fostered that can encourage authenticity and vulnerability to be displayed as narratives have the power to illuminate our areas of ignorance. But as that is much easier said than done, what practical steps can you take in your personal relationships, church community, etc. to cultivate spaces where voices that have been silenced because of power dynamics or fear and shame can be heard and valued?

Much love.

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15 responses to “Amplify the Whispers”

  1. I think when it comes to story telling, to get at the truth, you have to get out of white male “mediation” of non-white lesbians, or women of all sexualities.
    The stories are out there, it’s just that I meet so few white gay men who actually read the stories. You’d have to have several issues of this blog in which the non-white male voices would actually control the content, and write the lead articles, almost all of which are now written by white men.
    Count the references on this blog, and look at your own internal statistics.

    For example, on the article list to the left, the word LESBIAN doesn’t appear at all. We are subsumed into LGBT. The word GAY marriage appears, but again, there is no LESBIAN marriage. Gay is a word the general public attributes to white gay men. Lesbian puts front and center those who are left out of this formula. Start there, and compile the stats on how many articles on this sight deal exclusively with lesbian spiritual issues, and you’ll see that lesbians are far from “mainstream.”

    Again, the people who control the blog mediate the stories, and this is something that white men need to seriously examine. What is your role in maintaining the silence?

    • Thanks for your thoughts. As you mentioned the idea of getting out of ‘white male mediation of non-white lesbians, and lesbians of all sexualities’ how would you propose that the men that write posts on this blog go about engaging topics related to the lesbian community and highlighting stories from that community? In your mind, would it be better for us to attempt to try to utilize the power that we do have in an effort to highlight the stories of lesbians from different backgrounds while also attempting to use our power/privilege to start deconstructing patriarchal structures and ideas or would it be better for us to stay out of it and allow lesbians to tell their stories in other places that are controlled by them where our mediation does not have an influence on how the stories are told?

      In reading your comment, I do agree that ‘mainstream’ was probably not the best word to use as it did project a false image that neglected the truly multi-faceted nature of the lesbian (and gay) community. Although I agree that within the lesbian community, some stories are heard more than others, my main point which I will still maintain is that transgender, (obviously a very diverse community also with many complexities that will effect the stories that are typically heard as it relates to being pre-op, post-op, MTF, FTM, etc.) anyone that is not a cisgender person, and intersex individuals are typically not welcomed into the broader LGBT community more frequently along with their stories having less representation in broader society.

      Btw, even though I would argue that we have gained a little knowledge from being immersed in the LGBT community, I would agree with you that having primarily men writing posts about different topics related to faith, sexuality, and culture is not ideal (though keeping in mind that it is Andrew’s blog, so by default that is primarily the voice you will hear). I obviously will never be able to give an entirely accurate picture of topics related to the lesbian community and what it is like to be a lesbian, simply as a result of being a man. At the same time, I am more than happy to be in correspondence with anyone from the lesbian community or any heterosexual women that are on board with what The Marin Foundation is trying to accomplish that would like to talk about possible employment and personally raise funds to work for the foundation (like I and other employees currently do). We would welcome other individuals and voices to work with us to help this blog reflect more representative pieces about the lesbian community and women’s issues that would also contribute to the diversity of staff members that regularly write guest posts on Andrew’s blog.

  2. If you want to see one of the pioneers in The Episcopal Church for ordination of women, look no further than The Rt. Rev. Barbara C. Harris. She was elected as the FIRST female bishop in the Anglican Communion. She is an amazing woman who is a tireless supporter of those whose voices who have been silenced in the church including GLBT folks as well persons of color and those marginalized for any number of reasons. This is a great video she did recently regarding the struggles of women in the pulpit.

  3. Bishop Harris is indeed a huge inspiration. My partner met her at a conference many years ago. It was a bishop’s conference, and all the men were completely ignoring my partner, and Bishop Harris saw this negating behavior and came right up to her to greet her personally. The whole point of having women bishops is because they well — PAY attention to other women, and it breaks out of the men’s club mentality that has so been a hinderance to full liberation for all women worldwide. Christianity in America being a prime example, where many denominations never ordain women, and somehow I don’t really see a consistent pressure from men to end this. Again, you’d need critical mass to do this, critical mass of the lesbian voice loud, out and proud… LOUD, uncensored, powerful, unmediated. Begin by listing LESBIANS in the Categories of this blog. We aren’t LBGT, we are lesbians, and lesbians in a cultural context have two and three negating oppressions to deal with — non-white, women, lesbian. The silence or whispers are the ignorance of men, because these non-male groups are all over the place. They just don’t appear very often here. Do the statistics, it will help you see this.

    There are thousands of heroic lesbian pastors worldwide, and thousands of books that lesbians have written. So the whispers really is the fact that men don’t read this stuff, don’t publish the interviews on this blog and don’t create spaces for lesbians to get spiritual guidance from a lesbian context.
    But it needs to be pointed out, so that men of good will can then publish the videos here, like Jack just did, and to come up with an authentic idea of how the bridge honors lesbian life, rather than making it invisible under yet another “male-god” system. Same is true with all non-white queers— the silence is all about the white male exclusion of these voices from the discourse, so that it appears age after age as if there were NO lesbians in minister, no women in history… the struggle to be heard is about the profound struggle of women’s liberation in general, and if you are serious about this, you will look at yourselves.

    I don’t hold high hopes of this visibility within conservative christian circles, naturally, but it can be pointed out on all the videos out there with black women as pastors, non-white women as leaders, and all the ministries worldwide to lesbians. Nothing new here, but what you print and focus on is usually from the point of view of the dominant social group, not the “minority” viewpoint… women of course not being a minority at all, and white people worldwide are definitely the minority.

    How would white men build bridges to radical women of color, or radical groundbreaking lesbian theologians? What would mark a true bridge? How serious would you take this challenge? Or would you be too invested in YOUR idea of what this might be? Again, the evidense here is pretty thin, but it is being pointed out consistently.

  4. It is no accident that the churches who stepped out of male surpremacy and ordained women –UCC in the 19th century, Episcopal church USA in the 1970s etc. are also the churches that are doing the best work for lesbian and gay parishoners. If you have no huge progess for women in all these churches, and still continue to ask such idiotic questions about whether women can preach in a pulpit, you will not get gay male rights either. This small detail is lost on a lot of gay men, who see in the word “gay” another kind of male club.
    Bishop Harris presents this well. Her church still isolates women clergy in low paying parishes, and the huge wealth of that church is still controlled by male bishops, clergy and administrators.

    It would be well to ask the question: What would a church that is radically accepting of female sexual minorities really be like? What would a truly fully inclusive church look and most importantly FEEL like? What would be the best way to have those voices front and center on all blogs that claim to be about “gay” and “christian” what would this huge shift in consciousness really look like? And Bishop Harris puts a face to what this looks like.
    What do all the lesbian and women ministers on YouTube look like and sound like? How could we get the voices of lesbian theologians apart of the bridgebuilding project? How could massive numbers of lesbians in minister have voices at all these conferences? How could this ministry actually get lesbian speakers everywhere in this effort to show the radical face of christianity today… a challenge to the male controlled conservative churches, especially those churches that have never ever met a lesbian minister, never heard a lesbian preach, and have no idea what a lesbian centric ministry really is all about. It would stun, because again, the face of “gayness” is very male dominated even today. You’ll find some of the most dynamic lesbian pioneers outside the church system entirely, because the voice and life of this community has yet to reach critical mass and recognition. Even this blog is very mainstream, and could expand even more. More videos of women preaching, lesbians at conferences talking, non-white lesbians, non-white trans… something so stunning, something beyond meer tokenism, or linguistic oversight. It is invisible but a force.
    I’m not sure the church could really handle the radical ministry of a lesbian centric world.

  5. jJoniJJ! Like in many other areas, there is discrimination against women.

    Just because Kevin, Nathan, & Andrew are men, does not mean they don’t care about what women are feeling. If you want to share your story or know someone who can, they would love to hear from you. Please, it would be great to hear more lesbian stories as well as stories from transgenders & bisexuals. There is room for everyone in this battle to bridge that stubborn gap!

    In the Windy City Times, there is an occasional column by Rev. Irene Monroe. Maybe TMF can have her write about her story as a Black lesbian minister – past & present! I certainly would like to learn more about her. There surely are more examples, but she came to mind.

    Yes, there is much to learn. I, for one, try to encourage Kevin, Nathan, & Andrew as they do this ministry. I am sure they would like more female input. As a hetero female, I’m not the one to share my story. But others out there can! Please step forward!

  6. The “people” argument is often used to negate lesbian experience and oppression, just so you know. An all male staff cannot by it’s very nature serve lesbians very well. The few times we had an honest enough co-ed discussion is when the team itself was half female and half male.

    It’s why lesbians have created their own sacred space for decades now, and why bridegbuilding often seems like “add lesbians and stirr” into a male structure.

    There are black lesbian pastors all over the country, some of them in very powerful positions of major organizations. We don’t hear their voices here, because I don’t think this site has those kinds of connections. Again, you have to see what the articles focus on, and what resources have been around for a very long time.

    It is not about men personally, it is about the structure of male supremacy, and the use of christianity to demean and dominate women, again in favor of male supremacy. There has been a consistent critique of this for decades now, and so I think a true building of bridges to lesbians as a large group, and an honoring of our leaders is pretty much where this starts.

    If you don’t make visiable the legions of lesbians in ministry nationwide, you pretty much collude in the silence, and the exclusion of the very focused and long term group of christian feminist activists. Without addressing what the church has done to lesbians as women, you kind of miss a whole opportunity here. Again, compile the stats for this blog, and see what groups are most represented and reported on… do a statistical breakdown, and you’ll see the pattern very clearly. It is only through self knowledge I think that lesbian concerns can be completely addressed and honored.

    And “people” is simply a reason to exclude women, and I see that as a code word that excludes lesbian experience of patriarchal oppression inside and outside the church. Again, we are not the same as gay men.

    • Joni,

      I appreciate your comments. I think you are very right. When you attempt to build bridges with GLBT folks, you have to include the vast and diverse nature of the community. I think Andrew, Kevin and Nathan would welcome the challenge to include the other voices. I think our job is to continue to offer them encouragement to do so. It might be helpful Joni, if you could come up with a list of authors, pastors and speakers for them? 🙂 Notice I have already offered up Bp Barbara Harris. 🙂

  7. Yvette Flunders, Nancy Wilson, Darlene Garner– all would be good resources to building a black lesbian presense. Nancy Wilson just got appointed to the White House commission on faith based initiatives, probably the first lesbian clergy to hold such a position. She would know hundreds of lesbian christian ministers nationwide, and would give your blog a lot more depth and breadth. No offense but it is very white and very male, with women thrown in as comments, but I don’t sense a solid lesbian christian institutional presense in the videos etc. In this day and age, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation anymore, it should be assumed that lesbians are central to any bridgebuilding enterprise of christian anything that attempts to change the conversation. I’m sure the liberal seminaries like Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA would have huge resources in terms of former graduates. We had about 10 lesbians studying for ministry there and that was way back when.
    Living in the tension seminars could be conducted by excellent lesbian faciliators. I think a conference of lesbians and straight women in equal numbers — NUMBERS EQUAL is essential in terms of power dynamics, so that we don’t just have the token woman or two, would be quite interesting and different. I don’t think anything like this has been done before. I’d contact the lesbian bishop of Los Angeles or the Episcopal church in Los Angeles. Take a look at the list of books written over the last 25 some years. It’s always so weird to mention all this, because it should be common knowledge by now. With internet search and google, lesbian ministers are rather easy to find. There must be over a 1000 in the U.S. and England combined. Check out Elizabeth Stuart and her books in England– all easily available on Amazon. Even the Inclusive Language Lectionary is still on sale on Amazon for under $1.00. Language is very key with lesbians, we are very very sensitive of the male god and all that this implies, something that seems to elude even the most educated of straight men. Again, prove yourself to be truly inclusive and not just about talk but about actual massive visibility. Lesbian clergy will be very powerful advocates, very powerful speakers, and can deeply speak to the creativity of women in ministry in general.
    You’ll be at a huge disadvantage in terms of conservative churches, because their theology is not only horrifying for lesbians, it is horrifying for progessive women in general. I think women conservatives and liberals– lesbian and gay, probably a lot of closeted women in the conservative churches… it would be fascinating. Good luck.

  8. Oopps and I forgot some excellent resources — all the gay and lesbian mainstream christian groups have gay and lesbian caucus groups.
    The Episcopal church has Integrity, the Catholics have Dignity, Presbyterian gays and lesbians have their national organization too.
    I forget all the names. Even Eastern Orthodox Christian gays and lesbians, who are probably as visciously attacked as the evangelical conservative gays and lesbians have their group. Axios is the orthodox group.
    I’m sure each national executive director of these groups would have loads of lesbian clergy or resources. Geez, you could have a huge lesbian Christian national conference, and have all the ally straight women from all their churches come. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, plenty of time to interview, YouTube and video. It would be a first. Men could be observers and sit and listen to women talk for hours… rarely done in the history of western civilization 🙂 You’d definitely learn a lot.