Here’s what happened:
I was accepted as one of 120 leaders out of 4,000 reported applicants to attend the Hive Global Leaders Program last week. I can’t believe it was a week ago this Friday night that we ate dinner under the stars and in front of the bay outside the Science Museum of Massachusetts. I traveled to Boston from Iowa, the first Hiver from Iowa, but by no means the last.
While there, I attended a breakout session with fellow participant, Salvadoran Herman Duarte. Just 29 years old, Herman has a law firm dedicated to the social cause of equality, and a life purpose to pursue marriage equality for all. Herman’s exceptional passion was noticeable from the start, even among a group of passionate global leaders, and I was fascinated by his giftedness and strong activism.
Marriage equality can be a divisive topic, and it’s been no more so than for Herman, who came out about seven years ago in a blog. His people in El Salvador (and they are in part his people as he comes from an illustrious political family — his uncle was José Napoleon Duarte, El Salvador’s president from 1984-1989) were horrified. Herman really lost a lot of social standing by coming out, and was separated from members of his family over it.
The alternative to coming out as gay, however, Herman said, would be, “denying what is inside of me…”
Just imagine this for a moment: have you ever had to hide who you are even from those you love most? Does that not seem like it would lead to a lifetime of pain? But it’s what we so often ask of our LGBTQ loved ones, and for our own convenience and comfort. So we’re in comfortable oblivion while they hide in pain? How can that be Christian? How can that be love?
These are questions I have struggled with. And no, I’ve never wanted a gay person to hide who they are from me. I’ve been an ally for a long time.
Herman said marriage is very important to him. His Catholic faith is very important to him. He remains a man of faith, a Catholic, despite the church’s teachings about homosexuality and marriage.
It was a year ago that Pope Francis said, “[gay people] should not be discriminated against; they have to be respected, pastorally accompanied.”
In 2013, Pope Francis said, “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.”
How does the Pope enter into a creative work?
After Herman’s talk at Hive, I was emotionally overcome, and I found it hard to figure out why. I was so moved by the things Herman said, some words actually came out that were not things I normally say, nor ways I normally speak about the place I live, or a group of people in it. They were things buried deep in my subconscious, things which, unfortunately, some of my family members said in my presence in the past, which linked to how I was feeling about living in rural Iowa where I despair of equality on many levels actually ever happening.
No one confronted me on the words I said. If they had, I would have offered to do whatever it took to restore the community and alleviate the harm done. Evidently the community and its members are strong enough to take it in stride.
I sat down outside the lecture room, and collected myself for a moment. By the time I had, Herman returned and gifted me a pen from his visit to the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, from a visit which had very much moved him. He quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. often in his talks. Herman gave me a big hug, which I returned in full.
“You ask what you can do, Amy?” Herman said, “you can write a gay play.”
A gay play. Could I? This was asking a lot of me. Not because I’m not an LGBTQ ally — I am! Not because I don’t believe in parity and equality — I do! But because it’s so hard. Because people believe so deeply in the conflation of Christian (and other) faith and being anti-gay.
Because people think freedom to marry will dilute the sanctity of their heterosexual marriages and cause moral decline (it hasn’t here in Iowa — we have plenty of other things that do).
It was also because of the Namesake brand, my ethic of taking the stories of women saints and a few other historic women and bringing their courage against great challenges to our century.
Who was a saint to stand up for equality for people who are gay?
I thought about weaving it into the story of Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez, as they answer letters from jail. No, Dorothy was very clear on her views on sexuality in general, and if I wanted to use Dorothy and Cesar’s words framed by today’s challenges, well I’d already decided to focus on wages, on workers’ rights, on refugees, on human dignity.
So, without much hope, I researched whether there were gay saints.
There were. Are. There are about 10,000 who have been beatified or named as blessed over the centuries, and if they are a representative statistical sample of our humanity, 1,000 of them were probably gay.
And they’re powerful and magnificent and loved with a ferocity that could set a standard for us here and now.
Galla and Benedicta. Paulinus. Sebastian. Perpetua and Felicity. Sergius and Bacchus. Even the iconic beloveds, Francis and Joan of Arc. And others named here. Men and women who were accepted for their greatness in faith until sometime after the Stonewall riots. After that, the church began to erase their memories, strip them of their glory and will them to fade away.
If the mark of a saint is to love God with every ounce of your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself, willing to be tortured or killed as a result, then these men and women qualify.
The story of The Gay Play (not its final title) is this: a brother and sister are, with their respective same-sex spouses to be, set to have a double wedding the day after the shootings at the Pulse club in Orlando, Florida. While the brother and sister await word from their sibling, the fragments of their dashed wedding show up as wedding cards and relatives register their feelings on gay marriage and the reality of three gay children in one family.
So it begins.