Speech at Equality Rally - Elmwood Park, Roanoke, VA - June 28, 2009
June 29, 2009, 9:11 am
Filed under: Would Jesus Discriminate?

Frank House, member of the Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge, organized an equality rally in Roanoke, Virginia on June 28 to commemorate the movement begun at Stonewall forty years ago and to mark how far we have come and have yet to go in the march for equality. He invited me, along with state Senator John Edwards, Brenda Hale of the NAACP, Len Rogers of the Stonewall Society, Leland Albright and Rev. Stephen Stanley of Christ Episcopal Church. Below is the speech I shared:

I am Joe Cobb, a clergy with the Metropolitan Community Churches, a movement founded 40 years ago in response to the discriminatory and exclusive practices of many churches, and a home for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, straight and questioning persons seeking a place to call home. In the Spirit of Love, we are called to:

◦ Do justice, show kindness, and live humbly with God. (Micah 6:8)
◦ Explore life’s questions with open hearts and minds.
◦ Raise our voices in sacred defiance against religious (and political or systemic) exclusion. 
◦ Reach out to those with no hope. 
◦ Lift up new generations of remarkable, far-reaching spiritual activists.

I currently serve as the Coordinator for MCC’s campaign “Would Jesus Discriminate?”, dedicated to the belief that

1. Jesus did not discriminate, but sought out those who lived on the margins.
2. The Christian call is to love God and love our neighbors.
3. Exclusion was NOT a tenet of Jesus’ teachings.

I am honored and humbled to be here, to celebrate our common call for equality, and to work together to make equality for all an abiding reality. Equality is a matter of justice.

Last evening I was strolling with my 20 month old daughter, Ginny, in downtown Roanoke. As we left the market area, we turned down the narrow lane called Kirk Ave. The street was quiet and peaceful.
As we crossed over First Street, we approached 124 Kirk Ave. I made my first visit to this building in August of 2001, having just left the ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church, and was going in to meet with the Pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church. The storefront church was quiet that day, but my soul was searching. I decided to leave the midwest and move east to be closer to my children, who were nine and seven at the time. I was emerging from the closet of a church I felt called to serve and decided to leave, and wondering where I could live, be “out”, and begin to thrive.
I asked the pastor about Roanoke. Is this a safe place to live? I knew little about the violent shootings that had taken place a year earlier. I knew it was a crime of hate against anyone who was perceived as gay. I knew the city had responded in ways that didn’t support violence, yet were still struggling with how to fully welcome persons who were gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. I also knew I was still emerging from my own closet of fear.

That same month, following a bible study, this same pastor and two parishioners emerged from the church and were attacked by a group of men, hurling verbal assaults and fists, hitting the pastor in the face and knocking down one of the men and punching the other as he tried to help his partner. One of the witnesses to the assault said, “they were in a total rage. I’ve never seen such rage in my life.”
The 911 call from the pastor alerted the police and they arrived on the scene after the men had fled.

Fast forward to May 5, 2009. I was attending the Human Rights Campaign’s Clergy Call, a gathering of over 300 clergy from a variety of faith traditions representing all fifty states. Our primary focus was to meet with our representatives and senators in congress and urge their support of two fully-inclusive bills: the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Bill (aka Matthew Shepard Act) and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Both of these bills include federal protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, transgender and disabilities. The Matthew Shepard Act had just been passed by the House, and was awaiting introduction to the Senate. Both arms of congress were awaiting introduction of ENDA.
I met with staff for both Senator Jim Webb and Senator Mark Warner, who have expressed support for these bills. I also met with the Legislative Director for Representative Bob Goodlatte. Rep. Goodlatte voted against the hate crimes legislation. In asking his staff person the congressman’s rationale, he cited concern over a lack of evidence of hate crimes being prosecuted, concern about what appeared to be “special” punishment for these particular crimes, and whether or not the elderly should be included in the bill. Though I felt the rationale was questionable, I appreciated the dialogue.
This was my first experience in lobbying and I felt energized after my meetings. The initial fear that crept into my mind over meeting the senators and representative was quickly replaced by the courage and will to seek equality for my lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender neighbors.
In between meetings, I was standing with some clergy colleagues outside the House office buildings, and looked up to see Representative John Lewis, from Georgia, walk by. I stood in awe and respect for this one who had walked and marched with so many in the civil rights movement and who, in his memoir, “Walking with the Wind” stated with great conviction that equality is for all people, including our glbt sisters and brothers.

When I returned from DC, I made my way to a local cafe’, picked up a coffee, and made my way to a table to sit and write. Seated next to me was a friend I’d seen from time to time. He was the man attacked outside of 124 Kirk eight years ago while trying to help his partner up from the ground.
I told him I had been in DC lobbying for the Hate Crimes Bill and I asked him if his case was ever prosecuted. He told me that police were slow in arriving on the scene. And, that on a later date, a police officer came to his home and basically told him that there was little chance the case would be prosecuted.

Every day, many of us, and our neighbors, who seek to live authentically, with honesty, integrity and dignity, fear going to work because of an environment of harassment, both verbal and physical, and also fear sharing these incidents with supervisors because of the possible repercussions.

Many local law enforcement agencies will not prosecute because they choose to ignore that certain crimes are motivated by hate and because they have limited resources. Both of these bills provide fully-inclusive protection, on a federal level, for persons experiencing hate crimes and workplace discrimination. They would also provide federal protection for victims, and resources for local law enforcement to prosecute cases.

Both bills are now making their way through congress. It is critical that each of us take the time to write and call our Senators and Representatives and urge their support of these bills. Silence will not make a difference. Prophetic voices of equality will make a difference.

When hate and discrimination attack anyone, we are all attacked. When anyone of us experiences violence, we are all violated. When anyone of us dies as a result of hatred, we all begin to die inside.

On June 28, 1969, as I slept in my comfortable bed as a seven-year old child in Wichita, Kansas, sisters and brothers I would never know, stood up to hatred, discrimination and violence in place called Stonewall. I stand here today, as one of a long line of sacred queers, grateful for their courage, honesty, integrity and wisdom.

I stand here as one who believes we can all emerge from the fears that bind us into the hope that liberates us. I stand here as a father of two teenagers and a toddler who are being raised up in the way of Love that believes all are equal, all are beloved, all are welcome. I stand here as a partner of a dear man, whom I love with all my heart, mind, body and soul, and with whom, when we choose, seek the basic equal right to be legally married in Virginia. I stand here as a pastor, who believes that the One who created us as beloved, meant it. I also believe that religion in its true and best expression is not based on discrimination or exclusion, but on unconditional love and inclusion.

There is an ancient greeting, “namaste” which means the beloved in me greets the beloved in you. As we stand in each other’s presence, humbly honoring the beloved in each other, we are celebrating equality. May we carry this greeting into the depths of our lives and let it permeate every relationship, every workplace, every government and every faith community, so that one day, equality is no longer a dream, but a blessed reality. Thank you.

1 Comment so far
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I was very impressed with your speech Joe.
Len Rogers

   Len Rogers 08.04.09 @ 2:30 pm

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