PORTLAND – Recently, a “Christian” hate group, after announcing its intention to travel from Wichita, Kan., to Portland to protest a high school production of “The Laramie Project,” failed to show up.

But several hundred Mainers gathered on a late Saturday afternoon to show support for the students, faculty, and administrators at Waynflete School and demonstrate the transformative power of community solidarity in countering anti-gay and other forms of hate speech.

Phillip Halle tells a remarkable story in his book, “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed”: “During the most terrible years of World War II, when inhumanity and political insanity held most of the world in their grip and the Nazi domination of Europe seemed irrevocable (and unchallengeable), a miraculous event took place in a small Protestant town in southern France called Le Chambon.

“There, quietly, peacefully, and in full view of the Vichy government and a nearby division of the Nazi SS, Le Chambon villagers and their clergy organized to save thousands of Jewish children and adults from certain death.”

The villagers of Le Chambon did not passively wait for a miracle to happen. By standing up and standing together, they became the miracle.

We, too — quietly, peacefully, and in full view — are challenged to resist moral evil and organize goodness, to say no to hate, and to make sure that our own circles of care, respect, and safety are large enough to securely enfold all people, especially those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning.

On this score, making a difference requires paying attention to what’s taking place on three interconnected stages.

Stage one takes us back to 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., when two young men callously murdered another young man for being gay. The most fundamental human right is the right to be, the right to exist, to live in safety and without fear.

Matthew Shepard was denied his right to be, just as more than 25 years ago, here in Maine, Charlie Howard was denied his right to be. When psychologists interviewed the three high school boys who murdered Charlie Howard, they discovered three normal, All-American boys. They were not social rebels acting in defiance of society, but rather social conformists who believed they had done nothing wrong.

In fact, they expected to be rewarded for their homo-hatred. After all, hadn’t they acted in conformity to what they had been taught about gay people by their families, schools, churches, and communities? Sad to say, they were, in fact, cheered as heroes when they re-entered their high school.

If we are to resist hate, we must convey a message that is explicitly counter-cultural: Hate is wrong. Hate kills. Hate is not a family value, a religious value, or a community value.

Resisting hate is good, but organizing goodness is even better.

To do that, we need to convey an even bolder message that LBGTQ people have sacred worth. Our lives matter. We are precious. No one should ever violate our bodies or our spirits, not ever.

Each and every person, including each and every gay person, is created in the image of God. And because we are created in the divine image, we’re able to see the face of God in one another, including those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning.

Stage two is the play, “The Laramie Project,” which depicts how members of a community, in the aftermath of hate violence, struggled as best they could to come to terms with the anti-gay violence in their midst. Here, art imitates life.

Like the characters of the play, perhaps we, too, are working hard to figure out how such things could happen in our midst, sometimes even in our name.

And if we’re brave enough, we may also be asking ourselves, when the danger comes, whether we will stand with the victims, the victimizers, or silently among the bystanders.

The deep tragedy of the deaths of Charlie Howard, Matthew Shepard, and so many others is not only the hateful, murderous violence, but also the painful realization that no one showed up in time to stop the hate, interrupt the violence, and prevent the desecration.

This brings us to stage three, where you and I now stand. It’s called life, in all its glorious messiness, painful tragedies, and yet creative possibilities. Together, we must finds ways, in speech and action, to affirm quietly, peacefully, and in full view that we will show up.

We will stand up and be counted, no matter what. We will create safe, fair, and welcoming communities for all. We will refuse to return evil for evil. Instead, we will do whatever we can to organize goodness.


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