I am Karla Lee Fleshman, a 31 year old licensed social worker and soon-to-be ordained UFMCC minister. I "came out" as a Christian when I was eighteen; and "came out" as a lesbian when I was twenty-two. I had spent years working with persons living with HIV/AIDS before going to seminary. I have also spent years trying to help gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgenedered persons heal from both verbal and physical violence enacted upon them by family, friends, and neighbors alike.
I, myself, have experienced hate-filled rhetoric and threats of physical violence against my person simply because I am a child of God who was created lesbian. I have never struggled with being Christian and lesbian – unlike many others – for I just knew in the core of my very being that God loved me for how God created me. I have been a witness of hate and abuse at the hands of men and women who professed a faith in the very same God as myself.
I have been a recipient of violence from fellow Christians. I have held the hands of, and have been impacted by the burials of, fellow gay brothers and sisters – some of whom were Christian. My experience of violence combined with my faith in a living, loving God compels me to continue to reach out to ALL who are impacted by untruthful rhetoric related to gay persons. I am compelled by God to reach out to those who commit acts of aggression against gay persons; and I am equally called by God to help gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons heal from the constant onslaught of abuse committed against their personhood by the Church, government, and the community at large. I live, breathe, and work under the auspices of God’s agenda for it is God who gives me life, and calls me forth to teach the Great Commandment of loving God, neighbor, and self through both my words and deeds.
I am coming to Lynchburg in the hopes of curbing hate-filled speech and violent rhetoric, but I also go as a living witness that one can be Christian and Lesbian. I am not a monster in the grips of Satan trying to undermine the American Family, but rather I am part of the American Family. I go to Lynchburg as an act of anger transformed into positive love-filled action toward those who would call me by names other than "child of God."
I go remembering Matthew Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither, and five gay men that have been murdered in Philadelphia these past three months alone – all believed to be hate-motivated crimes. I go in the hopes that my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered friends who have given up on the church and God see that one can be a gay Christian loved by God. I go for these reasons and many more, but mostly I go because I believe that my professed faith in a living God compels me to share the good news of God’s love to all whom I meet and to break bread with everyone as Jesus did.
Do I believe that Jerry will have a change of heart? I do not know. But I do believe that we will all be able to look into the eyes of fellow brothers and sisters – children of God – and be changed forever. When the eyes of someone you have broken bread with comes to the forefront of your memory in times that hate-filled speech is about to flow forth from your lips, one would hope that you would pause and reflect upon your words and deeds before judging and cursing your brother or sister. One would hope that the love of God would fill your heart and change your tone – maybe not your beliefs – but at least your tongue.