I recently read a short, albeit controversial, religious book – one in which the author declined the opportunity to mention God or even make reference to a higher power. This narrative gave the account of a beautiful young orphan girl who got involved with a group of women sexual partners providing services for one man. And this man happened to be a prominent political leader.
The young woman was befriended by another man who had a flair for fashion and a mastery of cosmetics. With his help, she received a makeover fit for a queen.
Eventually, the night came for her to sleep with this high-ranking official. She showed up at his bedroom and he became absolutely infatuated with her – so much so that he married her and advanced her into a place of political leadership.
But the now-married woman kept a closely guarded secret – a fact she could work to conceal, but one that was very much tied up with her identity.
She had a male cousin who also shared her secret. And when a wave of oppression against their community swept across the country, he pleaded with her to come out to her politically powerful husband, stating she had a duty to not keep silent in a time such as this.
She initially hedged. But ultimately she came to a decision. Despite the possibility of serious repercussion, her secret would be a secret no more.
You should read this book. Many of you probably own it already. It is the book of Esther and it is found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Esther was a closeted Jew who risked much when she “came out” to King Ahasuerus. But in turn this brave woman saved her people from bitter persecution.
In the course of human events, there are times when our stand can make the most difference. Martin Luther King, Jr. explored that theme in the last speech he would ever give. He imagined God asking him, “Martin, which age would you like to live in?”
King then proceeded to take his listeners on a mental flight through history. At great points in time he would elaborate on the wonders of that age and the notable people who occupied it. Then he would pause and say to the audience, “But I would not stop there.”
“Strangely enough,” King continued, “I would turn to the Almighty and say, ‘If you will allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.’”
The crowd in Memphis, alive with energy, erupted into applause. Certainly none were contemplating that, by the end of the next day, the great civil rights leader would no longer be with them.
The course of history has now reached the first half of the twenty-first century. And if you have not looked up, a great movement is underway for gay Americans to be fully embraced by a society that has largely kept us second-class.
For much of our history, GLBT Americans have been asked to keep silent about our orientation or gender identity in exchange for acceptance in the larger community. Our society has asked us to lie in order to keep a job, maintain family harmony, or membership in a church.
To be sure, there are many challenges facing gay people who want to live openly. But I submit to you that it is not an option for the moral individual to remain in the closet forever. We simply cannot be apathetic to the journey of young gays and lesbians growing up in a country that denies them equality and in churches that tell them they are sick and sinful.
Sexual orientation is an aspect of one’s being that can be concealed. Like Queen Esther, who initially concealed her Jewish identity, we too can decline to live openly. But when we make that choice, we forfeit much.
I am mindful that there are legitimate reasons for not coming out in the present moment. But these are few in number. One example might be a gay teenager, without any financial means, whose parents have given a strong impression that they would throw him or her out of the house if the teenager’s sexual orientation was anything other than heterosexual.
Once we have stability in our lives, however, we are called to stand in our truth. As we start the New Year, I ask you to resolve to take another step out of that closet which has held so many of us. For your own freedom, and for those who follow you, tell the truth about who you are with pride.