I heard about the Pulse Shooting while getting ready for church and began processing my grief while sitting in a pew. Perhaps because of that, remembering Pulse usually leads me to ponder the complicated relationships between the LGBTQ+ community, the Church (both the Latter-day Saint Church and Christianity more broadly), and God.
If I have learned one thing about God since coming out, it is that God is rarely where people expect Her/Him/Them to be. This realization floored me, but maybe it shouldn’t have. Jesus, after all, spent his life subverting what everyone thought it meant to be the Messiah. Jesus was born in a stable, not a fine house. He spent his life with the lowest members of his society and condemned the systems of power that oppressed them. He entered Jerusalem not on a warhorse, as many did before and after him, but on a donkey leading a rabble of tax-collectors and fishermen. Instead of a throne, he received a crown of thorns. I’ve always known these stories, yet for most of my life, I made the same mistake. I underestimated what God could do and where God could be.
Say . . . at a gay bar.
In all my church lessons growing up, a bar was short-hand for wicked place where you can’t feel the Spirit.A gay bar then was tantamount to a den of evil, a place where the Spirit—God—could never be. Now, I think the opposite. Let’s not forget that LGBTQ+ people first flocked to bars because we were kicked out of our homes, jobs, and churches. Our communities rejected us, so we made our own. I think Jesus, the blasphemous preacher kicked out of his hometown who proceeded to create a community so vibrant—and threatening—that people killed him to destroy it, would resonate.
I don’t want to glorify bars, especially when addiction is such a serious problem in our society and in the Queer community. But as we finally reach a point when Queer people are beginning to make space for themselves in mainstream America, I’m not going to let myself forget where my community first found refuge, and I’m definitely not going to let myself think that the only time Queer people have felt God over the past 50 years is when they were sitting politely in church pews. That definitely wasn’t true for me.
I felt God during my Summer internship as I sat at my tiny desk and finally, unequivocally, accepted I was gay.
I felt God when stood outside my first USGA meeting and begged to know if it could enter that room.
I felt God when I went to my first party thrown by Queer people, for Queer people and we danced, laughed, and took pictures together.
I felt God every time I sat with a Queer friend in desperate need, and when they sat with me in turn.
And I felt God after Pulse, just not in a church pew.
Instead, I felt God at a small vigil held the next day at a park in Provo when someone I had spoken to maybe three times enveloped me in a hug. I clung to him, a near stranger, and I felt all my anger, fear, and grief, but I also felt love, acceptance, and a determination that none of us would have to go through this alone.
I also think God was at Stonewall Inn fifty years ago, when Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and hundreds of other Queer folks, many of whom were women of color, decided they had had enough and triggered a revolution.
I think God was (and is) at the bedsides of the tens of thousands of Queer people who lost (and are still losing) their lives to AIDS. I think God stayed especially close to those whose nurses refused to touch them and whose families wouldn’t accept their bodies.
And yes, I think God was at Pulse that night, not just when the shooting started, but from the very beginning. When the DJ started playing, friends filled the air with laughter, lovers swayed together under the music. I think God was there that night because at least some of the people there were searching for community and refuge for a world that so often withheld it. Because that is where God is most needed.
God, I’ve found, is often in the places we think God shouldn’t be.