On Oct. 11, our community celebrates National Coming Out Day. Whether you’ve been out since before Cher’s first facelift or came out just this year, it’s a time to reflect on our personal stories of self-discovery and transformation.
Often coming out focuses on the “big” conversation with friends and family. But for queer people of faith, it also involves one’s relationship with God.
How do we come out to God?
Wondering about this question led Equality Wisconsin and the LGBT Resource Center to plan “Coming Out with God: Bringing Your Whole Self to Faith.” The special program takes place on Oct. 11 in the student union of UWM. Various speakers will share their stories of finding accepting congregations. (Call 414-431-1306 for more information).
Fully coming out with God can take a lifetime. Dave, a member of Lake Park Lutheran Church on Milwaukee’s East Side, recently shared his story with me.
“I knew I was gay from an early age,” Dave explained. “When I heard the Cinderella story, I dreamed of Prince Charming coming for me.”
Dave’s fairy tale came true after college in the 1970s. He went to Milwaukee, where he met his partner Fred and they moved in together.
Early in their relationship, Fred sought out a church. He picked a Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation because he liked the pastor and the conservative theology.
Moved by Jesus’ teaching that “a house divided cannot stand,” Dave joined the conservative church with Fred. They were not open with the congregation about their relationship. Instead they presented themselves as if Fred was Dave’s uncle.
For many years Dave led a closeted life professionally, spiritually and even with his family. Staying in the closet was a pragmatic response to a homophobic environment.
Dave remembers how police chief Harold Breier targeted gay bars in the 1970s and 1980s. Even in the 1990s he felt it was not safe to come out while teaching in MPS.
Thankfully, society changed.
Fred loved the Missouri Synod, but Dave was ready for a change. After Fred died, Dave looked for a new church and found Lake Park Lutheran. The warm, embracing attitude of the people kept him there.
“At my old church the people were suspicious of new people. They greeted them with ‘the look,’” Dave explained. “But at Lake Park people introduced themselves and took me in.”
One of the defining moments of welcome came for Dave in the celebration of communion.
“During communion we say, ‘This is the Lord’s table so all are welcome here.’” It was so different than at his previous church, where only some were allowed communion – and certainly all of him was not welcome.
Now, living as an out, gay man, Dave feels truly free. “I’m 60 years old,” he said. “I don’t give a damn what people think.”
The transformation in Dave’s life was facilitated by a spiritual home that allowed him to explore fully who he is.
Over the summer, Dave led worship along with a lesbian and another gay man. It would have been inconceivable for him just a few years ago to be out and in leadership at a church.
“We had one gay ole time up there,” Dave said. And in the rich joy of his voice, it’s clear that he’s found a church that’s given him everything he needed spiritually and beyond.