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Pride: A Different Definition - A Reflection from Rev. Robert Blair


From a very early age, I knew I was different. I remember sitting on my aunt’s lap at my grandparents’ central Kentucky dinner table after my first week in kindergarten. She asked me, “Did you meet new friends at school?” With no knowledge of the worldview in 1980, I said, “I met this one boy. He's very pretty, and I like him a lot.” At five years old, the shame and homophobia of the ‘80s hadn’t burst my bubble. No one in the dining room made a big deal about what I said. My same-sex attraction had not come from past traumas, as some in the religious right would argue. I shared something that I thought was beautiful, natural, and wonderful. I would learn later that the world, and many Christians, didn’t see it that way.


No one in my family discussed that kindergarten conversation, but even as a child, no one could protect me from the headlines of the “gay cancer” ravaging the nation. My mother and father divorced in 1987, and my mom, sister, and I moved from Frankfort, Kentucky to Indianapolis. In Indiana, I remember hearing the story about Ryan White, a young hemophiliac from Kokomo, Indiana, who contracted HIV/AIDS from a blood transfusion. During high school, my love for broadcast landed me my first radio job in Kokomo at the age of 16. I was a disk jockey at the Top 40 station there. The country station across town would become the epicenter of evil as the two-morning hosts incited fear and anger over Ryan White’s fight to attend school in person in Kokomo. Although White contracted AIDS through blood transfusions, rampant homophobia, hate, and misinformation filled the airwaves. This teenage boy, my age, had done nothing wrong, and yet, was the target of so much hate. This, consciously and subconsciously, forced me to deny who I was, and what I was.


My radio career exploded my senior year in high school as I became the #1 night personality at Top 40 station WZPL in Indianapolis. This was the early ‘90s, and my entire focus was conveniently on my career. There was no way I was going to ruin my professional life, by accepting the truth of who I was and sharing that truth with others. My time on air in Indianapolis was amazing: hosting events and interviewing Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys, and Duran Duran! But I was missing out on a college experience. So, in 1997, I headed west to Chapman University, with the help of scholarships from the Film/TV school and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).


The college experience I had yearned for also brought about the thing I was so frightened of: my sexuality. I fell in love with my fraternity pledge brother at Chapman. When I was with him, the world felt right, and afterward, I felt such shame and remorse. I lived a lie to my friends and family, and so did he. I was scared; he was scared. Finally, I went to see Rev. Dan Oliver, who was the Director of Church Relations at Chapman. Tired and tearful, I walked into his office, not even making it to the chair to sit down. As I slid down the walls in the corner, I told him, “Dan, I'm gay.” Dan opened his arms and said, “God loves you. There is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Still, fear kept me in dark places. My inner homophobia was not going to disappear magically. I had put this off for years. I was worried about my future life, grieving what I thought was the loss of a normal life. My family was scared for me, and I was petrified, too. It was a challenging time of acceptance for all of us.


You see, at that time, I was trying to believe God loved me even though I was gay. I now know that God loves me and created me this way. My experiences with my home church and denomination of the DOC in Kentucky, Indiana, and Chapman were hospitable and affirming. I wish I could say the same as a seminary student and an ordained minister in The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Southern California.


My journey to becoming a minister happened during these ongoing tumultuous times. In the past few years, LGBTQ+ Disciples siblings have had to endure more debates regarding inclusion and affirmation. This comes from a denomination that promotes unity and a place for all at the table. Science tells us that our sexual orientation and gender identities are not choices, but many Christians still aren’t buying it.


The (Big C) Church is often the taillights, not the headlights, on this issue. LGBTQ+ suicide due to religious trauma is high. Violence against our trans siblings is at record levels. What a time for God to call me into ministry! That call directed me to use my gifts, empathy, and vision to create safe and loving spaces for my LGBTQ+ siblings. Queer Jesus followers continue to struggle for representation and a place at the table. In some ways, things have gotten easier; however, in other areas, we’ve taken steps back. But through the challenges, we continue to stand on the shoulders of queer justice warriors, claiming our place, building Christ’s tables ourselves, and inviting everybody! (Tables that more accurately reflect the radical love and hospitality of Jesus Christ.)


As the pattern of hateful political rhetoric and religious exclusion gets louder, we (All Peoples Christian Church, Los Angeles) are intentional in our words and actions. In 2022, we decided it was time to add specific words to the invitation for communion every Sunday. As a pastor, I say with intention every time at the table, “There are people who have turned away from Christ’s table every week for being LGBTQ+. We invite YOU, our LGBTQ+ siblings, and remind you that you are always welcome at this table.”


There is sinful pride, and there is LGBTQ+ Pride. They are very different. The definition of LGBTQ+ pride is: “the promotion and self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and increased visibility of the community,” but as we celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride month, I invite you to look at an alternative definition of pride: a group of lions forming a social unit. With this in mind, won’t you pray with me?


Source of Love, Love itself,

We pray that we, as the Church, create safe spaces of refuge, comfort, and empowerment for our LGBTQ+ siblings who are oppressed, marginalized, and mistreated in Your name. May they know their beauty, belovedness, and belonging just as lions Know their “pride.” Lions are not taught they belong; they are not taught they are powerful; They Know! Many in the LGBTQ+ community do not and don't have a sacred space to belong. May those suffering Know love and “belonging” in communities of faith and at Your table. May they feel safe and that the world is their den!! May they ROAR in their authenticity, knowing they are beautifully and wonderfully made in Your image.

In Christ, we pray, Amen


 

Rev. Robert Allan Blair Jr. is a DSF/CST graduate (M.Div./2017) and serves as Senior Minister of All Peoples Christian Church, Los Angeles: An Open and Affirming Community of Faith. Rob is also an instructor in The Creative Writing Conservatory at California School of The Arts – San Gabriel Valley. He teaches journalism, broadcasting, and marketing. Rob also is a long-term substitute teacher for academic English and co-advisor with his husband Michael Turf of SAGA club (Sexuality and Gender Alliance) at the high school. Rob and Michael made history, becoming the first LGBTQ+ couple married (and officiated by Rev. Dan Oliver!) at Chapman University's Wallace All Faiths Chapel in 2008.

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