"There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried."
Archbishop Oscar Romero
LGBT folks are both strongly represented and diverse within The Well's broader community. We are well acquainted with the violence they face, violence that all too often left them without a home, and violence that in many cases follows them on the streets. The pain in the eyes of someone who has been ripped out of a family because they refused to lie about who they are and what they believe is indescribable.
We don't track statistics on the sexuality of our guests, but the Williams Institute finds that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Of those, 89% are homeless specifically because they were rejected by their families, and more than half of them report having suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home. It isn't the ease of surviving on their own that causes them to flee their families either. In Florida, it is perfectly legal to fire someone for no other reason than their sexual orientation. According to the Human Rights Campaign, "more than 20 percent of hate crimes reported nationally in 2014 targeted people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity." Globally, the average life expectancy for non-white trans women is barely 35 years.
It is more than those who are visibly attacked who suffer a tragedy. Details have emerged that indicate the person who chose to unleash violence in Orlando this past weekend was himself struggling with sexual identity, and likely concerns about acceptance within his family and broader community. The families and friends of those lost are forever affected, and even many who struggle to empathize with the LGBTQ community are deeply shaken. We all feel a kind of painful separation between ourselves and those we judge or simply do not understand, and with death this estrangement is cemented with a terrifying sense of finality.
In the end, whether slowly or quickly, life is always fatal. It's not that how we die doesn't matter, or that some deaths are more or less tragic than others. But if there's one thing more tragic than a horribly and unnecessarily painful death, it is a tragic life of being shunned by those who should love you and forgotten or rejected by your community. In every case, long before guns manifest violence, violent words have first manifested. Before hatred of others becomes visible, we have first learned a deeper hatred of ourselves. If we are to hope for a world with less violence, we must first hope for our own hearts to forget judgement and hatred.
The most precious thing about The Well to me is that we are called and committed to love those that no one else loves. Disagreement about faith, politics, or even facts can all be overwhelmed by love for each other. In the end, it is not having been wrong that makes a tragic life, nor will having been right make it a triumphal life. Separation from each other is the greatest tragedy, and the only triumph happens when we seize and desperately cling to each opportunity to love someone.
Sometimes, we are afraid to love those who no one else loves. Sometimes, it puts us at odds with powerful forces in our city and beyond. It puts us at odds with other people we love, people we are close to, people we are afraid of losing. In our own city, at The Well, most of the people we encounter for whom sexual identity has led to homelessness and violence come from homes and families that call themselves Christian. For that reason, loving them requires us taking a difficult and awkward stance toward other people who call themselves Christian.
As my friend Micah puts it:
"I am not impressed with anybody taking a stand with the LGBT community against ISIS, if you’re not taking a stand with the LGBT community against politicians, preachers, and pundits who also try to silence, cause fear, or kill my LGBT friends.
May God give us the courage to boldly stand with those who live under threat of violence. May we mourn with those who mourn, and learn to see through eyes that have cried.