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We are dying

6.13. 2016 Written By: Jay (Jennifer) Yoder 6,758 Times read

Editor’s note (June 22, 2016): This submission from Jennifer Yoder was sent to us for consideration on June 13, the day after a mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., that claimed 49 lives and injured 53 others, most of them young, Latino and members of the LGBTQ community. This is considered the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States. In the Mennonite Church USA bylaws, one of the purposes outlined for The Mennonite is to serve as a forum for diverse Mennonite voices. We published this piece because we felt it represented a first-person perspective on the pain and lament being experienced by individuals within Mennonite Church USA in response to this tragic event. As with all opinion pieces, this piece does not represent the official perspective of Mennonite Church USA’s staff or Executive Board (You can read our roundup of  statements, including those from the MC USA EB and Executive Director here). Although comments on this article are now closed, you are always welcome to send feedback to me directly at Editor@TheMennonite.org or submit a letter to the editor or opinion piece for consideration. Hannah Heinzekehr, Executive Director, The Mennonite, Inc.

Jay (Jennifer) Yoder is the co-founder of Pink Menno, Communications & Engagement Director for Christian Peacemaker Teams, a sexual violence advocate with SNAP Anabaptist, and co-pastor of Pittsburgh Peace Church.

Yesterday, I woke up to celebrate a holiday honoring my community’s uprising against violence and oppression. Specifically queer and trans folk, many of them People of Color, fought back against police violence: arrests, beatings, and rape of queer and trans folks. They fought back at Stonewall Inn, and it was a riot, and it lasted for days. If you don’t know about it, look it up now. I’ll wait.

These days, Pride is often a mishmash of corporations looking for queer cash, rich white gay dudes looking to get richer, churches apologizing and loving queer folks, and our communities getting together to just be. In my queer and justice communities, we work to educate folks about Pride’s origins, and to always honor our queer elders. At Pittsburgh Peace Church, where I co-pastor, we’re planning a gathering next Sunday to honor our elders and talk about the ways that Jesus’s liberating love calls us to radical action for justice today. I had flyers ready to hand out as I marched in yesterday’s Pride parade, inviting people to attend PPC for this Pride gathering.

It was in this mindset that I rolled over in bed yesterday to grab my phone and post a Facebook Pride post. Instead, a Guardian headline on my homescreen caught my eye: 20 Dead in Mass Shooting at LGBT Bar in Orlando. I read frantically: at least 20 dead, and the toll later rose to 50. At least 40 in the hospital and injured (that total later rose to 53). It was Latin night. Latina drag queens were hosting and performing.

My initial reaction of “No. No, no, no.” quickly shifted to “Who do I know there?” I flipped through my queer communities in my mind. I sent out texts and FB messages. “Are you ok? What about your friends? What can I do? What do you need?”

Everyone was accounted for. No one was ok.

We humans are wired for connection; we’re wired to find and build communities where we belong. When our hearts are broken; when we need comfort and shelter in a storm, we turn to our communities. I turned to mine.

The most significant conversations I had yesterday were with my queer Mennonite community, with those in and out of the closet, with white folks and people of color, and many of us living with the lasting impacts of the trauma and violence the church has done to us: PTSD, depression, anxiety, permanently impacted lives from the violence of Mennonite Church USA.

For some of us, we’ve come close to death, looked suicide or addictions or self-harm right in their eyes, stared them down, and made it through somehow. My queer Mennonites and I, we reached, together, for explanations, for comfort, for meaning in our peace church’s theology, culture and denominational community.

What we found was the violence of the recent MC USA convention in Kansas City. What we found was decades-long firings and shunnings and shamings. What we found was a whispered history of rape, of suicide, of addiction, of Mennonites dying secretly in their homes of AIDs, their wives by their bedsides. What we found was forcing queer people of color to deny one piece of their identity so that they could be tokenized for another. What we found was preaching peace while ignoring violence and accountability. What we found was passing resolutions acknowledging that treating queer folks as less than full members of our Mennonite community results in us being targeted for sexual violence while *simultaneously* passing a resolution denying us full membership in the community.

Most of the times I don’t tell the hardest parts of my story publicly. Most of the time what I want you to know is that I’m whole and I’m happy and I’m not your sad broken queer story to be used.

Here’s what I want you to know today. We are dying, and you are killing us. We are dying, and you are killing us. We are dying, and you are killing us.

God forgive you. I’m not ready to.

The views expressed in this opinion post do not necessarily represent the official positions of The Mennonite, the board for The Mennonite, Inc., or Mennonite Church USA.

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