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The Occupy Movement: Queer Money Matters

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Arab Spring! Euro Spring! U.S.A. Spring! Finally, people are standing up and saying, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

But this is Wall Street, and resistance to exploitation will only be tolerated as long as it can be discounted as a group of disorganized dreamers with no goals. After the massive New York police action that evicted the occupiers, churches in the city offered housing and food so that the protesters could continue on the terms set by the city -- no sleeping and no tents. Officials are hoping that people will give up. But this is an ancient story of greed as symbolized by the golden calf carried into Wall Street by faith leaders to confront the idolatry of wealth.

This story will not end, even if all the demonstrators go home. As the moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), with members in every state across this country, I hear personal stories every winter telling how our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families suffer. And with every layer of exclusion and oppression, survival is harder. Queer people, people of color, young people, homeless folks, women with children, and people who have been incarcerated all face layer after layer of tangible economic obstacles. Sometimes desperation lands them in prison.

When I ministered in prisons in Michigan and California, I quickly discovered that there are many queer, poor people in prison. One of the saddest and most frustrating things I learned was how many people in prison found it hard to leave because it was safer and easier to survive than any place they lived on "the outside." And it was not safe, or healthy, or easy, at all. With no hope, jobs or possibility for a decent life, they are in the growing ranks of the destitute.

And destitution is around the corner for a growing number of people as food and fuel prices skyrocket and banks continue with unchecked greed and record profits.

As just one example, the recent demand at a South Florida MCC church food pantry has doubled. They have firsthand experience of the fact that:

  • Lesbian couples who are 65 or older are twice as likely to be poor as heterosexual married couples.
  • Children of same-gender couples are twice as likely to be poor as children of straight married couples.
  • African Americans in same-gender couples are roughly three times more likely to live in poverty than those of white people in same-gender couples.

In New York, MCC runs Sylvia's Place for homeless queer youth, and Sylvia Rivera's food pantry. The queer community can often only depend on ourselves when faced with hunger and homelessness due to homophobia and social prejudice.

These facts contradict the public perception of queer folk as having money and privilege. The facts remind us, as thousands occupy Wall Street, Oakland, and London, that we need to remember to occupy hearts and minds to challenge homophobia and transphobia in movement work. And when religious coalitions and prophetic calls for change emerge, we must be there as out queer people. Then we will not be discounted or dismissed.

Once, when a Nazi bookstore appeared in Detroit and a coalition of us picketed in front of the store, we were thrown off the picket line because the "coalition" was embarrassed by our queer presence. We would like to think this is a thing of the past, but such damaging ironies keep showing up -- now around the current actions challenging economic oppression.

In a recent "civil conversation" between social action evangelical Jim Wallis and Southern Baptist Richard Land, they agreed to discuss poverty but not debate gay marriage and abortion. Wallis seemed proud that "abortion and gay marriage weren't even on our radar."

All that means is that queer folks and women who cannot buffer themselves against the oppression with money and power are sitting on the sidelines -- often in poverty. We are viewed as divisive to "civil conversation."

Or we are viewed as a joke, as Joan Rivers quipped that there are no gay men at Occupy Wall Street because they always have to look good and there are no changing rooms on Wall Street.

The fact is, Jesus was into love and justice, not "civil conversation" or making jokes about marginalized groups. He loved the queers of his day and had everything to say about just economics.

When Jesus and his followers moved to occupy Jerusalem, his movement shouted praises, and officials came to Jesus and asked him to tell his people to be quiet. But when a movement breaks out, there is no silence. Jesus said, "If these are silent, even the stones will cry out!" (Luke 19:40).

Cry out, queer people! Occupy the conversation! Occupy economic justice! Occupy love!