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Rev. Susan Russell Headshot

Voices from a Parking Lot

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It started with an email from our parish youth director, Isaac, on Sunday afternoon:

I'm e-mailing you because I was asked to find a priest that would be free this Thursday to come and pray for an event that Haven -- the secret LGBT club at APU (Azusa Pacific University) -- is hosting at Citrus College. I thought of you, especially since you came out in the article that was published in APU's magazine a while back. Let me know if you will be free this Thursday and could make to the event.

I wasn't exactly "free." I was scheduled to be at a meeting down at City Hall in Los Angeles, planning LGBT Heritage Month coming up in June, but when I checked out the Facebook event link Isaac sent and read about what the APU student group was putting together, I sent my regrets to the Heritage Month planning team and put "Art of Discovery" on my agenda instead.

They had me at: "We are the Haven of APU, a group of students working specifically to create brave spaces on our campus for the LGBTQ community. We are forced to meet in secret."

So Thursday night, instead of heading south on the 110 to Los Angeles City Hall to a meeting in the Mayor's Chambers with a planning team working to put together a month of celebrations honoring our LGBT heritage, I headed east on the 210 to an event in the parking lot of Citrus College with a courageous team of young leaders working to create a safe space to speak their truth and claim their experience as LGBT people.

More about the event:

Hosted by Haven, which is a support network of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) students and supporters from Azusa Pacific University that is not yet recognized by the school "Art of Discovery" is an evening of music, art, dance, poetry and much, much more exploring the topics of gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity.



It will be held in the Citrus College Student parking lot that runs along Barranca, next to APU (the back parking lot of Citrus College). Last year we were able to host it on campus, but this year after a number of denied proposals by APU's administration we have been limited to hosting this off campus. Citrus has graciously given space on their campus.



We believe it is important for people of sexual or gender minority to have the freedom to express themselves, share their stories, and exist openly within an affirming and supportive community. This night of expression exists to create a space that reminds us that we are not alone and with the continued effort of students, alumni, family, and friends, one day the LGBTQ community will be able to exist openly without repercussion.

The evening began with the organizers introducing the purpose of "Haven":

We believe that the full spectrum of sexual orientation is something to be celebrated, not suppressed.



We exist primarily to provide a safe place acceptance for those of any sexual orientation who might feel marginalized by APU's policies or culture.



Though on campus advocacy is not our primary purpose, we hope to be a springboard for events that promote awareness, tolerance and equality among students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

...and then a reading of Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese."

Then I was invited up to give an opening prayer, followed by the "as advertised" evening of music, art, dance, poetry, and much, much more.

And I sat in the parking lot of Citrus College in awe of the courage of the witness of these brave young people, touched by the power of their pain in the face of institutional and individual homophobia. And I recognized how far we are from turning the human race into a human family that equally loves, values, and affirms its LGBTQ family members as I listened to the 20-year-old college student speak of his struggle to rise above "the continual nausea of eating your own shame."

And then I got in my car and drove west on the 210, back to my regularly scheduled life where it is so easy to get complacent about "how far we've come"; so tempting to succumb to what they're calling "movement fatigue"; and sometimes so hard to remember, when I'm preaching from the pulpit at All Saints Church in Pasadena, or sitting in the hall of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, or meeting the Mayor's Chambers at City Hall in Los Angeles, or going about any of the other daily details of my very busy, very important schedule, that there are kids in parking lots and lecture halls and church pews struggling to rise above the continual nausea of eating their own shame when they should be claiming their place in the family of things.