The day before Shepherd One landed at Joint Base Andrews with Pope Francis on board, I, along with nearly one hundred other members of the Bisexual Leadership Roundtable, arrived at the White House to attend the 2015 Bisexual Community Policy Briefing.
If you don't know my backstory, I encourage you to check it out in my previous blog post. Suffice it to say, I'm a high-profile survivor of stigmatization and as a result, a proud and active member of the LGBTQ community. I'm also very aware of the fact that too many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters have faced their own form of stigmatization at the hands of family members and communities who couldn't -- or wouldn't -- understand them. I know how many of us, especially in the bisexual community, are made to feel inadequate, invisible and even unworthy of life.
So it moved me to my core when, at the beginning of the briefing, Ellyn Ruthstrom, famed bi activist and Executive Director of SpeakOUT, asked, "Will everybody in this room who identifies as bi please stand up?"
Most of the people in the room rose to their feet. Like me, many had tears in their eyes. For more than a few, it was the first time they'd ever been part of a majority. And considering the fact that this was a White House Policy Briefing for our community, we were, for a few critical hours that morning, a majority with a voice.
All too soon, the briefing was brought to a close. We were thanked for our contributions. After returning our White House badges, we stepped through the last security gate. There we all were, back out on the street, excited and elated, ready to take our message out into the world once again and redouble our efforts for the bisexual community.
But first, we had to gather at Lafayette Square for a group photo. With what my mother always called my "longshoreman's lope," I was the first of the group to turn the corner and see the classic photo backdrop of the White House's north lawn and fountain.
Suddenly, I was overcome by an inexplicable feeling of queasiness.
There in our nation's capital, where nearly a hundred bi leaders were about to assemble, stood two protestors. Each held a placard. The first read, "Repent and Believe the Gospel. Jesus Saves From Sin And Hell." The other read, "The Pope Is an Antichrist. REPENT. (Turn from your sin -- to Jesus.)" One of the protestors also had a megaphone, through which he lamented how unrepentant sinners would burn in hell.
Tourists milled around them, taking photos on their phones. And of course, there were news crews shooting footage for their evening reports.
Now, don't get me wrong. I don't believe these protestors were there specifically to engage us. They probably weren't even aware there was a delegation of bisexual leaders in town the day before the Pope was due to arrive.
The rest of the bi leaders rounded the corner, fresh from the White House.
And then it happened. In a flash, the protestors focused their religious warning on this new group. It didn't matter that they would likely have responded in precisely the same manner to any group that drew near.
What did matter, however, was that their words of condemnation were directed at a group of people who were all too familiar with stigmatization, abuse and discrimination. I could literally see the blood begin to drain out of my friends' faces. The elation we'd all felt upon leaving the White House was now in grave danger of evaporating. In that moment, I could see the full weight of intolerance.
And then I saw Faith.
For those of you who don't know her, Faith Cheltenham is the President of BiNet USA, one of the founders of the Bisexual Leadership Roundtable, and undeniably a force to be reckoned with whenever anyone says bisexual people don't exist or are in someway inferior to others. She's also a woman of color. And she's one of those people who gives others the courage to do the right thing -- especially when the situation is challenging.
As soon as Faith saw the protestors, she unfurled the tri-colored bisexual flag she was carrying and began waving it.
And while so many there stood still, momentarily stunned and possibly recalling personal traumas of being on the receiving end of hateful language, Faith started leading the chant: "We are the B! In LGBT! Bisexuals!"
And she didn't stop there. Next, she sized up the situation and walked up to the protestor with the megaphone.
As she continued to chant, more and more bi leaders joined in, until all the voices there made for a truly spontaneous moment of free speech and activism.
That morning, when we all stood up at the beginning of the briefing, we'd seen for the first time what our strength in numbers was. But it was after the meeting, back out in the real world, when I saw Faith take our message of bisexual visibility and respect and turn it into a love chant that could drown out even the most vocal of detractors.
Passing tourists and probably more than one news crew must have assumed this whole display had something to do with the papal visit. Of course, they were mistaken.
But in my eyes, this event was no less significant. A bisexual woman of color named Faith brought a message of peace and understanding to the White House, and in the process, motivated her sisters and brothers to join her in not listening, nor bowing, to stigmatizing language.
I've now had the honor of seeing Faith in action in Washington twice. Her courage has motivated me to return a third time. And on this occasion, I return specifically as a stigma survivor, keenly aware of the power of words to either hurt or heal.