I didn’t watch the Academy Awards last night, but I did read some of the reports this morning. And one of the acceptance speeches caught my eye. Dustin Lance Black won the Oscar for best screenplay, for the movie “Milk,” a story about Harvey Milk, California’s first openly Gay elected official. This is part of his speech:
“When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas to California and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life, it gave me the hope to one day live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married.”
(He chokes up, audience begins to applaud.)
“I want to thank my mom who has always loved me for who I am, even when there was pressure not to. But most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are less than by their churches or by the government or by their families that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights, federally, across this great nation of ours. (Wild applause from the audience.) Thank you, thank you, and thank you God for giving us Harvey Milk.”
He speaks of those “gay and lesbian kids . . . who have been told that they are less than by their churches.”
A few weeks ago I received an email from a woman who wanted to know whether her gay son would be accepted in our church. She knew that many churches would tolerate him, and some would maybe even love him, in spite of believing that he should not be who he was. Would we in Dustin Lance Black's words, be telling him that he was "less than?" Or would we really accept him as a whole person? It is sad and even shameful that she would feel that she had to ask the question. But the truth is that this is an issue on which the churches have failed miserably.
At our best, the church has been at the forefront of the great social movements in the United States and across the world. This leadership has never been unanimous. We have always had people who wanted the church to go backwards. But in spite of our internal conflicts, we have moved forward. We led on abolition. We led on labor reform. We led on women’s suffrage. We can’t even imagine the Civil Rights Movement without the Black Church. But on homosexual rights, we have been captives of our culture.
Our kids deserve better. Whether they are gay or straight, they deserve better. Years from now, we will look back and be ashamed.