“At 1:20 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1969, four plainclothes policemen in dark suits, two patrol officers in uniform, and Detective Charles Smythe and Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine arrived at the Stonewall Inn’s double doors and announced “Police! We’re taking the place!”
For the past three years, Stonewall had been a bit of a sanctuary for gay men, transgender folk, drag queens, lesbians, and homeless teenagers. It wasn’t a great place – no running water behind the bar to wash glasses, no fire exits, the toilets overran constantly – but it was the only place that they could be who God created them to be.
Police raids weren’t uncommon. They came with the territory. About once a month the police would show up to raid the Stonewall and other gay bars often as a way to terrorize and blackmail the attendees.
“During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, and customers were lined up and their identification cards checked. Those without identification or dressed in full drag were arrested; others were allowed to leave. Some of the men, including those in drag, used their draft cards as identification. Women were required to wear three pieces of feminine clothing, and would be arrested if found not wearing them. Police officers would take anyone dressed in ‘women’s’ clothes into the bathroom to look at their genitals and judge who was ‘allowed’ to wear those clothes. Employees and management of the bars were also typically arrested. The period immediately before June 28, 1969, was marked by frequent raids of local bars—including a raid at the Stonewall Inn on the Tuesday before the riots—and the closing of the Checkerboard, the Tele-Star, and two other clubs in Greenwich Village.”
On that night though, something changed. Those who were not arrested were released outside. Instead of leaving the area, they watched as police began loading alcohol and people into patrol wagons. As police attempted for ten minutes to detain one woman in handcuffs (many stories identify her as Storme DeLarverie – a lesbian entertainer and bouncer, born to an African American mother and a white father) – as she escaped four times from the police and been hit on the head with a baton, she look out at the bystanders and shouted “why don’t you guys do something?”
As Jesus prepared to leave his followers, they struggled with doubt and fear. Who will show them the way? Who will help them see God? Who will do the work that needs to be done?
And Jesus says to them “The truth of the matter is, anyone who has faith in me will do the works I do— and greater works besides.”
I’ve said before that I find that verse to be the most inspiring and terrifying statements in the whole Bible. Jesus says that I can do something, just like he did. That’s great! I can do something! …wait… I can do what Jesus did? Even greater works besides? That doesn’t seem possible. That can’t be true. How?
Well, for one thing, I can keep reading the story. (Something I often forget to do.)
“If you love me and obey the command I give you, I will ask the One who sent me
to give you another Paraclete, another Helper to be with you always”
I’m not alone. We’re not alone. We’ve been given this gift of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit that was breathed on them, that came as wind and flame, that lives on in us.
Paraclete has Greek roots “para” (beside/alongside) and “kalein” (to call). It’s often translated as “helper” or “comforter” but it was also a term used in courts for someone who was an advocate and a witness.
We can do the work because we are not alone. The Spirit is there for us as helper and advocate, just as Jesus was to those disciples. That’s why we can do something when we see injustice in God’s world.
As police attempted arrested Storme DeLarverie she looked out at the bystanders and shouted “why don’t you guys do something?” After an officer picked her up and heaved her into the back of the wagon, the crowd – who had been harassed and belittled and shoved into a closet for their entire lives – had decided they had enough.
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Each year many cities, including Boston, mark the event with Pride celebrations and parades – usually joyful days filled more with affirmation and celebration and that thankfully seem worlds away from that dark night.
Yesterday was Boston Pride and although my plans changed and I wasn’t able to march in the parade, I attended some of the event with my daughter and her friend. The day began at Old South Church where I got to hear one of my favorite preachers Quinn Caldwell whose sermon inspired much of what you’re hearing this morning.
Even though I wasn’t marching, I wore a clerical collar. As I’ve talked about in the past, I do this as a way to show a Christian witness at events where my faith pushes me to action and where – all too often – the image of Christians is not one of love and acceptance.
As a matter of fact, there were a handful of folks that we saw who were using the Bible and Christianity as a weapon against the LGBTQ community gathered in the city yesterday. At first, I tried to engage in conversation with two men who were holding a sign that said “Repent turn to Jesus of Burn.” After I realized that we would not find common ground in our heated argument, I turned my effort more towards witnessing to the love around me. Instead of arguing with protestors, I turned to folks gathered around them to tell them that God loves them just the way they are. Most replied, “yeah, I know that.”
Unfortunately, love and acceptance (especially of the LGBTQ community) are not the first thought many people have when they think of Christians. When folks first noticed my collar, I often saw them look confused or worried – until they saw the rainbow comma on my face and rainbow flag I carried.
There were a few times throughout the day that I was thanked for wearing my collar – for being a witness. For me, that was an easy yet meaningful way to show my support, to witness to God’s love, to hopefully offer some comfort, to do something.
We can do the work that Jesus did and we can do even greater works…because we have been given a paraclete, a witness, a comforter, an advocate.
Because we have been given an advocate, we can advocate for others. Yesterday’s Boston Pride seemed worlds away from the Stonewall Inn where people were targeted for who they loved and how they were created. But it’s not that way everywhere.
In the first six months of this year, we know of at least eight transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means – all of them black transgender women. Attacks on the LGBTQ community are happening physically by individuals and legally by government agencies.
Because we have been given an advocate, we can advocate for others. I believe that Jesus would be doing the work of standing up for the LGBTQ community
When Jesus left his disciples, he knew that there was still work to be done to bring about God’s reign, to bring to fulfillment the world that God created, a world of equality and love and peace. His disciples would continue the work because of the gift of the Spirit that they received when Christ breathed on them and when She showed up in wind and flame and dove.
And now, that breath of God breathes on us, filling us anew, giving us the courage and skill to do the works that Christ has taught us.