Straddling Two Hashtags

Sharon GrovesDr. Sharon Groves delivered the keynote address at Until All Are Free on August 1 to a rapt audience gathered in Hoverston Chapel on the campus of Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dr. Groves, the former Director of the Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign and currently working with organizations such as Faith in Public Life, framed her speech as “Straddling two hashtags,” referring to the Twitter convention of identifying messages with particular topics or events.

“I’ve been feeling my way through the emotional poignancy of the big, sweeping, cacophonous events of legalizing gay marriage” (hashtag #LoveWins) and “the domestic terrorist attack on nine churchgoers in Charleston” (hashtag #PropheticGrief). As a self-described “thought leader working at the intersection of faith, LGBTQ equality, and social justice,” Dr. Groves reflected on the two news stories that overwhelmed public attention on June 26, 2015. “If you are anything like me,” she said, “this summer has pushed and prodded you into new and recognizable terrains as your mind tries to catch up with the conflicted emotions felt in your body… The weddings and wakes of this summer are simply irreconcilable.”

On the #LoveWins side, Dr. Groves was surprised by the depth of her emotions on hearing the news that the Supreme Court had decided in favor of marriage equality. Referencing a post from an activist friend, she explained that, “Little did I know that there was an ocean of tears welled up from all the hatred” she experienced from marriage equality opponents and the emotional toll of “standing strong” in the face of what seemed impossible odds. “And while my logical brain did not place this on the utmost of hierarchy of needs for our community, my heart was moved beyond what I had let myself believe was possible.”

“There has long been a raging debate within the LGBTQ community,” she continued, “about whether we got off track by focusing so heavily on marriage equality when those most at risk in our communities—people of color and particularly trans-women of color, the elderly, and homeless youth—continue to live lives on the margins. Yet even those with the most withering critique of the movement’s priorities felt a sense of recognition that was hard to put into words.”

“We felt in our bodies that something significant had changed. We felt that we mattered differently in the eyes of the state, even if in the hearts of some of our neighbors and friends we still are excluded and judged. We felt seen and it made a difference. We actually saw change happen and we knew we had something to do with it.”

Yet on the #PropheticGrief side, Dr. Groves spoke of how she “went back and forth on the television between images of LGBTQ people dancing in the streets and President Obama eulogizing Rev. Clemente Pickney, the pastor from Mother Emmanuel AME church.” The #PropheticGrief hashtag, coined by a colleague, the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, got a lot of play that day and afterward. “It resonates with people who need a space to address all the complex emotions that the massacre, the arson attacks on black churches, and most recently, the avoidable tragedy of Sandra Bland’s death brings up” and whose “hearts refused to be reconciled.”

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As one twitter user declared, and as she has taken as her own watchword: “Prophetic Grief is now my faith community.”

Where to go from here? While resisting the urge to provide a “cookbook summation” of what should be done, she added that she thinks it’s still “important to take stock of our emotional resistance to the grief that comes when some of us are finally being recognized while others are being brutally murdered.” Dr. Groves offered these three thoughts:

First, we need more truth telling. “We have to look at the truth that many of us in the LGBTQ justice community have not cared a whole lot about those on the margins of our community and as a result we have helped to perpetuate a binary between race and LGBTQ.” At all costs, we have to avoid anything that “reinforces a deadly myth: that the LGBTQ community is a white community and that the movement is a white movement for white people. It’s not.”

Second, we need to get far more convicted for racial justice. “As a white lesbian LGBTQ faith activist who has spent the last ten years working for marriage equality, I have been becoming convicted also by the need to address white supremacy in my work.” Thinking about the “unrelenting and unmitigated violence against black men and women by police, a school-to- prison pipeline where police are becoming the new principles and jail the new detention, the dismantling of the voting rights act, and a racialized economics that keep Black and Brown people poor, it’s hard to fully believe that love always does win because in this case it just doesn’t feel like it did.”

“And when I see the subtle and not so subtle ways that racism has infused a largely white-led movement for LGBTQ justice—an infusion I have been complicit in even as I have attempted to critique it—my conscience convicts me. This is not about being a good or a bad person, it’s simply an amazing grace moment: I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

Thirdly, we need to focus on our kinship to each other. Dr. Groves spoke of using the idea of “kinship” rather than “ally-ship” as an “aspirational frame to describe our relationships across communities.” Kinship, she said, is “the obvious next step after becoming convicted. When you’re kin, people simply matter differently. It isn’t that family structures are perfect, far from it, but when we advocate from a place of connectedness something more is put at stake than being an ally or even walking in solidarity. It’s a shift of the heart.”

Dr. Groves concluded with these words: “Truth telling, a convicted conscience, kinship. None of these will get us out of being stuck but without them we can’t really love better and if we can’t love better all our organizing and strategic planning will be hollow at best and at worst will reproduce the oppressive systems we have been working to dismantle. Audre Lorde was right; the master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house. It’s time for a different way.”