In January 2015, I presented at the LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent‘s third annual forum in Harlem, NYC. As an ally, I was honored to be invited. The theme of the forum was “Ain’t No Hurt Like Church Hurt.” I spoke about becoming an ally as wekk as about sexuality in Islam and among Muslims. However, what I learned while listening to other speakers and audience members will stay with me for life.
I have Christian family members who are gay and have dealt with church hurt because of it. Yet, it is not something I ever witnessed up close or spoke in depth about with them. Being Muslim, heterosexual and cisgender at the conference made me feel like an outsider yet everyone treated me as an insider. I felt as if I were witnessing pain I had no business seeing yet I felt obliged to witness and testify to it. So many people stood up to talk about their church hurt. There were so many tears of great pain and rejection shed during the conference. Everyone there was a great example of resilience. Throughout the day, I just kept thinking how blessed I was to be in the company of such wonderful, embattled, yet humble and loving people.
So often, we become consumed with our own pain. I know for myself, much of my writing and thinking has been around my own personal mosque hurt and pain. I use it as an example for others and also as a way to work through the pain. But this conference, allowed me to de-center myself and really be in and around the hurt and pain of Christian folks who do not fit within the mainstream Christian paradigm. I was being schooled at every turn…not just my mind but my soul.
Toward the end of the conference, I was able to witness discussions on hurt, pain, and marginalization even within the LGBT community as some audience members pointed out how much of the “T” in LGBT was missing from the discussions and positions of power within the organization. I cried tears of sorrow and of joy when transgender audience members were asked to stand so that they may be recognized. Three stood, then six, then ten, then at least a quarter of the audience stood to be recognized with resounding applause. I cried as I saw pain and invisibility turning into love and acceptance. I do not think I have ever been among a group of people that made such strides in breaking down barriers in one day within their own marginalized community while also remaining loving and welcoming to “others.”
Almost six months later, what I learned from this conference is something I reflect upon almost daily. It reminds me of the beauty of the human spirit, the capacity for human suffering, and how there are no coincidences…every person and encounter is meant to teach us something about ourselves and others, if we are open.
Jameelah X. Medina, Ph.D., is an educator, author, and orator. Her latest book, ABCs of Living a Good Life: 26 Things I’ve Learned along the Way, is available for free on her website:www.jameelahmedina.com. She is also the owner and operator of Dr. J’s Apothecary where she makes all-natural products for health and wellness.