When around San Francisco, sometimes you see these little rainbow stickers above the doors of businesses. You see them in other places too (I saw them in London, even) but San Francisco is a place you see them pretty commonly.
It’s kind of funny, as a gay man, walking into a place with a little rainbow sticker above or next to the door. In many ways it makes no difference whatsoever. Like, is my burger or cocktail or eve my antique really going to be of better quality because of a little rainbow sticker? No, of course not. The folk in that shop probably don’t even know I’m gay. Is the service I receive any different? You’d like to think that a rainbow-clad business would be happier or friendlier, but that might not always be the case. I went to a coffee shop on Valencia Street where the coffee was great but the staff were moody; they had a rainbow near their door.
But I still feel safe wherever I see that sticker. I can talk freely to my friend about who I’m interested in without worrying another patron will take offence to the pronouns I’m using; if I was dating someone, I could be affectionate without worrying about who was watching or how they would react; if I am there alone I might see a same-sex or trans* couple there and be reminded that I am not alone.
Essentially, that little rainbow sticker gives me permission to relax. I can stop thinking about the ways I fit in or don’t fit in, and instead just be myself. In a way San Francisco as a city is one big rainbow sticker, so I can understand why so many LGBT people come here.
In terms of my faith, because it is never far from my mind, my hope is that churches everywhere will become rainbow-sticker places. Not just for LGBT people, but for everyone. The rainbow flag represents many people coming together as one diverse community. In my past experience, church has been a place where people from many backgrounds come together seeking a common goal, serving a common God. I’ve met a few gay men while I’ve been in this city and had the odd experience of ‘coming out’ to them as a Christian. They’ve asked how my friends and family have reacted to my coming out, and they’ve been pleasantly surprised that I haven’t been maligned, ridiculed or kicked out; they say “I’m glad to hear your experience with them has been so different”.
It’s clear I’ve had it easy.
It makes me sad that so many of the folk I’ve met have experienced hardship simply because they no longer desire to hide the fact they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans*. The LGBT community is not the only group of people presenting a challenge to the status-quo in churches, and I believe the Church needs to be a place that loves unconditionally, just like Jesus did. This poses a challenge to me, because there are groups of people I find difficult to love. I’m not able to love them properly by myself; I need a community of people there with me to do it properly.
A rainbow-flag community of people with a wealth of experience from different backgrounds who can support each other to love those that are difficult to love—that is what I want the Body of Christ to be! I’ve seen shadows of it in the YouTube community, the LGBT community and the Christian communities I’ve been part of, so I know it is possible. It’s not necessary to have a physical rainbow sticker above every church door, but it is necessary to act like there’s one there; not just for the sake of people like myself, but for other people who struggle to find a home at church, or anywhere else for that matter.
But I cannot do it on my own.