You could probably call my father a social justice minister because he outwardly acknowledged the devastating effects of racism, the gaps between those who had and those who did not, the lack of humanity for people in prison, and the loneliness of old people and their subsequent isolation in our community.
Often with me and my siblings, he would visit old and infirmed people in their homes and nursing homes, he would go to thrift stores to provide clothing and distribute clothing in neighborhoods, he would have large dinners and picnics that fed hungry people and he ministered to people in prison. Many thought of my father as a Reverend –as a person who understood the inequality within society and worked to change it. He cared for people and was a kind-hearted man who would give you the shirt off his back.
My father discovered my teenage brother’s gay magazines. After some “conversation,” he found out my brother, a favorite son, was gay. He couldn’t fathom it. His son was a pervert? A homosexual? He prayed to God to help him resolve this abomination.
His solution: Kick my brother out of the house “until he could get himself together.” There was an empty space at the dinner table and sadness in our hearts. We wondered what kind of father–earthly and heavenly–would condone such an act.
We learned that my brother had been taken in by his piano teacher (I learned much later that he was gay as well–God bless him). My brother would be seen periodically and he seemed depressed, wearing clothes that were too big and not his. His face became gaunt. He missed us and we missed him.
But he survived and thrived. He served in the Marines, learned a trade, became a favorite Uncle, and learned I was a lesbian. Then he became ill and was hospitalized. In just three days, he was gone. My favorite brother had transitioned.
When he died, my father selected one of his minister colleagues to give the eulogy. The minister told the mourners to get right with God because there would be no room for homosexuals in heaven. You could hear a pin drop.
My brother’s friends listened. I watched as my brother’s friends, who were gay, hung their heads in apparent shame. They were being told that there was no God for them, that their friend was in Hell.
That preacher would have me/us believe that my brave, kind and yes, God-serving brother would have no place with the Lord. Have mercy.
I walked out. Angrily! That’s not the God that I know. I am lucky that I learned that God loves me. My hope is that the folks that attended this funeral were able to hear from another minister or another person that those beliefs are not Christ like–that God is a God of Love, a God of compassion, and a God that welcomed my brother and who loves us just the way we are.
Dr. Imani Woody has been an advocate of women, people of color and LGBT issues for more than 20 years. She is the founding director and CEO of Mary’s House for Older Adults, a developing LGBT- friendly residential housing in Washington, DC. She has a PhD in Human Services specializing in non-profit management. Dr. Woody is currently working as a diversity consultant working in the field of health, aging and issues affecting the LGBT and people color communities.