I am honored to be able to publish Larry Trent’s very personal and very challenging sermon, preached at Westwood Hills United Church of Christ in Los Angeles, CA, on Pride Sunday, June 28, 2020 where he serves as Minister to Migrants. Larry so often tells other people’s stories, lifting them into the light — I am thrilled that he is willing to share from his own.
“Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.”
Probably, my earliest clear recollection is singing this song is as a 3 year old at Fairview Christian Church, Lynchburg, Virginia. I assure you I was the same loud, enthusiastic singer you know today. Or, at least the one you know when we are in the sanctuary.
Until I left Lynchburg for college, Fairview Christian was a huge part of my life. I was at the church every time the door was open. I sang in children’s choir and junior choir, and even as a soprano in the adult choir as a 10 and 11 year old! Of course there was Sunday School and Sunday worship. Youth Group. Summer Camp. It truly was my life!
For several years we had a dynamic young youth leader. Everyone adored him. He drove the church bus to take us to camp, to the church farm, Natural Bridge and many other outings.
One day he was no longer there. Just gone! No one would say anything about what happened to him.
My maternal grandparents were best friends with the minister and his wife. They sat at my Grandparents dining table many times and shared coffee together almost every Saturday morning. Thus, I knew the pastor well.
I approached him and asked what happened to our youth minister. “He was fired because he is a homosexual. Homosexuals are an abomination in the sight of God and will never enter into the kingdom of heaven. But, don’t you worry Larry. He will never minister in any church again. I will make sure of that.”
This was a 16 year old boy standing there in front of the minister I had known every day of my life. I was being told I was an abomination in the sight of God. No, my minister wasn’t talking about me, but he may as well have been. I had known since I was 5 years old that I was “different” from other boys. I had known since I was 9 years old that I was a queer, the word that was most often used. My father had already explained to me that there were men who loved men. So, I knew he was talking about me!
Something happened that day to my relationship with the church> I continued to attend just like before. However, I no longer felt as if I belonged there. In the Disciples of Christ (Christian) Church there is communion every Sunday. I had been a part of that ritual since I was 11. Suddenly, I felt like I should not be at that table on Sunday morning.
When I arrived at college in September of 1967, I started attending a Methodist Campus Ministry. My first Sunday there I heard the young minister talk about a God of love not the God of “hell, fire, and brimstone” that I had grown up with. He caught my attention. On about my third Sunday there, he read the scripture we read today, Psalm 139: 1-18. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me…. you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. I don’t remember exactly what the minister said that day, but I thought he was speaking directly to me. They were words I needed to hear. His words revived my soul. I came out to him later that week. His acceptance was a big step on the journey to Pride.
To give you an idea of what society was like in 1967. In 1967, two years before the Stonewall riots in New York City would bring gay rights to national prominence, CBS News aired a documentary hosted by Mike Wallace called “The Homosexuals.” It had been years in the making and was considered one of the most controversial issues a news division could touch. The report was filled with the tropes of the times: psychiatrists claiming homosexuality was a mental condition, provocative images of hustlers, and interviews with gay Americans in anonymity, including one man with his face behind a potted plant. Wallace could state without controversy that “most Americans are repelled by the mere notion of homosexuality.” He added, with a tone of journalistic certainty, “The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in, nor capable of, a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits.”
It was brave to even tackle the subject then, and the program also included sympathetic interviews with gay men talking publicly to a national audience for the first time. But the final product did not escape the deep prejudices of the times, and sadly, this ethos continued for years.
Dan Rather writes in his book, What Unites Us:
“If you had told us back in the 1960s and 1970s that there would be legal gay marriage in all fifty states, we would have been stunned. This was a notion that probably didn’t enter even the deepest reaches of our subconscious, let alone bubble to the level of an actual concrete thought we could put into words. You couldn’t ignore that there were women or African Americans in society, but you certainly could ignore the presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, who most often were closeted. That such people would one day be open members of society, living with pride and having children and legal marriages? It is impossible for me to adequately convey how utterly alien those notions would have seemed.
It may be difficult for some younger readers to imagine, but for most of my life the LGBTQ community was never discussed in “polite” company. Horrible epithets for gay people were bandied about without a second thought. The very theoretical idea of someone “like that” living in your neighborhood, let alone teaching your children, was seen as a perverted threat to society. It is hard now to think back to how much this malignant ideology crossed almost all political, religious, racial, and gender boundaries. If you had asked my younger self what I thought about gay rights, I am not sure exactly what I might have said, but I am sure I would not be proud of it today. The fact that most of my peers — and even many leading progressive voices at the time — felt the same way might explain, but does not excuse, my former perspective”.
Reading Dan Rather’s words are a step to Pride for me.
This year on June 1st, the beginning of Pride Month, the news was filled with protests over the murder of a black man in Minneapolis. In spite of the fact that Pride was barely mentioned in the news until well into the month, it was not lost on me that the origins of Pride are a protest, yes a riot, against police treatment of GLBTQ folks in New York City 51 years ago today. The first Pride parades were one year later in Chicago, New York and here in Los Angeles. In June of 1971, I attended my first Pride Parade there in New York City. I remember walking on Fifth Avenue with tears in my eyes. Another step on the way to Pride.
There have been many other steps along the way. I have been on this journey for almost 71 years.
Highlights include being a part of the Open and Affirming process at First Congregational in Santa Rosa, Ca. It was a two-year process culminating in a vote of 100 to 4 in favor. I remember sitting there in my seat listening to speakers. The four no votes had been in our home for dinner. In fact, almost everyone in the room that day had been in our home at least once. George and I had made it our goal to have the entire congregation over for a meal. The vote that day went a long, long ways to heal the wounds from my youth.
Over the next few years I traveled to churches all over northern California to speak in worship services of churches that were in the study process to be Open and Affirming. I believe I spoke at about a dozen churches over 2 years. All of them went on to become ONA. It is something I am proud of. And a step further along on my journey.
I was asked to join the Sonoma County Gay Pride Board. This group organized a Pride Parade and Festival in Santa Rosa. I was on that board for 5 years – two of them as President. Planning and being a part of those events helped me step out in more public ways. I spoke at Board of Supervisor meetings as well as City Council meetings. One thing I am particularly proud of is how, as a proud unapologetically Christian gay man, I was able to get many churches to participate in the parade and to have a table at our festival. Each year there were about 3,000 attendees at the festival. My role, as Board member and President was to go around and speak to everyone at the festival. To make sure they felt welcome. I guess this was a giant leap on the journey to Pride.
It is interesting that so many things aligned today. It is Gay Pride Sunday here today. There would normally be Pride Parade in New York and other places. Our National Body is celebrating ONA Sunday today. It was at General Synod in 1985 that the Synod urged UCC Congregations to become ONA.
And today, also happens to be the 42nd anniversary for George and me. We were legally married as soon as we could be….in La Jolla on a grassy knoll near the Cove. Out oldest friends, John and Janet Sage, were witnesses. My Pastor from Tucson, Rev. Delle McCormick, officiated. Part of her words that day were, “this was a long time coming”.
Maybe this would be a good place to end. As you all know, I am not really a preacher, but rather a storyteller. I tell the stories and you get to turn it into your own sermon. As you do, remember that we are all made in the image of God. God has known and loved us since before we were born. We are born to be proud of who we are. Let us all join together on a journey of Pride!