ROTTERDAM – About a year ago, the Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam put up a progressive Pride flag outside its worship center on Guilderland Avenue.
The church put up the flag, which features black, brown, blue and pink lines in addition to the rainbow spectrum, “as a symbol of our deep commitment to welcoming diversity and inclusion of everyone, and particularly the LGBTQIA+ community, who are so often not welcomed in different faith spaces,” said Rev. Dustin Longmire, pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church and executive director of the Trinity Community Center on Curry Road.
The initial response to the flag was overwhelmingly supportive, Longmire said. But about a week and a half ago, when Longmire returned from a honeymoon that followed a wedding service led in part by an openly gay pagan priest, Longmire discovered someone stole the flag from outside the church. The screws fastening it had been undone.
“A lot of folks felt angry, scared, saddened by everything that took place. We weren’t really sure what to do,” Longmire said. But then church leaders talked and decided not only to put a progressive Pride flag back up in front of the worship center, but to also put a new flag outside of the church’s Trinity Community Center, which is a space devoted to addressing food insecurity, providing cultural events and fostering opportunities for self expression and mental wellbeing. It’s also the site of a community food pantry.
So on Wednesday afternoon, area faith leaders and human rights advocates stood in solidarity to raise the new flag in front of the community center.
“As a gay priest, this is something that’s near and dear to my heart,” said Rev. Jeremiah Lennox, Archdruid of the Nemeton of the Ways, a pagan community. “We’re clearly seeing a rise in homophobia and transphobia across the nation. As somebody who has both experienced homophobic attacks in my own life, and as somebody who serves a community that is primarily made up of queer people, it is something deeply near and dear to my heart, being able to stand here in this moment and just celebrate the moment proudly.”
In May, President Joe Biden said there was “rising hate and violence” against LGBTQ+ communities.
Rev. Grace Wilgefortis Ferris, a transgender priest of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America, part of a family of independent Catholic churches that worship in the Catholic tradition but are independent and not in communion with the Vatican, knows persecution all too well. That’s why Ferris, who came out as transgender about two years ago at age 62, wanted to stand in support of Wednesday’s flag raising.
“I’m one of the few transgender Catholic priests in the world. And as you can imagine, I’ve experienced my share of hatred,” said Ferris, who is the pastor at Saint Wilgefortis TransMission, a spiritual home for the transgender community. “God loves each of us the way we are. That’s what we believe in our church anyway. Since we launched that church about a year ago, we’ve gotten so many transgender people across the country to interact with us, and a lot of the stories are the same. They get kicked out of their churches, are ostracized by their families, bullied at school.”
Ferris said it’s time for the hatred to end.
“Anything we can do to quell that and turn it into love is a wonderful thing,” Ferris said.
Amaury Tanon, executive director of the Schenectady Community Ministries, said the message of inclusion should be supported by the larger faith community.
“The work that is done out of Trinity Community Center and the work that is done collectively out of Schenectady Community Ministries is the welcoming of everybody for who they are, how they are,” Tanon said. “So we stand in solidarity, representing each member in our faith community, representing the work that we do together.”
The issue is bigger than just faith, said Arthur Butler, executive director of Schenectady County’s Human Rights Commission.
“There are so many things that we are up against, but we are never going to tire as long as we have shoulders to stand on,” Butler said. “We can link arm and arm as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those who came before him did over the course of time, to let evil know that it will not win.”
Longmire said he hopes raising the new flag helps the community move forward.
“I think it was a good reminder for me, and for our entire faith community, that everyone is not where we all need to be in terms of being welcoming and supportive of everyone.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.