Last night a gay and bisexual men's group operating out of a local university hosted their monthly coffee night here in my hometown of Idaho Falls. Because of the university and a gay bar, Pocatello naturally has a stronger and more visible gay community. Idaho Falls is much more conservative town even though it is roughly the same size as Pocatello, so, unless you know people already in the community, it would be hard to find a visible gay community here.
It's a blessing that the group has coffee night once a month here because Idaho Falls needs a stronger and healthier gay community, and it needs something that will reflect the character of Idaho Falls.
When I was in Atkinson, Nebraska visiting a gay friend who's a priest, he lamented the breakdown of institutions like gay bars. With the rise of the internet it's become easier to network but frequently it's done anonymously. He told me stories about men who were known to be gay in their communities but instead chose to live a lie and hide it. Being secretive may seem safe, but it attacks our ability to trust one another and really be ourselves.
It is incredibly easy not to risk being "out," but that comes at the cost of wholeness. Sexuality is set apart and compartmentalized in unhealthy ways. I understand the concern; I.F. is not known for being accepting of anything that isn't Mormon/white/straight/Republican. Hiding in the closet only to emerge for unhealthy expressions of sexuality, though, is not the answer. It is spiritually, emotionally and mentally harmful.
Building a gay community here in I.F. (and by extension the northern part of the Snake River Valley) will be a hard task, but it could have great results. And what's more important is that it will be authentically Idaho Falls and authentically gay. There are parts of gay culture I don't agree with or support, and some of it I just don't participate in because it doesn't resonate with me. Part of it, I'm sure, is the effect of living in Idaho Falls. That's fine; not everyone needs to be like me.
So a gay community here in Idaho Falls is about building something that is healthy and is rooted in the people here. It recognizes who we are and both challenges us to be proudly and happily gay while at the same time meets us where we are.
In a way it's like the Anglican tradition of Christianity (see? I was gonna fit religion in here somewhere). Anglicans see Christianity as not a "one size fits all" way of relating to God. There are so many different ways we worship God and different ways we talk about God and different ways we live out that relationship with God. In all the differences, though, there is the same Gospel, the same Lord, and the same Baptism. The seed of the Gospel is nourished by the ground it is rooted in, but, if it is faithful to God and the Gospel, the differences help the Gospel make sense to different people. So we need to build a gay community here that reflects the character of Idaho Falls (and not San Francisco, not Salt Lake City, not Omaha). At the risk of generalizing, though, there will still be something that unites all of us gays.
The similarity doesn't end there, either. Being gay and being Christian both require living openly even in the face of risk. It's not much a choice but a calling. The visibility of the church and the visibility of the gay community should be signs of the goodness of those communities. Not debauchery, not judgmentalism, not passivity, not hypocrisy, not vanity. Being known as a Christian or being known as gay can be risky, but I'd rather take the risk for the truth instead of hurting myself and others with secrecy.
So in the tradition of Stonewall, I'm proud to be who I am: gay, Christian, Idahoan. Thanks be to God for calling us to a life abundant!