Music, liturgy and ritual for Rainbow people too
The following is an edited transcript of a speech given by Julie McCrossin, who emceed Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite, at City Recital Hall (co-presented with Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras) on February 21. Music director Sam Allchurch led the Sydney Chamber Choir in an original choral work by American singer and composer Holcombe Waller invoking remembrance and peace for the dead who suffered persecution for their sexual orientation or gender expression.
When I was 13, in the 1960s, I saw a film called The Loudest Whisper starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. It is the story of two teachers who run a small private girls’ school who are falsely accused of being lesbians.
It ruins their lives.
The parents remove all the students from the school and the teachers are ostracised. Towards the end of the film, the two teachers are sitting alone in an empty school. The Shirley MacLaine character breaks down sobbing and confesses to Audrey Hepburn’s character, “I have had those feelings for you.” She then hangs herself.
I sat watching this film when I was 13 and I was full of anxiety because I knew that I had “those feelings” for girls too. It was seven long years before I heard a single, positive word about homosexuality.
I finally did in the early 1970s, in the suburb of Glebe and at Sydney University when I found the people at Camp Inc and Gay Liberation and joined the movement to fight for equality—and we created a new, positive language about homosexuality and being transgender.
But during the seven years before I went to university and I met these Rainbow people, I had a heavy heart. I went to school at Church of England girls’ schools here in Sydney. I went to the prep school for Kambala, called Massie House, and I went to high school at SCEGGS Darlinghurst.
I loved my time at those schools. I especially loved the music, liturgy and ritual. I loved the glorious language of the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. I loved the choral music, the organ, the massed choirs. I loved God. But I always wondered: am I really welcome here? If everyone knew I had “those feelings”, would I be cast out and ostracised?
Tonight, we remember and bless all who fought prejudice and discrimination to change the world, who cared for those of us with HIV and AIDS-related illnesses, and marched beside us in Mardi Gras … and still do. We also thank the musicians and singers and production crew here at the City Recital Hall for affirming that the music, liturgy and ritual of faith is for Rainbow people – who are created and loved by God too.
And what about the future?
There are leaders in our religious communities who still tell children in schools that they must suppress their feelings of homosexual love. They say homosexuals and lesbians must live a life of celibacy to be acceptable to God. There are leaders in our religious communities who still tell children they must suppress their thoughts that they may be transgender.
In the coming years, these religious leaders will try to make our politicians pass laws to confirm a legal right to sack Rainbow teachers and expel Rainbow children from religious schools. We will resist these cruel people of today, just as we resisted the cruel people of the past.
Let me share some good news. Last year my old school, SCEGGS Darlinghurst, flew a Rainbow flag in the school playground to celebrate 40 years of Mardi Gras. The principal of SCEGGS Darlinghurst, Jenny Allum, sent a message to all parents, teachers and students that gay, lesbian and transgender people are welcome at SCEGGS.
In the Uniting Church in Australia, openly gay and lesbian people can be ordained as ministers. Ministers and congregations are free to conduct and host marriage ceremonies. At my congregation, South Sydney Uniting Church, gay, lesbian and transgender people are welcome and we hold positions of leadership on the church council.
The future is bright. The time will come when Rainbow people will be welcome in all religious communities. We have courageous allies and we are fearless!
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