It is June, which means Pride Month for members of the LGBT+ Community. Annually, June marks the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots that launched the gay (and eventually LGBT+) rights movement.
I am a member of this community. I am a transgender man and have fought a long internal battle to find self acceptance before I could become comfortable in my skin. As a 5 year member, I have found overwhelming acceptance within the Odd Fellows as a very “Out” member (with a few unfortunate exceptions).
I would like to hope that this organization is at the forefront of social issues and continued progress as we historically have been, with the formation of the Rebekahs and their Degree in 1851. Dropping exclusion based on race in 1971, and going full co-ed in 2001. Since that time we have had in one jurisdiction our first (publicly Out) Gay Grand Master, as well as a growing number of female and persons of color as Grand Masters. I look forward to seeing leadership diversity move its way up to the SGL level.
However, many jurisdictions still have a lot of work to do when it comes to making an effort to seek out and admit members that don’t match the “old” rules of membership. By not adopting a personal policy of inclusivity, they are closing their doors on droves of people that would bring their suffering jurisdictions back from the brink. With all Jurisdictions formally adopting the new Non-Discrimination Policy, it gives everyone an opportunity to do some soul searching and make some changes.
I would like to think that part of my personal growth through that transition could be attributed to the philosophical lessons our Order teaches and how they can be used as a member of the LGBT+ community. At the end of this piece you will find my interpretation of the Degrees through the lens of the LGBT+ experience.
This movement, like the IOOF, was born out of an unassuming tavern (the Stonewall Inn) by members of a marginalized community who clung together for mutual aid, support and assistance as a means of protection and solace from the harsh storm of human suffering.
These individuals from all walks of life, would gather in the evenings in secret clubs, away from prying eyes of the uninitiated, to find friendship, love, and live their life as truthfully as they could considering the law of the land said otherwise. There were passwords, and a secret “language,” now being lost to history, designed only for the Initiated to understand and to protect these “members” from interlopers who wished harm. There was a formal hierarchy of roles and leadership positions, as well as a system of mentoring for the younger members who had often times left everything behind. In times of need, with only each other to depend on, this community would pool their resources and had set up a network of communities where members could find help and safety when needed.
This sounds a whole lot like what the Odd Fellows and other Orders used to provide, and much like Fraternal Orders, these notions of a separate world inside of a world are fading. As our outside world grew more tolerant and socially responsible, the need for “mutual aid and assistance” and meeting behind closed doors became less necessary. In both the Fraternal and LGBT+ community, many view the need for these spaces and ritual now as comedic theater. A pantomime acting out the same movements out of loyalty to the cause but devoid of meaning.
Those that feel that way are wrong. They falsely assume that “The Cause” has been won and that there is no need to keep showing up. Maybe their individual woes have been set free, but there are still many who suffer greatly and are in need of mentoring and guidance. After decades of constant effort, record numbers, and many great social ills conquered or taken over by government programs, we cannot afford to coast much longer without finding a new laser focused vision. Soon enough, all the old timers that tell the stories of when things were really happening will be gone, and no one will remember why we show up anymore… Do you know what group I’m speaking of anymore?
So the community spreads out and the Lodge/bookstore/club closes and no one is there to shed a tear. Meanwhile, one block over, there might be someone who got beaten to death last night after getting kicked out of their home by their parents for Coming Out as transgender. Or someone in Anytown, USA who feels like they want to help make a difference in their town that is crippled by heroin addiction. But they just don’t know where to start, and it’s too hard for them to figure out on their own anyway. So they just go back to Facebook, frustrated, and post about how everything sucks, as their friends click “Like.”
This is why we must hold on and keep pushing. Even if our personal lives are safe and secure, there are others who don’t have that luxury. And there are tons of people out there that are fed up with the condition of their community and frustrated that they don’t have the skills to know how to take action.
An interpretation of the Odd Fellow Degree lessons when applied to members of the LGBT+ community.
The Initiation is like the self awakening and realization as you stare into the eyes of the reflection of your true self and shed your chains of fear and doubt.
First Degree of Friendship teaches self acceptance and the unconditional love you will receive from your true friends when Coming Out via the Covenant of Friendship. This gives you strength and community.
Second Degree of Love teaches forgiveness, compassion, patience, and radical acceptance of others even when they reject and condemn you. It is easy to help those in need that are our friends and supporters. However, it’s those that judge us most that we need to be sure not to close our hearts and hands off to when they call out for help.
Third Degree of Truth is being an advocate for those who cannot safely speak and live their lives openly out of fear and oppression. This means being a positive role model to show others that “It Gets Better.” Showing those that are bigoted that the Truth is that we are all brothers and sisters — capable of accomplishing great things hand in hand — if they dropped their weapons of ignorance.