The Stories Project – The Rev. Rebecca Strader’s Story

These comments belong to the Reverend Rebecca Strader, Presbyterian Church (USA), pastor in Vermont. Following the murders of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans, it was she who revealed to the public after much soul-searching that the women were lesbians – a decision she was criticized for. All words below are hers unless specified otherwise.

TW: mentions of violence, murder.

My own journey has taken some turns in the intervening years since Julie and Lollie were murdered. The decision to give honest answers about Julie, rather than, “No comment,” was one that I would replicate. “No comment” as a way of citing confidentiality would have hinted at the same assumption, although also indicating that there was some shame involved. I imagine that not everyone would agree that I did the right thing. For that, I will remain eternally sorry.

It makes no sense, the violence that seems to come from a deep place in some people.  For a person to be “not male,” means that we are less worthy to be alive.  For a man to be gay appears to some people to be someone who rejected the male identity of someone who is “better than female.” For those people, there is no greater sin than being a gay male. Or being a lesbian who doesn’t accept her less-than role in life. 

I am fortunate to live in a state that has been a leader in rights for gays and lesbians.  Marriage is only one of the issues, but that institution has far-reaching implications for financial and familial security.  I still do not belong to a Christian denomination that will allow its clergy to officiate at same-gender marriages in a state that recognizes them.

I’m not sure that there will ever be enough evidence to convict the person who murdered Julie and Lollie.  But one day, I may again be summoned to Charlottesville, VA, to give testimony.  I am so sorry that the lives of two young women were cut short.  But I am glad that their gifts are remembered — not merely their “unfulfilled promise.”

How to Take Action During the Week

TW: Anti-LGBT violence is discussed in the abstract, but no details are given or specific cases highlighted.

“What should I do?” is a question I receive fairly often from people interested in participating in the Week of Action. For those who are joining us for the first time, I understand that it can be particularly confusing what exactly it is I am challenging people to do throughout the Week. However, that title is a bit of a misnomer as I cannot and will not tell you how you should take action during the WoA; it is intentionally left as vague as possible so each individual can make the event their own.

The force that drives the Week of Action is the concept behind it: we are joining together to promote and create a better world for LGBT people, in honor of those who lived and died in a world that was not. These are the murder victims, these are the suicides, these are the people who are no longer with us because our world is not a safe place for LGBT people. We who take part in this movement are the people who are sick to death of such a world. We are the people who want that to change. That is our common goal: we want to help make things better for LGBT people of today and tomorrow, so stories like the ones of those remembered here stop happening.

Is it an idealistic goal? Yes. Is it impossible? No. My challenge to everyone who takes part is to do one positive thing for the LGBT community, just one act that makes the world a little bit better for LGBT people. Or just one LGBT person. I intentionally left the “action, awareness, and activism” bit as vague as possible, because I want the Week of Action Movement to be what people make of it, an event that is open-ended enough that they can make it theirs. I don’t have specific things I am asking people to do. Whatever you feel compelled to do, whatever you feel would make a positive impact – this is your opportunity to do it. It can affect a whole community or it can affect just a single person. It can be something large and world-changing or it can be something small and simple. Give it some thought – what does it mean to you when I say, “do something positive for the LGBT community”? There is no one way to take action and there is no wrong way either.

Perhaps make a point to talk about LGBT issues this week. Perhaps fight to change legislation or fight to remove anti-LGBT laws in place. Perhaps reach out and let someone know, “You are not alone, and I am here for you”, or say something next time you hear someone make a cissexist or heterosexist comment. That challenge is whatever you take it to mean, whatever action means something to you. I usually choose to speak out in a way people cannot ignore and bring visibility to the now-189 stories that are being recognized this year. Because when others learn these are all people who have either been killed or killed themselves for no other reason than being LGBT, they react. They’re forced to. That’s what I intend to do for the Week – get people to react so they become interested in doing something for the LGBT community. The goal of a better world for LGBT people is what unites us during the Week – what exactly you choose to do is entirely up to you.

On a final note, I want everyone who takes part to keep this in mind: self-care is an action too, a form of action that can be downright revolutionary in a world that expects us to be unbreakable pillars of strength and control 24/7. When I first ran the Week of Action in 2012, I set it up so the event would always happen on or near May 13, which is the worst conceivable date I could have chosen to try and run a big event like this. I know many people, myself included, who have personal issues surrounding that date and this time of year, and I certainly don’t always have the energy to do all that I would like to. If this event is too difficult for you for whatever reason, it is completely okay to pass on participating or on trying to do something outside your comfort zone. The WoA is a challenge, not an obligation, and no one should sacrifice their mental health and well-being for the sake of the cause. If taking care of yourself is all you do during the Week, count that as a success and take a moment to recognize the level of badass it takes to survive each day. In the words of Mary Anne Radmacher, courage doesn’t always roar – sometimes it’s the little voice at the end of the day that says, “I will try again tomorrow.”

Author: Meg