by Rev. Vance Haywood • Friday, July 23, 2021
January 20, 2021 - Inauguration Day in the US. I sat as many Americans did and watched as the new President and Vice President took office. Inaugurations are always exciting to watch however this one was very different. Regardless of political affiliations or party alliances, one thing we can all agree on is that the last 4 years have been some of the most trying times, if not in our history, at least in our lifetime. This tension boiled over just two weeks prior to the inauguration when a domestic terrorist attack was launched on the US Capitol building and was under siege as we watched in horror.
So, I found myself on inauguration day glued to the TV and overcome with emotion. I realized that I was taking a breath of fresh air in hope that with the change in administration would also come the change that we so desperately need. I thought about what people of color might be feeling, what queer people may be feeling, and what others who are marginalized may be feeling in these moments. I found myself asking “what does this mean to the people we work with on a daily basis?”
So, I decided to write a letter to the new administration. In that letter, I shared with them some of the work that we are engaged in and the struggle of those in the communities that we work with. Particularly how hard the last 4 years had been. I wrote to the newly sworn in President and Vice President that with their leadership comes a breath of fresh air for us and that our expectation was that we work together towards justice and equality.
On Monday, 21 June 2021, I received a phone call from the White House. The person identified themselves as the Director of Presidential Correspondence. They said, “The President is going to be in Raleigh on Thursday and has received your letter. We would like you to meet with him. Would you be able to come?” I’m not sure if I was more shocked at the invitation from the White House or the fact that they asked, “Would you be able to come?” I of course accepted the invitation.
The next few days would be spent having daily conversations with someone from the White House regarding the event or conducting background checks.
On Thursday, June 24, 2021, I arrived at Green Road Community Center to meet the President just before his address to the gathered audience. His stop in Raleigh was to promote COVID vaccine awareness and to launch a campaign to get more folks vaccinated.
On my black jacket, I wore a LGBTQ Pride ribbon (we were in the height of Pride Month). As I approached President Biden for our time to talk, the very first and most remarkable moment for me was him reaching out and touching the ribbon on my jacket and saying, “We have work to do.” The very first words that the President of the United States of America said to me, were affirming the need for work within the LGBTQ community. We continued and talked about the work that St. John’s MCC and MCC is engaged in and the people that we serve. I also found it profound that as we talked, he shared with me the conversations that he has had directly with Pope Francis regarding LGBTQ inclusion in the church. He said, “I’ve talked with the Holy Father about this, and he said to me, ‘who are we to judge?’”
As I have shared with many folks since this encounter, we have a journey ahead of us to continue fighting for justice and equality, but I have renewed hope. Renewed hope not in a person or political office, but in the fact that the President of the United States of America is acknowledging the hurt and the need for work to be done. No, it does not fix it, but it is a great place to start. I have renewed hope that the voices of trans women of color are being heard, that the cries of gender non-conforming youth are being heard, and that for people of color, we are making progress forward to finally dismantling structures designed to oppress. I have renewed hope that all who fall into the margins and particularly LGBTQ people finally can take a breath of fresh air and know that we are not doing this work alone.
In the words of President Biden, “We have work to do.”