This is the time of year filled with celebrations when we recognize the graduates among us; those who persevered to pursue a dream to completion, or to step into another beginning.
June 18 is when we celebrate fathers. My father is no longer with me in the flesh as he passed in 2000, but his spirit, his thoughts, his teachings remain with me and continue to mold who I am. So every Father’s Day I light a candle and lift up a prayer in his memory and in thankfulness for his unconditional love and personal message to me: “You’ve got to be happy.”
A June 19 celebration that was foreign to this native Michigander, but is a big deal here in Texas, is Juneteenth. So since I now make Houston my home, I embrace this celebration as well.
This is the time of year when we celebrate the true end of slavery for all. While Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862 – which became official Jan. 1, 1863 – the word and the actual enforcement of that proclamation didn’t reach Texas for another 2.5 years. On June 19, 1865, a regiment of Union soldiers led by General Granger arrived on the Galveston pier and were strong enough to overcome the resistance.
In other words, even though slavery was no longer the law of the land, those in Texas who benefitted from its continuation refused to heed the message until it came from the business end of a Union soldier’s weapon.
On the historical portion of their website, the Missouri City Juneteenth Celebration Foundation (www.mcjcf.com), which organizes a week’s worth of celebration, explains the full freedom delay this way:
“Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or neither of these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question. For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.”
So despite an additional two more years of forced labor, the celebration recognizes the resilience of our slave ancestors who found a way to source that inner strength allowing them to thrive and grow and create. The week long celebrations from June 12-19 held in different venues around Missouri City, Houston and on Galveston Island will feature family friendly events, golf tournaments, parades, scholarship recipients, foods, music and fun.
June is also the month for Pride celebrations for the LGBT community. The streets of downtown Houston are already showing signs of prepping for recognition with rainbow flags adorning street signs. The annual parade will be held in downtown Houston on June 24.
Pride Houston, one of the sponsors of the celebration, says “it is working to bring lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender individuals and allies together to educate the world on issues important to the LGBT community, commemorate our heritage, celebrate our culture and strive for equality.”
With more than 700,000 people expected to attend, according to their website https://pridehouston.org, its been called the largest Pride celebration in the southern United States.
I’ve never been to a celebration that large, but their vision is that “all may attend, be themselves and find like-minded people.”
Which means that even in the diverse LGBT community, if you are a person of faith, or no faith, shy or flamboyant, book reader or a TV addict, politically independent, Republican or Democrat, hopeless romantic or a player, you will find your tribe and more importantly find yourself even in the intersections.
It’s not an either/or community. It is a both, and community. Or to put it in southern terms, all ya’ll welcome community.
That much openness and inclusivity is scary for some people. It changes the status quo from male and female to same sex. It brings uncertainty. It makes some want to box you in and if you don’t fit in an acceptable box, they want to throw you out.
I’ve attended LGBT Pride celebrations in Grand Rapids, Mich., where I spent the majority of my adult life. They can be life affirming, soul-giving celebrations.
I was a daily news reporter for nearly 30 years with the Grand Rapids Press. I took the early retirement buyout in March 2009 with plans to start a freelancing and public relations business with my oldest sister Connie. But Connie died suddenly six months later when swine flu hit the state and the medical community did not know what they had. Shortly after her 56th birthday in September of 2009 she developed flu like symptoms. She was gone within a week and my family was devastated.
I returned to Detroit where she was living and caring for my mother and closed down the house. Then I brought my mother to Grand Rapids to live with me and received the opportunity of a lifetime. A chaplain friend, who made his life’s work spiritually supporting the LGBT community, wanted me to join him with an organization called Gays In Faith Together (GIFT).
He tapped me because in the 17th year of my journalism career with the paper I came out in a 1997 newspaper column identifying myself as an African-American Christian lesbian navigating her world in the overwhelmingly white, conservative Christian community called Grand Rapids.
My purpose was to give another face of the LGBT community at a time when it was easy to demonize what is not known. So fast forward to 2010 and I was attending Pride celebrations, organizing community conversations and making speeches around Grand Rapids and across the state bringing together the LGBT community with churches and church members wanting to accept and affirm them. Young ones, who had been kicked out of their homes because of who they are, were finding safe spaces and allies. We were building bridges and connections. But in the summer of 2012 my mother developed bone marrow cancer and I left my dream job to care for my mother who was given six months to live.
God blessed me and allowed my mother to live nearly three years. I eventually moved here to be closer to my other sister Vanessa and mother died here in June 2015.
I did not have an ideal retirement but I believe I was able to endure all of this because of the unconditional love I received from my father, Frank McClellan, who accepted the tearful explanation from his youngest daughter when I informed him, oh so many years ago, that I was a lesbian.
I knew people had been kicked out of their homes, abandoned by their churches, and demonized by government laws. But he listened and stated, “well Bo, (my childhood nickname) you’ve got to be happy.”
Of all the lessons he has taught me, such as doing an honest days work, being reliable, being honest, taking care of your family, “you’ve got to be happy” has always grounded me and kept me on the path of always being true to myself.
Which is why Pride celebrations, Juneteenth celebrations and Father’s Day all in June serve as intersections in my life. Each hold reminders to the importance of journeying to our best selves, being all that we are meant to be in mind, body and spirit.
May you find and give unconditional love this June.
(Editor’s note: Theresa McClellan is a correspondent for the Fort Bend Star. Joe Southern’s Faith, Family and Fun column will return next week.)