I have spent a significant portion of my short life living in fear, terrified of the people around me. The fear is not unreasonable; I face daily stigma from being openly transgender, I spent my school years being bullied relentlessly, and have been sexually assaulted and verbally harassed on multiple occasions. Following the election, I have found myself facing even more fears, including the fear of losing my life to someone who believes that my gender identity is a threat to public safety. But despite my fears, I found myself standing outside the White House in a show of fearless and defiant love. The colorful sign that I hung around my neck read “LOVE in the face of fear and hate – FREE HUGS.” I stood in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, arms outstretched, and waited.
Young and old, black and white, male and female, they came to me. Some were wary, and some ran out of their way to throw their arms around me, but all who stopped were grateful for human touch and a little extra love.
There was a group of four men from South America who stood looking at my sign with open confusion. They didn’t speak much English, but when one of them figured out that I was giving hugs they swarmed me. Each man wanted a hug and to take a selfie with “the hug person” to send to their friends back home.
I had been nervous about the secret service agents nearby, but that anxiety dissipated when one of them wished me luck and another told me that he wished he were off duty so that he could hug me.
A photographer for the media risked being late to a meeting because he thought it was more important to document what I was doing. As he said “My job requires me to cover stories that people don’t want to hear. I want to photograph something that will give them hope.”
A mother and daughter talked to me at length about their fears about being female in this political climate. Multiple times they expressed their wish to have the courage to resist. I said that simply showing acts of love is enough to do just that.
Love one another.
It’s Jesus’ highest commandment, a cornerstone of the church, and yet it can be hard to practice in daily life. It seems like a simple command, but in a world where so many people are considered “other,” second-class, or even subhuman, it is easy to let hatred rule over love. Loving thy neighbor – every neighbor – is difficult, especially in the face of so much fear and inequality.
Sometimes it is easier to hate than to love those around us. Love requires a certain openness and vulnerability. Inevitably, love will sometimes lead to hurt. But to minister through love is to do the work of God in the world. Open your arms, open your hearts to every neighbor – every person – and you open your heart to God.
Skyler J. Keiter is a member of First Church Amherst (UCC) in Amherst, MA and a student at the University of Massachusetts where they study forensic anthropology. In their free time Skyler enjoys playing with their dogs, climbing and skiing down mountains, and smashing the gender binary. Follow them on Instagram at skyler_jay_28.