Trice Gibbons has been a Presbyterian his entire life. As a child, he went with his family to a Presbyterian church. He graduated from Rhodes College, a Presbyterian-affiliated college in Memphis. And now, 20 years after college, he has yet to waver from his Presbyterian roots. 

Gibbons' family lives in New Orleans where he grew up, happily attending church with his mother, father and two sisters. His father was very devoted to the work of the church and once even took him on vacation to Scotland to see some of the key historical sites of the Presbyterian faith.

“There was never any question as to where I would be on Sunday morning," Gibbons said. "My father was committed to having his family at church. But that is ok with me. It kept me out of trouble."

After his father passed away, Gibbons' mother outed him in his late 20s.

“My mom wrote me a letter telling me she thought I was gay and that it was okay," Gibbons said. "So it has never been a big deal in my family." 

Just after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Gibbons' family members still living in New Orleans moved to Nashville to live with him and Paul, his partner of 15 years. This meant there were five adults, a six-year-old, three big dogs and two cats in Gibbons' two bedroom, two bath home. It wasn't exactly ideal, but it was necessary.

Pious from past to present

This life-long devotion to God through the Presbyterian Church has given Trice a passion for ministry. He currently works with the Middle Tennessee Chapter of More Light Presbyterians, a group devoted to seeking the full participation of GLBT individuals in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Gibbons was fundamental in establishing the local chapter of More Light Presbyterians, one of the key groups lobbying for support of the GLBT community amongst the Presbyterian faith. In 2003, frustrated with the lack of support for GLBT life in the Presbyterian Church, Gibbons and Stacie Rector, who at that time was the assistant pastor of Second Presbyterian Nashville, decided to meet with like-minded individuals from seven different congregations.

“Sometimes I think of all the things we could be spending our time, energy and money on, like doing what the church is supposed to be doing:  taking care of the poor, mission work, there’s plenty to do." Gibbons said. "We need to come to some kind of resolution with this and get back to the business of the church. In my opinion, this is not it.”

That meeting eventually led to what would become the local chapter of More Light Presbyterians.

“We were very careful to make sure we had a wide representation from many churches," Gibbons said. "We didn't want this to be a Second Presbyterian organization. People needed to have a sense of ownership to it."

His involvement with the church and passion for ministry doesn't end with these advocacy groups. His work with the local chapter allows him to serve on the National Board of the same group, which in turn, sent him to the national meeting for all Presbyterians (USA) called the General Assembly.

Change on the horizon

During the last General Assembly meeting held in June in San Jose, California, some ground-breaking actions were taken. The General Assembly voted 54 percent to 46 percent to end discrimination against GLBT members of their church and to provide spiritual and ordination equality for GLBT members. During the next two years, individuals from churches will decide to vote in favor of or against the actions. 

Additionally, while Gibbons was at the General Assembly, they voted to “recognize that married couples enjoy more than 1,000 protections, benefits and responsibilities that are denied to committed couples in same-gender relationships and their children.” This doesn't necessarily mean they are ready to support gay marriage. But it is a start on behalf of this denomination to end discrimination.  

The group plans to appoint committees to study to present the data during the next national meeting to be held in 2010. The committees will look at the history of laws governing marriage and civil union; how the theology and practice of marriage developed in the broader Christian tradition; the relationship between civil union and Christian marriage; the effects of current laws on same-gender partners and their children and the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.

Throughout recent history, the church as a whole has grappled with GLBT issues. There have certainly been moments of greatness though. The ordination of Gene Robinson as Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church, and the recent actions of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will undoubtedly lay a solid foundation for another generation. 

But there is still a tremendous amount of work to do. Gibbons said he is more than willing to take on his share of that responsibility so that future generations will not have to struggle to the degree that past and present generations have had to find a place of worship and service. He feels there is hope in the next generation.

“I think the next generation will see this topic as a non-issue," he said. "If the church can survive; it will move forward and this whole idea of GLBT anything will become irrelevant.”  

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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