Photos By: KB Candid
Rev. Deborah Elandus Lake cannot remember the exact moment when she knew made up her mind to become an activist. Activism has always been a part of her life; it was a way for her to not conforming to societal boundaries and doing what she was “expected” to do. In 2008 she won PrideIndex.com’s Esteem Award for Outstanding Service, Female on behalf of her work as Executive Director of Sankofaway Spiritual Services, a community based organization that encouraged voluntarism. In 2010 much of the regret of the community she closed Sankofaway and moved to Boston from Chicago. PrideIndex talked to Lake about starting over in New England, her involvement with the church and thoughts about marriage equality and gay rights.
PRIDEINDEX: Hello Ms. Lake thank you for agreeing to be interviewed with PrideIndex.com it’s been a while since we have had contact with you since the closing of Sankofaway Spiritual Services.
DEBORAH LAKE: Thanks for inviting me to share some of the things that I have been up to. it has been a while; it’s good to be in touch again.
PI: I wanted to start off by asking why Sankofaway closed its doors.
DL: Sankofaway closed its doors several reasons but the main reason was because of lack of funding. One of the things I was committed to when I started the organization was to have a place for people to could volunteer and give their services without our having to worry about paying them or having to the community pay for our events; by having an all volunteer staff, myself included, it allowed me to be able to do that.
It allowed us to have discussions and the different activities open to all people regardless of their income. But grants and funding dried up. Our donor base was not enough to keep the doors open so reluctantly the board and I decided to dissolve Sankofaway Spiritual Services.
PI: Have you considered starting another agency such as Sankofaway Spiritual Services where you currently reside?
DL: Of course I thought about it. I love the work, I love the people that I worked with and those that I ran into on a daily basis but its hard work and it takes a lot out of you and it eventually takes its toll. I have thought about it starting another not for profit with the lessons that I’ve learned from Sankofaway. At this point I have moved in another direction so the answer is “No.”
PI: Where do you currently reside?
DL: I am in Boston.
PI: Why did you decide to relocate to Boston from Chicago?
DL: It’s a complicated story. Part of my leaving brought me closer to family located here. Part of my leaving was saying good bye to some complicated and difficult relationships. My partner at that time and I broke up and I tried to leave Chicago to start off new in another place. I love Chicago but I’ve met some new people here, and Boston has its own charm so I’ve decided to stay.
PI: You were very active in the community, and have written several articles on the challenges and difficulties of working with youth. You wrote a memorable Opt-Ed piece in The Windy City Times surrounding gay youth hanging out on Halsted Street. Are you currently working with youth or have plans to in the future?
DL: Currently I am not specifically working with youth but I am open to it. I am invested in working with youth, they are our future. I have children and grand kids as well so it is important to me to expend as much energy as possible to ensure that the new generation coming up will have what they need to succeed and represent the community they are from better.
PI: Are you currently involved in the church, I understand that you were active with the Chicago Chapter of The Interfaith Alliance?
DL: I have a different faith on church perse. I am a minister, and invested in the church but I am not invested in building a church. I don’t have the energy that it takes to keep a church going, get the church paid for and keep people in the pews. I do minister to people and teach them to how to combine their spirituality, physical and mental well-being by not separating them out. No I am not involved in the church but I am still ministering.
PI: Are you still writing? Have you considered writing a book about your experiences?
DL: Yes I am still writing. Writing is part of who I am. I am working on a book too. I have a blog where I write about different things that involve the physical, spiritual and mental well being of people. My book will include my experience as a butch lesbian, my whole experience to date and what I have learned about my activism in the community and how we treat each other. The book will talk about how we (LGBTQ people) look out for each other and some of the short comings and our triumphs. I cannot say when it will be coming out but it will be coming out in the near future.
PI: Tell us a little bit more about your blog?
DL: The name of my blog is “Living Your Power In Your Life,” it can be found at livingpowerlife.blogspot.com. I started it about a year ago while in the middle of my healing and strengthening process. I realized that there were a lot of places where I gave my power away. We all have God given power that’s ours to do what we will with it. My blog teaches what I’ve learned about claiming power and living power in your own life and connecting with other people.
PI: Talk about some of the strides that have been made in the struggle for LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. Illinois is working on putting laws on the books to protect the rights LGBTQ people, what do you have to say about that?
DL: I think it is wonderful. I have been following some of what has been happening in Illinois and I commend all involved for the work being done there. I smile because I think I have contributed in a small way.
One of things I often emphasize is that we’re must get away from making a big issue about the church not marry LGBTQ people. I’ll give you an example. I was talking with straight man about gay marriage and he was giving the usual run down about how it is not right blah, blah, blah. I said, “I don’t care if Reverend John Happy Cakes marries me or not but what I do care about is whether or not I have the same respect and the same rights given to a straight couple. That’s what excites me. When I see the laws protecting us as couples, as families that have children, and illnesses that we have to get through and get each other through, that’s all that matters. We must have laws protecting us especially when I see young people coming out and saying “I am gay, so what’s wrong with me? It’s cool. This is encouraging and makes me happy to be living in this time; we have come a long way in such a short period in time. We have to get away from battling the religious battle because you cannot tell someone what to believe it is on their spirit and part of their psyche. You will ultimately loose that battle.
PI: If President Obama were to call you up tomorrow and say “Reverend Lake I’ve heard about all of the work you’ve done on behalf of the gay community, I would like to offer you the position of Presidential Liaison to the LGBTQ community. What is the one thing that I should do to advance LGBTQ Equality in the right direction?” What would you tell him?
DL: The one thing, if I were limited to only one thing, would be to tell him that he has the power to pass the laws. I would tell him to stand firm and not to get into any religious battles (debates). If someone asks you (President Obama) to simply tell them why you did it tell them because that’s my faith. Just like their religious beliefs is part of their faith.
He could call it gay civil rights, civil law or whatever but I would tell him to stay out of the religious arguments as much as he possibly could. I do believe that he’s doing a good job. I am really glad that he’s our president because he does support gays and lesbians and our families.
PI: What words of encouragement would offer to our gay brothers and sisters around the globe who live in oppressive countries?
DL: First off I would say to them to keep struggling for gay rights in their countries. I would say, “What do you need from us in respect of your journey? What can I do to walk along side you?” I would not tell them what they need to do or say here’s what I’ve got for you. I would say what you need for me to do?
I would also tell them to stay together and not let start any small bickering that we (humanity) tends to do because when we do we lose sight of the goal. And lastly I would tell them to love one another and perhaps we (LGBT people in the US) can pool our resources together and use the little clout that we have to support you.
PI: Do you think that we will ever elect a gay President of the United States? If so when?
DL: Of course we will. I do not have a crystal ball out so I cannot say if it will be a gay woman or gay man or transgendered person. I could not tell you when but things have moved so fast so far who knows?
PI: What’s next for you professionally?
DL: I have a few items in the fire right now but I am not ready to talk about them all right now. I will complete my book; continue to write my blog, minister and to do speaking engagements. One thing I will say Is that I am reclaiming my butch identity and writing about what that means to me as a way of helping others to claim their identity and throwing some thoughts out there for them as well.
Reverend Lake’s interview took place before the Boston Marathon terrorist attack. Lake assured Prideindex that she and her daughter were just fine.