Saturday, July 04, 2009
In Memory of Bonnie Tinker
Quakers are a relatively small faith group, so we frequently come in contact with the bigger names at conferences or events. Our modest numbers allow us the ability to often interact face to face with the most influential members. It is for this reason that so many Friends are saddened and shocked by the death of Bonnie Tinker. Her untimely demise was a gruesome end to the life of a woman who had been admired by many for her work on behalf of LGBT causes, anti-war demonstrations, and other activist causes for forty years or so. She had long lived openly as a lesbian with her long-time partner, and never felt any desire to hide the fact, which was much more of a liability thirty years ago than now. Her commitment to the Quaker Peace Testimony, which strongly emphasizes pacifism, led to her participation in Anti-War rallies, arrests, and even convictions in a court of law.
I met Bonnie for the first time (and regrettably, the last) back in January when I was still living in DC. She arrived with a bunch of out-of-town guests who were there to attend the forthcoming Obama Inauguration. The influx of a large number of visiting Friends made First Hour's worship much richer than usual. I will never forget the words of her vocal ministry during the service because they moved and inspired me to such a degree that I deliberately sought her out at the conclusion of the service to ask her a few questions.
She and I talked at some length, then she vowed to help me with my own concerns regarding encouraging and growing Young Friend attendance at meeting. She suggested several people I might contact and avenues I might consider. And right before we parted ways, she opened her arms to give me a hug and I shyly complied with the gesture, not expecting it and caught a bit off guard. Now she has passed on, but I feel fortunate that I at least had the opportunity to meet her, even once.
With a relatively uncommon last name of Tinker and well aware of her activist roots, I remember wondering if perhaps she was related to the Tinkers whose decision to wear a black armband to school in protest of the Vietnam War resulted in suspension and a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1969. As it turns out, she was the older sister of the four Iowa students involved in the case. She lived her life in much the same way as her younger siblings had back then: unapologetic, unashamed, and never afraid to push the envelope to advance a cause. This attitude won her both friends and enemies over the year, as well as tentative allies who sometimes felt like her tactics went too far. Even so, she was a tremendously influential person who believed that Civil Disobedience had a moral basis, one that need not be constrained by laws and restrictions.