Jana Broder expected Wednesday to end like so many other days when a judicial body took an issue involving gay rights under consideration. ¶ With a decision for her and her wife Kimberly. ¶ Broder, a drum circle facilitator — she guides participants through African drum songs to create team building, stress relief and fun for corporations and youth groups — set off for a busy day thinking the U.S. Supreme Court would uphold the Defense of Marriage Act. Given that she and her wife Kimberly just got married in May, she prepared for the sting of such a decision. ¶ But the court surprised her, prompting a unique reaction. ¶ "I actually get a text from Kimberly, and it says, 'DOMA was struck down as unconstitutional. We have the same rights as everyone else,' " Broder said. "I started driving and I was really happy, but it hadn't quite sunk in. I thought, 'Did I read that right?' I read it again, and all of sudden, I found myself saying the Pledge of Allegiance." ¶ Broder, who lives in Apollo Beach, shared with Times columnist Ernest Hooper her thoughts about the historic decision, her Drum Magic work and the challenges she has faced as a lesbian.
Someone confronted you in Brandon once and said you were going to hell. How did that make you feel?
It struck me so hard. I don't know what made me say this, but I said, "Is Charles Manson going to hell? He murdered people in cold blood." He said, "Nope, but you're going to hell." I said, "But look at all that I do. I have daily conversations with God, and God thinks I'm doing the right thing, and my God loves me." He said, "You're going to hell." He was so defiant. I just couldn't even imagine that kind of thinking. I don't agree with a lot of people out there, but I would never presume such a huge statement.
I can't imagine how you felt when the decision came down, but certainly there must have been a lot of joy.
It's so interesting, because I've always compared it to civil rights. We're taking away people's civil rights. Just like our generation now looks back and thinks, "How could that have ever been?", I look at the generation of our children and they don't know what we're arguing about. They can't imagine why anyone would care who I marry.
Was it validation or vindication?
Vindication sounds negative, and it doesn't feel like vindication. Maybe validation? It's just so weird for my whole life to be something other than what everyone else is. Maybe even from a very young age, I always knew I was something other than everyone else, and I hated it. I wanted to be straight. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to find a husband and have three kids, but I couldn't.
But you are normal.
Right. Well you know, I'm 54 now, but it's taken me years to realize that. It was so wonderful at 54, never having been married before, never really having the inkling to be married before, that I finally found someone. We've dated for six years. … We always knew that when we felt it was right, we wanted to be married — whether it was legal or not. I really feel like it was sacred. I was never able to be married before. So we flew to Rockville, Md., — my aunt lives there — and we had a wedding right there. My whole family was there, and it was fabulous.
Have you thought about what the decision means from a legal perspective?
Unfortunately it doesn't mean much in the state of Florida, sadly, but I've scheduled a meeting with my CPA and I would sure love to know if federally it has some meaning to us. But at this point and time, we're still preparing our documents for living wills, because we have to be protected. I know people who have had cancer who weren't even allowed to visit their significant other because of not having legal documents in place, which isn't the case with heterosexual relationships.
How do you feel about the phrase "Love the sinner, but hate the sin"?
I have such mixed feelings about that. Everybody's a sinner. How can you not love everybody, and if you love everybody, you love sinners. Everybody sins. When people give me bad feelings about who I am, I wonder what God gives them permission to take another human being and make them lesser than them.
Clearly, there are still a lot of people who are opposed to same-sex marriage. What matters more to you, being recognized by the Constitution or being accepted by others?
I think what's important to me is my ability to be in relationships with other people. I always have assumed that the constitutional rights were the rights of all people. Those that think I should feel differently about that, I just don't agree with. As far as other people, I want other people to understand. . . . People have laughed at this before, because they think I'm a simple-minded person in this, but my favorite philosopher my whole life has been Mister Rogers, Fred Rogers. The reason being is this is what he's taught me: Life is for service. It's really not for anything else. We're only put here to help other people. When we forget that, that's when things start going wrong. That is what I'm here for, and everything else becomes unimportant.
Your work includes working with mentally ill children at a hospital. Tell me about that.
Every child I work with was below the age of 12. They have done things like caught their house on fire or murdered one of their parents. They are felons in a children's hospital. They have been deemed mentally ill, and once a week, I go in to these children and I drum with them. They express themselves through the drum. They learn that in their lives, they can change. They can be better people. At the end of every hour, every week, they're a little bit better than they were last week. We played a song, all of us together and me — you know, the sinner, the one who's going to hell — and they changed right before my eyes. These kids turned into angels. And I'm looking at them and saying, "Wow, what just happened?" Sometimes I have to pinch myself.
Sunday conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.