June 03, 2006

"Ex-Gay" Conference Coming to My Area

I am very disappointed to report that one of Focus on the Family's "Love Won Out" conferences is being held on Saturday, June 10 only a few miles from my home. It is being hosted by one of the larger independent churches in the area, Immanuel's Church in Silver Spring, Maryland. For those of you who haven't heard of them, this is where homosexuals can go to get "cured" of their same-sex desires. At least that's what Dr. Dobson and his folks want everyone to believe.

I am pleased, though, that there will be an organized opposition vigil in front of the church both before and after the day-long conference. It is being put together by Equality Maryland, the DC chapter of PFLAG, Teach the Facts, a group promoting education about homosexuality in Montgomery County Schools, and Christ Congregational Church, a UCC member.

I'll be participating in what is promised to be a silent and respectful vigil. I believe it is important for GLBT people and their allies to demonstrate their opposition to these farcical exercises whenever they come to town. Anyone in the DC area that is interested in participating in the June 10 vigil can contact Rev. Sandy Dodson at sandy@christ-ucc.org.

For more information on "Love Won Out," click here.

June 02, 2006

It's About Protecting Votes, Not Marriage

There is an excellent column on EthicsDaily.com about next week's Senate vote on the Marriage Protection Amendment that would restrict marriage to one man and one woman in all 50 states.

I've linked to columns by this writer, Jim Evans, who is a pastor in Alabama, and he again nails it with this one:

"The Marriage Protection Act is not about protecting marriage. It's about getting out the vote.
Never mind that it demonizes a segment of our population in a legislative effort no one believes will really happen. It works, and that's what matters, apparently."

I have yet to see any pundits on either side of the isle who think this Amendment will come close to receiving the 60% vote it needs to pass. Even if it did, 35 states would need to ratify it before it became a part of the Constitution.

It is painfully obvious that conservative Republicans are pandering to their dissatisfied religious right constituency. Could those voters actually be so shallow and narrowly focused to fall for that ploy? Anyone who is gullable enough to be influenced by this maneuver should have their right to vote taken away until they get a clue.

June 01, 2006

One God, One Body, In Service to Christ

In my latest column for Gay Christian Outreach, I share my thoughts about the divisions in the church caused by divergent views on homosexuality, and what each side can do to bridge the gap and move closer to God's will for our lives.

May 31, 2006

Brotherhood: Better Late Than Ever

This is my contribution to a special event, Blogging for LGBT Families Day. To see others, check out Mombian.

I was born into a LGBT family, but it was well into adolescence before anyone let me in on it.

My brother Michael was born in Washington, DC in June, 1950. Our mother was only 18 years old when he was born and did not stay with his father for very long. As a result, Michael was adopted by my aunt and uncle. By the time I was born in December, 1958, also in Washington, DC, my mother had remarried and I was raised as an only child in an allegedly “normal” home. My aunt and uncle had relocated to Florida, and later Georgia, while my family was anchored in the DC suburbs.

When I was a youngster, my aunt and uncle would come for visits with their three children. To avoid upsetting the perception of normalcy, Michael was always referred to, like the other two, as my cousin. Even as a na├»ve child, however, I could tell he looked nothing like his “siblings” and bore a striking resemblance to my mother and to me, but I never questioned it.

Michael had a tumultuous childhood (imagine that) and by the time he was in his teens had become quite rebellious. I had my first opportunity to spend extended time with him in the summer of 1966. He stayed with my grandmother (whom he grew very close to) in DC to take some advanced placement classes at Georgetown University. I thought my “cousin” was the coolest guy in the world! He was a lot of fun to be around. Michael was so smart, had a sharp sarcastic wit (one of the few traits we share) and showed interest in taking me under his wing.

During that summer, our mother taught me that Michael, although he was smart and fun, was NOT someone I should seek to emulate. He was a “troubled young man” who was “going to find trouble.” Once Michael graduated high school, he moved out on his own. He had long been chafing under the strict fundamentalist views of my aunt and uncle. Michael had been told repeatedly he was heading for a life that would bring him nothing but pain and unhappiness and he eventually found plenty of both.

Michael continued to visit my home, and we savored our time together. In some ways, we seemed to be kindred spirits. It was just so natural, so easy being with him and hanging out, just like having a brother. Little did I know I truly had one.

I had noticed something different about Michael, though, as I grew into adolescence. He didn’t seem to be very “manly.” I had been taught that men were supposed to like sports, tools, and cars. Michael, however, liked visiting art galleries, watching foreign films, and loved Barbara Streisand. I was sheltered enough not to connect those dots myself, but my mother finally told me the whole story about Michael.

It wasn’t one of those scenes out of a movie where she sat me down and said, “There’s something you need to know.” It was on a Saturday afternoon following a particularly nasty fight she had with my father. Mom was feeling sorry for herself and wanted my sympathy too. She walked me through some of the lowlights of her life and eventually told me about how she gave up Michael when he was born and that my aunt and uncle had adopted him. Least I get too excited, she also pointed out that he was destined to burn in hell because he was homosexual.

Neither of these facts was shocking. They actually helped some things make more sense. While my 15-year old mind was trying to get a grip on this newly clarified reality, I was instructed in no uncertain terms that this was the deep, dark secret of the family and NEVER to be uttered to another living soul. We had to maintain our family’s reputation after all. As I later learned, Michael had received the same instructions from our mother years earlier. She was a woman not to be trifled with, so we both toed the line. He later defied her enough to talk to me about our brotherhood, but it went no further while she still drew breath.

For the next two decades, Michael popped in and out of my life. Once free of the shackles placed upon him growing up, he sought out his niche in the world and began discovering who he really was. That journey led Michael to DC, San Francisco, Baltimore, New York City, Cincinnati, Toronto, Buffalo, and finally Rochester, NY. Unfortunately, he explored some of the darker sides of being a gay man. Michael made friends across North America, but drifted in and out of relationships.

He finally slowed down and planted roots in western New York State. That was not a result of any new clarity of purpose. Rather, he was fighting cancer and was too sick to keep traveling. This led to his final move, from Buffalo to Rochester because it turns out that Rochester is a great place to be if you are seriously ill.

While my brother struggled with his health and was completely out of touch, I had my hands full acting as caregiver for our mother. She was admitted to a nursing home in 1991, had a brief upturn, then passed away in October, 1992. Our grandmother had passed away only two months earlier, and my father had been gone for several years, so I was left to lean on the support of my closest friends to bury mom and move on with my life. This began a chain of events that finally brought Michael and I together as brothers.

Shortly after my mother’s death, I met Bette and we decided to get married. It was the first important decision I had made without mom’s direct influence, and it led to the second one. I decided it was finally time to break through the thick fog of dysfunction that had engulfed both Michael and me. I wanted my brother to be part of my wedding, the day that would begin a new and happier phase of my life.

I contacted my aunt and obtained an address for Michael in Rochester. I sent him an invitation and included my phone number. A few days later, Bette answered the phone and said “It’s Michael.” For the first time, we spoke not as kids still under our mother’s thumb, but as independent adults, man-to-man. He asked me how I would introduce him. That was a fair question since at my first wedding, my mother had deftly avoided identifying him as anything more than a miscellaneous family member.

I’m happy that I did not hesitate in replying “As my brother.” It was interesting telling my friends that, contrary to what they had always known, I had a brother. It seemed like something one would see in a soap opera. After the wedding, Michael entertained my friends and in-laws with bizarre (but true) stories about our family, some of which I had never heard myself. Later on, we had the first face-to-face adult conversation of our lives. In one amazing weekend, I had gained a wife and a brother.

It took us awhile to get used to our new relationship, and we didn’t contact each other very often. After about two years of sporadic communications, Bette and I traveled to Rochester to spend a weekend with Michael, and he reciprocated by visiting us the next year. We built upon the bonding that had begun after the wedding and started to understand what being brothers was all about.

Bette and I never made it back to Rochester, but Michael tried to visit us at least once a year. Bette, who was truly an only child, grew to love him like the brother she never had. As time moved along, Michael no longer came alone. He had met a wonderful man named Mike, and we grew to love him too. They just made such a darned cute couple we could hardly stand it.

It warmed my heart so much that Michael had finally found someone to love and be loved by just like I had. He and I had broken through the boundaries of dysfunction and narrow-mindedness that engulfed us growing up and made our own little family. Bette and I knew we could turn to them if we were in need, and I believe they felt the same way about us.

That theory was tested on October 11, 2004, when Bette suddenly passed away at the young age of 53. Along with the shock, I felt empty and alone. I called Mike with the horrible news that night (I always talk to him on the phone because Michael’s hearing is severely damaged), and they were on my doorstep the next afternoon. The memorial service for Bette was in Illinois, and Mike and Michael made the round trip with me, taking a week out of their lives with no warning to be with me and give comfort and support.

One moment I will never forget was when I came out of the funeral home with Bette’s remains (she had requested to be cremated upon her passing). Mike and Michael had waited in the car, prepared to begin the trip to Illinois. As I approached the car, Michael met me, put his arms around me, and held me while I cried like a baby on his shoulder. We always love joking around, but when it was time to get serious, my brother was there big time, both physically and emotionally.

Isn’t that what the whole concept of family is truly about?

As I write this, I am returning home from a visit to Rochester with my wife Brenda (God richly blessed me with a new partner after calling Bette home). Mike and Michael were the first people I knew to meet Brenda when they visited Maryland shortly after we started dating. I even got the big brother talk from Michael about not rushing into a new relationship. They both see how happy we are and have accepted her into our strange little family with open arms.

When I hear all the rhetoric about “preserving the traditional family,” I cringe. I think we should strive to do a lot better than that! Michael and I both grew up in “traditional families” and spent much of our adult lives recovering from it. What we have now, that’s a family!

As long as you’re still on this earth, it’s never too late to have a family, even if you have to wait for it like Michael and I did.

May 30, 2006

"Thorns In the Rose Garden"

Wayne Besen is one of my favorite writers regarding GLBT issues, and his column this week again knocks it out of the park.

Besen discusses the political strategy President Bush is following. The master planner is Karl Rove, and he has been successful enough to get Bush elected twice, but Besen believes the bloom has come off the rose.

A cornerstone of Rove's strategy has been to smear opponents and promote fear, and the GLBT community has been a favorite target. He will go to that well again on Monday, when President Bush is scheduled to hold a press conference restating his support for the Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage on the eve of the scheduled vote in the senate.

Besen writes, ".....it has always been easier to scare than to care. Rendering people blind is simpler than providing a positive vision. To me, Rove is a cheater - the Barry Bonds of politics. Homophobia and hysteria are the steroids and he injects the poison into the body politic at every opportunity."

Please contact your senators and let them know that if they fall for this tactic, they are at risk of losing your vote.

May 29, 2006

Strong Opposition to Federal Marriage Amendment

I'm back from a wonderful refreshing trip to visit my brother and his partner in Rochester, NY. It was great to get away, but it's time to get back to business.

Last week, the Washington Post printed a strong editorial (free registration required) opposing the federal constitutional amendment that would prohibit same-sex marriage all across the United States.

The Post did not opine of the merits of same-sex marriage, focusing its opposition on the process of amending the Constitution. The Post feels that there is absolutely no reason to take this matter out of the hands of the individual states. Here's the key point:

"On the merits, there is simply no case for an amendment that would write into the Constitution an express command to every state and federal official to discriminate against a class of people."

Well said. Hopefully some senators will consider the wisdom of this arguement and forego pandering to the Religious Right by voting against this grievous amendment that would make discrimination a part of this nation's fundamental laws.