December 02, 2006

Mixed Bag in South Africa

The nation of South Africa is on the cutting edge in two important areas these days, one good, the other horriffic.

South Africa recently joined the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Canada in legalizing same-sex marriage, and they're lining up to do so. There is already such a backlog that many couples will have to wait until at least January to exchange vows. That's wonderful news.

The bad news is that many South African teenagers are not likely to live past their 60th birthday because of the overwhelming AIDS crisis in that country.

When I saw that headline, I couldn't believe it was true. After all, living in the United States, we hear a lot about how life expectancy is increasing so much that it threatens the solvency of our Social Security system. This report states that 15-year olds currently have a 56% chance of dying before they turn 60, up from 29% in 1990. Life expectancy in South Africa has dropped like a rock, from 63 in 1990 to 51 in 2006. Estimates are that over 11% of the country's population is infected with the HIV virus.

Reading that just makes my blood run cold.

These people need help, and they need prayer or else the gains they made in GLBT equality could literally be short lived.

AIDS Is Not a Gay Disease

Yes, you hopefully already know that, but a lot of people still don't. One person spreading the word unfortunately had to learn it first hand. Tema Gerhrardt contracted AIDS in 1985 from having sex with her boyfriend. She is now going around to schools in the Baltimore area making sure they know that "this is 100 percent preventable. When you have sex with somebody, you are having sex with everyone that they have ever had sex with. It's like a pyramid."

Teenage students are an important target area for AIDS education since 13% of the new cases being reported are among people 13-24 years of age.

I was stunned to see that my home state of Maryland has the fourth-most reported cases of AIDS out of 50 states, and the Baltimore area had the fifth highest total among U. S. metro areas. Neither one is near the top in total population, and that tells me people like Terna Terhrardt have their work cut out for them.

Thanks to PageOneQ for the link.

December 01, 2006

Do It Their Way Or Not At All--Even If People Die

That's what I hear from the Christian conservatives who are pushing Congress to cut US funding into the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. This fund fights not only AIDS but also Tuberculosis and Malaria in 136 countries.

So what could be wrong with that? In the eyes of organizations like Focus on the Family, there are issues like encouraging the use of condoms, providing clean needles for drug users and, in the words of FOTF's senior director of government and public policy, Peter L. Brandt, "It does such an unbelievable job in discriminating against faith-based organizations."

So because the Fund does not follow the rigid philosophy of FOTF, they and other groups of that ilk want our country to pull out, which would surely mean PEOPLE WOULD DIE!

Is that any different from the Phairasees not wanting Jesus to heal on the Sabbath because of the Jewish laws? I don't think so.

The Phairasees put rules ahead of people, and so does Focus on the Family and other religious organizations who want to short AIDS funding.

November 30, 2006

"The Cost of Coming Out Early"

If you're like me (God forbid), high school was an awkward time in your life. I struggled, like many of my friends, figuring out where I fit in and trying to figure out the whole dating thing.

Just imagine having added to that the uncertainty about which gender you should be dating, or even knowing that, but the answer being someone of the same sex.

This article from the Wilmington, Delaware News Journal, delves into the issue of teenagers coming out as gay or lesbian. They are a growing but still very small minority, which in high school is a major issue because the challenge of fitting in becomes even more daunting.

November 29, 2006

Churches Finally Mobilizing to Fight AIDS

World AIDS day is coming up on Friday, December 1, and the United Nations has issued an update that indicates World's AIDS epidemic is getting worse. Here is an excerpt from the report via the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:

Religious leaders, citing a new report by the United Nations, are cautiously optimistic that the moral and political will to fight the pandemic is being finally being mobilized.

The statistics, however, are sobering, and religious groups vow to keep pushing politicians toward increased action -- and spending -- against the disease.

The U.N.'s 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update said the HIV epidemic is growing, with an estimated 39.5 million people worldwide infected with the deadly virus. In addition, the report said:

-- 2.3 million of those living with HIV are children under the age of 15.
-- 4.3 million became newly infected last year, 530,000 of them children.
-- 2.9 million died of AIDS-related illnesses, 380,000 of them children.

Let's pray that reports like this and events like the conference Pastor Rick Warren (author of "The Purpose Driven Life") is holding will continue to raise world-wide awareness and encourage churches to mobilize their resources to save lives.

November 28, 2006

Interview with Jen Austin

Jen, the author of "Coming Out Christian" which I reviewed a couple of days ago, was kind enough to answer a few follow-up questions. She and her partner Angela are in the process of trying to have a baby, a process she writes about on her blog at She is also a big Dallas Cowboys fan.

Oh well, nobody's perfect.

Q: What kind of feedback have you received about the book? Is there anyone you know of yet who has been led to make any major life changes based on your story? How have folks responded at your book signings?

A: The feedback has been wholly positive. The book seems to have opened up a dialogue and encouraged others to tell more of their own stories, which is all that I could have hoped for. It seems to have stirred the spiritual pot a bit. As we were leaving church a couple of weeks ago, one of the pastors told me that another church member said it was a "life-changer," but I don't know exactly that means. It's funny how the feedback just barely trickles back to the author! As long as it's helpful, that's the important thing. I know that one young gay man was encouraged to start his own Bible study independent of any church, so the book has renewed his personal determination and enabled him to take better ownership of his faith. That's encouraging. And just recently I got an email from a mom who hopes that my book will be the thing that helps her daughter realize it's okay to be a lesbian and still love God. These are all humble reminders about how powerfully God can use us when we allow ourselves to become vessels.

Q: Was anyone you wrote about in the book, especially Angela, uncomfortable with the directness and honesty in which you told your story and/or wrote about them?

A: Angela read most of the drafts as the book was being constructed, and she was okay with the honesty. She even helped me dig deeper in many places, and I think hitting the bottom of that emotional barrel made the book better than it otherwise might have been. It's painful for both of us to go back and read the parts of the book that highlight the weak spots in our relationship, but we don't regret that we've been exposed. The book is real, and that's what makes it relatable. The people who get upset with me are the new friends who don't know all the details of our history, and then they read the book and want to smack me! I made misakes, but God picked up the pieces and put them back together again. That's the truth that ultimately breaks through, and in that God is glorified.

Q: Was there any particular moment you and Angela realized you wanted to have a baby or was it a gradual process?

A: It was a gradual process. Angela always wanted to have a baby, but I was more career-driven and goal-oriented, and thought I didn't have time to be changing diapers. Quite plainly, I was selfish. (And perhaps a bit afraid of being judged as a gay parent. I thought perhaps I shouldn't bring children into the world under these circumstances, and that it might be better to remain focused on work.) Then things began to happen in my life that seemed to awaken me to the idea of having a baby, and I gradually grew into a place where the desire to have children was stronger than the desire for anything else. Now, I'm pretty much consumed by it. Call it maturity, or a ticking of the biological clock, but I can't wait for the day that Angela and I become parents. Five years ago the thought might have sickened me, but after maturing as a lesbian and as a Christian I've realized it's the simple things in life that ultimately give it the most profound meaning. The thought of being judged or discriminated against as a gay parent doesn't bother me a bit now, because I know that God will be at the center of our family and God will be what ultimately defines it. Anything else that comes at it from the outside will just be meaningless periphery, and the truth will remain firm despite it.

Q: What did you learn about yourself and your faith while writing the book?

A: I've never considered myself to be perfect, but when glaring personal weaknesses are written down on paper and published, it can make a girl wince. At the same time, it's inspiring and humbling to see the things that God can do in the midst of weaknesses if we name them and open ourselves up to being healed. I feel like a stronger person having overcome the worst of myself, and I'm grateful to God for the blessing that has been added to it. It's nice to know that my being a lesbian is not what gets in the way of my faith; it's my being an idiot that does the damage! That's strangely comforting, and I might not have known the depth of it if I had not written the book.

Q: You made mention on your blog about a new book you hope to have out next year. Can you tell me anything about it?

A: The new book is about taking better ownership of our faith as gay Christians. I'm incredibly grateful for folks like you, Jim, who aren't gay, and yet accept us fully and believe us when we say we have reconciled faith with sexuality. The support is revolutionary, and it will continue to carry us and edify us. But laws won't change and fundamentalists won't stop the derrogatory propaganda until we as gay Christians become so articulate in our faith that God practically jumps from our chests and declares a new gay Christian covenant. God is alive in gay Christians now, but we need to make sure that God is increasingly visible. I hope that the new book helps lead us in that direction.

Q: I see you're on My Space now. Is that part of a concerted effort to do more outreach? What kind of feedback have you received there so far?

A: I originally joined myspace about a year and a half ago as a way of connecting with radio listeners. (I work for Mix 102.9 in Dallas.) Then I discovered that a lot of my friends were on myspace, so it became a way to connect with them every day. It has gradually become an outreach mechanism, although I hesitate to call it that. I don't want people to hear the word "outreach" and take off in a dead sprint. I would rather that myspace simply be a way to get to know me as a person and as a friend.
I have noticed that people who disagree with me feel awfully free to tell me so on myspace. I've heard a variety of derrogatory things, and most of them try to make the point that I'm being misled by thinking that it's okay to be both gay and Christian. One 18 year-old boy in Alabama told me once that I am what's wrong with America, and that he hopes the Christian Right will eventually become successful in ridding the country of the immorality that I represent. If he lived close enough I might have invited him over for a Coke Zero, Triscuits, and Flannel Pants Movie Night at our house, so he could see exactly how "immoral" we truly are. But people see what they want to see, and gay was the word that jumped out at him and became my primary identifier. Still, I hope that myspace will continue to serve as a place to connect and positively impact others.

Q: How 'bout them Cowboys?

A: Oh, the Cowboys! If I were a straight chick I might start stalkin' Tony Romo. As it is, I'm content to keep diagramming plays and jotting down coachspeak in my own little lesbian football handbook. How 'bout that 3-4 defense! Sometimes the stereotypes are right on.

November 27, 2006

Bridge of Light

Fellow blogger Joe Perez over at Gay Spirituality & Culture asked me to let my readers know about "Bridge of Light." Here is how he describes it:

What: A new cultural tradition for celebrating the full equality and dignity of all people

When: December 31, 2006 and January 1, 2007

Where: Public and not-so-public celebrations to be held across the USA (and beyond)

Why: To raise awareness of the full spiritual equality of GLBT people and of all people, to have fun, to strengthen our communities, to celebrate an integral and holistic spirituality

Who: Everyone (not just gays) is invited to endorse and celebrate with us ... even YOU

I encourage you to check it out and see if it is something you want to get involved in and support.

November 26, 2006

Book Review: Coming Out Christian

Coming Out Christian. By Jen Austin. 254 pp. Sources of Hope Publishing. $15.

One of the aspects of blogging I find particularly interesting is people’s willingness to dig deep into themselves and share their findings, warts and all, with the world.

Accomplishing this in a blog is impressive enough, but capturing that in a book is another matter entirely. Jen Austin, a radio DJ in Dallas, Texas, has done an outstanding job of that with her recently published book, “Coming Out Christian,” (Sources of Hope Publishing, $15).

Jen has been blogging about her life on her personal website since 2005, sharing her views on being a Christian lesbian and the perspective that gives her on life and social issues. She was one of the first to link to this blog, supporting our goal of bringing the message of GLBT equality and the Good News of Jesus into the gay community.

In “Coming Out Christian,” Jen retraces the steps she took on her “journey of self-discovery” and gives readers an inside look at how she accepted the fact she was attracted to women, come out as a lesbian, and then reconcile that to her Christian beliefs.

Jen’s was often a difficult journey, one with plenty of obstacles. As she tells her story, Jen is almost painfully honest about the mistakes she made along the way. This is not a book written by someone trying to elicit sympathy or looking to make excuses when things went badly. Jen accepts responsibility for her decisions throughout and wants to help others not suffer through the same pitfalls she did.

In the introduction to “Coming Out Christian,” Jen writes, “The single greatest barrier to irrevocably accepting my own homosexuality in the mid 1990’s was the all-consuming fear that upon doing so, God would cast me into the fire in the pit of hell in absolute disgust, without even blinking an eye. This fear paralyzed me for many years, but after an extended period of intense study and even more intense prayer, I can now say with certainty that—contrary to popular belief, God is the author of homosexuality, and wholly embraces me as a lesbian.”

Regarding her family background, Jen writes, “Nothing traumatic happened to me during my childhood that my present-day homosexuality could somehow be blamed on…..I grew up in a situation, if it was not the American Dream, it certainly did resemble it.”

Yet despite a strong foundation growing up, it was still a difficult, at times traumatic process for Jen to accept herself as a lesbian Christian. One of the major problems was all the un-learning she had to do. Growing up in the nation’s heartland, homosexuality was usually discussed “under the guise of dirty jokes and religious condemnation….being gay was seen as an unacceptable lifestyle or behavior that you chose to pursue, rather than an orientation or state of being that you were born with and can do nothing about.”

Jen, not realizing there was another option, made a valiant effort of doing what was expected of her; date boys, get married, and raise a family. She writes, “I wasted a lot of valuable time in my late teens and early twenties barking up the wrong heterosexual tree. We gay men and lesbians seem to spend a good portion of our lives attempting to deny and even exorcise our most pure and native instincts, while the heterosexual population is allowed to carry on quite naturally. It’s a shame that the process of coming of age and dating which comes so easily for a heterosexual person is often years in the making for a homosexual person. We should not have to attempt to live as heterosexuals before accepting our innate homosexuality.”

While I personally didn’t find the coming of age process quite as easy as Jen implies it should be for a heterosexual male like me, at least I didn’t have the enormous disadvantage of being funneled into a lifestyle I was not born to live. Jen has come to understand this about the societal norm of heterosexuality, “I believe that most people who fear homosexuality do so because they consider heterosexuality to be the default identity….homosexuality is a corrupt departure from the norm…..I, for one, cannot fathom heterosexuality. Homosexuality is my norm. I don’t understand why a woman would want to have a husband and I don’t understand how a woman could sexually desire a man.”

She hits on a critical point here. I can’t explain why a woman would desire another woman, but I don’t have to. I can just accept that’s the way God made them and accept them as they are. Jen doesn’t understand how I can be attracted to a woman, but she accepts me as I am. Unfortunately, there are still far too many people who, instead of accepting what they don’t understand, fear and condemn it.

Jen details the ups and downs of her relationship with Angela, her long-term partner, including how she almost pushed Angela away for good. They shared worship experiences and studied the bible together, but it wasn’t until Jen made her final reconciliation with God’s acceptance of her homosexuality that she could be at peace and her relationship had the strong foundation it needed to last.

She writes, “I used to fear the Bible…..when I semi-blindly let others decide for me what exactly the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality ….. Thankfully, I began to “get real” with God and listen more closely to the things God would say to me personally, while trusting in the Spirit’s ability to reveal truth to me not via the vocal masses, but alone, through prayer and intimate moments with the Word.”

Folks, when you hear someone referring to “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, THAT is what they are talking about! Without it, we will stumble along, either following someone else’s direction like sheep or falling away from God entirely. He wants us to choose neither of those options. As Jen demonstrates, that intimate relationship with our savior is available regardless of our sexual orientation.

If you are a GLBT ally who wants to understand more about the coming out process and the reconciliation of homosexuality and Christianity, you will, like I did, find this book very informative and helpful.

If you are a Christian who condemns homosexuality and those you believe chose that “lifestyle,” I would strongly recommend you open you mind and read this book. It will be a lesson that not all homosexuals hang out at leather bars and sleep with a different partner every night. Many of them live like Jen and Angela; in a loving, long-term committed relationship.

If you are a GLBT person who feels that God does not love you as your are, you need to read this book to understand how he DOES love you and wants to have a relationship with you.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories, “Coming Out Christian” is still worth reading. It is interesting, well written, and most of all real.

This book is available at