July 21, 2007

A Death In the Family

My blogging will be sporadic, if at all, over the next few days. My brother, who I've written about on this blog, passed away suddenly yesterday. He was 57 years old. I'm heading up to Rochester to wrap up his affairs and hopefully give strength to his partner, as he did for me when my wife Bette passed away a few years ago.

I would appreciate your prayers, especially for Mike as he transitions into his new life without my brother.

Bishop John Shelby Spong at the Dignity USA Conference

For those of you who don't know, there are GLBT Roman Catholics who are out and working for change in their church. Their organization, Dignity USA, has this for their vision statement:

DignityUSA envisions and works for a time when Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Catholics are affirmed and experience dignity through the integration of their spirituality with their sexuality, and as beloved persons of God participate fully in all aspects of life within the Church and Society.

The organization, which has been around since 1969, recently held their annual convention in Austin, Texas. Their keynote speaker was the well known author and retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong. Over at The Wild Reed, there is extensive coverage of his comments, and I encourage you to check them out, but this excerpt really jumped out at me:

Dignity’s members are not threatening to leave their Church, they are threatening to stay! “This is our Church too,” they say, and “the hierarchy cannot define Catholicism in such a way as to exclude us.” They live out their Catholic lives in faithfulness, not in order to be troublesome, but to help to bring to Catholicism the inclusion that is called for in the gospel of Jesus. They are confident they will win this struggle for the soul of their Church and are encouraged by the incontrovertible fact that changes in consciousness are never reversed.

Inevitably every part of the Christian Church will lay aside its homosexual prejudices and embrace its gay, lesbian, transgender and bi-sexual brothers and sisters as the creation of God, the beloved of Christ and as those empowered to be all that they can be in the Holy Spirit. Benedict XVI is not the voice of the Catholic future; indeed, he will ultimately be little more than a negative footnote in Catholic history.

Every prejudice that is publicly debated is already dying, so this victory is inevitable. Diehard, retrogressive elements in every Christian Church lose ground daily. They will not prevail in this struggle. Christians cannot continue to sing, “Just as I am without one plea, O Lamb of God, I come,” and not live out that invitation.

The embarrassment of the Christian Church in our time will not result from the feared split over homosexuality; it will result rather from those Christian leaders who continue to value unity and institutional peace over truth and justice. Those are the people destined to discover that they do not, cannot and will not own the future. That future will belong to DignityUSA, to John McNeill, Sister Jeannine Gramick, Daniel Helminiak and their counterparts in every Christian tradition, who act without fear to make the Christian Church whole and to call it to be a sign of the Kingdom of God in our divided world. Indeed we live today at the dawn of a new era.

The comments of Pope Benedict that Bishop Spong referred to was his recent statement reminding everyone of the belief, held by the Catholic church for centuries, that it is the only truly Christian faith. That belief is clearly stated in the Nicene Creed that is recited at every Mass, one which I echoed (with some reservation) for several years after being received into the church (and since leaving it). There was no new ground broken here. Rather, it was an old row being replowed.

Thankfully, I believe no one man or group of men have all the answers, and that there is more than one path to God. I also firmly believe and know in my heart that there is a path for my GLBT brothers and sisters to come as they are into fellowship with God. I pray that Bishop Spong is correct and their full inclusion into the church is inevitable.

July 20, 2007

"Gay Rights Promote Fairness For All"

The following op-ed piece was published in the Salem, Oregon StatesmanJournal. The writer, Gloria Holland, is a straight woman who is an activist in the state, which is one of the more GLBT friendly ones in the nation. Like the parents in Michigan I wrote about yesterday, she has had first-hand experience in dealing with GLBT issues since her daughter came out to her as a lesbian.

Gay Rights Promote Fairness For All

About 10 years ago, I was presented with an opportunity to learn a great deal about a segment of our society about which I was very ill informed.

During my life and career as an educator, I had known many gay and lesbian friends and colleagues. Yet, it wasn't until my daughter was brave enough to tell me that she might become involved with a woman that I began to educate myself around the specific issues faced by the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens of our state.

I learned that gays were discriminated against in housing, health care, jobs, hospital emergencies, retirement benefits and much more.

I learned that same-sex couples who have been in committed relationships as long as my husband and I, who raised children together and worshipped together, were forced to lead secret, closeted existences out of fear and were often left to fend for themselves with no legal rights during life's hardest times.

I learned that gay kids are far more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to be injured with a weapon, drop out of school or commit suicide.

I also learned that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people wish only to care for their own loved ones, not to undermine my or anyone else's ability to do the same. The people I have come to know during the past 10 years simply want to live, as I do, in an Oregon that is free from discrimination, values equality and moves forward toward fairness for all our families.

Fortunately, our Legislature recently passed two new laws that bring Oregon one step closer to fair and equal rights for all, and many of our families one step closer to real security.

Our new Domestic Partnership law recognizes families as families. This legal recognition is an important tool, one from which many families have been shut out, to better cope during emergencies and better protect and care for loved ones.

Oregon's second new law ends discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. Such language has existed in Oregon law for many years to protect our citizens on the basis of race, gender, creed and age. This new language simply adds to existing law assurance that Oregonians won't be fired, evicted or denied service at a restaurant or hotel just because of their sexual orientation.

Sadly, a divisive effort has already begun to force these laws to ballot, certainly to be followed by an aggressive campaign to overturn them. I absolutely will not be signing these petitions, and invite others to join me.

As a community, we all suffer when one group of people is set apart and shut out from basic human rights. It's past time to end our culture of divisiveness and work toward a fairer Oregon. I urge you to look past the political arguments and see how personal these laws are for so many families, just like yours or mine.

It's a lot harder to discriminate against a group when you put live faces on the issues and remember that these are flesh and blood people just like everyone else.

There's A Gay Think-Tank Working for GLBT Equality

If you are a TV political talk-show junkie, you've no doubt seen representatives from conservative "think-tanks" like the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institute, etc. waxing philisophic on the issues of the day. Well, it turns out there is an institute that is working to counter the right-wing and work for LGBT equality.

The Rockway Institute is based in San Francisco. Here is their mission statement from the organization's website:

The nonpartisan Rockway Institute brings together scientific research and professional expertise to counter antigay prejudice and inform public policies affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The Institute's view is that public opinion, policies, and programs should be shaped by the facts about LGBT lives, not by political ideology. A primary goal is to organize the most knowledgeable social scientists, mental health professionals, and physicians in the United States to provide accurate information about LGBT issues to the media, legislatures, and courts. The Institute also conducts targeted research projects to address the nation's most pressing LGBT public policy questions.

I encourage you to check out their website and learn more about the resources they are employing to balance the public debate on issues affecting the LGBT community.

July 19, 2007

Parents Choose Gay Son Over Church and Friends

This is a moving story about how a family stood up for one of their own, placing their love for a son above everything else, and losing most of it as a result.

An article in the Muskegon (MI) Chronicle tells us how a 10th grade boy came out to his family (dude, you could have picked a better day than Super Bowl Sunday for crying out loud, but I digress) who, instead of disowning him, circled around him with love and support.

The cost was high. The parents lost most of their counseling clients, the father lost his position as a minister, and most of the family's friends deserted them.

"We moved here because (West Michigan) is a great place to raise a family, and that's true, unless one of them turns out to be gay," said Colette Beighley who is originally from San Francisco. "We live in an area that demands assimilation."

"I'm so proud of my kids," Colette Beighley said. "That's the coolest thing that came out of this -- how much they love each other."

I've written a lot here about the importance of straight allies, but the most significant ones for a GLBT person are often the ones in their own family.

Click here to read details of the journey the Beighley family took with their gay son in the Muskegon Chronicle article.

Thanks to the Triangle foundation for the tip. Colette Beighley is an active member of the Triangle Foundation and has her own blog here.

Questioning the "Sanctity" of Marriage

One of the right-wing arguements against same-sex marriage is that it would destroy "the sanctity of marriage." An op-ed piece by Chris Kocher of the Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin questions that premise:

So I'm always a little puzzled when people talk about the "sanctity" of marriage. At least half of Americans are not taking the "until death do us part" portion of the wedding vows to heart. Marriage has become just another part of our throwaway culture -- some people even have "starter marriages" in their 20s and settle into the "real thing" the second time around.

Which brings us around to same-sex marriage. I say, let gay couples give it a shot -- at this point, can they screw it up any more than the heterosexuals? Perhaps so, but they should get a chance to have both sides of the coin: happiness and sadness, love and breakup. It seems only fair.

I understand how some people object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds, but we're living in a country with a clear separation of church and state. What one religion believes -- and there's some debate about that, as recent back-and-forth articles on these pages can attest -- should not dictate to everyone. As I recall, about half the country did not want civil rights for blacks in the 1960s (some people still don't), but that became the law of the land because it was the right thing to do.

We've solicited readers' opinions about same-sex marriage for a feature that will run next week, and we've had a number of responses from both sides of the issue. As a preview, I'd like to share a favorite one, from Ronald Kracht of Windsor:

"One of the things I have learned in the past 35 years is that no other relationship, happy or unhappy, married or unmarried, straight or gay, has any impact on the strength or sanctity of my marriage. I don't believe that any 'separate but equal' institution is warranted or appropriate. Any religious body which chooses not to approve of same-sex marriage should be allowed to refuse to perform such marriages."

I could not have said it better myself.

Neither could I.

July 18, 2007

"Corporate America: The New Gay Activists"

From Yahoo/The Huffington Post by way of PageOneQ

In a recent study by Gallup, almost ninety percent of Americans said they believe gay people should have equal rights in the workplace. Interestingly, only forty-seven percent of these same people believe that being gay is "morally acceptable." So what has convinced nearly nine out of ten people across the country that gays and lesbians deserve equality at work even when they don't believe gay is OK? Charting a course unplanned but nevertheless successful, Corporate America is shaping up to be the most persuasive gay activists of the decade.

How are they doing it? With a simple three-step formula: credibility + education + action. It's a winning combination that actually fuels progress toward achieving equality in other arenas including politically charged topics like same-sex marriage. Having recently returned from a speaking tour that included stops at some of the most historically conservative firms in the country, I found that Corporate America's message supporting the rights of their gay employees is transcending political, economic and even religious barriers.

While many veteran activists will scream and yell over this shift in battlefields from outside the establishment to inside the establishment, a new era of gay activism has dawned. Thanks in large part to Corporate America, the road to anti-gay hate crimes, same-sex marriage, and even gay adoption may already be paved. Not through Washington, but through Wall Street. After all, they've convinced nine out of ten people that gay people deserve to be treated fairly at work so why not speed things up and make the most out of their successful formula. The G Suite folks seem to have the right idea, capitalize on the rising profile of gay people in business and help them up the corporate ladder to the top office. An out-of-the-closet CEO of any blue-chip company will be a watershed day for gay equality. More than likely, all of those other watershed days we've been waiting for will then simply fall into place.

Having spent 30 years in the business world myself (I started telecommuting from my playpen), one thing I've learned and had reinforced time and time again is that business does what's good for business. If it helps anyone else, that's a bouns. If GLBT equality is good for business, and this trend clearly shows that it is, wouldn't it make sense that it should be good for other areas of society?

Focus on the Family Works to Keep Hate Alive

In their latest step to protect their right to be hateful bigots, Focus on the Family's CitizenLink aired a snarky video, trying their best to demean the entire concept of hate crimes.

Thanks to Good As You, here's the link. If you even casually care about GLBT rights, prepare to get really aggravated if you watch it.

If you don't want to raise your bloodpressure too much, here's the summary, quoted by Good As You:

Judges have enough work to do just figuring out who did what to whom, without having to figure out what "who" was thinking when they did "what" to "whom."

If we’re going to have equal justice for all, it needs to be based on what "who" did. Which shines the light on a simple truth; hate crimes legislation is not really about hate or crime. What it’s really about is getting the federal government to grant civil rights status to a particular behavior. Which is the off-ramp that leads to the end of marriage and family.

Let that last sentence sink in for a moment so you can appreciate how absurd it is.

Don't dismiss it, though. As I've said before, people really believe this crap.

I really like the point made by Good As You; imagine this piece running if you substituted "black" or "christian" for "gay" victim regarding this issue.

Radio stations would be pulling the good Dr. Dobson off the air faster that you can say good riddance.

Sort of emphasizes why we need the legislation in the first place, doesn't it?

July 17, 2007

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

If you remember that line from the old "Pogo" cartoon, you're dating yourself, but that can be our little secret. That's the point made by this column on The Bilerico Project by guest writer Michael Crawford (an African-American activist, not the Broadway singer).

Crawford is concerned with the amount of infighting he sees among progressive LGBT activists right now, especially with the hate crimes bill ready to come up for a vote in the Senate. Crawford feels important resources and energy is being diverted from that lobbying effort to debate/complain about the structure of the upcoming Democratic presidential debate devoted to LGBT issues.

This just goes to show that we are not nearly as politically sophisticated as we would like to believe ourselves to be and that our activism is steeped in personal self-expression rather than a focus on political effectiveness. We have the best chance ever of getting a major piece of LGBT legislation through both chambers of Congress and instead of fighting tooth and nail to make it, some of are engaged in another round on intramural bloodletting under the guise of holding organizations "accountable."

This forum is a sign of our growing political strength and, yes, some credit should go to HRC for the work that it has done over the years in a hostile political environment to build that political strength. Rather than simply attacking our national organizations, we should be focused on how we can help to make them better, faster, stronger and more effective. The homo-haters at Focus on the Family alone have a budget that is larger than HRC, NGLTF, SLDN, GLAAD, Lambda Legal, National Black Justice Coalition and GLSEN combined. And that's just one of the organizations that the religious right has built over the years to obliterate us.

Of course, every political organization or interest group has disagreement and infighting, but that hurts a minority group like GLBT activists harder because their resources, although stronger than they used to be, pale in comparision to some of their more aggressive opponents, as Crawford points out.

While I was disappointed at the makeup of the panel, I think it is important to see the upcoming LOGO debate as a starting point and not the end destination. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a trend, not a unique, one-time event. I feel it would be more benefitial for GLBT activists to focus on finding a way to be supportive of this event, then seeking improvements for the next one.

Energy and resources need to be spent on reaching equality for GLBT people, not in pushing individual agendas.

July 16, 2007

"Gay Christians Reclaim the Bible"

I was delighted to find an article with that title in a gay newspaper, "The Edge," published and distributed in Boston, Massachusetts. Here's an excerpt:

The Bible has been used, early and often, to attack civil parity for GLBT people, especially in terms of marriage equality. But other points of view are possible, say gay-friendly congregations.

A Boston Globe article from last November addresses this topic, quoting Rev. Jeff Miner or the Jesus Metropolitan Community Church.

"Most people think that the attitude of gay Christians is, ’Who cares what the Bible says?’ when in reality, we care deeply what the Bible says," says Miner, a pastor with the GLBT-friendly, Indianapolis-based church, who led a forum on the issue last November at the Arlington Street Church.

Continued Miner, "We think there are a lot of powerful, affirming things that are in the Bible that have been ignored."

Miner and co-author John Tyler Connoley wrote the book, or at least a book, on the subject; in 2002, The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-Sex Relationships was published by the Jesus Metropolitan Community Church.

Miner and Connoley look at both Old and New Testaments for source material to bolster their argument that not only are GLBT people God’s children, too, but that in fact they are exactly who and what God intended for them to be.

Their book "The Children Are Free" is an outstanding book, one of the ones I used when I first started attending a gay affirming church and needed to put my arms around God's acceptance of GLBT people. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in serious studying that issue.

But it’s the behavior of heterosexual Christians that concern some people. The Globe article quoted Pam Garramone, executive director of Greater Boston Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which sponsored the forum at the Arlington Street Church.

Garramone related how she had received a phone call from a distraught mother whose husband had exiled their daughter from the family home for being a lesbian.

Recounted Garramone, "She said, ’My instinct is to love and accept her, but I can’t because my church won’t let me.’"

Continued Garramone, "That’s the kind of parent who needs to hear this message--you don’t have to choose your child over your religion."

There is no choice needed--God loves gay people just as much as he does straights without changing them.

Click here to read some of the examples Miner and Connoley included in their book from The Edge's article.

Get Out of Reverse

A few weeks ago, I announced the ministry initiative Pastor Brenda and I are working to start up, the Affirming Christian Network. Check it out if you haven't already--we've recently posted a few new items there.

I've written my first essay for the ministry, "Get Out of Reverse:"

How many blessings have we missed because we were too fixated on our past to seek God’s plans for our future?I’m sure we’ve all also done things that we are ashamed of and that we have come to know were outside (sometimes waaaaaay outside) God’s will. The Apostle Paul certainly did. Before his career change, he was one of the most zealous persecutors of Christians, even killing some of them. If you ever doubt whether God can use you to serve his kingdom, just think of Paul.

Click here to read "Get Out of Reverse."

July 15, 2007

Brighten The Corner Where You Are

Don't be content to sit on the back pew. Don't be afraid to have your voice heard in your church. If your church doesn't want to hear your voice because you are gay, find a place that does. That's what I gleaned out of an excellent essay on Whosoever by Lori Heine.

Most of us are searching for a place where our unique, individual talents can be made useful. We want to be recognized. We need to be appreciated. And so we search on and on, following the passion for Christ that God has placed in our hearts. We are so accustomed to being unwelcome that when we find a church in which we are welcome, the pressure we feel to go along to get along - even if it compromises much of what we believe - can be overwhelming.

Those of us who choose to stand up for orthodoxy and tradition, within a church or denomination that welcomes us (and thinks that ought to be enough), can find ourselves plunked down smack on the opposite side of the fence from those who support our inclusion. We may be driven, by conscience, to stand beside the very people who oppose our welcome. Our usual allies may react as if we have betrayed them. What all too often occurs to nobody else is that, for GLBT Christians to have genuine freedom of worship, we must follow our convictions regardless of who else in the church likes it and who doesn't. We owe our loyalty, after all, not to any particular faction within the church, but to God.

Wherever in the church's theological and political spectrum you happen to decide you belong, make sure you make your membership matter. Make your voice heard. Don't let anybody shame or guilt you into compliance with anything you cannot support in good conscience or respect. The Holy Spirit may indeed take you somewhere very far from the tradition in which you were raised. But it makes a great deal of difference whether you go there because it genuinely seems right to you, or whether it is because you have been made, by those whose acceptance of you is strictly conditional, to feel that you must in order to please them.

Click here to read the rest of the essay on Whosoever.

We are ALL an important part of God's kingdom, and he has plans for how He wants to use ALL of us in his Kingdom. Seek out those plans and find the place where He wants to use you.

Here's What We're Up Against

By we, I mean folks like the ones I work with in ministry efforts to reach out to GLBT people. Some of them/you have been sooooo hurt and damaged by people preaching their misguided interpretation of God's word, or just using the Lord to justify their own hate and bigotry. Here's an excerpt from a fairly innocuous blog post I ran across earlier that weighed heavily on me during worship today.

From the post "What Would We Do Without Christians?"

Sometimes I wonder to myself if church aren't just meeting places for horrible people rather than places of worship and repentance. I've read the Bible and Jesus sure says a lot about not creating a fuss, being pious, honest and civil. He talks of neighbourliness and kindness. When was the last time I saw a Christian who had truly accepted these ideals? I honestly can't remember. Go around the internet and read what Christians write... mostly it's hateful, dishonest and distasteful. Grr...

While I think this generalization reaches too far, we've all seen people, perhaps even congregations, that fit this description. I'm sure the young man who wrote this has experience to back up his feelings.

This perspective, from my experience, both direct and anecdotal, is very deeply ingrained into a large part of the GLBT community. That is why I believe it is so important for churches that are affirming and accepting to move beyond their four walls and reach out to people like Jae, not by hitting him over the head with the same Bible he's already been beaten up with but by showing the kind of love, acceptance, and humility that he associates with Christ but not with Christians.

Do you know that wonderful old hymn "They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love?" I can understand how GLBT people could scoff at that, wanting to make the last word of the title hate instead of love.

We need to show the unchurched GLBT community Jesus' love, and the only way they can see it is through the love, not hate and condemnation, of His people.