May 05, 2007

Faith In America Launches "Call to Courage" Tour

From the Faith In America website:

Faith in America has announced the launch of a five-city "Call to Courage" campaign to educate Americans about the misuse of religious teachings to discriminate and isolate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The campaign officially kicks off on May 6th in Ames, Iowa.

"Today marks an important day in the shared history of America’s religious and GLBT communities. For a long time we’ve stood on separate sides of an impasse” said Jimmy Creech, Executive Director of Faith In America. “But through this education campaign we will begin a deep and sustained dialogue, to bridge the gaps of tolerance and understanding in this country."

FIA’s national campaign will proceed to Reno, Nevada; Greenville, South Carolina; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Colorado Springs, Colorado. The five campaigns will be held between May and the end of November 2007.

Faith In America through the five-city campaign will:

Create dialogue regarding religious teachings and practices which foster discrimination and oppression against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Demonstrate how misguided religious teachings were used historically to justify injustice and discrimination (slavery, racism, anti-interracial marriage, sexism) and are being used today to deny full and equal rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens.
Provide accepting clergy and people of faith a forum to express disagreement with religion-based bigotry.

This is the mission statement of this organization:

To end legal and spiritual discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in America and to gain full and equal rights for those citizens.

Can anyone here support that? I thought so. I recommend checking them out if you're anywhere near one of the towns they will be visiting.

Recent Breakthroughs for GLBT People in Legislatures

"We have seen in the last month at almost every major win, almost always there is an openly gay legislator behind that story," says Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which helps elect openly gay or transgender officials, who now number 370.

There has been a substantial list of victories for GLBT people in state legislatures across the United States in recent weeks. This article from Alternet provides a good summary of them.

At least in portions of this country, there is momentum building to move toward GLBT equality.

May 04, 2007

McCain: Gay Troops Put Others "At Grave Risk"

John McCain, a senator from Arizona, is running for the Republican presidential nomination. It appears that a major part of his strategy is to court the extreme right-wing. He's already cozied up to one of the godfathers of the religious right, Jerry Falwell, and he's now taken a major swipe at the GLBT community.

As reported by The Advocate, McCain dropped a note to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy organization for GLBT soldiers. According to the report, Sen. McCain wrote in regards to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy:

"I believe polarization of personnel and breakdown of unit effectiveness is too high a price to pay for well-intentioned but misguided efforts to elevate the interests of a minority of homosexual service members above those of their units.

"Most importantly, the national security of the United States, not to mention the lives of our men and women in uniform, are put at grave risk by policies detrimental to the good order and discipline which so distinguish America's armed services."

Fortunately, there are more reasoned opinions on this issue:

In a March op-ed in The Washington Post, GOP former senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming wrote, "I believe it is critical that we review—and overturn—the ban on gay service members in the military. I voted for 'don't ask, don't tell.' But much has changed since 1993.... We need every able-bodied, smart patriot to help us win this war."

"Senator McCain's comments are out of step with the overwhelming majority of the American people, and out of touch with the best interests of our armed forces," said Sharra Greer, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network's director of law and policy, in a written statement Thursday.

"Senator McCain's defense of this counterproductive law is disrespectful to the more than 65,000 lesbian and gay service members on duty today."

I don't honestly understand how any GLBT people or advocates could vote for a Republican president, but in case you're tempted by Senator McCain, I suggest you keep this in mind.

The entire letter McCain wrote to the SLDN is available here:

Announcing the 11th Edition of the International Carnival of Pozitives

The newest edition of the International Carnival of Pozitives, the periodic collection of blog posts, videos, and news items that deal with issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, is now available at Living in the Bonus Round.

If you want to check out previous editions, click on the International Carnival of Pozitives home page.

I'm proud that I'll be hosting the 14th edition coming up in August.

May 03, 2007

Did Christians Lose a Round Today?

With the passage of the Matthew Shepard Bill (hate crimes legislation including sexual orientation as a protected minority), did Christians suffer a defeat today?

Right-wing extremists did, but from where I sit and worship God, it was a good day for Christianity. The scare tactics organizations like the Traditional Values Coalition, the Family Research Council, and the American Family Association used to try and sway votes failed. They wanted people to believe it would infringe on their right to worship (read: gay bash), touting it as a blow to religious freedom. The TVC went so far as to send around a tasteless picture of Jesus on a wanted poster, saying he would be subject to prosocution if this bill makes it into law.

A more reasoned, factual approach came from the ACLU:

"Prosecuting violent hate crimes is critically important. This bill will also protect due process and the Constitution, especially our First Amendment rights to speak freely and associate with whom we'd like," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "When a person inflicts violence based on hate, it is important that they be punished. But defendants must have a fair trial, and should not be judged based on what they say and the company they keep, unless specifically related to the crime. While we may disagree with some people's speech, it must be protected or all of our speech is at risk. "

There it is right-wingers, your right to spew hatred and bigotry is still protected under the First Amendment and is NOT diminished by this law, unless it can be directly proven that your words contributed to a violent act being committed. If you are preaching the word of God, that shouldn't be a problem. When did Jesus incite anyone to violence? Not a single time. He even rebuked Peter when he slashed the ear off one of the guards who were arresting Jesus and went so far as to heal the soldier.

I called in and spoke on the air for a moment with Michelangelo Signorile, who hosts a program on Sirius OutQ Radio from 2-6PM Eastern Monday thru Friday. Understandably, Michelangelo and his callers had spent some time bashing "right-wing Christians" because of their over-the-top opposition to the Matthew Shepard Bill. I wanted to take a moment to remind everyone listening that there are straight Christians who have received the revalation of the GLBT community's place in God's kingdom, a place that is equal to the one I have. I emphasized how important it was for my fellow enlightened Christians to stand up and speak out for GLBT equality since the right-wing, although possibly diminishing in stature, is still a powerful, well-funded force. Michelangelo received what I said in a very positive way and expresseded his view that the majority of Christians share my beliefs. I think that might be somewhat optimistic, but if that's not the case now, I believe it is only a matter of time before it is.

The right-wing extremists will stop at nothing, including besmirching Christianity and God himself to enforce their bigoted, hateful views toward homosexuals. Affirming believers need to get angry about that, stay that way, and channel that anger positively in advocating for the GLBT community and spreading a clearer understanding of who God truly is. There are too many scripture references showing what a loving, accepting God we have to quote here--that's what most of the Bible is about because that's what God is about.

I believe He is happy with the way today's vote turned out and will be happier when more of His children have better legal protection against hatred and violence.

A Major Evangelist Moves Toward Acceptance

This is an excerpt from an interview evangelist Tony Campolo gave to Rev! Magazine, a publication targeting church pastors and leaders.

Have you changed your perspective on the issue of homosexuality over the years?

Campolo: I made up my mind in my mid-20s about this issue. The first time I began to encounter any intelligent discussion on this was when I was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. I began at that point to collect research and interview people who were homosexuals because I was doing my studies in the sociology of the family and this was a major issue. I came to the conclusion from a biblical perspective that I had to be faithful to what I thought the Scripture was teaching. Romans 1 does not allow for this behavior, but to condemn people for having feelings that they never chose to have seems crazy to say the least. That was my conclusion.

How out of step do you feel with your fellow evangelicals on this issue?

Campolo: Over the last few years I've become increasingly uncomfortable with my fellow evangelical Christians because they refuse to face the fact that in the overwhelming number of cases homosexuals do not change -- no matter hard they pray. I always emphasize that there are exceptions. But can people be prayed out of Alzheimer's disease? Of course, they can. Do you know anybody who has? I don't. The fact that God can do anything should not be questioned, but to say that you can pray yourself out of homosexuality creates a real problem. Many parents end up being alienated from their own children who are homosexual because they believe that if their kids would just get serious and pray about this they would be delivered. I could give you heart-breaking stories, of boys in particular, who cannot go home and see their parents because their parents say, "Until you repent and pray for God to change you, you can't come home."

There are two points I want to make here. First, although he stops short of total acceptance of homosexuals, he is clearly concerned about the "ex-gay" movement and strongly discredits it.

Second, he showed his views and understanding of God and His Word is still growing. Campolo is one of the best known evangelists and religious authors in the world, yet he was comfortable enough with himself to admit that he didn't, and still doesn't, have all the answers.

This is yet another example of someone who keeps his mind and heart open moving in the direction of understanding and accepting GLBT people as equal partners in the Kingdom of God. The more evangelists that come forward with this type of approach, the more isolated the hate mongers like James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson will become.

May 02, 2007

Colleges Becoming Hotbed of Religious Study & Activity

A funny thing is happening on college campuses these days according to this report in the New York Times:

Peter J. Gomes has been at Harvard University for 37 years, and says he remembers when religious people on campus felt under siege. To be seen as religious often meant being dismissed as not very bright, he said.

No longer. At Harvard these days, said Professor Gomes, the university preacher, “There is probably more active religious life now than there has been in 100 years.”

Across the country, on secular campuses as varied as Colgate University, the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, chaplains, professors and administrators say students are drawn to religion and spirituality with more fervor than at any time they can remember.

University officials explained the surge of interest in religion as partly a result of the rise of the religious right in politics, which they said has made questions of faith more talked about generally. In addition, they said, the attacks of Sept. 11 underscored for many the influence of religion on world affairs. And an influx of evangelical students at secular universities, along with an increasing number of international students, means students arrive with a broader array of religious experiences.

Professor Gomes (pronounced like “homes”) said a more diverse student body at Harvard had meant that “the place is more representative of mainstream America.”

This is happening at the same time that surveys across the country indicate college-age people are more open to accepting homosexuality and insuring full civil rights for them, such as same-sex marriage.

From where I sit, these two facts are not in conflict. Instead, I believe they show that college students are not just accepting right-wing religious rhetoric as fact--they are investigating and studying for themselves and developing their own values, ones which are more affirming and accepting than those of their elders.

All is not lost in a society when the younger generation is receiving MORE of God's revelation than those who preceeded them.

Lack of Clarity Among Southern Baptists?

There is a spirited debate going on these days among Southern Baptists that does not involve homosexuality. There really isn't much debate within one of the largest religious denominations in the United States--Southern Baptist theology's view of homosexuality as a sin is very deeply entrenched and not really up for discussion.

According to this report from the Christian Post, however, the denomination does not have all the answers:

Southern Baptist pastors opened debate on speaking in tongues at a weekend conference where a charismatic Baptist sought to educate his fellow believers on the Holy Spirit.

After affirming his own conviction that he has been gifted with a private prayer language, Pastor Dwight McKissic of Cornerstone Baptist Church said Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit it celebrates, are largely overlooked in Baptist churches, according to the Associated Baptist Press. And the lack of awareness is a loss for Baptists, he added.

While the majority of Southern Baptist leaders do not practice or accept charismatic practices, Baptists are split on the issue and SBC president Frank Page also recognized and let stand the varying interpretations within the denomination.

"[B]ecause I do believe there are varying interpretations, I believe it is okay to believe one way or the other," said Page, months after the chapel sermon.

For the record, this gift of the Holy Spirit, the ability to speak/pray in tounges, is something I received a couple of years ago shortly after I joined Believers Covenant Fellowship. I was taught about it by Apostle Dale and Pastor Brenda. It was an adjustment for me since I had never experienced it. The first time Pastor Brenda took me to church and used her prayer language (with no warning), I almost wet my pants. It's a gift that most of our congregation has and uses as part of their worship.

"Two people using the same methods of interpretation can look at the same text and come to completely opposite conclusions. When someone says, 'I'm speaking in tongues and it is from the Holy Spirit,' some people believe them and other people don't, and there's the difference," said Bart Barber of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, as he presented the semi-cessationist viewpoint (belief that some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the early church), according to Baptist Press.

It's okay for people to interpret biblical text differently and neither one of them becoming a heretic or heathen? Stop the presses for that news flash coming from a Southern Baptist speaker.

Now if only they would open their minds a little farther and reconsider the "clobber passages" they have been abusing GLBT people with for so long.

May 01, 2007

"Pastors spread the word on AIDS"

If you've even casually read the New Testament in the Bible, especially the Gospels, you've seen a LOT of references (including Jesus' direct ministry) to helping the poor and the sick.

So why, then, don't more churches focus on helping people with AIDS? Unfortunately, most of that is tied in with prejudice, even bigotry, against the GLBT people who are impacted by this disease. There are even people who stand behind a pulpit who still believe that AIDS is God's punishment to homosexuals, and I suspect a lot more ministers believe it than actually have the nerve (or gall) to say so.

That's why this article from the Chicago Tribune is refreshing. Last Sunday, messages about reaching out and helping people with AIDS were preached from over 100 largely African-American churches in the Chicago area. Given the startling statistics that nearly half of new AIDS cases in the United States affected African-Americans, who represent about 13% of the population, there is no better place to focus on emphasizing this message.

Rev. Charles Jenkins from the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side led this effort:

"The church is that place to be empowered and encouraged," he said.

"Jesus wasn't just concerned about people spiritually," Jenkins said. "He was concerned about people physically too, and emotionally."

"Jesus didn't move away. He moved in when people were dealing with all kinds of circumstances."

May God bless the efforts of Rev. Jenkins and others like him. Please join me in praying that people will listen.....and act.

Former AFA Staffer on How AFA is Using Hate to Fight Hate Crimes Bill

Joe Murray, who used to write some of the right-wing propaganda for the American (Straight) Family Association continues to speak out against the organization, particularly the tactics they use to try and get their way. Murray has most recently written about their campaign against the Matthew Sheppard Bill (the pending Hate Crimes legislation being considered by Congress).

First, Murray speaks out about the despicable Tony Perkins, head of the (Straight) Family Research Council:

"Under this legislation, the crimes at Virginia Tech, which some are calling one of the deadliest rampages in U.S. history, would not be punishable to the level of these so-called 'hate-crimes'," wrote Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council (FRC), in an email alert sent out to FRC supporters. Perkins' analysis, however, was far from over.

Explaining why the hate crimes bill is not good for America, Perkins wrote, "If the House approves H.R. 1592 and the Senate follows, a homosexual would have more federal protection under the law than the 32 victims of last week's massacre."

Words cannot describe how disheartening such a comment, from a man who champions the values of Christianity, is.

While parents, siblings, students and staff mourned the senseless killings of 32 members of the Virginia Tech community, Perkins thought it was an opportune time, and perhaps even an exercise of his Christian duty, to exploit the tragic situation to aid in the manufacturing of a "homosexual agenda." This is not only degrading to Virginia Tech and to the gay community, it clearly prostitutes any notion of family values.

Murray then speaks out against the AFA's approach:

Make no mistake - Christians, blacks and a handful of other groups already enjoy hate crime protection under a 1968 federal civil rights law. All homosexuals are asking is that they be included. If one wants to be against hate crime legislation on the principle that all crimes are motivated by hate, so be it. But one cannot lobby against hate crimes while one enjoys the benefit he is seeking to deny to others. This is the height of hubris.

This debate, though, is not a principled debate on the legitimacy of hate crimes; it is a debate that seeks to pit gays against Christians. It is a debate that seeks to separate, not unite, a debate that seeks to deny truth with tension. For proof, look no further than the American Family Association (AFA).

"Let's face it," wrote AFA founder Don Wildmon in an email, "homosexual and transgender activists know full well that the church is one of last bastions in Western culture that has yet to cave in to the demands of a radical agenda that seeks to redefine fundamental concepts such as marriage, family and gender." There you have it - no middle ground can be had and a scorched earth policy must proceed against the gays to protect Christendom.

Is this what Jesus would do? Nobody knows for sure, but one would think that Christ's name is more in line with an olive branch rather than a billy club.

It's nice to have Mr. Murray on our side of this and other important issues.

Thanks to Good As You for the tip.

April 30, 2007

New York State Becomes Next Marriage Battleground

As he promised during his election campaign, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has introduced legislation that would give same-sex couples full marriage rights in the state.

According to the report in New York's Gay City News, analyists believe the legislation has a good chance of passing the Democratic controlled Assembly, but getting it through the Republican-led Senate will be a much tougher challenge. An ally in that fight could be New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is on record as committing to testify in favor of this type of legislation.

I commend Governor Spitzer for backing up his campaign promise with action, something that is becoming more of a rare occurrence in this nation's political arena,

One of the right-wing's favorite arguements against same-sex marriage is that the majority of people don't want it. That appears not to be the case in New York according to this survey taken by Crain's Business. Published in Crain's New York Business magazine, the poll showed that 63% of voters support a gay marriage law.

I wonder how the right wing will react if they lose this battle in the New York state legislature. Wouldn't it be interesting if they took the issue to court? That wouldn't surprise me and would serve to reinforce my view that hypocrisy is no obstacle as long as they succeed in restricting the rights of GLBT people and recording their bigotry in the laws of this nation.

Do GLBT Celeberties Have a Greater Responsibility?

Are they obligated to come out? That's an interesting question posed in this blog post by Kevin Naff, the editor of the Washington Blade.

The obligation is not to hold pinkies, it’s merely to be honest about who you are. And what straight celebrity feels the need to keep their sexual orientation a “mystery”? From Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson, whose videotaped sexual romps were released for mass consumption, to Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, whose divorce generated headlines for months, the personal lives of straight celebrities are on full view. You can debate whether or not that’s a good thing, but it’s reality. And the standards should be the same for gays.

If Alec Baldwin’s private voicemails to his daughter are fodder for mainstream news coverage, then other gay celebrities should at least be able to answer truthfully whether or not they are gay.

The issue received renewed attention thanks to Out magazine’s deliciously brilliant May cover that features the faces of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and actress Jodie Foster to illustrate a story about the “glass closet.” The magazine also named the ambiguous duo on its list of the 50 most powerful gays.

My colleague, Chris Ciompi, editor of Genre magazine, which is affiliated with the Blade, denounced the Out cover in an interview with the New York Daily News.

"Your right to privacy is a constitutional right," Ciompi said. "Maybe Jodie and Anderson would prefer to be known for their work, not their sexuality. The climate of the United States today still would not allow that to occur. With Anderson, many people would perceive his credibility to be undermined."

The problem with Ciompi’s reasoning is that straight celebrities don’t have the option to be “known for their work,” and the rules should be the same for their gay counterparts. And how does being gay undermine your credibility as a journalist? Cooper has cited that offensive canard in refusing to answer questions about his sexual orientation and the gay media ought not give him cover. As for privacy rights, there are far different legal standards of privacy for public figures. Just ask Alec Baldwin.

I agree with Naff up to a point. Anyone who is marketing themselves as something they are not (which includes a GLBT person passing themselves off as straight) should be held to a standard of at least being honest about who they really are.

Where I part ways with Naff is that you can hardly say straight celeberties are held to that standard. Yes, as he points out, they can flaunt a heterosexual lifestyle and no one even blinks, but sexual orientation is only part of who a person really is. It would be quite a reach to say that the general public has much true insight into the type of people Paris Hilton or Alec Baldwin truly are.

Therefore, if a celeberty is disengenous about his or her sexual orientation, it's hard for me to say that is much if any worse than the difference between image and reality many straight celebs work hard to maintain. I'm not sure at all that GLBT celeberties should be held to a higher standard.

What do you think?

April 29, 2007

LA Times Sports Columnist is a Transsexual

Now that's not the kind of headline you see every day, but it is true. Los Angeles Times sports columnist Mike Penner announced in his column on April 26 that he was leaving for vacation and coming back in a few weeks as Christine. He is also able to see where this fits in with the big picture:

I am a transsexual sportswriter. It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words. I realize many readers and colleagues and friends will be shocked to read them.

That's OK. I understand that I am not the only one in transition as I move from Mike to Christine. Everyone who knows me and my work will be transitioning as well. That will take time. And that's all right. To borrow a piece of well-worn sports parlance, we will take it one day at a time.

As extensive therapy and testing have confirmed, my brain was wired female.

A transgender friend provided the best and simplest explanation I have heard: We are born with this, we fight it as long as we can, and in the end it wins.

I gave it as good a fight as I possibly could. I went more than 40 hard rounds with it. Eventually, though, you realize you are only fighting yourself and your happiness and your mental health — a no-win situation any way you look at it.

This AP story contains some reactions:

"Mike Penner has been an exemplary contributor to the Los Angeles Times sports pages for over two decades and today's column is no exception," Randy Harvey, the newspaper's sports editor, said in a statement. "The decision to go public cannot have been an easy one and, while we do not make a habit of commenting on the personal and private lives of our journalists, we do look forward to continuing our relationship into the future."

John Amaechi, the first NBA player to publicly come out of the closet as being gay, said he read Penner's column Thursday after returning from a speaking engagement in Berkeley at the University of California.

"It's incredibly bold and far more courageous than anything I could have done," said Amaechi, who spent five seasons in the NBA. "I commend him."

Gay and lesbian activists praised Penner and the Los Angeles Times.

"Christine's still-unfolding story sends a powerful message about the importance of living openly and honestly as does the Times' public support of her transition," said Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

God bless "New Christine" as she enters what will be a fascinating (given the nature of the sports world) and hopefully fulfilling walk in the next chapter of her life.