September 22, 2007

Sponsor Me, Support AIDS

Pastor Brenda and I are participating in the annual AIDS Walk Washington in downtown DC on Saturday, October 6. It's nice to see that something constructive can actually happen in our nation's capital, isn't it?

I'm asking my readers to consider supporting either one of us as we make the 5k walk to benefit the nationally known Whitman-Walker clinic, one of the best AIDS treatment providers in the United States.

You can click on the link above, then click on the "Sponsor Participant" link on the front page. Either enter the names Jim Johnson or Brenda Johnson and click through to put your tax-deductible contribution on your favorite debit or credit card.

Thanks in advance for supporting a very worthy cause.

September 21, 2007

San Diego Mayor Changes View, Now Supports Same-Sex Marriage

Politicians change their public positions so often it's hardly newsworthy anymore. What is worth noting is when one not only admits it but takes the time to explain why. That's what Jerry Sanders, the Mayor of San Diego, CA did regarding his position on same-sex marriage.

Sanders, a Republican, had said he would veto the resolution passed Tuesday to add California's second-largest city to the growing list urging justices to let same-sex couples marry. He said he supported civil unions when running for mayor in 2005.

Instead, Sanders signed the resolution, and said his lesbian daughter, Lisa, and her partner were a big reason why.

"As I reflected on the choices that I had before me last night, I just could not bring myself to tell an entire group of people in our community that they were less important, less worthy and less deserving of the rights and responsibilities of marriage . . . simply because of their sexual orientation," he said Wednesday in a prepared statement interrupted several times as he fought back tears.

Sanders becomes the first GOP big-city mayor to sign on to the cause. He sends a powerful message not only to the Supreme Court but to fellow Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has separately been sent by the Legislature a bill for marriage equality.

Here is a video of Mayor Sanders' statement.

Congratulations to the mayor for having the courage to look inside himself and reevaluate his values. Kudos for relating to his daughter and others as real human beings, not just some faceless category of people.

September 20, 2007


This is the latest of a series of articles written byKathy Baldock for RENO OUT. Thanks to Kathy for allowing me to post it here.

There are some things I am sound on. So solid that self-doubt, opposition, criticism and enticement will not move my firmly planted feet. There are other issues that still cause me to search for the footing I would like. My heart knows what I want my head to believe.

I struggle, and who does not? I have been a resident in this society for 51 years and a professing Christian for 25 of those years. Both these citizenships have colored my views. In the most extreme of cases, I have heard the barb, “all gays go to hell”, and I try to place this in my larger contextual solid shell of “Jesus is merciful and compassionate” and chose to hang out with the outcasts and the marginalized.

So, can you see the dichotomy, the struggle? What’s a Jesus-follower to do and, what’s a person who has been wounded and pushed away by society and church to do? Is there a middle we can meet in love and discuss this and make sense of it all? It is part of my personality to be curious , so I investigate into, meditate on, listen to, discuss and read in hope to come to that solid place where I am firmly rooted. When I look down, I am sure my feet are firmly planted on some very major issues, on others, I am still in process.

Sexual issues of morality are not unique to the gay and non-Christian community. Yes, even I struggle with what I want and what I know is right. You may find this amusing, but this is how it sometimes works in my head till I get solid. After lingering five years too long in a difficult twenty year marriage, I found a man who greatly pleased me. My gentle pastor of almost twenty years was brave enough to challenge me on the obvious. I said, “I hope God has some kind of a balance sheet where He knows what I’ve missed out on and has credited me for withdrawal now.” Creative, but very lame. Some things are definitive to me; other thinking may and often does stretch the elastic to the point just before it snaps.

Friends call me a creative thinker; God made me that way and then, I believe, placed me in a spot sure to draw controversy and misunderstanding. In keeping with that, last month in my article, I mentioned the five “clobber verses” in the Bible. These five verses are used by many people in and out of churches to label the LGTBQ community as unworthy of God’s love and society’s respect. I could do an article on each of those verses by going through the Hebrew, the culture, the context…..this is not the forum. In each case, however, the phrases that invite the rejection have been translated as “homosexual”. People with vested interests have helped me look at each of these verses in a different way than the interpretations I have heard. I have a dear friend in the East Bay named Ed who I met at a conference in Seattle. He has come to trust me enough to open up his life, his vast and intelligent approach to Biblical study and his church community to me. I spent a weekend with him and his fellow Freedom in Christ church members this summer. He continues to direct me to books, websites and activists to help me to find information so that I could get the other side of the translations I had read so often.

And, so I struggle, struggle to find REAL meaning, intent, context and historical setting of these five verses that have so offended my gay friends, that so empower some people to judge and condemn. I can get in all kinds of trouble with people when I say that I believe some Bible translations did a horrible job in substituting “homosexual” for what I believe is being spoken of in those verses is a male temple cultic prostitute and in other cases males that dress up as women for temple cultic practices. I just cannot mesh all I know about Jesus, about the loving same sex relationships I know together with these badly translated verses and then conclude that my gay friends are immoral just because they are gay. Sexuality is amoral; it is people who are moral and immoral. I am on my third reading of a “Sex God” by Rob Bell. In it, he explores the connection between sexuality and spirituality. The heterosexual community has certainly done its part to distort sex from its original intent. And do I know plenty of sexually immoral heterosexuals—absolutely! So, why all the emphasis on sexual orientation? Jesus never mentioned it in the Bible, but in fairness, He never mentioned lots of things.

I confuse some people in the lesbian community in particular when I show up to Gay Pride and their softball games and go to Bully’s with them afterwards. I am genuinely trying to hear hearts and understand and reflect Jesus. A woman recently told me she has “no history” with someone like me, so I can be rather suspect. Bono from U2 says, “if Jesus were on earth you’d find Him in gay bars in San Francisco. He’d be working with people suffering from AIDS. These people are the new lepers. If you want to find out where Jesus would be hanging out it’ll always be with the lepers.” I am NOT saying my gay friends are lepers; it is just where Jesus would be. My radical role model.

So how about if we each put down our judgments and inch towards the center? I am trying to run at it; I will stumble, I will offend. If you want to do your own inching, a safe place for the LGBTQ is Light of the Soul Christian Ministries. They meet every Sunday at 7 pm at the First Congregational Church on Sunnyside. They played a great set Sunday morning at Gay Pride if you were there. They love Jesus; they would love to help you find a way back to a place of acceptance.

I want to effect change in a world that breeds too much fear and hatred. I want to struggle less and know more. I challenge you to take the tough road of opening up to be a creative thinker too. As I strive to find an honest way to bring understanding in all this confusion and interpretation, I want to find a place where my feet are so solid on this issue that the certain-to-come opposition will not knock me down. I want to adhere to what one of the Old Testament Prophets answered of the question “What does the Lord require of you?” The answer; ‘ To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” I want justice, I do love mercy and I try to walk humbly with my God and His creation, and that is each of you. And finally, I want my head to believe what my heart thinks, don’t you?

September 19, 2007

A Call For a National AIDS Strategy


More than 100 organizations from across the country are calling for the next President to commit to ending the AIDS epidemic in America.

The groups, which include AIDS Action Washington, Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, have issued a “Call to Action” that has been presented to all Presidential candidates.

It asks that every Presidential candidate commit to developing a results-oriented national AIDS strategy designed to significantly reduce HIV infection rates, ensure access to care and treatment for those who are infected and eliminate racial disparities.

“More than 1.7 million HIV infections and over half a million deaths into the domestic AIDS epidemic, our government still does not have a comprehensive plan to respond effectively,” said Rebecca Haag , Executive Director of AIDS Action.

“The wealthiest nation in the world is failing its own people in responding to the AIDS epidemic at home. Our country must develop what it asks of other nations it supports in combating AIDS: a comprehensive national strategy to achieve improved and more equitable results.”

The groups, in a joint statement on Monday said that the call to action is the result of "the lack of an outcome-based response to HIV domestically.

This, the groups said, has lead to unacceptable results - half of people with HIV are not in care, there is a new infection every 13 minutes, infection rates have not fallen in more than 15 years, and dramatic racial disparities are becoming even more pronounced.

"America’s response to AIDS is not serving those most in need,” said Phill Wilson, Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute.

It's hard to get anyone's attention on Capitol Hill anymore (if one ever could) without representing a large voting block or waving a large check. This is yet another example of a so-called "Christian Nation" ignoring Jesus' commands to take care of the poor and sick.

Those of us who are not poor and sick need to work toward making this issue harder to ignore.

September 18, 2007

GLBT People in Maryland Lose a Round

From the Baltimore Sun:

In a split decision today, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a state law declaring that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

The 4-3 ruling essentially sends the issue of same-sex marriage back to the state legislature and ruled that a ban on gay marriage does not discriminate on the basis of gender and does not deny any fundamental rights.

This press relase from Equality Maryland contains reaction from the losing side:

The American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Maryland today denounced the divided Maryland Court of Appeals decision upholding a state law that bars same-sex couples from marrying and accessing the hundreds of family protections provided to married couples and their children under state law. The organizations vowed to take their struggle for marriage for same-sex couples to the General Assembly, where Sen. Gwendolyn Britt (D-Prince George's County) and Delegate Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George's) have vowed to sponsor bills to extend marriage to same-sex couples.

"We're deeply disappointed in the court's ruling," said Lisa Kebreau, who is raising three children with her partner of four years, Mikki Mozelle. "The court decided that we are undeserving of the family protections given to married couples simply because we're partners of the same sex. That's simply not right." Added Kebreau, "We aren't giving up. We'll continue to fight for marriage in the legislature."

The vote in the case was 4 to 3. One of the dissenting judges said the legislature should either be required to adopt civil unions or marriage. The other two said that the case should be sent back to the lower court for a trial to see if government has a good enough reason to bar same-sex couples from marriage.

The majority opinion rejects the ACLU's arguments that barring same-sex couples from marriage is sex discrimination. While the court agrees that marriage is a fundamental right, it says there is no fundamental right to marry someone of the same sex. The court says gay people aren't entitled to special protection from the court because, although there has been a history of unfair discrimination against gay people, as a group gay people are not politically powerless. The court then uses the least demanding form of constitutional analysis to determine if the ban violates the state's equal protection guarantees, and says that excluding same-sex couples from marriage might rationally be related to fostering procreation, so the state can continue to deny same-sex couples the ability to marry and its family protections.

"The court refused to recognize that lesbian and gay couples form committed relationships and loving families just like heterosexual couples," said Ken Choe, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project who argued the case before the court. "We're hopeful that, unlike the court, the legislature will see that lesbian and gay Marylanders shouldn't be barred from the hundreds of important protections that come with marriage simply because the person whom they love is a person of the same sex."

"Today's court decision will not deter us," said Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland. "All lesbian and gay Marylanders, including the brave couples who petitioned the court in this case, need and deserve the protections and stability of marriage for our relationships and our families. It is now time for the General Assembly to honor Maryland's tradition of tolerance and justice, and to strike down the ban on marriage for same-sex couples."

Here is more from State Senator Britt in another release from Equality Maryland:

"I am very disappointed that the court has decided to prolong discrimination against same-sex couples in Maryland," said Sen. Britt. "Same-sex couples in Maryland form committed relationships and loving families, and they need access to the many family protections that the state provides to married couples. It is now up to the General Assembly to do the right thing, and I am proud to lead the effort to pass a bill ending discrimination in marriage in Maryland."

There are more than 400 provisions in state law and 1,100 provisions in federal law that protect married couples. Civil marriage assures that same-sex couples will not be shut out of hospital rooms during the illness of a partner, lose a home after the death of a partner, or be denied health insurance because they cannot get coverage through a partner."

I operate under the premise that we are all created equal, not under certain circumstances, but in all circumstances," added Sen. Britt. "Discriminatory practices should be challenged wherever they exist, and this state must again mature and recognize injustice in its denial or of rights that should be available to all Maryland families."

More political reaction is recorded by The Advocate:

Legislators on both sides of the debate predicted action on the issue in the next session.

State senator Richard Madaleno, who is gay, said he plans to introduce a bill to allow same-sex marriage. He also expects a proposal to create civil unions.

''I think we'll have a lengthy discussion next session about what the options are for legal recognition for gay people,'' Madaleno said.

Don Dwyer, one of the general assembly's most conservative members, said he would introduce a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage as ''insurance.''

Senator Dwyer seems to have taken on discrimination toward GLBT people as his mission in life. He has at least twice introduced this type of amendment in the Maryland legislature only to see it soundly defeated each time.

I would expect Dwyer's efforts to fall short again in the 2008 legislative session, but I'm also not optimistic on seeing the legalization of same-sex marriage either, particularly in an election year. Maryland has some very liberal pockets in the DC and Baltimore suburbs, but there are some equally conservative areas in the state also. It would take a few of the moderate legislators to stick their neck out and turn the tide in favor of that type of legislation, something politicians are notoriously poor at doing these days.

The excerpt from The Advocate also mentioned Senator Madaleno, who happens to represent my district. Senator Madaleno is the first openly gay state senator in Maryland and, in my opinion, is an exceptional legislator who I would love to see become governor someday. He is well spoken and has both a brilliant political mind and also an empathetic spirit. He hasn't gotten so bogged down in policy that he has lost track of the people it affects. That is clear in this e-mail he sent to his constituents about today's court decision:

As I am sure you have heard by now, today the Maryland Court of Appeals denied equal rights for gay and lesbian couples in our state. While I am disheartened by this decision, I am more incensed by the poor quality of the majority opinion, which relies on several flawed arguments.

The Court held that the current law does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of sex because it “prohibits equally both men and women from the same conduct.” If that argument sounds familiar, it should: it is the same discredited argument that southern racists used to claim that anti-miscegenation laws did not discriminate on the basis of race, because everyone was subject to the same restriction. In fact, Judge Lynne Battaglia noted in her dissent that “In reaching this result, the majority breathes life into the corpse of separate but equal…” The US Supreme Court saw through that twisted logic four decades ago. It is sad that the Maryland Court grasped onto such a discredited argument today.

After reciting a long history of the often-brutal discrimination that gays and lesbians have faced in our society, the Court went out of its way to hold that laws discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation are nevertheless not subject to the same elevated level of scrutiny as those based on race or sex, in part because the gay and lesbian community is not so politically powerless that they constitute a suspect class. Under that reasoning, race and sex should no longer be suspect classes. As General Counsel to the General Assembly, Robert Zarnoch, pointed out in his argument against upholding Judge Murdock’s decision, “In Maryland, we have openly gay legislators who, in fact, are legislative powerhouses in leadership.” While I and my openly gay colleagues are flattered at the idea of being legislative powerhouses, to say that we as a class are more politically powerful than our African-American or women colleagues is a bit of a stretch.

Another reason that the Court said discrimination against gays and lesbians is constitutionally permissible is that sexual orientation - unlike race or sex - may not be immutable. That’s certainly an interesting viewpoint, totally at odds with reality. Do the judges who are in the majority routinely change their sexual orientation? I doubt it. Regardless, we prohibit discrimination - and rightfully so - on other bases that are not at all immutable - religion being chief among them.

Perhaps the worst argument the court used to deny marriage equality was the one that right-wing activists have espoused all along: that marriage is explicitly about procreation. Judge Irma Raker recognized the failed logic in her dissenting opinion, stating that “This disparate treatment of committed same-sex couples, exhibited in a multitude of Maryland laws discussed supra, directly disadvantages the children of same-sex couples, and there is no rational basis to allow such disadvantages when the State’s proffered interest is to promote a stable environment for procreation and child rearing. Each child raised in a household headed by a same-sex couple in Maryland needs and is entitled to the same legal protections as a child of married parents.” For those of us who are lucky enough to be proud gay and lesbian parents, the idea that the state has less desire to protect our children than those of our heterosexual neighbors is particularly disturbing.

Today, gay and lesbian Marylanders feel a devastating kick in the gut, as the Court blithely writes us out of our own constitution with little or no thought to the impact on real people. Regardless of what the Court says, those of us who are prohibited from civil marriage by the state can attest that we are being denied a fundamental right. And the glee with which this decision will be greeted by anti-gay forces intent on dehumanizing us by denying us the fundamental human right to marry indicates that the reason behind retaining the discriminatory law is animus, and nothing more.

Yet, our struggle does not end with this decision. As the Court makes clear, there are no constitutional barriers to the General Assembly and the Governor taking action on expanding the legal recognition of same-gender couples. I fully expect bills to legalize marriage equality will be introduced next session as well as bills to authorize civil unions and the like. Rest assured, I will be advocating for full marriage equality. However, as a community, we will face a major decision over the next few months as to what we might accept out of the legislative process. I hope you will stay engaged with me and Equality Maryland as the debate unfolds.

I would like to leave you with a comment I read today on the blog "SCREW DESPAIR! It's time for a strong pot of coffee and some political work ethic." Let’s get to work and redouble our efforts in Maryland . Make no mistake, we will prevail. Not as soon as you and I had hoped, but it will happen. Please stay involved and let your elected officials know that you want action now that our courts have let us down.

With hope for the future,
Rich Madaleno

Of course, the senator is absolutely right. Marylanders who believe in equal rights for all the state's residents need to contact their elected officials and tell them so. Those who value their poltiical future or religious right doctrine over equality need to be held accountable, and they need to know it's coming.

There's a Surge In New AIDS Cases Among Gay New Yorkers

From PinkNews:

New York City health officials have released a report saying HIV infection rates have risen substantially among young gay men over the last six years.

According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report, new HIV diagnoses among gay men under 30 have increased by 33 percent in that time, with the majority of new cases showing up in black and Latino gay men.

Unfortunately, the report didn't offer any explanations for why rates of HIV infection have risen among gay youth.

One reason for the increase, according to Dr. Donna Futterman, director of the adolescent AIDS programme at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore, could be that minority teens may feel they have to hide their sexual orientation.

"The pressure of covering up means you put yourself in riskier situations than if you could go on a date and ask out who you like," Futterman told the Associated Press.

New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden was more critical in his response to the report. "

A generation of men is growing up having not seen their friends die of AIDS, and maybe having the impression that HIV is not such a terrible infection," Frieden said in a statement.

Unless they practice safer sex, he added, "we will face another wave of suffering and death from HIV and AIDS."

Minorities already have enough going against them, they don't need to expose themselves to additional risk. Perhaps it's time to take some education efforts into areas that are heavily black or Latino and make sure young men understand that, while AIDS is no longer a death sentence, it is a disease still not to be trifled with.

September 17, 2007

Book Review: "Gay Christian 101"

Rick Brentlinger’s Gay Christian 101; by Rick Brentlinger, 390 pp., Salient Press, $22.95

The title of this book sets the tone for what one finds inside. It sounds like a textbook for a class and, like all 101 classes are in college, it teaches fundamental knowledge about a subject that is the foundation for further learning. Rick Brentlilnger’s book fills that role for the issue of, taking this from the cover of the book, “What The Bible Really Says About Homosexuality.”

The subtitle of the book is “Spiritual Self-Defense For Gay Christians,” but I think that actually sells it short. Rather than defending the whole idea of gay Christians, it makes a compelling case for biblical interpretations that not only don’t condemn homosexuals but actually demonstrate God’s blessings and approval.

I know simply by writing that sentence I am considered a heretic by right-wing fundamentalists, but at least I have good company with people like my church family and teachers like Rick Brentlinger.

Rev. Brentlinger is a Baptist (clearly not Southern Baptist) minister, a church planter, and a bible teacher. In Gay Christian 101, he also shows exceptional skills at research, exhaustively plowing through historical writings that are many centuries old. By doing this, Brentlinger shows not only the historic context of key scriptures but also that current anti-gay interpretations are often relatively recent, finding ancient writings that support a much more gay-friendly perspective.

On the back cover, Brentlinger tells readers what they can expect from his work:

The Bible never mentions homosexuals in Sodom
A key anti-gay writer admits that Sodom does not support anti-homosexual teaching
Proof the Levitical Holiness Code refers to pagan worship, not homosexuality
Presents five strong new analogies from Scripture which validate loving gay relationships
Proof that Jonathan and David had an intimate partnership
Shows where Jesus blessed two men in a gay relationship
Proof that Jesus Exempted gay people from the Adam and Eve marriage paradigm
Proof that the first chapter of Romans does not condemn gay partnerships
Proof that malakos & arsenokoites (two words in the original writings of the Bible) do not mean homosexual

These are very ambitious goals, but by and large I found that Brentlinger accomplished them. Where he may have come up short of absolutely proving a point, he at least made arguing against it seem silly, far-fetched, and uninformed.

Not only was his research exceptionally detailed and thorough, I was impressed that he did not limit the perspectives he presented to the ones he viewed (and supported) as correct. Far to the contrary, he at times almost overwhelms the reader with alternate viewpoints, considering all angles of the critical issues regarding homosexuality and the Bible. For example, Brentlinger presented 18 different interpretations of Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, explaining what type of people believe them, then sorting out and presenting what he believes the evidence shows.

I would caution readers that this book is not an easy read. After all, when is the last time you picked up a textbook and casually blew through it? Brentlinger obviously invested many, many hours into putting this work together, and it requires some effort and dedication to make it through a 390-page book of this density. I would suggest taking it a chapter at a time and allow some time for that information to sink in before tanking on the next chapter—the volume of information could start to run together otherwise.

You may even reach different conclusions—there is enough alternative information provided to make that possible—but he does such a good job of methodically making his points that disagreeing with his final conclusions would be very difficult.

The bottom line is that this book is worth the effort to read and study. I strongly recommend it for anyone who (1) is gay or lesbian, (2) has a gay or lesbian loved one, (3) is involved in GLBT ministry or advocacy, (4) wants a comprehensive study of views about what the Bible says about homosexuality that goes beyond the simple condemnation of right-wing fundamentalists.

I have what I call my “ministry book bag” that I carry around with me just in case I have some time to sit down and do some studying and/or writing. Along with my Bible, I carry some compact reference books. After finishing Gay Christian 101, that book now has a permanent resting place in my book bag.

I have never read a more comprehensive study of how homosexuality is and is not treated in the Bible than this book, and I suspect you haven’t either.

You can read more about this book and order it at You will also find more commentary and numerous additional resources for the gay Christian at this website, and I encourage you to check it out.

September 16, 2007

Is There A Scientific Basis to Gaydar?

There just might be according to a recent study in this MSNBC story, but only for men.

Is he gay or straight? At a glance, the key to telling might be in the way he walks.

Observers were only able to accurately guess the sexual orientation of men; with women, their guesses didn’t exceed chance. But what’s most interesting to researchers is understanding how that snap judgment can unleash a series of stereotypes — even from the most liberal-minded.

“This is important for the understanding of perception and feelings of assumptions and bias,” says lead author Kerri Johnson, an assistant professor of communications at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Once you know an individual’s sexual orientation, every else that happens is seen through that lens.”

As the gay men walked, they slightly swayed their hips. The observers were accurate in assessing the men's sexual orientation a little more than 60 percent of the time.

“There’s reason to think that gay people can’t conceal their homosexuality,” says Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University. “I don’t think it’s a performance that gay people enact. I think it’s something that either is inborn, or it’s acquired very early, perhaps by watching members of the other sex.”

Research such as Johnson's may give scientific credence to "gaydar," suggesting that people really can tell whether someone is gay or straight from visual clues.

As the lesbians walked, they slightly moved their shoulders back and forth — Johnson calls it a less exaggerated version of an Arnold Schwarzenegger-type swagger.

But when it came to identifying the sexual orientation of the women, it was all up to chance.
“Women in our society are permitted a greater latitude of behaviors,” Johnson says. “They’re able to act in masculine ways , and adopt traditional masculine roles. That’s been happening since the ’60s.

“We’re a society that permits women to do this, in fact, celebrates women who do this,” she continues. “But we punish men for [adopting feminine traits]."

We so often group gay men and lesbian women together in discussions, but this was a reminder to me that this is not one group of people, rather two seperate and distinct groups that have not only some important common issues, but some totally unique ones too.