October 13, 2007

"Gay Animals out of the Closet?"

That's the title of an article from MSNBC (thanks to the Washington Blade for the tip).

I am firmly convinced our cat, "Cuddles," is gay, so it's nice to see that he has plenty of company in the animal kingdom.

From male killer whales that ride the dorsal fin of another male to female bonobos that rub their genitals together, the animal kingdom tolerates all kinds of lifestyles.

A first-ever museum display, "Against Nature?," which opened last month at the University of Oslo's Natural History Museum in Norway, presents 51 species of animals exhibiting homosexuality.

"Homosexuality has been observed in more than 1,500 species, and the phenomenon has been well described for 500 of them," said Petter Bockman, project coordinator of the exhibition.

October 12, 2007

Positive Movement on ENDA

There is some encouraging news on the status of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act today. This from the Human Rights Campaign:

The Human Rights Campaign has collaborated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to craft a solution to the controversy surrounding the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Today, in a meeting with HRC and other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups, Speaker Pelosi took an unprecedented step and committed to giving H.R. 2015, the fully-inclusive version of the bill, a floor vote in the House once enough support for it to pass has been secured. This commitment by the Speaker of the House is an unprecedented departure from the usual delays seen in Congress on an issue that will have already been considered by the full House.

Additionally, as the community continues to advocate and educate Members of Congress to secure enough commitments for final passage, the inclusive version of the legislation will receive committee hearings.

Although H.R. 3685, the version of the bill that provides workplace protections on the basis of sexual orientation only, will move to committee mark-up next week, Speaker Pelosi has given HRC her word that as soon as the commitments to pass a fully-inclusive ENDA are acquired, she will move that bill ahead.

“Speaker Pelosi’s promise to put a fully-inclusive ENDA to a vote continues to underline HRC’s passionate advocacy on behalf of the entire GLBT community,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Our strategy throughout has been to stay at the table and fight for the ultimate goal that we all share. Today, that strategy has proven to be successful. With this commitment, the inclusive ENDA bill will continue to receive legislative action as it moves through the committee hearing process during the time HRC, and other coalition organizations, continue to advocate directly with Members to support this critical inclusive workplace protection bill.”

Solmonese continued, “Since the introduction of a sexual orientation only ENDA, HRC has ramped up its efforts to push for a fully inclusive ENDA that protects our whole community. Through calls to action to our supporters and frequent visits to Capitol Hill by our staff, Board of Directors and volunteers, HRC has fought hard to receive the kind of commitment that Speaker Pelosi gave us today.”

HRC has generated more that 80,000 calls, e-mails, letters and visits to Capitol Hill—more than any other GLBT or allied organization.

“Now the real work begins,” continued Solmonese. “We must maintain the momentum we have built up to persist in educating members of Congress and the public about issues facing the transgender community. HRC will continue to lead the lobbying and education campaign until we reach the goal we all share—workplace protections for the entire GLBT community.”

If Dear Abby Says It's OK, Then It Must Be

From The Advocate:

For years rumblings have surfaced on the Internet, conjecture about her casual references to ''sexual orientation'' and ''respect.''

Now Dear Abby is ready to say it flatly: She supports same-sex marriage.

''I believe if two people want to commit to each other, God bless 'em,'' the syndicated advice columnist told the Associated Press. ''That is the highest form of commitment, for heaven's sake.''
What Jeanne Phillips, a.k.a. Abigail Van Buren, finds offensive and misguided are homophobic jokes, phrases like ''That's so gay,'' and parents who reject or try to reform their children when they come out of the closet.

Her views are the reason she's being honored this week by Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a national advocacy group that provides support for gay people and their families. The original Abby, Phillips's 89-year-old mother, Pauline, helped put PFLAG on the map in 1984 when she first referred a distraught parent to the organization.

Jeanne Phillips, who formally took over the column when her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease five years ago, has continued plugging the group, as well as its affiliate for parents with children who identify as transgender, and a suicide hotline aimed at gay teenagers.

''I'm trying to tell kids if they are gay, it's OK to be gay. I've tried to tell families if they have a gay family member to accept them and love them as they always have,'' she said Friday.

If you're going to solicit advice from someone, a person who is accepting of EVERYONE is a pretty good choice. Kudos to Dear Abby and congratulations on receiving PFLAG's first "Straight For Equality" award.

October 11, 2007

The 16th Edition of the International Carnival of Pozitivities Is Available

From Ron Hudson,

The 16th edition of the ICP is now available at Ogre’s Politics and Views. This edition represents an attempt to reach out to a conservative political community about HIV/AIDS. It is my hope that our messages might encourage those who normally do not come in contact with the issues of HIV/AIDS to think about how to help us fight the pandemic. We have poetry, video, personal accounts and news from around the world.

This in an interesting theme they're using for this edition, and there is always an interesting variety of contributions. If you have any interest in how people deal with AIDS, this blog is always worth checking out.

Let's Get Personal

The more things change, the better they get if you're seeking God's will in your life. That's what Pastor Brenda and I are experiencing in our lives right now, and it's a very exciting time, especially for me. I've mentioned our church, Believers Covenant Fellowship in northern Virginia, on a fairly regular basis and told you that my wife Brenda is a Pastor there. I've also shared some about Apostle Dale, the leader of our little church. Well, they've gone and done it now--I've been appointed as a Pastor In Training.

That's right, for you fans of the old "Taxi" television show, in a year I'm on track to be Reverend Jim.

I hope it's no surprise for readers here that I am a practicing Christian, but the pastor part just might be. When I told my two best friends the news, their initial reaction was "Wow!" If I take a step back and look at my life three years ago today, when my beloved wife Bette suddenly passed away, to where I am now, happily married to Brenda, and advocating for the GLBT community in politics and the church, it's hard for me not to say WOW myself!

I am answering the call I have been hearing for a while now and moving into the ministry with the goal of being able to devote myself to it full time sooner rather than later. God has blessed me beyond any reasonable measure.

As I transition into this next phase of my life, you'll notice the content here change a bit. I'll still be posting about the important political and social issues facing the GLBT community, but I'll also be writing about my journey into the ministry, sharing what I learn along the way. I hope you will find it of value. I'll also share a bit more about my life, put myself out there more than I have so far. I had thought of starting another blog, but I decided against essentially establishing two identities for myself. GLBT advocacy, serving Jesus Christ, and life itself--it all works together and, as Paul wrote in Romans 8:28, it works to the good for those who love God.

I had a hard time swallowing that three years ago after losing my wife, but I'm living proof that those words are true. I hope you read something here that helps you believe that too.

Come Meet Us at the PFLAG Convention

Pastor Brenda and I will be manning a booth for our church, Believers Covenant Fellowship, at the annual PFLAG Convention on Friday. They were nice enough to hold it within a short drive of our church, so we decided to participate and let more people know who we were. We'll also have information on our Internet ministry project, Affirming Christian Network. We're looking forward to meeting a lot more straight, not narrow folks there.

October 10, 2007

October 11 is National Coming Out Day

The Human Rights Campaign has a webpage with a video and several resources coving various issues related to coming out, and it is well worth checking out if you are at the point where you are giving that serious consideration.

For what it's worth, I strongly encourage you, if you are gay or lesbian, to take the huge leap of faith needed to come out and publicly acknowledge how God made you. It is critically important for friends, family, and members of the faith community, both GLBT and straight allies, to support those who have the courage to take this life-changing step forward in their lives.

I will offer a prayer to everyone struggling with this decision and assure you that, despite what many people say, God is with you and will bless your life just the way He made you.

If anyone has any encouragement and/or experiences related to coming out they would like to share, I would encourage you to post a comment here and do so.

"Sometimes (Bible) Passages Can Be Interpreted Differently"

I'll bet you didn't expect that headline quote to come from a Southern Baptist preacher, did you? Well, I'm happy to say, it did. From the AFA's One News Now:

In a recent post on his personal Internet site -- also known as a "blog" -- Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma, said while he agrees that the essentials of the gospel should not be compromised, he believes too many pastors and leaders have dogmatic interpretations of tertiary, or secondary, issues in scripture. He notes those individuals sometimes refuse to fellowship with those who disagree with them on those secondary issues.

Pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention must be sure that their views line up with scripture, he says, and not tradition. "I guess what I'm saying is, when somebody says, 'Thus saith the Lord, ' they need to be really, really sure the Lord is saying it," he cautions. "And somebody [responds], 'But it's in the Bible.' Well, of course it is -- but sometimes passages can be interpreted differently."

Burleson made headlines two years ago when, as a committee member on the International Mission Board, he questioned a proposal regarding the use of a private prayer language for missionary candidates. He feels that situation illustrates the problems that can be caused by dogmatic interpretations of scripture on secondary issues.

"Baptists traditionally have said that tongues have ceased; but that's an interpretation of the sacred text," he says. "There are some conservative, Bible-believing Christians who believe that the gift of tongues continues as it did in the days of the apostles. I think both sides need to take a humble approach and say this is what I believe, but I could be wrong."

Burleson has been criticized in the past for posting information on his blog site that some Southern Baptist officials said was never meant for the public.

It's nice to see that same-sex "marriage" isn't the only word they put in quotes.

The point that Rev. Burleson makes is critical to the entire issue of the acceptance of homosexuality by the church. Some churches, small ones like mine or entire denominations like the Metropolitan Community Church, interpret scriptures to either accept or stay neutral on the issue of committed same-sex relationships. Many others, like the Southern Baptist Convention, believe the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination, among other things.

One of those views is wrong. Homosexuality either is or is not sinful, although I believe most Christians accept the idea of promiscuity, regardless of the genders involved, as being against God's wishes.

Anyone, and I mean ANYONE, who can not accept the possibility that they may be interpreting scripture wrong is waaaaaaay too sure of themselves and needs a major dose of humility mixed in with reality. God's ways are sooooooo far beyond what we can understand that no human being can rationally believe they have the full revelation of Him. It can't happen. Therefore, if we don't know the whole story, the parts we are missing could be critical toward understanding God's will for issues like committed homosexual relationships.

The obvious solution here is for Christians not to expend so much energy condemning people not like them and concentrate on reaching the lost and loving EVERYONE as they would want to be loved.

Unfortunately, that approach does not lead to political power and/or the accumulation of wealth. It doesn't make news or get fancy churches built.

Come to think of it, though, Jesus didn't have any of that either, and I've heard very good things about His ministry.

October 09, 2007

Non-Christians Views of Christianity Deteriorating, Partially Due to Attitudes Toward Gays

The folks over at Box Turtle Bulletin quote a survey by the Barna Group which shows a deteriorating perception of Christians held by non-Christians:

Nine out of ten outsiders found Christians too “anti-homosexual,” and nearly as many perceived it as “hypocritical” and “judgmental.” Seventy-five percent found it “too involved in politics.”

Churchgoers of the same age share several of the non-Christians’ complaints about Christianity. For instance, 80% of the Christians polled picked “anti-homosexual” as a negative adjective describing Christianity today. And the view of 85% of non-Christians aged 16-29 that present day Christianity is “hypocritical — saying one thing doing another,” was, in fact, shared by 52% of Christians of the same age. Fifty percent found their own faith “too involved in politics.”

Here is a quote to remember from The Barna Group's David Kinnaman in an interview with Time Magazine regarding the relationship between anti-gay Christians and the GLBT community:

The two sides ought to have some respect for each other — and the responsibility should be on Christians to lead by example instead of just shouting at others through the ballot box or talk shows.

He went on to address the flawed approach of trying to reach GLBT people without establishing relationships with them

I have encountered numerous GLBT people who have shared their horror stories with churches and the people who populate them, experiences full of hatred and judgement and often devoid of Christ's love.

I spoke up during our church service last Sunday and said if I wasn't a Christian and was evaluatling the faith by the people who are so often the face of it in the media and public gatherings, I doubt very seriously I would want anything to do with it. I saw a lot of heads nodding and heard no voice of objection.

Folks, this is tragic. Seriously, this is a tragedy because lives are ruined and souls are lost because of this. How can Christians expect to lead people to Christ and fulfill the Great Commission if their words and actions repell people?

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is see ourselves as others do. For many people who portray themselves as Christians, a good look in the mirror is long overdue.

I Guess It's Not the 21st Century Everywhere

I'm not sure what else to say about this from PinkNews:

Two men have been publicly flogged in Saudi Arabia after being found guilty of sodomy and sentenced to 7,000 lashes.

The men, who have not been identified, received an unspecified number of lashes in the south-western city of Al-Bahah on Tuesday evening, according to a report from the Al-Okaz daily.

The men will remain in prison until the rest of their punishment can be completed.

In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is illegal under sharia, or Islamic Law.

The maximum sentence it carries is the death penalty and this is most commonly performed by public beheading.

Gay rights are not recognised in the kingdom and the publication of any material promoting them is banned for its "un-Islamic" themes.

With strict laws restricting unmarried opposite-sex couples, however, and public displays of affection accepted between men, some Westerners have suggested that sharia encourages homosexuality.

Last April, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced two Saudis, one Yemeni and a Jordanian to two years in jail and 2,000 lashes after a police raid on an alleged gay party.

Iran has been condemned for carrying out the death penalty on men found guilty of having gay sex.

Are you freakin' kidding me? As I write this, I'm watching the movie adaptation of John Jakes' novel "North and South," set in Civil War times. I was sickened watching fictional slaves being flogged--I can't even conceive that humans still do that to fellow humans simply because they are different.

It would be easy to write this off as the symptom of a non-Christian nation, but then I can't help but think that there are more than a few people in the United States who probably think flogging GLBT people is a good idea.

October 08, 2007

Turning Tragedy Into Positive Action

Deb Price writes about Jeffrey Montgomery, the founder of Detroit's Triangle Foundation, on the occassion of his stepping down as executive director of the organization. Montgomery's story is a wonderful example of turning a tragedy, the murder of his boyfriend, into the motivation to work for the benefit of the GLBT community.

Click here to read the article.

African-American Leaders Step Up to Fight AIDS

From the Christian Post:

Over 150 of the nation’s top African American leaders, including megachurch pastor T.D. Jakes, are convening in New York this week for the first national conference devoted toward creating a plan to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic among the African American community.

The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) will host the historic National Conclave on HIV/AIDS Policy for Black Clergy at the AOL Time Warner building with a public news conference scheduled for Tuesday. The closed-door gathering, which began Monday, will be co-chaired by world-renowned pastors Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, and the Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, chair of NBLCA.

The two-day meeting will mark the first time African American leaders from all sectors – including clergy, scholars, government and health agencies – have collaborated toward ending what Butts has called “a crisis” among the African American community.

While African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, according to a 2000 Census report, they accounted for slightly over half of the estimated 37,331 new AIDS cases in 2005. African Americans also lead other ethnic groups in the rate of AIDS diagnoses for adults and adolescents – ten times the rate for Caucasians and three times the rate for Hispanics. Even for new AIDS cases among children under 13, African Americans represented 46 of the total 68 cases.

"Once you hear the numbers, you realize the impact, the unthinkable loss of lives that we as a community are facing,” said Butts, who is senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church, the historic African-American church in Harlem. “You absolutely know that a lot of this could be prevented.”

Click here to read the rest of the article.

October 07, 2007

More on ENDA

I've gathered a few interesting stories regarding the status of ENDA (Employer Non-Discrimination Act) and what it will or will not include in its final version>

The Advocate posted a commentary by Riki Wilchins, the director of GenderPAC where she points out that trandgender people like her are not the only ones affected by the watered down version of ENDA now most likely to make it to the House floor.

So, now that the time comes to strike gender identity and expression from ENDA, it is difficult for us to explain why not only transgender people are affected. That effeminate gay men (like Medina Rene of Rene v. MGM Grand) and aggressive lesbian women (like Ann Hopkins of Hopkins v. Price Waterhouse) and even straight men who are not quite as manly as coworkers expect (like Joseph Oncale of Oncale v. Sundowner) all face harassment and discrimination because of their gender as well.

So I would like to speak to you who support this stripped-down, non-inclusive bill that protects only sexual orientation. If you think this bill is about identity, about you getting your rights as one of those fortunate “straight-looking and -acting” gay people, then you have made a fine decision.

But if you think it is about a community, about the love, struggles, and experiences we have all shared, then I think you have made a terrible choice. I hope you will one day decide to speak out, as I am doing, about the need for a bill that includes all of us.

In the final analysis, the moral center of a movement is not defined by how well and how long we fight for our own rights. Important as that is, the moral center of a movement is defined by how well and how long we fight for those who are not us, for those more easily left behind.

This essay from Americablog is not surprised that GLBT leaders are willing to defer the protections for transgender people since the T in GLBT is a late addition and something of a stepchild to the fight for equal rights:

As little as 14 years ago, the phrase "lesbian and gay community" was used by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force back in 1993 (while NGLTF is now leading the charge for transgender inclusion in the "LGBT" community). And as little as two years ago, GLAAD (which has also been at the forefront of trans inclusion in the gay community) still used the phrase "LGB community" on their Web site to differentiate the gay community from the transgendered community ("By dismissing these issues as merely a by-product of comedy, the LGB community gives a free pass to the mockery of the trans community"). Then, sometime in the late 90s, groups like GLAAD and NGLTF started adding the T to the LGB, and I remember at the time scratching my head as to why. And I wasn't alone.

The moral of the story: Anyone who says that transgendered people have always been accepted as part of the gay community is simply wrong. A little over ten years ago, NGLTF, the group that was quite possibly at the forefront of pushing the inclusion of T in LGB (and who is leading the effort to include trans in ENDA) didn't even use the T themselves. So the question remains, if NGLTF has only accepted transgendered people as part of the community for a little over ten years, when did the rest of the gay community do the same, and has it yet?

I would argue that the gay community never collectively and overwhelmingly decided to include the T in LGB (or GLB). It happened because a few groups like NGLTF and GLAAD starting using it, and they and a handful of vocal activists and transgender leaders pretty much shamed everyone else into doing it. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing, and it doesn't necessarily mean that the T shouldn't have been added. I'm just saying that I don't think the T was added because there was a groundswell of demand in the gay community that we add T to LGB. I think it happened through pressure, organizational fiat, shame, and osmosis.

And that is how we got into the mess we're in today.

This article from MSNBC points out the difference between acceptance of rights for gays and lesbians vs. transgender people:

Many Americans know and work with a gay or lesbian person, but how many have a nodding acquaintance with a transgender person?

That distinction may explain why the House of Representatives is likely to vote within the next few weeks for job protections for gays and lesbians, but not for people who are transsexuals or adopt the appearance and mannerisms of the other sex.

One Democratic freshman in a Republican-leaning district, Rep. Zack Space of Ohio, said he supports the idea of banning workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But legal protections for transgender people, he said, is a “more foreign” idea, and he is “not comfortable making a commitment on that.”

The HRC has been right in the middle of this controversy and, as a result, lost their only transgender board member, Donna Rose. She discussed her resignation in an interview with The Advocate:

Though Donna Rose resigned as the first and only transgender member of the Human Rights Campaign’s board of directors on Wednesday, she has no hard feelings toward the organization.

“I really believe that the board feels as though they have the best interest of the LGBT community in mind even though the end result doesn’t appear that way,” she told The Advocate, adding that work she has done with HRC has provided some of her “proudest” moments.

The HRC board’s statement posted Monday read, “HRC will not support the newly introduced sexual orientation only bill.” But the real controversy erupted around what wasn’t said -- HRC’s statement never indicated that it would oppose passing the “sexual orientation” only bill.

“I could not fulfill my obligations as a board member to support that tepid stance,” said Rose.

Most insiders believe the creation of two bills will lead to passing the non-inclusive ENDA through both chambers of Congress perhaps this year (though President Bush may very well veto it), while leaving the “gender identity” bill to languish for an untold number of years. A noninclusive ENDA was passed in New York, for instance, in 2002, while five years later, its gender counterpart (GENDA) still has an uncertain future.

The HRC posted an entry on their blog "HRC Back Story" detailing their involvement in the ongoing process of finalizing ENDA. It included this statement from HRC president Joe Solmonese:

“Some may say we should have joined the growing chorus of public dissenters earlier. We believed, and still do, that the correct course of action was to continue dialogue with our allies on the Hill and work to the last minute to effect change,” said Solmonese. “That decision, in addition to yesterday’s letter signed by GLBT and civil rights organizations, paid off when we were able to engage in direct conversations that resulted in a guarantee from House leadership to postpone the mark-up until later this month.”

Solmonese shared a personal message in a later post on HRC Back Story:

The last two weeks have been the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching of my life—and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. Ever since we received word last week that the original, complete version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act was in trouble, many in our community have spent more than one sleepless night tossing and turning, trying to figure out the best strategy for moving forward. And although there were different views on which road to take, I personally received strength in knowing that our goal—enacting one bill that protects the entire GLBT community—would be the ultimate destination.

Three rock-solid principles have guided my decision-making throughout this ordeal: a) In the context of decisions that lawmakers had made, HRC must craft a strategy that would achieve an inclusive ENDA most expeditiously; b) an “incremental” strategy that said we’d “come back and pick up gender identity in a few years” was not acceptable; and c) we couldn’t affect change if we weren’t part of the legislative process. Those principles have dictated all of my actions and will continue to do so.

That final principle—staying in the game in order to influence the outcome—has, thus far, been almost unique to HRC, and the actions we’ve taken based upon it have come under intense scrutiny by others. No matter how difficult it is to come under fire, however, we know that turning our backs on our relationships with Congress is not an acceptable strategy for HRC. It would completely incapacitate us in the fight for a complete bill. Everything that has transpired in the past week, and everything that we will do going forward, reflects this basic understanding: if we remain outside of the legislative process, we have no hope of influencing it.

The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition (NTAC) isn't buying it and planned to picket the HRCs annual National Dinner Saturday night.

While Solmonese's statement about "the last two weeks have been the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching of my life" reaks of, dare I say, a drama queen moment (I bet most of wish a setback in a piece of legislation was the most heartbreaking and gut-wrenching thing that ever happened to us), I think the point he made in the last paragraph is right on. I believe leaders of the GLBT community need to stay engaged as active participants in the legislative process, not pull away and cry foul when they believe, rightly so, that they have been blindsided.

Kevin Naff, the editor of the Washington Blade, doesn't totally agree with my point but still offers one of the more reasoned opinions I've seen over the last few days:

Meanwhile, others are gunning for the Human Rights Campaign, accusing its leaders of abandoning the “T” in GLBT. The snarky press releases have been flying all week, online message boards are filled with anti-HRC invective and at least one trans group even plans to picket the HRC National Dinner Saturday night in D.C.

We all love a protest!

The problem with this overheated reaction is it’s self-destructive, counterproductive, oversimplified and, in some cases, strikingly hypocritical. Some of the most vocal opponents of Frank’s amended ENDA bill supported state non-discrimination measures that also omitted trans people not so long ago.

To be sure, no one is blameless in this mess. HRC must accept its share of responsibility for failing to adequately educate and lobby new conservative Democrats on trans issues. That responsibility isn’t HRC’s alone, though, and all those energized by this debate should stay active, visible and aggressive in meeting with and educating House members in their districts.

No one is arguing that the law should leave trans people behind. In fact, transgender people are most in need of protection from employment discrimination. But achieving these goals requires strategy and patience, not emotion and personal attacks. Instead of petitions and angry blogs, gay rights advocates should be focused on using the repreieve granted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to educate members and strategize for the best outcome. The answer may be to pull the bills altogether and come back in 2009. If that happens, gay activists need to be more careful about the Democrats they choose to support. As we’ve seen in this debate and elsewhere in recent weeks, it’s not a given that Democrats will stand with us. They have taken gay support for granted for too long and gays have let them get away with it.

I hope that this process leads to protection for ALL people in the workplace, but still feel that the priority is to ensure at least protection for some in the GLBT community rather than a complete defeat that benefits no one.