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Posts Tagged ‘bisexual’

Cotswold stone wall

One of t the things I like about moving with the Quakers is the quality of questions we ask each other.  We have a long history of asking questions that cause of to reflect inwardly and outwardly.

For three decades (more?) queer Quakers have been meeting in North America under a variety of names that have changed as the group has changed and grown. Currently the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC or as I like to say, Flibbity Gibbitz) meets each winter and summer for gatherings. (Next one is in February in New York State).

Last month I got involved with a lot of activism around transgender issues and particularly the inappropriate and offensive actions of some queer organizations and gay men. You can read about it at my post: Remembering Jorge while Forgetting what Binds Us to learn more.

Oliver Danni, a deliciously queer vegan transgender Quaker (and so much more) wrote a list of queries for the FLGBTQC to consider in regards to transgender inclusion in LGBT organizations. With Oliver Danni’s permission, I reprint the e-mail message here. Perhaps some of the reflections questions can contribute to the on-going discourse. Please feel free to copy any question and answer it in the comment section (or blog about it elsewhere!) There are some references to Quaker organizations and Quaker terms. You can learn about some of these terms here, but knowing them is not essential to appreciating Oliver Danni’s questions.

Peterson raised an interesting question on Facebook, and I thought it would be a good discussion for us to have here, too. His question,”What shall we do with all these GLb(t) organizations?”, lifts up the concern that amongst organizations which describe themselves as “GLBT”, it is common that only gay and lesbian people will be fully included, while bisexuals will be “kind of” included, and transgender people will not really be at all.

The discussion left me inspired to articulate some queries with which I have long since been dancing in this community, and once again I wish to invite you all to dance with me and my F/friendly queries. 🙂

  • What is your vision of a fully transgender-inclusive organization? What would that organization be doing? How would we evaluate that this organization had reached the same level of inclusiveness for transgender people as it had for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people?
  • In what ways do you feel that FLGBTQC has been successful in becoming a more fully transgender-inclusive organization?
  • In what ways do you feel that we could be more inclusive of transgender people in the FLGBTQC community?
  • What impact do you see FLGBTQC having currently on the inclusion of transgender people in the Quaker world (Meetings or churches, FGC, FUM, Quaker service organizations)? What is your vision of how we could have an even greater impact?
  • How has the ministry of FLGBTQC with regard to transgender people influenced you personally? How has your personal ministry influenced the FLGBTQC community’s inclusion of transgender people? (Yes, this question is flip-floppable!)

Please, respond to any of these queries which speaks to you, or to another to which you find yourself led. This is not a “survey” or assignment where you need to answer all the questions in essay form –just an invitation to some electronic worship sharing. 🙂

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Having lived in Memphis, TN for five years (two of those in the Love in Action–[LIA] gay 2 straight gulag) I know Memphians make up a vibrant LGBTQ community. Thanks to the folks at Integrity, Holy Trinity, the Gay and Lesbia n Community Center, BGALA at U of Memphis, and then the amazing Queer Action Coalition that led the 2005 summer protests of LIA, I know that my own identity, art and activism has been shaped. Memphis showed up and did an amazing job of art and activism in February 2008.

Some call Memphis the buckle of the Bible Belt.  The intersection (and collision) of faith and sexuality has resulted with folks saying it is the Bible Belt by day and the Garter Belt by night! Sadly lots of people feel the necessity to live in the closet in order to keep their jobs, homes, positions in churches, and even a place a the family table. Memphis has been the scene of some of the most extreme transphobic violence over the past two years. I have also heard from more than one teen who got kicked out of the house because they were too queer for the family.

Memphis has several LARGE churches as well as Christian colleges, parochial schools, private Christian schools and loads of youth groups where many lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gay and queer folks need to live under the radar in order to avoid rejection or worse.

How pleased I was to hear from my friend Micah that he and a friend of his will be doing a tour of the South to connect with LGBTQ people of faith in Christian communities. It is all part of the Sanctuary Collective fall tour which will take them to several cities including Memphis. Micah knows firsthand about the oppression and silencing of LGBTQ folks on Christian college campuses as he spent several weeks with other college-age folks a few years back visiting a variety of Christian campuses to engage in conversation with those communities around LGBTQ concerns. In some cases they found a welcoming place willing to dialog. In other cases they got arrested for stepping their queer feet on the Christian property.

This new initiative is quite different. It is designed to connect one-on-one and in small groups with LGBTQ folks in Christian community to provide support as people seek to live authentically. I am sure there are MANY people in the Memphis community who are quiet about their sexuality and gender identity, but who also want to connect with others in a safe and supportive way that affirms faith as well as LGBTQ identities.

Micah wants to connect with Memphians (or as I like to say Memphibians) and in fact needs your support. Some things he specificly asked me to communicate was the need for:

-a place to sleep
-showers
-food
-laundry
-transportation
-wifi
-good ideas for places to meet/work

Here are our goals for this trip:

-recruiting potential participants for our Discipleship Program
-hearing and documenting your stories to share with others on our website
-gathering financial support
-enrolling people to serve on our Support Team

If you are a person of faith who is also LGBTQ and want to connect with this grassroots project (and I strongly encourage you to do it–Micah is coolness on ice!) then do it! If you can help in any way, including just hanging out with Micah when he is in town, make your voice heard.  Please contact me via Facebook or else get to Micah directly through Sanctuary Collective web site. He should be pulling into town some time next week.

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In my play Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs I perform a scene as two characters–Chad, a queer studies major who has to take over the introductory to quee theory class since Dr. Eugenes, the transgender professor is out that day, and Federico Garcia Lorca, the early 20th Century Spanish poet and playwright. (see scene below).
 
The audience learns pretty quickly in the play that Chad is not what they expect. Instead he reveals he is intelligent, deep thinking, insightful and willing to expose injustice. At first though they just see a fem guy and make all sorts of assumptions about him and about me for portraying him as a fem guy. 
 
Take a look at the scene and then I’ll tell you how I have been using it lately. 
 
 
Often I speak at various venues and then do a series of excerpts from my various plays. I almost always present the scene above as I did at the Lambeth Conference when I was invited to speak their last year.  The scene with Federico ends with Chad saying, "Federico wasn’t just another pretty face; he was someone of substance. And because of his political beliefs in the midst of a fascist dictatorship and because he was openly gay, they killed him."
 
After a pause I come out of character and address the audience and explain that many people hide parts of themselves. They expend a great deal of energy to cover the fact that  they are transgender, lesbian, bisexiual, gay. Often they do this because they fear death. In some cases and far too many places they fear actual death, violence perpetuated against them by people on the streets, from their governments or in some cases from their own family and friends. But there are other deaths that people face which keep them from being fully open and honest about themselves–
  • the death of vital relationships–parents, siblings, friends
  • the death of a career dream or a call to ministry
  • the death that comes from losing their place in a faith community that has meant so much to them
This fear of death can keep people silenced and on personal lock down for decades. They may slowly emerge in anonymous venues like on-line communities, but far too many live half in and half out of the closet, never fully present, never sure how they stand in the world, desperately needing to come out but desperately afraid of the consequences. 
 
I know what it is like to exist in this way and the extreme relief of finally coming out along with the losses that comming out can bring. In my presentation I then read this poem I wrote about the half in/half out living.

 
                              Riddles

We speak riddles to ourselves,
proclaiming,
in whispers,
“I am OK”

But strapped to our backs
We bear a wardrobe,
the opposite of that portal to Narnia,


a closet that dumps us into a smaller world,
a cramped, musty place of shadows.

“I don’t want to upset my mother.”
“My brother will never understand.”
“No need to flaunt it.”
“It’s only a tiny
part of me.”


A part muffled in a velvet-lined padded valise,
Jammed in the back of a wardrobe,
besides dusty boxes of dreams and desires,
A place where we speak riddles to ourselves.

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This afternoon I attended the Worship Sharing* group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Friends, one of many worship sharing groups held each day of the New England Yearly Meeting of Quakers (NEYM) during our week-long gathering. Unlike the much larger North American gathering call Friends General Conference, which has a full program of LGBTQ activities organized by the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC or as I like to call them the Flibity-Gibitz) this worship sharing is the only LGBTQ-specific programming during the New England gathering.

Among New England Quakers we have LOADS of LGBTQ folks. One of the lead couples in the landmark Marriage Equality lawsuit resulting in marriage for same-gender folks are Quakers from Northampton Meeting and will soon celebrate 20 years living as couple. Pretty much everywhere I turn in every group, commitee, meeting for worship, and dinning room table I see LGBTQ Quakers at this gathering.

I do find it odd at NEYM to enter an LGBTQ-designated space when so much of the gathering is queer. Even the straight Quakers here are queer–so many non-gender normative and exceptionally open people! Wse have little need for our own space because we are fully integrated into the community. Even among the high school Quakers (Young Friends) I find a safe healthy space for people to be honest about their gender identity/expression and their orientation. Straight athletic teen boys have no problems suggesting that for an upcoming Rest & Relaxation high school retreat the program might consider offering spa treatments including facials with cucumber eye masks. No one snickered when it was suggested. The other boys agreed it would be a super idea.  Another asked if they could do bread making again. In their discussions about sexuality, they are frank about their orientation, experimentation and questioning.

At NEYM I find that the LGBTQ people gather together because of our affinity with each other not because of the affliction of oppression leveled against us by the majority population making it necessary to seek refuge. We don’t have to meet in order to survive or to assert a part of ourselves that we must hide in all other spaces. And as a result, we grow, we thrive, we serve and strengthen the community. You will find one or more of us on nearly every committee and working in the youth programs with infants to high schoolers. Some of us have our own children in these programs. We’re part of the furniture and the fabric of this gathered community.

We are becoming old news which is good news–post-LGBTQ–with the queer part of us being just that, a part of us, an important part with a rich and sometimes challenging history, but still only a part of the whole integrated person. You will not find most of us even taking on LGBTQ issues. We are freed up to actively contribute to disccusion and action on issues of torture,  earth care, myriad peace and social justice concerns, Quaker outreach and so much more. Since we don’t have to expend all of our energy living in closeted stealth mode or fighting for our right to belong, we instead use that energy to contribute to the community.

This week at sessions most LGBTQ folks will not atteend the LGBTQ worship sharing. Those who do, like I did today, will most likely experience blessing and fellowship and friendship. And those who don’t enter this designated LGBTQ space will also find the same in multiple places without having to compromise who they are in order to be full members of the community.

*from the LGBTQ Worship Sharing handout.

About Worship Sharing. This is a process to enable deep meaningful sharing to take place in a non-judgmental atmosphere. One person shares, distilling the promptions of the Spirit on a subject (perhaps but not necessarily, related to the themeof Yearly Meeting or an experience at Sessions) into a single statement, speaking from their won experience. Others actively listen. The contribution is received and reflected on in the silence. Everyone gets a turn to speak. There is no immediate response, no debate or discussion but a period ofsilence between contributions.

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Of all the performance pieces I perform, The Identity Monologue seems to work well in every venue so far. Through eight characters in two minutes I tell my life story without actually mentioning that much of that story has to do with struggling over the fact that I was gay and that I spent nearly two decades attempting to de-gay myself. I imagine most people can relate to at least some part of the monologue as most of us have struggled to find ourselves and be ourselves at some point in our lives.

I have taken the piece far and wide performing it a public schools in Boston, Northern Ireland and Spain, at private schools including Sidwell Friends in DC and the Watkinson School in Hartford, CT, at universities such as American, Cambridge and McGill, at gay clubs in Portland, OR and Cape Town, South Africa, and many Quaker meetings and at churches including Baptist, Methodist, Seventh Day and Adventist.

So here for your entertainment:

The Idenity Monologue

by Peterson Toscano

One: I don’t why but for much of my life I’ve struggled with identity. It’s not just accepting myself, but even understanding who I am as a person.

Two: No many people struggle with identity particularly the younger people, which is bad, it is terrible, it is a catastrophe.

Three: And I remember when I was growing up, shootI’d always be looking at other people, to see how they lived their lives, and I wondered what they were thinking about me, and what they were saying behind my back. As a result, I wasn’t always never honest about who I was.

Four: Then I tried to change all sorts of things about myself. You know externally, how I did my hair, the way I walked. Oh one time I even joined the soccer team. But it didn’t make any difference. No one ever treated me better and I never felt good about myelf.

Five: Y no se porque, pero trataba de cambiar muchas cosas en mi vida. Y gritaba al Senor, por favor, ayuda me, cambiame, salvme, perso sin exito.

Six: And I don’t understand why these issues of identity are so complicated, but for me they were, but after years of trials and tribulations, I finally came to the place where I understood who I was, and I accepted myself.

Seven: So now I can say Thank You Very Much. Although the process of self-discovery is a very very difficult process, it is an important process all the same.

Eight: And now when I look at myself in the mirror, and I see other people out and about in the streets, I often say to myself, the most beautiful people in the world, and the most powerful, are those people who are unashamed just to be themselves.

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retiefMy partner, a very smart writer (and I would add very dishy too) Glen Retief, published an opinion piece in today’s Harrisburg Patriot News. He lives 50 minutes north of Harrisburg in the little town of Selinsgrove, PA in the Susquehanna Valley. Having come of age as a gay man in South Africa as that country experienced tremendous change, in this essay he writes about his personal history with LGBT Pride including his first Pride event.

As a gay man, my relationship with the Pride movement has been more complicated than might be expected. My inaugural expe­rience with Pride came in 1990, when I attended the first-ever LGBT march on the African continent, in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was 20 years old and fresh out of the closet. Mandela had been released and the liberation movements unbanned. And we, a thousand or so LGBT people, decided we would decriminalize ourselves by marching through the city.It was both tragic and exhilarating. Tragic, because the signs of oppression were all around us. The religious bigots were out in force holding signs warning we’d burn in hell. Fear prompted a quarter of the marchers to wear paper bags over their heads. A few spectators actually threw furniture at us — it was difficult to know wheth­er in joy or hostility, given that furniture-throwing is traditional in downtown Johannesburg on celebration days.

But what a feeling of power! People shouted “Viva, human rights!” from the sidewalks, making the point that we, too, were an oppressed group, like blacks and women. And six years later, South Africa in fact became the first country in the history of the world to enshrine LGBT equality in its bill of rights.

He then shares about his negative experiences of Pride in large US cities like NY and then the shocking stultification when he moved to Central PA where so much of LGBT still seemed hidden in oppressive closets.

Here, in Pennsylvania’s heartland, I felt as though I’d stepped back to the 1950s. There were no male or female couples walking hand in hand in the river towns. Men in hats and suspenders bicycled along Route 11/15, past porn stores advertising extra parking for truckers.

I had no idea where to meet LGBT people in this beautiful but rather alien landscape, so the first place I hit was the anonymous on-line dating sites, where I found the common requirement of “discretion” because of fears of persecution. It was awful.

He then goes on to share what else he found in The Valley and how it helped him to better understand and appreciate Pride Events and especially living authentically.

Check out Learning to Live with Pride: Time in central Pennsylvania helps author gain true respect for meaning of movement

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Last night my beau and I saw the Brüno film. Seems we were not the only ones; it will be the number one film in the US this weekend. Marvin Bloom also saw Brüno. This former ex-gay and now gay Christian Jew for Jesus didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I did (which you will learn from Marvin’s video below.)

Like Marvin various groups have come out against the film. At least one anti-gay Christian group would like to see the film banned, and Rashad Robinson at GLAAD has also panned it.

The NY Daily News interviewed various comedians asking them to weigh in on the movie. Comic Reese Walters describes the genre of humor Brüno creator Sacha Baron Cohen uses,

“It’s very character-based humor. It’s almost like unscripted, character-based improvisation, is the best way I could describe it. One of the things I like about him is that he does outrageous things, but he does them true to the character. He just stays in character, stays committed to the character, and I think that’s one of the things that makes what he does work for me. I feel he does outrageous things [like handling a bag of his own excrement in “Borat”] but it doesn’t feel like he’s doing it just to be funny—it’s just the character is funny, and that is what the character would do.”

As a character actor myself, I appreciate the art and the skill behind what Cohen does as well as the social satire he presents. Does he mock gays? No. He mocks what some people believe to be true of white gay men, and he mocks what many white gay men and LGBT organizations have fought so hard to deny–campy guys who enjoy sex.

In the past few years we have been groomed and presented as gender normative, “straight acting,” asexual beings in hopes of not offending the straight voting majority. It may have been a clever political strategy (albeit with mixed results) but it has also reinforced that there is a good and a bad way of being gay. Act NORMAL. Don’t reveal the freaks among us. Don’t let people know about the sex part of our sexual orientation, in fact, don’t even say sexual orientation–just say that we are gay.

Seeing the flamboyant oversexed Brüno reminded me of my initial reactions to the “gay community” when I exited the Love in Action ex-gay program. After 17 years of trying to straighten myself out, (so crazy I made a comedy about it!) I came to my senses and accepted the reality that I was gay and couldn’t change it. That didn’t mean I was happy about it. My first forays into the Memphis gay scene appalled me.

Highly critical of anything thing outrageous or over the top (even glitter!) I resolved that I would show the world a better example of what it meant to be gay. I felt embarrassed around one of my new gay friends who couldn’t help but be a queen, and I shuddered (and not with delight) when one guy told me of his recent sexcapades in New Orleans. The hostility towards all things stereotypically gay ran deep, and although I no longer actively pursued to alter my orientation, I did wish we would all just behave.

Ah, I am so glad that I have learned to appreciate the rainbow flavors of LGBTQ folks. Some people really are bisexual–they are not confused or greedy. Some folks are not gender normative; so much of their beauty and strength come from their gender variance. Many lesbian and gay and transgender and bisexual people exude a healthy sex-positive attitude that our puritanical dishonest US society desperately needs.

No doubt the Brüno film has gotten people talking. Mostly straight people will have seen it by the end of the weekend. They will realize that someone like Brüno could never survive straight OR gay America. What Brüno does do is shock us in a way that many “self-respecting” gays have fought hard to avoid. We have dishonestly presented to the public a warped picture of who we are–a white washed version that denies the existence of our diversity–a false image designed to trick rather than invite into genuine honest public discourse.

Like much good art, Brüno will stir up discussion and debate.

I will let Marvin have the last word…

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Many people reading my blog may already be aware of the story of Bryce Faulkner, a young man who as far as we know has been coerced to leave his boyfriend and attend an ex-gay program somewhere in the US. I wrote about Bryce’s situation here.

Many people have expressed their outrage and concern through blog comments and by joining a Facebook group in support of Bryce. The story is tragic and outrageous and should not happen in this day and age when it is clear that one can be gay and happy and healthy. Fear and ignorance cloud the minds of ministers and parents turning them into tyrants of LGBT youth.

In several blog entries and comments I see references to the story of Zach Stark, who when he was 16 back in 2005 had been forced to attend the Love in Action Refuge program for minors.  While parts Zach’s and Bryce’s stories overlap (they both come from the Mid-South with religious parents and seemingly were not conflicted about their sexuality before it became an issue for their parents), there is one key difference.

Zach was a minor, while as far as I can tell from the information we have, Bryce is not.

When Zach Stark at age 16 was forced against his will to attend the LIA program, he had little choice. As a minor, he was a victim of a church culture that his parents bought into and which encouraged them to do harm to their son.  From their own words they believed they were saving their son from what they felt certain would be a dreadful life, and LIA only reinforced that misinformation.  Zach had no easy legal recourse to resist his parents. (see video  This is What Love in Action Looks Like)

In these cases of ex-gay coercion once someone is no longer a minor, they no longer become pure victims. Although it is difficult and terrifying to resist, if someone is over 18, they can legally say “NO! you cannot make me do this!” and as an adult, they can then  live with the consequences. I understand that the financial impact of this can be huge, but not impossible to overcome, especially with the assistance of a boyfriend’s affirming parents and a community committed to taking care of each other (which I know doesn’t always happen.)

Many of us who as adults agreed, even begrudgingly, to take part in the ex-gay process need to take responsibility for our part in it, even if it was a small part. This is essential for overcoming the harm we experienced. Although we lived in a world that stood against us, and it seemed far easier to go ex-gay, as adults we could have stood against that tide. It is painful to admit, but also freeing when we acknowledge, “I let them do this to me.” In my case I even paid for it with my own money as well as with my parents’.

The problem we face in framing the parents as the bad guys and the young person sent to the program as the helpless victim is that we can misrepresent the situation. By foisting all the blame on the parents, we absolve the adult gay person from all responsibility. We reinforce that we had no other choice but to succumb to the anti-gay pressure against us.

I feel for Byrce and the intense pressure he must have felt (and still feels) from his family and most likely from his church insisting he must go into ex-gay treatment, but it sounds like he ultimately complied and agreed to do so. Once he is free to tell his own story in his own words, we will better understand the circumstances.

Bryce faces an awful unfair choice–the real consequence of losing family and financial security or the painful consequence of leaving his boyfriend while he must repress  and fight his gay orientation.  Many of us did similar things in our own lives–not only in ex-gay programs–but as we chose to stay stuck in the closet, as we tamped down our gender differences and orientation, and as we lived inauthentic lives in order to please others.

As a minority population, gay, lesbian and bisexual people can pass as something that we are not. We can bow to the wishes of others, hide parts of ourselves, keep secrets from others, and even live out a whole other life that is not ours to live. As we do so, we can feel seduced to play the victim. We can see a story like Bryce’s and cry foul painting an adult gay man as a helpless victim thus justifying the many years we obliged others and lived in shame instead of taking responsibility for our lives and our sexuality.

As I have been reading the stories and the comments about Bryce, I’ve been asking myself several questions.

  • Why Bryce? Why this handsome young white man? What does he represent to those of us moved by his story? How do we relate to him and possibly morph his story into something that it is not?
  • What other stories do we not hear where people may have stood against the tide and now suffer the consequences, need a job, a place to stay, money for school?
  • How can we channel our outrage towards the homophobia and turn it into action whenever we see members of our community–lesbians, trans people, queer people of color, gay men–disenfranchised because they choose to be authentic and resist the compulsion to change or fit in?
  • Who can we assist today who suffers because they have chosen to be open and authentic?

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Some of you may have heard through Facebook or on the blogs about Bryce Faulkner, a college-aged man from Arkansas who many believe has been coerced to attend an ex-gay program. As far as we know, Bryce is not a minor, but is a college-age young adult.

According to Waymon Hudson over at the Bilerico Project,

The request to join a new group came through my Facebook page. The group was called “Friends of Bryce“, which could have been anything, but had a note attached that said “Please Help.”

Bryce 1.jpgWhen I clicked over to the group, an all too familiar tale unfolded. Bryce Faulkner, a young gay man from Arkansas, had gone missing after his parents had discovered he was gay. They had gotten into their college-aged son’s email account and discovered messages between Bryce and his boyfriend.

The parents then gave Bryce an ultimatum- enter an extensive and severe “therapy” program or lose all their support for college and living expenses. For a young man from a conservative small town whose entire life, including his job, was tied to his parents, who had nowhere to go and no one to turn to, there really was no choice.

Bryce was sent to 14 week long conversion therapy camp and has not been heard from again.

Lots of people have commented on the blog entry and there is even a letter writing campaign to Bryce’s parents encouraged by at least one web site. Christine Bakke, who co-founded/co-lead Beyond Ex-Gay with me, encouraged me to share some thoughts from a recent conversation she and I had. I did so in the forms of a comment (a very long comment) that I thought I would repost as a blog entry.

——————————————————————–

Waymon, thank you for blogging about Bryce and for facilitating this discussion. Christine Bakke and I had a long talk recently about the various types of ex-gay survivors.

The vast majority of people who go to these programs do so as adults who willingly seek to “de-gay” themselves for all sorts of reasons. (Check out this article at Beyond Ex-Gay where I list the many things that compelled me to go ex-gay– and here is the video with the similar info- )

Some teenagers, minors, have been forced against their will to see “therapists,” ministers, counselors and even attend Christian ex-gay camps. Although the Love in Action (LIA) Refuge for minors program closed back in spring 2007, there are other Christian boot camps around the US that offer “help” for all sorts of issues–drugs, alcohol, etc and sadly the parents of  lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens send their childrent to these camps to get straightened out.

College-age young adults like Bryce can get coerced by parents who threaten to withhold financial support should the child come out and not pursue an ex-gay path.

Of the well over 1,000 ex-gay survivors I have met in North America, Europe and the UK, this last category of college-aged folks coerced to attend often come out of the programs the least harmed. Since they are not fully invested in the process, and they are a little older than a younger teen, they typically have the inner resources necessary to get through the programming and still maintain their sense of self. They also often bring a healthy skepticism that creates problems for the folks running these programs.

Most likely Bryce is at the Love in Action Source program in Memphis, TN. It is close to where he is from, is a residential program, and would have started a new three month cycle sometime in June about the time Bryce went missing.

The good news is that programs like LIA are wildly ineffective. The vast majority of people who complete the program typically come out of the closet. I have seen that among the college-age folks like Bryce, these not only come out but become serious queer activists as a result of their negative experiences.

No doubt these programs do cause harm and most people who have been exposed to the dodgy methods and theories need help in recovering. Living without the parental support can cause huge distress. Christine and I have met many of these ex-gay survivors who have been able to move beyond these negative experiences to live open and healthy lives.

We may not be able to do much to help Bryce at this moment. If he is at LIA, he has no Internet access, phone, etc. He is in lock-down, so likely is unaware of this conversation, but he will emerge, and I imagine when he feels it is safe to do so, he will contact his friends.

My mom before she died in 2006 asked me to do her a favor. She never forced me to attend LIA, but at first she thought it wasn’t such a bad idea. She couldn’t imagine anyone being happy and gay after all the grief she saw gay people go through in her neighborhood growing up in Manhattan.

My mom asked me to be gentle with parents when they don’t yet get it. Usually they are not motivated by hate or intolerance but by fear and ignorance. Most parents simply want the best for their children and believe that by sending their child to such a program will help. My mom, once she discovered how awful the treatment was and how depressed it made me, understood that I would be best helped by being affirmed for who I was and accepted fully regardless of my sexuality. For her like many parents it was a process, (just like for many of us it has been a process to feel at peace and secure in our own sexuality).

I share this because I imagine folks are very angry with Bryce’s parents. There is even contact info on at least one site with an encouragement to communicate with his parents directly. In reaching out to his parents, if you feel so led to do, please try not to make negative judgments towards them. Assume they love their child and want him to live a happy life. Tell them your story, your own journey. Help them to see that their worse fears will not come true if they affirm their gay son. In fact, quite the opposite.

Check out this great interview with Jacob Wilson who went to LIA in 2005 at age 19. He gives an eye-witness account of what happened to him, how the brainwashing affected him and how he ultimately broke free from it. He now works as an activist in Iowa.

–peterson
www.beyondexgay.com

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I write from the Friends General Conference, the gathering of liberal Quakers in North America, which meets this week in Blacksburg, Virgina at VA Tech. In addition to co-leading a workshop with Kody Hersh, I plan on attending as many talks and worship sessions as possible.

Yesterday I heard ‘Ben’ Pink Dandelion speak on Quaking with Confidence. He believes Friends have every reason to be confident and to share what we have with others. Our good news is that we have a practice, silent worship, and a confidence, that we can each individually as well as corporately, get guidance from the divine, God, the Light (whatever word you may use). We have the confidence that in our mostly silent worship, something happens–we change, we grow, we connect, we become better people, more aware, more engaged with the world.  Good news indeed.

I also attended the worship hosted by the Friends for Lesbian, Gay,  Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (the FLGBTQC–or as one Friend talk me, the Flibbity Gibbits). This group has met since the early 70’s, plenty of the original members still take part, and have developed a deep, centered worship time that at each FGC gathering meets for an hour each day from 4:30-5:30, much of that in silent listening and waiting.

Years ago when I first began performing my Homo No Mo play (availible at Quaker books 🙂 I briefly dated a Lutheran pastor very involved in a group called Lutherans Concerned. Not knowing the first thing about most LGBT faith groups, I still remember the moment in his car when I turned to him to asked, “Yes, but what are you all concerned about?” “Oh about LGBT issues,” he explained, athough he may have thought I was joking.

It’s a really great name “Lutherans Concerned.” I have since run into other LGBTQ faith groups with general sounding names where it is not apparent immediately what they do. There is Evangelicals Concerned, the Human Rights Campaign and in the UK they have Changing Attitudes.

What I like most about these names is that they don’t tie us down to ONE issue. Sure these groups focus on LGBT issues (more GL–in that order–and to a much lesser degree BT) but who’s to say that Lutherans can’t be and aren’t concerned about something else like homelessness (as the very queer trans Lutheran minister Megan Rohrer is) or that Evangelicals cannot be concerned about prison reform, assylum seekers and immigrants or the environment.

Among the queer Quakers of the FLGBTQC I know that many individuals carry leadings and burdens to do all sorts of work that do not directly affect LGBTQ people. John Calvi, aka my queer Quaker Daddy, who I wrote about recently, has been very active in the anti-torture movement. Many of the people I know from this group have one if not several issues for which they have felt leadings to do more, to organize, to get involved.

In the US where I live there is a constant fight for LGBTQ rights with some genuine advances and setbacks. After the mulitple failings of ENDA two years ago and the introduction of a new and improved Employment Non-Discrimination Act that now INCLUDES gender-expression/identity, LGB(T) groups have a chance to express active concern for transgender people. (Check out the Transgender Law Center to see how you can get involved).

As we gain more rights and security for LGBTQ people in the US, when and how do we look beyond ourselves to concerns in the wider world? These individual callings and burdens that we have–literacy, clean water, health care, elder rights and care, etc–when and how do the organizations we belong to grow in such a way to take on one ore more of these concerns?

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It’s 4:00 in the morning, the sun has been up for nearly two hours (moments after it “set”) and I am still awake. Sweden in the North during this time of year means lots of light. Who wants to sleep when it is so lovely out? At 3:00 a.m. I decided to go for a stroll. There is something delicious about a walk in the middle of the night in the light. It felt like I was cheating or something. Birds chirping, air warming, and nearly everyone sleeping. I experienced a new construct of what I assumed night is supposed to be.

Tonight I performed Transfigurations at Ålidhemskyrkan, a Church of Sweden congregation. I performed at this same church back in January 2008 (The Re-Education of George W. Bush). This time they had me present as part of the confirmation class training. The performance, post-show meal (deliciously prepared by Alex and his partner) and discussion were open to the public and widely advertised in the paper. Cool to see a church being so very open and clear about welcoming a program about gender issues, particularly transgender issues and the Bible.

After the show we discussed how churches can be affirming and not simply tolerating. In a nearly all white Swedish church, the sudden influx of a bunch of people from Eritrea would be an event that most people could not ignore (and hopefullly most would celebrate). If 5% of the church members were suddenly from Eritrea, the church staff would take notice, and would discuss the needs of these folks, ways to help them feel welcome, ideas for being sensitive to their culture, etc. Perhaps there would even be a staff training to ensure that this new group of people were well cared for affirmed in the church.

Similarly we can see about training staff to ensure that the church is a safe and genuinely welcoming place for transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay and queer individuals and families. Simply posting a statement that the church is a welcoming place does not make it so. In order to be radically welcoming the church leaders and members must think and work. Since most TBLGQ folks experienced outright rejection and conditional welcome at previous churches, a truly welcoming and affirming church will need to go out of their way to make it clear that they provide a nourishing place for TBLGQ folks.

At the Church Resource Expo that I attended last month in Esher, England, I visited many stalls of prominent ministries and church service suppliers. I stopped by the booths of Mercy Ministries, Youth For Christ, various book stores and discipleship programs. I initiated conversations that went something like this,

ME: Cool stuff you offer here. I know of some young people who would be interested in your ministry. They are sincere Christians, who would both give a lot to and receive a lot from the programming that you offer. They happen to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian or gay. How well would they fare in your organization?

RESOURCE: We welcome all people.

ME: Yes, I understand that, but if they came to you with say questions about their faith or maybe an eating disorder or simply becuase they want to be stronger believers, would they get the help they need without their sexuality becoming THE issue that you insist needs to be addressed.

RESOURCE: We don’t really deal with sexuality. It doesn’t come up.

ME: Wait, you run an organization for youth and you don’t ever talk about sex?!? Seems like a pretty important issue. Okay, so they will not be told they have to change their sexuality in order to be part of the group?

RESOURCE: Well, we do believe in the Bible…

ME: Yeah, so do I and so do these young people. The Bible doesn’t condemn a loving relationship between two men or two women. The Bible doesn’t condemn a gay, lesbian or bisexual orientation. The Bible actually affirms the lives and contributions of gender-variant people.

RESOURCE: We don’t see it that way, but they would still be welcome.

ME: Welcome to recive your services, to give contributions, to fill the seats?

RESOURCE: Yeah, they will be very welcome.

ME: Okay, I want to make sure we are clear here. A young person comes to your ministry. They have peace and clarity about their sexuality. They attend your training courses, meet many new friends, grow in their faith, contribute more and more time and resources to the work you do. After they devote two years of their lives to your ministry, they decide they want to give even more, to take on a leadership role, to lead a course. As an openly transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer person, you are telling me that they will be able to serve in a leadership position in your ministry?

RESOURCE: Well, no, but then an adulterer or rapist wouldn’t be able to either.

ME: I find it offensive that you equate the lives of these transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, queer people to adultery and rape. These are young people committed to God, living thoughtful responsible lives with peace in their hearts. They are not cheating on their partners and they are not rapists. Some are single and waiting for a partner. They choose to be honest with themselves and others about their sexuality. Would they be able to serve in your ministry?

RESOURCE: Um, no.

ME: So I should tell them that yours is not a safe place for them.
Perhaps you should let people know up front that you accept them under certain often unspoken conditions and that the same conditions do not apply to transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay and queer folks as to straight, gender-normative fellow believers.

Maybe it sounds harsh. I don’t think so. I believe that these ministries and ministry leaders need to see exactly what they offer and the sort of burdens they lay on people’s back. Too many of these places have not done the work to find out what the Bible actually says and does not say about these issues. They revert to the traditional renderings of a handful of texts without considering if what has been handed down to them is correct. They follow the traditions of man and have not taken the time and effort to seek God on these vital issues. They speak with authority about things they do not understand and end up driving faithful followers away.

Perhaps because they are not transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay or queer, they can live their lives avoiding these matters. They can go months, perhaps years, never giving them a second thought. Some of us have spent thousands of hours praying, researching, seeking answers–not trying to find something that our “itching ears want to hear,” rather in many cases we weanted very much to hear that it is wrong to be the way that we are, believing it must be so, only to discover that our teachers are wrong, our parents are wrong, the authorities are wrong.

How refreshing to be in this church in Northern Sweden and see and hear people who affirm transgender people along with bisexual, lesbian, gay and queer people. They get it that it is about love and identity and authenticity. They no longer conform to the pattern of the world that for too long said that heterosexual gendernormative people are the only ones truly allowed at the table (and only males in leadership positions). Instead they have renewed their minds and continue to do so in order to better understand God’s will. They are the richer for it.

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It’s been an interesting week news-wise in regards to torture. Earlier in the week President Obama stated in a press conference that “waterboarding” is indeed torture, and that some of the Bush-era practices do not fit in with the ideals and values we have as a nation. Therefore, he put an end to the practice a short while ago. He still has work to do on this issue, but he has made the strongest stand ever on torture.

This week CNN reports that, “The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists…” In an piece entitled, Survey: Support for terror suspect torture differs among the faithful, CNN reports on a Pew Study survey among US church-goers,

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified — more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

I attend Quakers Meetings where there has been a strong movement against torture for some time, long before I heard a lot about it in the press. (And at the same time I have heard some pretty violent talk from peace-loving Quakers against Conservatives, talk that goes beyond critique of ideas to personal attacks and slander.)

Last night at the Courage meeting one of the women present mentioned how she attends a church cell-group (and here I was told that Al Qaeda were the only ones that had cell groups) and that a discussion of gay marriage came up. As part of an argument to oppose gay marriage one of the members of the group referred to the Sodom story in Genesis as evidence that God opposes gay unions.

If you have not done so yet, I suggest you read the Genesis 19 account to see what it does not say about two women or two men in a loving committed relationship that includes romance, intimacy, companionship and yes sex too. I do not believe anyone should get their ideas about family values and sex education from this story. This story has NOTHING to do with what happens in the happy homes of lesbian and gay couples and far more to do with what happened in the US-run Abu Ghraib prison with all the humiliating torture and prisoner abuse that American forces inflicted there.

Christianity can be a faith about love, forgiveness, understanding, charity, mercy and grace, and it can be taught in violent warlike manner that justifies all manner of violence in Jesus’ name.

Last night I led a Bibliodrama on Luke 7:36-50 in which Jesus gets invited to the home of the big-wig Simon, a rich religious man. At one point a prostitute comes in and weeps and weeps as she washes Jesus’ feet with her tears and then massages his feet with expensive perfume. Very intimate and highly inappropriate for the setting and the circumstance. Yet Jesus doesn’t flinch.

Acting out the scene with the stuffy and judgmental teachers of the Law on one side and Jesus’ loving and graceful acknowledgment of the person at his feet (while his befuddled disciples watched on) brought us to a place of humility.

I think of the rude and judgmental ways that I see some non-trans gays and lesbians react towards transgender people in our own communities, ways that I had felt and acted towards trans people before I actually knew any. We have acted terribly towards transgender people even after years of suffering the same sort of treatment by straight people towards us for being gay and lesbian.

I have witnessed a reaction, a revulsion, by some religious straight folks who think they are loving the homosexual sinner and hating the “sin of Sodom” when in reality they are pushing a non-Biblical aversion and condemnation of their gay and lesbian and bisexual neighbors–going so far as to fight to remove rights and privileges given to same-gender couples.

I understand why some people I meet in the LGBT community wonder how on earth I can still call myself a Christian. After all of the violent, godless and outright ugly things that Christians have done, and still do, why would I be a follower of Jesus?

It is a good question. The reality is there are different types of Christians. We each think we have the right way, but even back as early as the First Century there were varying views of Jesus, his life, his teaching and what it all means.

In Luke 7 it states that the one who has been forgiven much loves much. What a challenge to live out of a heart of the forgiven–not an easy task. To treat others as I would have them treat me, like Jesus taught. To love my neighbor as I would love myself. To actually get to know my neighbor, get beyond my assumptions, my discomfort, to the actual person. To hear Jesus speaking to me–Do you see this woman? Do you see this man? Do you see this fellow human? Not an issue, but do you see this person? This takes hard work on all sides–essential work.

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