Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lambeth Log Day Two

Yesterday, my second at the Lambeth Conference, I felt mostly consumed with my own anxiety and excitement about my impending evening presentation (which went well--phew). I woke up early to work out some of the last details and to rehearse a bit. My hosts, the LGCM, played up the comedy part of my presentation referring to it as a cabaret. I think that serves as a good approach as Lambeth fatigue seems to have set in on many of those gathered here. I can't believe they have been at this for two weeks. I am already exhausted after two days.

After my prep time and breakfast, I attended a Bible study organized by Integrity and Changing Attitude. We explored John chapter 9, an intriguing account outlining the healing of a man born blind. What struck me most was how Jesus only appears at the beginning and end of the long narrative. Much of the action has to do with the man (and his family) dealing with the religious leaders who simply will not listen to this man's story.
24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this,[b] because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”

26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

These clergy members eventually chuck the man out of the synagogue after taking issue with him and with Jesus' authority. I see plenty of transgression here by both the man and Jesus--transgression against religious authority. Jesus broke the Sabbath rule as interpreted by these religious leaders when he healed on the holy day, and the man had the audacity to stand up to his religious leaders and not back down.

Each day the bishops and some other delegates meet for a daily Bible study/listening sessions in groups of about 40. One delegate (not a bishop) said that a woman in their circle takes notes of what happens. She turned to him after one of the sessions and said, "You are not a bishop." He asked how she could tell. She replied, "Because you listen to other people."

This is one group of many and the bishops in it represent a small part of the 666 bishops in attendance (what a Biblically ironic number of primates to gather for this event). But this incident reflects part of a chronic problem in many (most?) churches. The clergy do not listen. The hierarchy of many churches is such that most people don't have a say in how the church operates.

I learned a little bit more about the Anglican worldwide community yesterday in speaking with a BBC journalist. One of the big problems is that the church leadership in each country technically stands alone with its own autonomy. Sure the Archbishop or a resolution at Lambeth can state You Must/Must Not Do XYZ, but no central authority exists to enforce the mandate. So you have diocese ordaining a gay bishop or women against the mandate handed down at previous meetings.

One corrective measure may be to create a more centralized body with the authority necessary to make the member churches comply with church teaching. The Roman Catholic Church wields this sort of control from Rome. It serves to keep renegades in order. It also limits the freedom of the people (and even God.)

The Quakers (in the unprogrammed tradition that I know) are not perfect. We have a decentralized system without clergy. We hold meeting for worship with attention to business where any member or attender can weigh in and must be heard. We seek to move forward with consensus among all the members who choose to be part of the process. It takes forever to make decisions and to work out controversies. But everyone has a voice in the process without a select group calling the shots for the others. That means that some Quaker meetings in the US will not perform marriages between people of the same-sex while others will. Each meeting needs to work this out for themselves.

I come to Lambeth for only a few days without access to most of the "important" meetings. But then most of the people in the Worldwide Anglican Community cannot attend or participate in most of the important meetings. The clergy can run the risk of living apart from the people, talking theory without practicing pastoral care.

End of Sermon :-)

I spent much of the day yesterday relaxing with Auntie Doris, Tractor Girl (from the Ship of Fools), and William Crawley. The best moment was a nap on the law of Canterbury Cathedral while the other three went inside.

As I said above, I felt my presentation went well. I had lots of competition for audience with at least three other LGBT-affirming events going on simultaneously, but we still had a good crowd and I believe I made the right choices. I appreciated the time of silent worship before the presentation. One member of the local Quaker meeting joined us for that.

Today I have an interview with BBC Worldwide Service's Reporting Religion program (which will air over the weekend) and then I do my presentation again tonight. Off to London tomorrow then home on Saturday (for a day before I head off to Baltimore Yearly Meeting).

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blogging from Lambeth

Thanks to the expert driving skill of Auntie Doris I arrived safely at Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. Fortunately (or not) I have wi-fi in my dorm room on campus here at the University of Kent so I can blog some.

On the way to Canterbury we listened to LBC Radio (a talk radio station for the greater London area) and the show hosted Jeni Barnett. She offer topic after topic in a frenetic random order, but the one issue that caught my ear had to do with English people trying to change their accents to sound more like the Queen. She asked for callers who had also tried to change their accents.

I turned to Auntie, "Should I?" and with little more than a nod from her, I called. (Joe Gee, that fabulous podcaster, will be simultaneously proud of me and appalled by me). I explained that in the US I get much better customer service when I speak with a posh British accent. This accent is a perceived by many in the US to carry class and sophistication (and it may possibly be a bow to our former colonial masters :-p ). In fact, when I was quite young, I tried to emulate some of the British accents from films in order to alter what I considered my "gay accent." I thought I might get people off the gay scent.

I then talked about the Ex-Gay Movement and how much of it has to do with gender including getting one's voice to adhere to gender norms. Some ex-gay leaders taught me that proper men speak with a downward inflection and use less words than women. They also instructed me to drop to my lower register when I spoke. I wrapped up the brief radio segment by letting Jeni know that I was off to Lambeth (pointing towards Canterbury as I spoke on the phone in the car) to do a talk/performance/cabaret act about my time as an ex-gay and the process to integrate my sexuality and spirituality.

Joe Gee will no doubt call me a media whore. I often remind him that I am simply a press magnet. Auntie Doris wants to have a goal that every time I travel with her by car in England, I need to find a reason to call into one of these programs.

After this encounter with Jeni, Auntie and I arrived at Lambeth. I had been invited by the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM). Richard Kirker of LGCM met me, sorted out my room at Darwin Hall and then pointed me towards the exhibitors hall.

Auntie Doris and I walked into the hall then froze with our mouths wide open. No, it was not a display of fine dark chocolates from around the world. What greeted us proved to be much richer and appealing. The most gorgeous, colorful, artful robes and stoles captured our attention. They hung draped on racks and hangers calling to us to wrap ourselves up in ecclesiastical prêt-à-porter. As a Quaker, I suddenly felt envy for these Anglicans and their brilliant plumage. As a gay man with a penchant for auspicious and flamboyant clothing, I felt right at home.

We walked around the stalls, and just like Auntie Doris' uncle (an Anglican vicar) told us, several exhibitors expressed a strong pro-LGBT message. In fact, I counted at least four stalls set up with colorful posters and lots of literature all about the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The Zacchaeus Fellowship, a Canadian Anglican ex-gay type group, had a small stall set up with some literature, but they had no staff present when we passed by. They provided booklets with stories of four ex-gays and a hand-out with suggested books and links for "those struggling with homosexuality." These included books by Andrew Comiskey, Joe Dallas, Leanne Payne, Mario Bergner and Joseph Nicolosi (A Parent's Guide to Presenting Homosexuality). In their list of "Websites of Interest" they mention several groups including PFOX and NARTH, and Ex0dus Global Alliance. At the bottom of their list of resources they provide this disclaimer:
Please note: The above information is provided as a courtesy. The reader must determine the suitability of the contents found under these links for his or her purposes, interests and beliefs.
Speaking with two women at the Integrity/Changing Attitude stall we agreed that ex-gay promoters and providers would also offer warnings similar to those found on cigarette boxes here in the UK.
WARNING: Immersion in ex-gay theories and practices may harm you and those around you.
In offering ex-gay treatment (in whatever form they suggest) as an option, I do not often hear the fact that most people come to the conclusion that they do not need alter their orientation or submerge it or cut it out of themselves. In fact, in trying to do so many of us have actually experienced harm. Sure a handful of people say that such a change is possible and that they are happy no longer identifying as gay or lesbian, but from my experience of 25 years in and around around the ex-gay world, these folks represent a tiny majority of the many people who attempted it before them.

The good news is that I heard mostly positive messages today about LGBT people, especially in with the screening of a new film, Voice of Witness: Africa. Filmmakers Cynthia Black and Katie Sherrod traveled from the US to Africa to film LGBT people in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria. They state:
It is an awesome responsibility, for just by talking to us these folks are risking more than any of us privileged people can begin to understand.

Among those we talked to is
* a transgendered [F to M] Nigerian
* a partnered lesbian activist in Uganda
* a transgendered [M to F] Ugandan
* one of a pair of gay 20-something twins in Kenya
* a gay Ugandan farmer whose dream is to own two acres of land to grow his sugarcane
* gay partners in Kenya who dream of having their union blessed
* a gay Nigerian who was beaten badly simply for being gay
I felt especially moved by the stories of the trans people in this 20 minute film. Apparently traans people face even more risks and dangers than lesbian, gay and bisexual people. All the stories moved me especially when they spoke of their faith. Then seeing the retired Ugandan bishop, Christopher Ssenyonjo, speak passionately about LGBT issues and even starting a Bible study for gay men floored me.

Afterwards I got to meet many LGBT and affirming people in the Anglican/Episcopal Church including:
At dinner I ran into William Crawley, who I first met in Belfast in May. He will do his BBC Radio Ulster Sunday Sequence from Lambeth this week. Do check it out. (No Joe Gee, I will not be on it).

I also got to meet Christina Rees, chair of Women and the Church (WATCH) I'll put a link but their site was down tonight. We had a great chat about gender and sexism in the Church and about how so much of the gay issue comes down to gender and an anti-fem attitude. (which goes back to the point above about how I changed my voice to sound more "masculine" as part of my de-gayification process). After Christina mentioned to me that about 70% of the Anglican Church attenders/members are women, I suggested she change her organization's name to Women and Their Church.

So I guess this is the part of the blog entry when I share my first impressions and my current feelings. I feel happy to be here, honored in many ways. It also feels less of a big deal than I had imagined. I mean reading the press reports for the past few months, seeing the photos and such, I came with this big notion of LAMBETH. Having arrived, now I see people. Sure some dress in exquisite tailored frocks, but under their finery, I see people. People can connect. They can listen to each other. They can affect each other emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. The concept of LAMBETH intimated me. But people? I like people.

(Wed and Thur at 8:00 PM I will present here at Lambeth--The 70% Show, a talk/performance/whatever about my own spiritual journey as a Christian who happens to be gay and my nearly 20 years as an ex-gay. For more info see: LGCM site)

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Spirit of Perversion??? Ex-Gay Survivor in Malta Speaks Out

On my recent trip to Malta, I met Paolo (not his real name), who when he was 18 (three years ago) stumbled into the ex-gay movement. His story helps illustrate how the US-based ex-gay theories and practices sneak in under the radar in Europe.

When I came out to my mum about my sexuality I must admit she was not expecting this, however she was understanding and told me not to rush into things as this might just be one of the phases which adolescences may go through, and if I were gay she would have no problem with it, as nowadays its normal, however in order for me to find out if this were just a phase or not she soon referred me to a psychologist in Malta where I live.
Seems reasonable enough except that this particular "therapist" quickly took Paolo on a down path in an attempt to de-gay him.
She paused and said, ‘you gay?, not once did it cross my mind that you could be gay, however not to worry’ she added, and she soon reached out for a book which was created by a pastor, whereby she told me to read these prayers, in order for the Holy Spirit to come into me and to basically deliver me from evil, and this was to be discussed in further detail upon my second visit. At that point in time being at such a vulnerable stage I just followed her orders, without any question.
Paolo returned two more times, but he finally stood up to the abusive and inaccurate teaching,
Upon my third visit as she went on about the whole possessed issue and religious acceptance, that for me was the final straw, and I said, ‘I am sorry but who are you to say that god doesn’t accept me?, God accepts and forgives everyone and being gay is not considered as a forbidden sin, and as far as I am concerned I have never stolen, murdered or committed any mortal sin, and I have faith in God and surely I am not possessed and God loves me as I am. After all I am one of his creations!’ and that brought about the end of my third and final visit.
In his narrative over at Beyond Ex-Gay Paolo outlines his reasons for sharing his story. You can read his complete narrative here.

Thank you Paolo for sharing your story!

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Hanging in Hatfield

Ah, I had a stellar week in/on Guernsey. I felt kissed by the warm sun everyday (and smacked in the butt by the icy waters). Perfect weather and a true break. I got to meet many family members of Auntie Doris. She originally hails from Guernsey and her extended family have overrun the island. One could not keep a secret in this place with a cousin, aunt or sibling popping up everywhere one goes.

I learned so much about the WWII Nazi Occupation of the island. I learned much from our visit to the Occupation Museum, but I found that the letters and artifacts from the occupation that Auntie Doris' grandmother saved made the whole era come alive. So hard to imagine how this quiet tidy island filled up with Nazi troops, with homes and cars commandeered, signs in German everywhere and very little food or other rations.

Auntie Doris introduced me to several family members at their homes over meals and at the beach. Each one belongs to one of the island's many churches (52 according to Auntie Doris) and many of them serve as leaders of their evangelical/charismatic churches (I really don't know how to class them as I did not attend but went to the Quakers instead. Some are Elim Churches and others are New Frontiers with probably some independent ones as well.)

During these encounters we spent a great deal of time talking about the scriptures and of course sexuality. I especially appreciated praying with Auntie Doris' cousin Becky and her husband Pierre. Dinner with her sister Louise and brother-in-law Phillip also served as a highlight with thoughtful and thought provoking discussion.

Now I have returned to London for the evening. Tomorrow I head to Canterbury/Kent for Lambeth. I will stay right there on the campus and will have a pass to go into many of the sessions. Goodness, what shall I wear? All these bishops have these lovely frocks. I can't compete!

I feel honored to be part of the historic Lambeth Conference, and I look forward to seeing things firsthand. I hope to do some blogging from there, but we shall see what sort of time (and wifi) I have.

Do remember to ask me about the loaves and the fishes. This miracle has seriously challenged me ever since I stayed in Malta and began thinking and meditating on greed (not that the Matlese were greedy mind you. I just read a lot about the current housing loan crisis juxtaposed with the Hebrew prophets.)

Oh, and I just got word from my local public radio station that a program we did last year wow a PRNDI award. Catie Talarski, the segment producer, felt strong that she wanted to include the transgender perspective to the discussion, so invited local trans activist JeriMarie Liesegang to be part of the show. As a result, it came out quite well.
Where We Live has been honored with a first place award from Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI), a national organization dedicated to the professional development of public radio journalists.

The national award, announced at PRNDI’s annual awards banquet in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, July 19, 2008, was presented for a show produced in 2007 about the issues of gender identity.

The program explored some of the realities of sexual identity and gender identity at the root of this issue. We talked with a performance artist who tells the story of an attempt to "cure" his homosexuality - and with someone who changed gender, and we discussed health impacts for the very diverse gay and transgendered community.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Doin' Time in Guernsey

From the island paradise of Malta (ah those pea pastries, yummy beaches and beautiful new friends) I have jetted to the another island paradise, Guernsey, one of the Channel Island. I'm with Auntie Doris, who will have photos up today I believe. We stay in her grandmother's home overlooking the English Channel. Most people I've met say it has the best views of any place in the island. I totally agree. Gorgeous.

Today we took a ferry to the smaller island of Herm for time on the beach and a swim in the soul-freezing water. Even though it was so cold, I still managed to swim for about 20minutes and get some laps in. I also nearly completed the book, Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale. The writing and the story holds me transfixed, but I also appreciate the inclusion of contempory Quaker characters. Gale even includes descriptions of Meeting for Worship, Quaker weddings, funerals and more.

This weeks serves as a proper holiday for me (quite rare actually) but also a time to prepare for the Lambeth Conference where I will offer talks/performances as part of the "official fringe" events. Most likely I will not be on-line much until Monday night, so if you e-mailed me, I am not ignoring you, just resting and praying and sunning and reading and eating and singing ABBA tunes and not near a computer or wifi.

If you want to check out what is happening in and around Lambeth, check out Ruth Gledhill's daily input for the Times of London or Bishop Gene Robinson's (aka "the gay Gene") Canterbury Tales from the Fringe (hat tip to Liz Op)

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Scathing Report on Exodus' Message of Ex-Gay Love

Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out spent last week in Asheville, NC with a group of citizens concerned about Exodus International and the annual convention that pulled into town. Read Wayne's overview of the week and his insightful and appropriately cutting commentary on the events and especially of the words spoken by Exodus leaders and guests. See Exodus: A 'Loving' Call to Battle.

Battle indeed. Exodus and the Evangelical Protestant Church (and other churches) insist that gays, lesbians as well as bisexuals and transgender people, go to war against themselves. According to one eye-witness. The closing ceremonies included a clear call to those amassed during the ex-gay jamboree: Life after Exodus means lopping off whole parts of yourself--your wardrobe, relationships with other LGBT people (of course including partners), quitting jobs if need be, making critical and what will no doubt be regrettable decisions all for the sake of following Exodus leaders' and supporters' ideas of what God requires. Previously I wrote about this War Within that many of us perpetuated against ourselves.

About the Exodus Conference last week, Wayne Besen writes:
A dark cloud hovered over the Exodus event, with violent hate crimes unsettling the local GLBT community. At the very moment ex-gay televangelists were railing against homosexuals in the foothills, news broke of an 18-year old boy in Anderson, South Carolina whose father, “yelled, cursed, swung a baseball bat, prayed and tried to cast the demon of homosexuality out of him.”

In nearby Greenville, South Carolina, Stephen Moller, an anti-gay thug who murdered 20-year-old Sean William Kennedy outside a gay bar, just learned that he would spend approximately 10 months in jail for his ferocious crime. In this gross miscarriage of justice, the message was sent that murdering gay people was tacitly acceptable, if not encouraged. While in town, I spoke to Sean’s grieving mother, Elke Kennedy, who rightfully called the sentence, “a joke and a slap on the wrist.”
Wayne goes on to chronicle and highlight the mixed messages Exodus leaders and guests put forth to the media and to their own people. No doubt we will hear more about the Exodus conference from those who attended it. Stay tuned.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Photos from Malta

My dear friend and host in Malta, Diane took some photos of my visit and my performances that I thought I would share with you. I head out today for the UK where I will be with Auntie Doris for one week in Guernsey then off to Lambeth.

Here you see me with Diane

Performing in the Re-Education of George W. Bush

Lunch at the Open Centre with Mario who is saying some things that literally blows my mind.

Kissing Fudge the dog.

As Deborah in Transfigurations
At the beach with Marjon, Fredrick and the dogs, Fudge and Milly

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Moved in Malta

My trip to Malta quickly comes to a close when I fly back to London on Monday. Last night I performed The Re-Education of George W. Bush--No President Left Behind! to a lively (and sweaty) audience in a super cool performance space called Warehouse No. 8. It literally had been a warehouse and still retains some of its rustic and industrial charm. It reminds me of some of the loft theater spaces in NYC during the 1980's--the kind of space that inspires progressive theater.

Earlier this year I have performed the Bush play in Sweden, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each time I wonder, Will it work here? I do not presume that my performances will translate into other cultural and political-social settings. So far the piece has worked out in these non-US venues. Of course all these places have nearly constant exposure to US media, so many of the references and in-jokes do not seem all that foreign. Also the play pokes fun at George Bush in part and the USA and its citizens to a greater extent. This gives the European audiences a chance to hear me talk about "the other" without feeling defensive. Almost always after each European performance one or more audience member tells me "you know we have many of these same problems in our country." (these problems=sexism, white privilege, inhospitality towards asylum seekers, etc)

Last night at Warehouse No. 8 I felt uncertain if the Bush show would work, especially in the summer heat (no air conditioning in this cutting edge space) and with the explosions from nearby festivals to the saints (they have loud saints here). But it worked. They laughed less than most audiences but afterwards many came to me effusive about how they enjoyed the show and how surprised they felt that I said something serious and thoughtful.

During the Q&A session I received two questions that stand out for me this morning.

1. Did you choose to go into ex-gay therapy/treatment or did someone force you?

Hmmm, good question. I have to say it was a little of both. I mean, yeah, sure, I constantly elected to go into a program, speak to a minister or a counselor. I willingly spent my own money on trying to de-gay myself. So yeah, I chose to live that way. But I also felt deeply coerced by society. Everywhere I went I heard how bad it was to be gay--on the playground, from the pulpit, through politicians and in the press. I swallowed those lies and believed them as if they were the gospel truth. I then went to war against myself thinking I was doing something holy that benefited me and society.

You can say I was weak. Instead of standing up to all that pressure, renouncing it and boldly stating, "I am what I am, and if you have a problem with it, too bad!" I bowed to the pressure. I was programmed to hate myself, and I went along with the program. It makes me wonder today about other ways I have been similarly programmed and have not yet liberated myself.

2. How has coming to Malta helped you in your own "re-education" process?

Excellent question. I had two significant and possibly life-changing
encounters this week. One was lunch with a Dominican priest who worked for many
years in Brazil. He was a personal friend of Poulo Frere. You can say this
priest ascribes to what has been called liberation theology. He looks at the
scripture with class lenses to see the plight of the poor and the oppressed. He
wanted to meet with me because he cannot come to my Transfigurations performance tonight. He felt curious about these transgender Bible characters I unearth.

I see the character of Joseph in Genesis as a very positive and powerful person because of his gender differences. This priest had not seen that before. He sees Joseph as someone who consolidated all of the land from the people so that the leader, Pharaoh, could have complete control and power. We came to a
place where we agreed that both of these readings can live side by side. Someone can do great things as a great person and also abuse power in ways that harm others while benefiting those who already have power and privilege.

That night I read through the both the major and minor prophets in the Hebrew scripture and discovered that they cried out about the same two things over and over. 1. The need for the people to return to a more pure form of worship stripped of idolatry and 2. The need for the people to no longer oppress the poor for their own gain and along with the need to stop injustice in the land.

These prophets never talked about sex, well, except for a few heterosexuals misbehaving. They talked about devotion to God and a quest to return justice to the land.

Yesterday I had another significant lunch at The Open Centre, a halfway house complex of sorts for men from Africa who arrived on Malta as asylum seekers and have since been released from detention but don't yet have the legal or financial means to enter fully in the mainstream of society. I learned that for everyone of them who arrives safely on little boats and rafts, four of them die on the journey. The stories of violence, extreme poverty and trauma that they left behind in search of a better life for themselves and their families shocked me in large part because I never read these stories in the newspapers I get back home. I met a psychologist from Eritrea and many men of deep faith both Muslim and Christian. The needs they have can easily overwhelm a visitor. How they live with them I cannot imagine.

I began to wonder, do we have such centers in the US? What happens to the many many detainees in my country, similar men from Latin America and Africa and other places who come to the US looking for the opportunity and freedom we constantly advertise in our movies and such? I do not know. I realize I need and want to educate myself. I now want to contact my cousin Peter who works with asylum seekers in Connecticut.

Yes, Malta has challenged me to re-educate myself

Today I meet with perhaps the only two Quakers on the island. They want to start a meeting for worship here. I think of the small group of Quakers I met earlier this year in Northern Sweden who just started their own official meeting. I feel grateful to have these connections with Friends with familiar practices as well as new kinds of friends I meet who challenge the ways I think. I am a very very fortunate man.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

South African Ex-Gay Survivor Tells His Story

Adrian Lovel-Hall, a citizen of South Africa, spent years attempting to enter the ministry only to find that being gay closed the doors to him.

Due to the searching for what I believed God was saying and the rejection of homosexuality in the church, I did not formally “come out”, and eventually ended my ministry career in 1998. I felt rejected again. I felt that no-one in the Church had come to stop me leaving, even though most of them knew I was gay. We never openly discussed me being gay, and it appeared that I had to mould into the Church and become ‘straight’.

The months following the end of the 1997 academic year took me down a really hard and painful road. No money, no job, no parents, no partner. I changed churches and eventually found work, changing my career back to banking.18-months later I went into missions so I did not have to come out. But in searching so deeply into myself, I also found that I had a deep respect and compassion for other peoples in the world – especially minority groups. I went to North Africa and South East Asia, but there was something missing - I was gay and I was not out.

On September 11, 2001 I went for an interview with another mission company to be able to work in North Africa, and that was the moment my life changed. The Twin Towers collapsed in New York due to the terror attack, and my life collapsed – at the same time. I was declined by the mission and went on a deep search for healing, changed churches and joined “Living Waters”.

We often hear of Exodus ex-gay programs, but we hear little about Living Waters. This ex-gay course has been disseminated throughout the world offering false promises mixed with genuine concern for the people it seeks to help. At times Living Waters focuses on demons, spiritual bondage, ancestral curses and such instead of the developmental model so often upheld by Exodus. Like many LGBT people who felt called to the ministry, Adrian found a place at the church table to serve as an ex-gay minister.
My narcissistic, introspective way of being came fully to bear during 2002 and I rapidly moved up to leadership in Living Waters, found a lady on a conference with whom I fell in love – or so I thought - and I ministered against homosexuality. This lasted until I was asked to present the lecture in the living Waters week on “Narcissism”!
And like many people who pursued ex-gay treatment, Adrian came to conclusions quite different from what his ex-gay leaders taught him.
Living Waters was supposed to “heal” me from homosexuality but through my new-found life I found that I was becoming a healed homosexual. Living Waters helped me forgive others and be who I was – gay!

I loved my new life – my freedom of being able to come out, the work and me. I have since spent 2 years in the USA. I also know that being gay is who I am. Living in Johannesburg I find it hard as a gay white man in South Africa. South Africa is not as open and accepting to homosexuality as the Constitution states and I have found it harder to be accepted here than in America at times. I still live with my sister and we speak – although she doesn’t really understand the gay life. We are closer now than we’ve ever been.
You can read all of Adrian's story at Beyond Ex-Gay by clicking here.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another Ex-Gay Survivor Comes Forward

Recently over at Beyond Ex-Gay Christine and I posted three narratives of ex-gay survivors from around the world. One is from the US, another from South Africa, and the third is someone I met here in Malta. Each person has had different experiences, which reveals some of the diversity of ex-gay experiences. Also each one reacted and responded differently.

Each narrative deserves attention from ex-gay leaders and those who promote ex-gay ministries and reparative therapy as well as from those of us concerned about the impact of these initiatives to alter someone's sexuality, especially when it is done in the name of religion.

Many of those who partake in these ex-gay efforts suffer silently for years. In the promotional material and the testimonies offered by groups like NARTH, Exodus and others, we only hear part of the story. The reality is that the vast majority of people who attempt to go ex-gay find it is not realistic or necessary. In coming to those conclusions many realize they not only expended a lot of time and money, they also incurred damage to themselves and others.

Today I will highlight one of these stories, and later this week I will present the others. You can see a full listing of ex-gay survivor narratives here. (We currently have 25 posted, and have received at least that many that we have not yet posted. Writing these narratives takes time and can be traumatic, so we like people to work on them at their own pace and wait a bit before we publish them to make sure they are ready.)

Paul, in the USA bravely shares about his own struggles with anonymous sexual encounters as well as his marriage and his attempts to turn away from his gay desires. In his narrative Paul writes,
At 21 I married a Christian girl who I had known since high school. She was a member of the same church I attended, and had been present at the time when I had “confessed” my attraction to guys a few years earlier. A couple of weeks after we were married, I told my new wife that I continued to struggle with attraction to men. I quickly assured her that God was certainly going to fix me, not to worry. Naively, I figured she would become my ally in the struggle. Instead, she was only devastated. We were kids in a world that didn’t talk of such things, so we didn't talk of it again after that. I realized again that I was still alone.
The struggles continued and for a time Paul and his wife separated but then they decided to try once again with the marriage, but the troubles remained and then worsened. Paul also internalized the struggle and blamed himself for the failures.

Within a short period of our reuniting, I realized that I wasn’t “over” anything. My attraction to men was right where I had left it, with all it's former strength. I was angry and ashamed of my failing God and my wife. I could not understand why I couldn't win this fight and control my attraction to men. I did not understand why God would not help me resist this but I figured I must be doing something wrong, I just hadn’t figured out what that something was yet. I had to retain my faith. I believed God was going to give me the key to freedom, I just had to fight as best I could in the meantime and wait for God to answer my daily prayers (okay, by this time prayer had turned to pleading) and help.

Meanwhile, I forged a chain. I discovered places where I could get anonymous sex and began to frequent those places. I continued to fight my desires, begging God to help me resist my feelings, I even ‘succeeded’ much more than I failed. For every time I failed, I resisted my desires several times first. But honestly, my “success” was just a delaying of the inevitable. I never got past my feelings, they never lessened. Still, I believed in a God who was going to help me, I had to maintain my ‘faith’ in one “called alongside to help.” At best I would resist my desires for a couple of months, and normally I didn’t do that well.

The act of suppressing his gay desires and defining them as wrong and sinful had a negative effect in Paul's life.

I found I could not control myself, and thought of myself as addicted. This was hard to admit to myself because it violated my faith. I believed “if God be for you, who can be against you?” Not even my self could win against me if God was for me. My "fixes" would quiet my craving for awhile. Just like a drug “fix," this behavior was slowly killing me. Guilt, shame and self loathing were my constant companions. I could not shake them because I could not stop the behavior that caused them. I believe the lies I told to cover my behavior did even more destruction than the cheap, quick, physical acts. I craved a relationship with a guy that included a romantic emotional bond, not just sex. But, I didn’t believe such a thing could be, because that was “sin.” On top of that, I was married and didn't want to hurt my wife.
Paul eventually turned to an Exodus ex-gay ministry for help and continued on in his struggle for years. The only one in his area was run by a Mormon and although Paul's Christian faith branded Mormonism as outside of Christianity as he understood it, the ministry was approved by Exodus. After a time Paul got into legal trouble because of anonymous sexual activities.

In 1998 I got arrested for soliciting an undercover police officer for sex, I was charged with a felony and rode hand cuffed in a police car. They finger printed me and took mug shots. I felt utterly alone and gutted. I went running back to Exodus. I felt surely that getting arrested was that “bottom” I had to hit, how low could I go? Now I was a criminal. I had gone below hitting bottom. I had been instructed by Exodus ministries that being gay is just like alcoholism or drug addiction. So I hoped this must be my “bottom,” though “God” and I both knew how low I had felt most of my life. I could not understand how I could feel so shameful for so long, how I could hate myself and still do these things.

How could I want to change for so long and not be able to do so if what I am is wrong? No one else could answer these questions for me either. I was simply told I needed to keep at it. This “ministry” affirmed me as a failure.I went through another Exodus program, and also went to another Christian counselor who practiced “reparative” therapy. None of this changed me or helped me cope or resist my desire to be with a man. I considered suicide often, but wasn’t brave enough to do it. I considered castration, but knew that wouldn’t change me

His story reveals the complexity of some ex-gay experiences and how "coming out" is not a simple solution or an easy step. It also shows how dangerous it can be for someone to ingest negative and erroneous messages about their sexuality. Paul sought for a cure but instead received the tools to hate himself.

I had spent my life trying to kill a part of myself, but my instinct was to live. Once I stopped trying to kill my attraction to the same sex, that part of me became content to just be. Not that my attraction to the same sex is gone, it is not. But since I have accepted who I am, my compulsion for sex is gone. Turns out that homosexual is two words, it’s not all about sex any more than heterosexuality is. I am reeling, even after being free from compulsion since 2006. I discovered what I needed all along was simple acceptance. I am no longer alone. I am no longer living a lie or acting in a way that damages me or others.

My story isn’t over, in many ways, it’s just begun. People speak of "gay pride." I understand that, but I don't really relate to it. I do now understand the need for dignity and realize the damage that having that taken away can cause.

I respect Paul so much for sharing his story. It takes courage to be this honest about oneself. Also I know it is not easy to write these narratives. It brings up so many strong feelings, but hopefully in the act of sharing and being heard, one can gain some clarity, comfort and even healing. You can read all of Paul's narrative here.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Beyond Ex-Gay Mail Bag

Every week Christine Bakke and I get e-mails and messages from people who visit the Beyond Ex-Gay Website. We answer every one with a personal response. For some people this is their first attempt to reach out to someone since leaving the ex-gay movement or since they began to accept themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex. Recently I received this message that got me thinking and praying and talking to friends before I responded,

I am a Christian. I believe homosexuality in a sin. I have read all the pro-gay and anti-gay books i can find, including Boswell's. I have gone to MCC the gay church. Nothing feels right. My mentor keps talking about "the gay Lifestyle". I tell him there is no such thing....just as there is no "straight lifestyle". Two suicide attempts and I chickened out of both. Guilt overwhelms me when I attempt to meet a guy or have sex. Dating women makes me feel like a liar. Damned if I do and damned if i don't. I do not want to go against the Bible and sin and I do not want to live a lie and try to "go straight". I am one of millions I am sure, but this is my life. I just do not know what to do.
I was actually at the annual gathering of Friends General Conference (Quakers) when I received this message. Without revealing the person's identity except to say his name is Steve, I shared the e-mail with the high school students in the workshop I co-facilitated (Xtreme Quakerism!) We held meeting for worship with attention to Steve. In the stillness of worship I read the message and we held Steve in the Light and prayed for him. If during our worship they had something they wanted to say to Steve, they spoke it out. Based on their ministry, I wrote Steve the following response.
I have thought of you several times since getting your initial message through Without sharing your full name, I read part of your e-mail to the high school students in the workshop I led last week. They are young Quakers, mostly straight, and they felt moved to pray for you and to encourage you. One thing that rose out of our worship was a message about fruit. One of the Quakers asked, "Where is the joy in the journey?"

In looking at the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, humility, self-control, etc. I remember my ex-gay years and how I longed for the gift of self-control. But I found for the most part most of the gifts did not grow, especially joy. In fact, I experienced quite the opposite. I grew sad and depressed even suicidal. I grew impatient with God, myself and others. I begged, demanded, implored God to help me straighten myself out or at least help me to control my desires. It seemed the more I pursued this path the worse things grew. There were moments when I thought I "got it figured out" only to discover that I was back in the same place I started. The depression and impatience only grew.

I realized that I was coveting my straight neighbor's life. I wanted God to do something that God clearly had no intention of doing. I didn't see the gift in being gay. I thought it must be a curse. But God was so very patient with me. When I finally succumbed to the reality that I am gay and that I will not change, and that if I pursue this course much longer it would destroy me and my faith, I suddenly found peace and a growing joy. In fact, I have experienced a whole garden of growth of the fruit of the Spirit. Yes, I lost some friends though it all, but I realize now they loved me conditionally. They loved me as long as I struggled to kill off a part of myself, but once I accepted the reality of who I was, even though I was happier and closer to God than ever before, they didn't want anything to do with me. But God is good and I have developed new friendships, deep and thoughtful ones. Family and friends who have known me for a long time say that I am so much more solid and present than ever before. They feel love from me and see I am in a healthy place in my life.

We hear many lies spoken about gay people. We have been programmed to hate ourselves. We have conformed to the negative patterns of this world, patterns that some large parts of the Church have taken up as a fundamental cause as if these causes came from God. But we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can begin to understand God's will for us. Like you I grew to distrust both pro-gay and anti-gay theology. But I trust God, and through being still and laying things out before God, I have found a clear and solid path and much much fruit.
Christine and I are beginning to seek out people who could serve as part of a team in helping us respond to the many e-mails we get at bXg. We get so many that we will not be able to respond to them all. If you are interested in being part of this team, let us know.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Doin' Time with the Sunday Times of Malta

I sat for a long interview the other day with Ariadne Massa, a journalist with the Times of Malta. She seemed fascinated with the ex-gay portion of my life and asked many questions about that experience. Of course she on my never dying adoration with the a lovely compliment in the opening paragraph.
With his infectious smile, spirited remarks and positive energy, it's hard to imagine how Toscano suppressed his true being for 17 years to fit in society's pigeonhole of 'straight' people. At 43, the long traumatic journey has failed to etch wrinkles in his flawless complexion, which he attributes to daily moisturiser and veganism.
See I am a living breathing billboard advertisement to the wonders of being a vegan. Shoot if the environmental impact doesn't move you or the reality that it is a more humane choice, surely I can appeal to your vanity!

What I like about sitting for interviews is that it forces me to think about places in my life that I might not normally consider. Being in a Catholic country like Malta got me thinking about my own Roman Catholic roots. Ariadne's questions also got me thinking to my earliest days when I realized how I had been different from other boys around me.
"I knew I was different at six. I was on a cabin cruiser with my family and I was staring at these beautiful lace curtains and I just wanted to touch them. Suddenly my uncle roars: 'Don't wipe your hands on those!' " he says, smiling.

By the time he was eight, he had crushes on his male teachers , which he kept to himself.

"I got the message pretty quickly that boys are supposed to like girls, and I heard bad things about homos, fags and queers," he adds.

Raised a Catholic and fascinated by spirituality, Toscano contemplated becoming a priest because being celibate meant he did not have to deal with his sexuality. He even went on a Capuchins' retreat and that was where he confided in a priest.
You can read all of Ariadne's article A Musing here.

I will have photos up from the Malta Pride March once I get them from Clayton, a young gay Catholic man who looks like an exact copy of my friend Vince Cervantes. It was weird. I felt like I spent the evening with Vince. What I loved about the Malta Pride event was that EVERYONE marched in the parade. The route took us through the most populous part of the city with thousands of people going in and out of clubs flanking the parade route. That meant that most of the parade viewers were straight people watching this amazing spectacle of a pride parade plow through their partying.

The rally afterwards had a decidedly political bent as the political climate in Malta has not been affirming or supportive of rights for LGBT people. Moviment Graffitti, a far left human rights group marched in the parade as well. This group stands up for the rights of all people who are marginalized and discriminated against. I admit I felt a little anxious marching through a crowd of intoxicated straight revelers, but we encountered no opposition or negative reactions. On the contrary at times the crowd cheered us on.

Afterwards at dinner some of the Maltese apologized for having such a small Pride March compared to what we have in the US. I explained that in most parts of the US our Pride events are actually quite small compared to NY or San Francisco. Places like Richmond, IL or Rochester, NY have modest events. They also expressed surprised when I spoke about problems with racism, homophobia and sexism that still exist in the US. They had the impression that we were beyond all of that. Perhaps that is what they experience in the movies or in our news reports, but the reality is that in the US we have work to do around skin privilage, male privilage and heterosexism. It astounds me that we have so many people living in the closet still in the US today, but then again I completely understand it.

In the article, I got to express some of these thoughts,
Toscano's advice to gay people is: "It's not easy or convenient, but if we're ashamed of ourselves, it's as if we give them permission to treat us shamefully."
Now I must dash to take a shower to wash off all of the salty sea out of my flawless complexion :-p

(Photo: Jason Borg)

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Magnificent Malta

I arrived in Malta on Thursday night and have been to the sea two times. Since it is only a seven minute walk from where I stay, I will go pretty much everyday. I love to swim and rarely get to do so these days, so it is laps and more laps with respite on the beach for me.

I have experienced great hospitality from my Maltese friends, especially Diane and her partner Marion. Today we ate lunch at a stellar Italian restaurant. Paulo, the chef, heard I was vegan and went to town creating me an enormous dish of fresh pasta with plum tomatoes, olives and garlic. Yum. Forget the churches and palaces, when I travel, I like to eat.

Malta remains a conservative country with over 90% of the population Roman Catholic. It is one of two countries in the world where divorce is not legally available. The Sunday Times, a right wing paper, has only just recently published articles about gay Catholics like James Alison, who was here not too long ago. I sat with a reporter for the paper yesterday, and she sat wide eyed as I told her about my descent into the ex-gay world. She had no idea, but then she knew of many closeted Maltese. Many eventually leave the island to live more openly. Shame that family and friends accept some of us only on conditional terms. It encourages dishonesty, secrecy and the building of walls.

Tonight they will have their gay pride parade. Since it is so hot during the day, they have the parade at 9:30 at night. Memphis could learn something from this! Then I will hang out with the boys. Most of my times have been with some lovely lesbians, including attending a screening of the lesbian love story, The Gymnast. My estrogen levels are rising and I need to balance them out a bit :-p

My shows are not until next Friday and Saturday. The censors approved them after reading my script, but only for people 16 and older. I guess I am edgy for something. Okay must shower off all the salt from the sea and get myself pretty for pride.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

To Lambeth and Beyond!

I take off today on a whirlwind island hopping adventure. I first travel to the island nation of Malta (south of Italy) where I will be for 10 days as the guest of Drachma, a Catholic group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In Malta I will meet with the members of Drachma, lead a Bibliodrama or two, and perform two plays: The Re-Education of George W. Bush and Transifgurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible.

From there I pick up Auntie Doris and we head off to the island of Guernsey for nearly a week. She raves about this channel island where she grew up, so since I had the time I thought it would be a nice excursion. And I can also keep Auntie Doris out of trouble :-p I haven't talked to her about this yet, but it would be cool to meet up with some of the Evangelical leaders there to talk about LGBT concerns and pastoral care.

Rested up from my trip to Guernsey, I head to Kent, England for the Lambeth Conference where I will offer a talk as part of the official fringe events. I'm even on the official schedule! Okay this is a BIG deal.
Free performance by Peterson Toscano who shares his spiritual journey, explores queer issues and tells how he survived the 'ex-gay' movement through comedy and excerpts from his play "Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House".
The Anglican Church meets only once every 10 years and this year the BIG issue is the GAY issue. I will do my presentation twice which will include some of my own personal journey, excerpts from Homo No Mo and more. You can find info about it here.

If you are interested in going to either talk (or both!), do register for the free tickets. They need to have a sense of how many are coming.

(photo credit Ted Waddell)

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Ex-Gay Survivor Vince Cervantes Featured at XGW

Emily K at Ex-Gay Watch posted a piece about Vince Cervantes, an ex-gay survivor and fellow theatrical performance artist.
When Vince Cervantes began to notice his strong attractions to other men in his first year of college, he immediately panicked. At that time he was a student at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian school that taught that homosexuality was immoral. The only thing that made sense to Vince was to enter into ex-gay therapy, and he did so, with an Exodus-trained counselor at an Assemblies of God church. Otherwise, he feared, he would be kicked out of school, disowned by his parents, and worst of all, end up in Hell. His therapist told him to give up activities he loved, like musical performance. He complied, believing this would help him go straight.

After going so far as to consent to exorcism, Vince realized nothing was making a difference — he wasn’t going to change. At first depressed over this, Vince came to an “epiphany” that caused him to look at homosexuality and the Bible from a different perspective. He realized God was going to love him no matter what. “I knew that as a Christian I am taught that I can’t bear false witness, and to say that I wasn’t gay, meant that I was denying something that God made a part of me.” His parents had to take some time to “get used to” Vince’s decision to be true to himself, but they were able to eventually fully accept him.

Read Vince Cervantes: Former Ex-Gay: Proud Latino

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Ex-Gay Exposé of NARTH in Denver Announced

Denver residents Christine Bakke (Beyond Ex-Gay and ex-gay survivor) and Daniel Gonzales (Box Turtle Bulletin and former patient of Josepsh Nicolosi) have announced that they are working with a group of local and national organizations to plan a response to the November convention of NARTH (National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality). NARTH will hold their conference in Denver November 7-9, 2008.

They have already partnered with Truth Wins Out, Beyond Ex-Gay, Soulforce and PFLAG. In the following video Daniel Gonzales (sporting a new spiky hair style) speaks about some of the events and calls on people to visit the website to share their interest/commitment to get involved. You can go to the Denver Event page here.

Later this month Exodus International will have their own convention in Asheville, NC. A group called Equality Asheville has pulled together a series of events and a coalition of organizations to response to the misinformation that Exodus and the anti-gay Evangelical Church disseminates about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They will show the films For the Bible Tells Me So and Fish Can't Fly. Wayne Besen will be on hand to speak to help out during the week.

Beyond Ex-Gay will not be involved with the events around the Exodus convention this year. For one it is in capable hands with the local organizers and groups like Truth Wins Out. (At bXg we really value the local voice and the grassroots work that develops like we saw in Memphis.) Also, we spent time highlighting Exodus last year. They are not the only ex-gay group around. We focus our energy first on the survivors of the ex-gay movement and this include people who have been affected by Focus on the Family, NARTH, and other groups. There is lots of work to do and more and more we have lots of people who can do it.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr. & the Gay Quaker

I blogged last week about how deeply moved I felt when I heard the recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1958 address to the FGC gathering of Quakers. Today over lunch with Lynn, a Friend from Hartford Meeting, I shared my notes from the talk and felt inspired even more. Something else stirred; the reminder that King had as a mentor in his life a man named Bayard Rustin. In fact, Rustin wrote many of King's speeches in the late 1950's. I spent the afternoon in the garden re-reading two books I have about Rustin.

Bayard Rustin is one of the most important figures of the 20th century. A Quaker, an African-American and openly gay, he served as an architect and inspiration for the direction of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. In fact, he was already writing about racial equality and non-violence as early as 1942 in his article The Negro and Non-Violence. He stated,
Nonviolence as a method has within it the demand for terrible sacrifice and long suffering, but, as Gandhi has said, "freedom does not drop from the sky." One has to struggle and be willing to die for it. J. Holmes Smith has indicated that he looks to the American Negro to assist in developing, along with the people of India, a new dynamic force for the solution of conflict that not merely will free these oppressed people but will set an example that may be the first step in freeing the world. (page nine of Time on Two Crosses—The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin.)
Rustin went on to practice what he preached by resisting the draft during World War II, thus enduring a prison sentence of nearly two years (and used his time in prison to address inequities towards the non-white inmates.)

Starting in the mid-1930's Rustin used non-violent strategies to protest war and nuclear weapons. He learned directly from Gandhi's people in India and soon applied his training and experience to addressing racial inequality and the oppression of African-Americans.

In 1947 a federal ruling struck down segregated interstate travel. Rustin and others wanted to test the ruling, so they organized an interracial group of men to travel by public buses and trains in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. They challenged the segregation laws still practiced in those areas. Arrests took place on six different occasions with a total of 12 of the riders arrested. Rustin wrote about the experience,
Without exception those arrested behaved in a nonviolent fashion. They acted without fear, spoke quietly and firmly, showing great consideration for the police and bus drivers, and repeatedly pointed to the fact that they expected the police to do their duty as they saw it. We cannot overemphasize the necessity for this courteous and intelligent conduct while breaking with the caste system. (page 15)
Rustin first met Dr. King during the bus boycotts of Montgomery, AL in 1955, shortly after King's house had been bombed. In his well-written biography, Lost Prophet—The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, John D'Emilio reveals the importance of Rustin's input into Dr. King's non-violent work.
From the start, Rustin communicated to King not only the efficacy and moral value of nonviolence, but the special responsibility of leaders to model it fully (page 231).
According to D'Emilio, King had only a "passing acquaintance with the philosophy and career of Gandhi...Rustin initiated the process that transformed King into the most illustrious American proponent of nonviolence in the twentieth century." (page 231)

King had to learn non-violence from somewhere. He was in his late 20's when he arrived in Montgomery. He was on his own for the first time, which poignantly comes through in his 1958 FGC address. His father was not going to be able to help him all the way from Atlanta. King needed to learn a lot and quickly. Rustin came to him seasoned in non-violence theory and practice.
To Rustin, efforts by King's followers or by historians to present King as a fully developed Gandhian at the start of the boycott were a disservice to the man. "He had not been prepared for [the job] either tactically, strategically, or in his understanding of nonviolence," Rustin emphatically told an interviewer. "The glorious thing is that he came to a profoundly deep understanding of nonviolence through the struggle itself, and through reading and discussion which he had in the process of carrying on the protest, not that, in some way, college professors who had read Gandhi had prepared him in advance. This is just a hoax." Arriving in Montgomery a week after Rustin, Glenn Smiley, (another long-time peace activist from NYC), confirmed Rustin's evaluation. About Gandhian nonviolence, Smiley insisted, King "knew nothing." (pages 230, 231)
Not only did Rustin help King to understand the principles of non-violence and the application to the current situation, he began to ghostwrite speeches and articles for King starting in 1955. (see Rustin standing behind King during the March on Washington, which Rustin organized) The first article written by Rustin and ascribed to King appeared in April of that year. According to D'Emilio:
(Rustin) highlighted the messages that he believed had the most strategic value: that the boycott signaled the birth of a "new Negro" and a "revolutionary change in the Negro's evaluation of himself"; that "economics is part of our struggle"; that that the boycotters had discovered "a new and powerful weapon—non-violent resistance." (page 239)
20 years older than King, Rustin spoke like a teacher to a pupil in his letters to the young civil rights' leader (page 241) and also helped King see connections to international politics and economics affecting all poor people.

So here comes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the annual gathering of Quakers in summer 1958. He gives an amazing, profound, and crystal clear message about the struggle for racial equality and the need to use non-violent methods along with connections to international post-colonial struggles and the economy. The passion with which King speaks tells me the message comes from his heart, but I believe much of it came from Rustin's pen like many of King's other speeches during this time period--especially because in this case King spoke to Rustin's own people, the Quakers.

You can purchase a printed version of the speech or an audio tape here, but I want to share from the notes I took as I listened to the speech at FGC a week ago. In the work that I do around the Ex-Gay Movement and the full liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the US and elsewhere, I can hear critical messages for us in King's (and Rustin's) message. (King used the term Negro throughout. I will just use "people" in my notes)
  • The Bible has not been properly interpreted. There is a problem with a literal reading, and as a result people were taught they were inferior. They believed this and lost faith in themselves. It has left scars on the soul. People need to take a fresh look at themselves. God loves all his children; each one is made in his image. A new person has come to being which creates the present crisis. Humans with dignity struggle for freedom and human dignity, but privileged people won't easily give it up.
  • How will the Struggle be Waged? Non-violence. Physical violence and hatred (the twins of Western materialism) only achieve victory, not peace.
  • Non-violence is not for cowards.
  • It does not seek to defeat and humiliate opponents. Instead it seeks to make friends and awaken a sense of shame over injustice.
  • We do not go after individuals, rather the evil systems that victimizes both the oppressed and the oppressor.
  • The non-violent resister accepts suffering without retaliation. Meet physical violence with what Gandhi called Soulforce. We still love you.
  • We avoid internal violence of spirit. We refuse to hate our opponent. An e"ye for an eye" leaves everyone blind.
  • This is not sentimental love, but agape, a love that offers creative understanding and seeks nothing in return. We love them because God loves them. Love your enemies—this transforms the soul of your opponent.
  • We have faith in the future believing the universe is on the side of justice. No lie can live forever.
I stepped out of the talk stirred, shaken, challenged, convicted, and moved deeply in regards to the work that I seek to do. What thrills me is that not only did King moved me, but also the Black gay Quaker, Bayard Rustin, who shaped those words in King's life and for all of us to hear.

Time on Two Crosses—The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin
Lost Prophet—The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin
To see VIDEO of Bayard in action go here.
William D. Lindsey, a Quaker who writes for the blog Bilgrimage, also has a rich post about Rustin with lots of detailed info outlining various influences in Rustin's life including Methodism.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Meeting for Worship with Attention to Blogging

I met for dinner with a group of Quaker bloggers. If I were not typing this on my phone instead of a proper computer, I would provide links. During the meal I suggested to Liz Op that we should try holding a meeting for worship with attention to blogging. We can gather with laptops & wifi. We settle into
silence and worship. Out of that silence we blog the messages that emerge (if any).

The Friends around the the table thought I was joking. Me joke? Maybe it is a silly idea, but I am all about creative ways of worship. Even so, I do like the traditional practice of an hour of silence with people rising to give messages.

One thing that makes Quakers (at least in the traditonal sense) so radical has been that we don't have clergy. Anyone can minister in a way that doesn't happen in most other Christian traditions. Even progressive LGBT-affirming churches only allow a select group of people to give a message, other than a joy or concern during a time set aside for that kind of thing. To give a serious, important message, you need to be vetted and approved.

George Fox, one of the early architects of early Quakerism, got into loads of trouble for calling the clergy out and telling folks there was another way. I agree with Fox. I know some great ministers, but I think one of the biggest problems with the church structure comes from having clergy instead of creating a structure in which each person, if she or he chooses, can grow up into a mature place of giving ministry.